Who needs Batman anyway?
The funny thing about this latest Batman storyline is that Batman himself is the least important player. The Dark Knight spent the bulk of issue #48 as a silent, passive partner to a scene-stealing Joker. This time around, Batman has almost no presence at all, with Tom King and Mikel Janin focusing all of their attention on the dynamic between Joker and Catwoman. And it quickly becomes apparent that a comic titled “Batman” doesn’t actually need Batman to thrive.
King and Janin’s depiction of Joker makes a marked shift in the latter half of “Best Man.” Where has was at his most monstrous and cruel in issue #48, this Joker is more down-to-earth and even pleasant, in his own, weird way. Catwoman is about the closest thing Joker has to a peer or colleague, and much of this issue unfolds as the two nurse their respective wounds, talk shop and reminisce about the good old days. It’s a rare look at how the Batman rogues view one another and their roles in the Gotham City hierarchy.
It’s a very understated approach, especially considering the force of nature Joker is normally portrayed as. If anything, the story seems a little too slow and quiet for its own good at first. But little by little, the interplay between Catwoman and Joker builds in tension. Joker makes his case for why he’s so intent on spoiling Batman’s wedding and why Selena may be misguided for trying to make an honest man out of the Caped Crusader. All of that culminates in a terrific, unsettling ending that perfectly sets the tone for the wedding to come in Batman #50. Rather than establishing this moment as a positive step forward for both characters, this issue merely casts a new layer of doubt and foreboding over the proceedings.
Janin has been given a particularly challenging assignment here. Apart from the opening fight scene, this story mainly consists of one prolonged conversation between two characters. How do you frame that conversation in such a way that it doesn’t start to drag after ten pages? Janin’s solution is to focus on careful framing of his characters. His art constantly shifts in perspective from panel to panel. The two leads may be limited in their physical movements, but the way Janin’s art draws the eye up and down maintains a consistent level of energy. Janin also emphasizes nuanced body language, rendering two character who cycle through a number of emotions and are constantly fighting back physical pain as they power through what could wind up being the final moments of their lives. If not the flashiest chapter of the series by any stretch, it’s certainly engrossing.