HEAT VISION

Comics Watch: A Classic 'Batman: The Animated Series' Villain Returns

Batman/Catwoman No. 1
Clay Mann/DC Entertainment
The Phantasm's arrival in the pages of 'Batman/Catwoman' feels like an event in itself.

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's Comics Watch, a dive into how the latest books from Marvel, DC and beyond could provide fodder for the big (and small) screen. 

The Bat and the Cat, the vigilante and the thief, the knight and his pirate queen. However they’ve been defined, Batman and Catwoman have one of the longest-running relationships in comics, be it as enemies, foils, partners, or lovers. No matter how many times we’ve seen them go their separate ways over the decades they’ve always managed to find their way back to one another. It’s this history, one that has enduring Crises, Flashpoints, and Rebirths, that Tom King and artist Clay Mann explore in Batman/Catwoman, which focuses on the duos complex relationship in the past, present, and future in order to tell a defining story about the couple, a Batman story that King hopes can sit alongside Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

That’s no easy task, but King and Mann have emerged as one of the best teams in comics in recent years through their work on Batman and Heroes in Crisis. Both of those prior projects inform Batman/Catwoman, especially the former. Though falling under DC’s Black Label imprint, Batman/Catwoman feels very much of a piece in terms of the development both characters went through in Batman. Not only that, Batman/Catwoman is heavily influenced by Batman: The Animated Series, and most prominently Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), giving the book another history-making hook.

Taking place across three timelines, the debut issue, titled “Silent Knight” introduces Paul Dini and Alan Burnett’s creation, Andrea Beaumont, aka The Phantasm, into the mainstream DC Universe for the first time. King treats the events of Mask of the Phantasm as canon, which should make fans of the character very pleased, considering it is arguably the perfect Batman film. After her apparent death years earlier, Beaumont resurfaces in Gotham in search of her son, Andrew, who has come looking for his father. She asks Batman for his help, and along with Catwoman, he traverses the underworld of Gotham City, running into another, albeit less popular, character from Batman: The Animated Series, the Sewer King, who taught Selina everything she knows about thievery during her youth. And in the shadows of the present, The Joker lurks, while in the past the Clown Prince of Crime tries to convince Selina to abandon her semi-heroic ways and give in to what he considers to be her true nature. And in the future Selina, following Bruce’s death from cancer as shown in Batman Annual No. 2, she makes good on a promise to an old friend.While only the first issue in the 12-isssue maxi-series, King sets up a fascinating contemplation of who Selina Kyle is in terms of her relationship with Batman. Is she less than her true self when she’s with him? If he’s made better by being with her, is she made better by being with him? And who does Selina become when he’s no longer around. While King touched on some of these ideas during his Batman run, here they’re given more focus as he essentially tells the story of a marriage, from love’s first bloom, through partnership and all the challenges that come with it, and finally to widowhood, all through the lens of two of comics most iconic characters. But what isn’t clear just yet is how Bruce Wayne’s first love, Andrea Beaumont will complicate that relationship in the present.

Surprisingly, the Phantasm, unlike Harley Quinn and Rene Montoya who also made their debuts in Batman: The Animated Series, did not make a quick and easy jump into comics. In part it was perhaps because the character was loosely based on Judson Caspian aka The Reaper who appeared in Mike Barr and Alan Davis’ Batman: Year Two, before the story was removed from continuity. But also the delay might have been because even with the DC Animated Universe, Beaumont’s presence was scarce, only making two appearances, in Mask of the Phantasm and the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue.” Her appearance in Batman/Catwoman, though limited in this first issue, feels purposeful rather than just another adversary to trade blows with. She’s not only a foil to Batman, in terms of her lethal war on crime, but also to Catwoman, a femme fatale who would not allow herself to be changed by the Batman. And what’s more, she’s made a personal enemy out of the Joker, one of the few to do that outside of Batman. Under that understanding she becomes an essential aspect of examining Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, and subsequently, their relationship with the Joker who is a sort of third wheel lover in their marriage.

Beaumont is one of the rare characters who has been translated from film into the comics, and whose arrival within these pages feels like an event in itself. Given the enthusiasm behind her debut in the mainline DC Comics (she did appear in Batman & Robin Adventures Annual No. 1, based on the animated series) and her being high on Clay Mann’s list of characters he wanted to draw, it’s possible Beaumont will have a long and storied future in the DCU. While it’s unclear whether Batman/Catwoman will be part of the main continuity, if continuity will even serve as a meaningful glue for DC Universe following the time and space altering events of Dark Knights: Death Metal and Generations: Shattered, the book certainly seems to take into account everything that served as continuity during King’s Batman run.

While it perhaps seems to early to start betting on the Phantasm’s future, if Batman/Catwoman does ultimately find itself in the same conversation as Miller’s Batman work, Andrea Beaumont could become an essential piece in Batman stories across mediums. And given how few major Batman villains we’ve yet to see make their leap to the big-screen, perhaps with the characters’ 30th anniversary coming up in a couple years, the Phantasm, and Tom King and Clay Mann’s Batman/Catwoman, could inform the next great chapter in Batman’s cinema history. But regardless of what the future holds for the character, we’ve got eleven more issues and a whole year’s worth of storytelling for what’s being teed up as one of the all-time great Batman and Catwoman stories.

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