The Batman has faced countless enemies... but happiness and marriage with Catwoman may be what destroys him. Or, more specifically, his decision to put his life of pain, torment, grief, and fear behind him now that he's realized happiness may be within reach. It's all part of writer Tom King's ongoing attempt to explore ignored corners of DC's Dark Knight. And judging by the description of Batman's story in the coming months, it will be taking Bruce Wayne to places he has never dared go - and showing fans a side of him they may never have thought possible.
To some, King's run on Batman following DC's Rebirth relaunch has stepped into controversial territory. Bruce Wayne's mission as Batman was redefined as an act of suicide, the villainous Bane broke his back (again), and of course the reimagination of the the famous Ace the Bat-Hound (that one is a home run decision). But no matter how flexible a fan may like their DC mythology and individual heroes' journeys, Bruce's decision to ask Catwoman to marry him breaks new ground. And apparently, King is only getting started.
As the writer explained the daunting task of tackling Batman during a press event for San Diego Comic-Con, he offered some insight into the larger story he's been weaving since Rebirth. While currently on Issue #28, King claims the story is now reaching the approximate "halfway point of a whole novel... into the heart of this character." Bruce Wayne has faced too many nightmares and killers to count, which means the one question King had left to ask wasn't about an enemy or villain at all. It was about the act that stole the rest of Bruce Wayne's life:
Why is he so unhappy? Why did [the death of his parents] touch him in such a way, and is it possible for him to get over it? Is it possible for Batman ever to grieve? That's the whole theme of what we're looking at: almost a hundred-issue story arc to deal with just that concept of grief and superheroes, and how that grief drives Batman to save the world.
In the first arc of Batman we dealt with the relationship with his mother, and in The Button we dealt with his father, with his father telling him 'Don't be Batman.' And him having this feeling of both his parents being at peace with him, and not wanting him to do what he did, and him trying to find happiness. The way he looked for happiness... was to go to the one thing that really caused him joy, which was love. To go up to Catwoman and say, 'Please marry me.' And that may be an incredibly honest, wonderful decision - maybe something actually true to who he is, and not true to [his parents' death]... or it may be another level of insanity and he's just covering up his pain.
While the final page of Bruce Wayne taking a knee proposing to Selina Kyle was what most of the online conversations focused on, the path to that point was laid out months in advance. As King summarizes, Bruce's battle with Bane turned out to be more brutal than most expected. So brutal, in fact, that while taking the brunt of the bruiser's attack Bruce actually 'visited' his mother. The son of Martha Wayne eventually fought back on the basis of defending the innocent, but with his mother's words ringing in his ears: "You don't need a good death... for me to be proud of you."
That, itself, was a call back to King's very first issue. Fans didn't know it at the time, but Bruce's question to Alfred when his luck seemed to have run out - whether this was "a good death... Would they have been proud?" - was a sign of things to come. His mother's ghost freed him from responsibility, but it was Bruce meeting his Flashpoint father that sealed the deal. And with Thomas Wayne imploring his son to give up the alter ego, and raise his own son the way his father never got to... Bruce stood at a crossroads. A crossroads that has led, inexorably, to Bruce choosing happiness.
As the only person who knows every corner of his dark, damaged soul, Bruce reveals that he always knew Selina Kyle was his destiny. Of course, in the weeks and months since his proposal, The War of Jokes and Riddles has taken the spotlight. Told in flashback by Bruce to Selina, the story of his second year defending Gotham is one that his would-be bride must apparently hear before making her decision.
King isn't revealing whether or not Selina will accept the proposal... but if she refuses him after hearing this tale, Bruce Wayne will be heartbroken in ways he's never experienced. If she accepts, he'll need to set things to rest for good. No matter what, the journey that follows may be one for the ages:
In Batman #32 she says yes or no. And in Batman #33 we start the next arc of Batman. We start to look into something you've never seen before, and a Batman you've never seen before... We're going through the desert, we've got a horse, he's got a shotgun... He has entered some place he's never gone, and now he's going to go off on a mission that's completely illegal. The Robins are blown away that he's doing this. It's something the entire Justice League doesn't approve of. But he's doing it on his own because he hit that emotional breaking point, or happy point, that he has to move on with this.
All the Robins are in this story, I started as a Robin writer, I started as a Dick Grayson/Robin War writer. This is a story about Jason, about Tim, about Dick, about Damian, and about their reaction to what their father is going through... It's about them reacting to their father, saying 'Is he going crazy, or is he finally finding peace?' And because this is comics... the way they try to determine that is to punch him in the face.
We would never have guessed that Bruce Wayne's greatest challenge would be seeking happiness away from the cowl, which helps explain why his former sidekicks (and adopted sons) find it so hard to believe. King has aimed straight for the heart in his series so far, so this story of fathers, sons, and a potential Dark Knight husband is likely to be filled with memorable moments.
We'd like to think even more memorable than the Batman Family's lunch at Batburger. But let's not push it.