Batman’s been chasing Catwoman for decades in the various iterations of DC Comics’ fictional landscapes, and the attraction between the hero and the thief has been a constant subtext. They’re getting married soon in the mainline reality of the DC Universe, but it’s happened before, in a story that’s a classic.
Batman reveals his identity to Catwoman in a classic story from 1983. Image: Joe Staton, George Freeman, John Constanza (DC Comics)
For the uninitiated, the first thing you need to know about “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” from The Brave and the Bold #197 (August 1983) is that it happens on Earth-2. That planet is the anchor of an alternate reality in the DC multiverse, where the 1940s versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman continued to exist.
Bruce Wayne wonders how lonely his future will be. Image: Joe Staton, George Freeman, John Constanza (DC Comics)
Written by Alan Brennert, with art by Joe Staton, George Freeman and John Constanza, the story focuses on a Batman dealing with what’s essentially a midlife crisis. He’s doing the same thing he’s always done – in this case, answering the Bat-Signal and investigating a supervillain’s crimes – while other people move on with their lives.
The supervillain here is the Scarecrow, whose campaign of terror targets a wedding where an ex-girlfriend of Bruce Wayne is getting married. Bruce suits up as Batman, only to find that the allies who were also helping fight Scarecrow are disappearing before his eyes, thanks to a dose of the bad guy’s fear gas.
Scarecrow’s fear gas makes Batman freak out. Image: Joe Staton, George Freeman, John Constanza (DC Comics)
Seemingly without allies to help him find his missing friends, he turns to an enemy and enlists Catwoman as a partner for the case.
I love those last two panels, because you can feel the resentment as Selina snatches her costume from Batman. Image: Joe Staton, George Freeman, John Constanza (DC Comics)
One of the best things about this story is how wary Batman and Catwoman are of each other at first. She’s feigning amnesia and his mindstate has been altered, making them both wonder about the person they thought they knew.
“The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” is memorable because it takes something that was simmering beneath the surface – Batman and Catwoman’s flirtatious “wrong side of the tracks” dynamic – and lets it reach full boil. The two masked characters have known each other for years, but only so much; the sequences where they learn about each other’s pasts are deeply affecting.
Catwoman gets a close look at the pain Batman has endured. Image: Joe Staton, George Freeman, John Constanza (DC Comics)
One of the immortal scenes from this story happens during a quiet moment of recuperation. Tending to a burn on Batman’s back after saving him from a fiery deathtrap, Catwoman gasps at all the scar tissue on the Dark Knight’s body.
The interactions in this tale humanise both of them, exploring an emotional explanation for Catwoman’s life of crime and showing how Batman’s dogged determination can lead to his psychological downfall. It’s a gentler precursor to work that would more explicitly plumb the Dark Knight’s psyche in the years to come.
Batman learns more about Catwoman’s past. Image: Joe Staton, George Freeman, and John Constanza (DC Comics)
As the story goes on, they encounter localised pockets of fear gas that make them face different phobias, including fears of bats and cats. Being honest with each other leads to a deeper bond, and Catwoman calls Batman out for having made his emotions inaccessible over the course of his crimefighting career. He listens and grudgingly acknowledges that she has a point.
Recognising these deeper feelings makes Catwoman start to disappear just like Batman’s other loved ones. The only thing that can stop Batman from falling completely under the influence of Scarecrow’s fear gas and thinking he’s all alone is to stop being Batman in that moment. It’s hard for him to do.
Brennert doesn’t even show the bad guy getting caught because Scarecrow is just a means to an end. What matters is that, as the captions say, Batman found Bruce Wayne.
In the latter-day version of the Bat-Cat relationship, largely steered in the main Batman title written by Tom King, we’ve seen their love actually develop from being an unspoken attraction to something deeper.
“The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” only shows the beginning of their love affair, but the thing I like most about this story is how it applies the same kind of psychological deconstruction to Earth-2 Bruce Wayne as his main Earth-1 counterpart had been getting.
Part of the appeal of the old-school Earth-2 characters was that they were anchored to the aesthetics of mid-century Americana. Batman on Earth-2 drove a classic Batmobile and didn’t have a yellow oval on his chest. He didn’t transform with the times.
Joe Staton’s art is a perfect fit for this story because he’s able to render Batman in the classic square-jawed mode established by artists such as Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff, while also using the camera angles and layouts of more modern comics.
A superhero wedding where no villains show up! Image: Joe Staton, George Freeman, John Constanza (DC Comics)
This story showed that even Earth-2 Batman could transform with the times and that such a transformation could happen in a way that added layers to characters that were beneficial.
The “main” version of Batman has had to be on the frontlines of dramatic churn, which has meant that paramours come and go to highlight the tragic loneliness of his quest to fight all crime. “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” takes advantage of an opportunity to give the Dark Knight a happy ending of sorts – one that happens by embracing the non-superhero part of his life – which is an exceedingly rare occurrence in the character’s history.