After reading Mr. Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerards, my podcast pal Andy and I had a philosophical difference of opinion. Whereas I was prepped and ready to use all of the English teacher-y skills at my disposal to break down the story to figure out why it was good, Andy equated it to eating a really good meal. According to my hosty-ghosty chum, there’s no reason to dissect the cow to figure out if the steak was good. Just enjoy the steak.
Bull%$#%! I thought (no cow-based pun intended) as I prepared my metaphoric bone-saws and settled in for hours and hours of cow-dissecting homework and research and close analysis to help unlock the deeper meaning behind the story. In my heart of hearts, I believe the deeper analysis route was the way to go, at least for me personally. I was able to apply bits of the author’s personal lives from interviews and artistic imagery to help me unveil a deeper meaning that totally enriched my experience, even if I was left with a few questions still at the end. I also know that’s not for everybody, nor is deeper analysis right for every occasion. My fellow podcast hosts had no interest in the ten hour discussion it would take to really dive into the book, and I can get that, too. I can totally respect the idea that sometimes it’s good to just accept something as good and enjoy it for what it is. I’m not interested in discovering what populates my hot dogs because I want to continue enjoying the occasional hot dog.
So today, I’m going to look at another Tom King work and try to do just that: enjoy it for what it is. Our topic today, Batman #37, one of my favorite single issue stories I’ve read in recent memory, is a book where I’m not going to dive for imagery or symbolism, because sometimes a bat stands for…a bat.
Tom King writes, Clay Mann draws, and Jordie Beliare colors this one off issue. It may claim to be part 2 of a story, but it’s really a done in one. The basic conceit of the story: Batman and Catwoman are officially engaged, and Bats is taking Catwoman around to introduce her to his friends Lois and Clark. They double date at a Super-hero themed carnival, where everyone is in costume and hijinx ensue. Superman has the bright idea to switch costumes so they won’t look too much like who they really are.
The boys pair off to have some discussions and a friendly stare down or two, and the girls bond over the weirdness and grossness of the men in their lives.
It’s really fun to see stories like this that show how Bruce and Clark can be honest-to-goodness friends. King knocks the characterization of both out of the park throughout the issue. When Clark calls Bruce out for the dichotomy of his war on crime with the idea of him marrying a criminal, Bruce’s response is the type of cold burn you can only ever say to your closest friends.
As a matter of fact, this issue did more to solidify the Clark/Bruce friendship than years of Batman/Superman series have, as they clearly interact in that friendly competitive way that guys do when they hang out together. How could Batman possibly be competitive with Superman, you ask? As pointed out millions of times during the run up to the Batman vs. Superman movie, there’s no way Batman would stand a chance against Superman…unless he can. Bruce has that underdog urge to prove he can do it, that he can stand up to the best of the best. Here, he figures out a way and the story and their friendship is better for it.
On the lady side of the equation, it was fun to watch Lois and Selina bond. Rarely have I ever thought about Lois’s interactions with Clark’s work friends, a.k.a. The Justice League. Seeing Lois human and even slightly insecure at points helped to humanize both her and Clark. Selina on the other hand, maintains her air of mischief throughout the story. She manages to get into the carnival as the only person not in a costume because…she’s really hot. That definitely qualifies as a super-power, and she uses that power to gain entrance while her fellow super folk can only watch. I’d be surprised if that’s a super power most cat ladies have in real life, but only because most cat ladies I’ve met don’t look like Selina Kyle. Also, there’s that smell after you acquire so many cats.
Anyway, Selina follows the humanizing path by wondering simple questions ladies wonder when away from their men, like why are boys so gross. This is what I think happens when girls get together. I’m not really sure. The Selina-Lois interaction reminded me of so many times when double dates are thrust together and the unfamiliar parties end up becoming almost better friends than the people who brought them together in the first place. Forget Batman/Superman; give me a Catwoman/Lois series! That would be interesting! They just seemed to have so much fun in each other’s company, and practically nobody else is going to face the issues they would face. So that was fun to see.
All in all, the issue was a really fun romp that helped solidify how Batman and Superman could be friends in the first place. Clark wore glasses in the bat costume! Even when he’s in disguise, he’s in disguise. Bruce had his moments where he’s still Batman to people. Even when Batman is a friend, he’s still uncomfortable to be around. Lois and Selena both showed more human sides to themselves than readers traditionally get to see. All four of the main participants came out of this issue more relatable and charming than when it started. Tom King’s writing has quickly escalated to the tops in the business, and Clay Mann’s art is nothing to scoff at, either. It takes a great artist to give these quiet moments the same bombast and power as an all out action sequence.
Maybe once King wraps up his plan of a 105 issue Batman epic, I’ll look back on this issue for more than just a fun bit of characterization. For now, I’ll remember it as one of my favorite stories that reminded me why I care about all the major parties involved.
Batman #37 Final Grade: A+
Meaty story; sizzling art; It’s a darn fine steak, indeed. Worth checking out if you like your S symbols to stand for hope or your bat symbols to stand for bats. It’s available on the DC subscription service, as a back issue in your local comic shop, or as part of Batman Rebirth Volume 5 on Amazon. Bon appetit!