Every two weeks, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic books of significance. This week, they are Batman #50, written by Tom King (Mister Miracle, The Vision) with art by Mikel Janin (Grayson, Justice League Dark), colorist June Chung (Wolverine, Batman/Superman), and various guest artists, and X-Men Gold #30, written by Marc Guggenheim (Arrow, Amazing Spider-Man) with art by David Marquez (The Defenders, Ultimate Spider-Man) and colorist Matthew Wilson (The Wicked + The Divine, The Mighty Thor). For better or worse, these two wedding issues defy reader expectations, and early reveals of major plot twists shift the narrative to focus on the role of spoilers in publicity. Note: This review reveals major plot points.
Superheroes are having rotten luck at the altar this summer wedding season, but the actual events in the pages of Batman #50 and X-Men Gold #30 aren’t as dramatic as the stories surrounding their releases. Both issues were spoiled ahead of time by The New York Times, their twists revealed in the articles’ headlines. People didn’t really care that much about Kitty Pryde ditching Colossus at the altar and Rogue and Gambit getting married instead, but spoiling the wedding of Batman and Catwoman four days before the issue’s release ignited a blaze of outrage from fans and retailers. The Times didn’t change the title or the piece, but it did recognize the frustration and anger it caused, opening lines of communication between readers, writers, and editors on the topic of spoiling entertainment.
John Cunningham, DC’s senior vice president of sales, explained the decision in a post on a comics retailer Facebook group, citing expectations that the twist would be spoiled on Monday anyway, so DC wanted to get ahead of the game and control the flow of information. Yes, these big stories are going to be spoiled ahead of time on Reddit or Twitter or comic gossip sites, but leaks aren’t going to get published in The New York Times and go out to millions of people that are actively avoiding those other outlets for this specific reason. Marvel likely felt the same way about the X-wedding, but it also wanted to use the reach of the Times to let people know about Mr. & Mrs. X. the new series that follows Rogue and Gambit through the early days of their marriage.
Both of these stories represent some of the worst habits of superhero comics: unfair treatment of creators and sacrificing the content of a comic to get the big publicity push. The handling of Mr. & Mrs. X in particular could have a significantly detrimental effect on the future series and its creators. As a woman writing superhero comics, Kelly Thompson has had to deal with a lot of online harassment, with the low sales numbers of her comics (in single issues) often used as ammo. Marvel is setting her up for failure with the roll-out for Mr. & Mrs. X, which was solicited as “X-Classified” with no creative team or story information. Retailers learned the details about the series with The New York Times article, a whole two weeks before the cut-off date for orders of the first issue.
That’s not a lot of time to gauge the interest of your customers and order accordingly, and two months of outreach and publicity were wasted while the “X-Classified” solicit floated around, unattached to anything of substance. This isn’t the kind of strategy that leads to huge sales numbers, and it suggests that the publisher doesn’t have total confidence in the book by accelerating its release. Does it need to come out a month after the wedding for people to care, or is it a good comic that does that work in its content? I understand striking while the iron is hot, but people who want to read a book about Rogue and Gambit as newlyweds will still pick up the first issue in September, giving Marvel, the book’s creators, and retailers the opportunity to promote it for a full ordering cycle.
Retailers had concerns about the Bat-wedding spoilers hurting sales, but they had already placed their orders, all but guaranteeing that Batman #50 will be the best-selling comic of this month. But what about how the spoiler changes the impact of the story? Batman writer Tom King expressed his disappointment with the Times’ piece on Twitter, and the article made him a target for fans angry about a comic they hadn’t read yet and a news story King had no control over. Their ire was misdirected but not unfounded, people don’t want to be spoiled about media because they want to be taken on the journey intended by the entertainment’s creators. A twist is there to surprise the readers, and if they see it coming along the way, it’s a discovery they make while engaging with the story. Those people mad about being spoiled are carrying those emotions into their reading of this book, and the story now has to work against the reader’s displeasure to sell the development.
King’s run on Batman is focused on the question of whether Bruce Wayne can be happy and still function as Batman, and the answer, over and over again, is no. This theme doesn’t allow much room for humor, an essential element in keeping a superhero narrative engaging over a long period of time. That’s a pity, because King’s Batman is at its best when he doesn’t take himself too seriously and recognizes the opportunities for fun when writing a story about a guy that dresses up like a giant bat.
One of the strongest moments in King’s run is the Bat-Burger scene in Batman #16, which has Bruce and a quartet of his sidekicks grabbing a meal at the Batman-themed fast food restaurant. King does great work with scenes involving the extended Bat-family, like the interactions at Wayne Manor in Batman #33, the first issue of the “Rules Of Engagement” arc that has Selina and Bruce facing off against his ex-lover and the mother of his son, Talia Al Ghul. A joyful two-parter where the fiancés double date with Superman and Lois Lane showcases how this couple dynamic makes Batman’s relationships with other heroes more complex. And Batman #44 is a contender for single issue of the year, a meditative, exhilarating, and clever examination of Batman and Catwoman’s decades of comic-book history interlaced with Selina stealing the perfect wedding dress.
Selina leaving Bruce on their wedding day hits harder because the past year of stories has done such a good job breaking down what makes their relationship so exciting and fresh. The downside is now we lose that and go back to a less interesting status quo. Weddings represent new beginnings, and I hoped that this would be the start of a new era for the Bat-family, one that now includes a feline matriarch. King and his collaborators made a great case for why these characters should be together, but their justification for pulling them apart is the typical tragic superhero dilemma of pain being a driving force for heroism.
Batman dies if Bruce Wayne is happy, and the world needs Batman. There’s an extra twist at the end of this issue that reveals some very deliberate manipulation of events surrounding the wedding, but it forces the reader to believe that the headstrong Selina would let other people sway her mind and derail her plans for the future. That doesn’t jive with the characterization we’ve seen from her earlier in this story, and while characters can always have hidden anxieties and fears, it’s hard to buy Selina taking the words of someone like the Joker to heart.
Mikel Janin and colorist June Chung handle the artwork for Bruce and Selina’s separate preparations before the wedding, two paths that intersect in a striking two-page spread. These scenes are broken up by pages detailing the letters Bruce and Selina have written to each other before their nuptials, presented over artwork by an all-star line-up of artists including legends like Frank Miller, Neal Adams, and José Luis García-López, and nearly every artist who has worked on King’s Batman run. Most of these are pin-ups, with the exception of multi-panel pages from Tim Sale and Paul Pope. While the images don’t always align completely with the text, they highlight different romantic moments in the history of these two lovers. These letters offer a deeper look into each character’s perspective of their relationship, but the strenuous connections between the two letters reveal the hand of the writer and detract from the emotional content. It’s like the two of them are working from the same letter outline, creating unnecessary symmetry that dulls their individual characterizations.
King’s work on The Vision and Mister Miracle is all about how marriage and family create severe emotional challenges, which would be a fascinating story to tell with Batman, Catwoman, and all of their baggage. The original Mikel Janin artwork in the Times’ piece shows Bruce, Selina, and Alfred in domestic bliss, and while this idealized image doesn’t represent the realities of marriage, it offers a refreshing vision of Batman that feels like an appropriate evolution for the character. And superheroes should be allowed to grow, to change. With DC launching so many imprints with new-reader-friendly interpretations of its characters, it can take more risks with the characters in its main continuity because they don’t necessarily have to align with the versions in other media like TV or film. There’s still time for King to unite Bruce and Selina in holy matrimony in his planned 100-issue run, but will DC be able to make an event out of it after burning people the first time?
Marc Guggenheim’s run on X-Men Gold is totally conventional, and its wedding issue is less ambitious than Batman #50, but more satisfying as an actual wedding story. David Marquez and Matthew Wilson’s artwork brings softness and warmth that heightens the romantic elements, with the delicate detail of both the linework and coloring grounding the event in an atmosphere that isn’t as heightened and fraught as the typical experience for these characters. Guggenheim takes advantage of the reunion element of weddings for the issue’s big twist, and even though Rogue and Gambit haven’t been a part of X-Men Gold, their marriage makes a lot more sense than Kitty and Piotr, especially with Rogue and Gambit recently coming out of a miniseries that dissected their relationship.
The X-wedding has always felt like a tepid response to the much higher profile Bat-wedding, pushing two characters together because Marvel wants to capitalize on the superhero wedding buzz. The reasoning for Kitty not marrying Piotr plays like an admission of guilt on Marvel’s part, with Kitty realizing that this isn’t the right time to take this step. And she’s right. Piotr’s sister, Illyana, plays a big part in this, planting seeds of doubt in Kitty’s head the night before her wedding. Given the queer readings of Kitty and Illyana’s relationship, this scene can be interpreted as Illyana sabotaging the wedding so Piotr doesn’t get what she wants. Marvel will probably never run with this idea, but there’s certainly space in the narrative for that interpretation, which explains why Illyana would sabotage her brother’s wedding.
Kitty gets very far in this wedding before bailing, putting a ring on Piotr’s finger but phasing through his hand when he tries to put a ring on hers. Her rejection is brutal, but comes across as a subconscious reaction to the situation that throws her completely off guard. Her body tells her what her heart knows, but it does so at the most inopportune time. She’s not just running away from marriage; she’s running away from the embarrassment of her mutant powers projecting her emotional insecurity to all of her friends and family. The use of Kitty’s powers in this issue is very effective, and the full-page spread of her hand phasing through Piotr’s is an inspired visual that calls back to John Cassaday’s cover for Astonishing X-Men #6, arguably Kitty and Piotr’s most romantic moment.
In a conversation about X-Men Gold #30 at Women Write About Comics, Kayleigh Hearn makes the great point that Gambit is a thief who steals a wedding. He’s the real hero of this issue, saving the day by giving everyone something to celebrate instead of awkwardly standing around after the phase-away bride. Is it tacky? Sure. But tacky is Gambit’s whole thing. These two issues would have been total downers if not for Gambit and Rogue stepping in with surprise superhero nuptials, eliminating the will-they/won’t-they aspect of their relationship and allowing them to evolve together in a committed relationship. Mr. & Mrs. X can use all the help it can get when it hits stands later this month, so anyone looking for the ongoing adventures of a newlywed superhero couple should seek out Kelly Thompson and Oscar Bazaldua’s new series when it debuts July 25.