Note: Because it's difficult to discuss this issue in much depth without addressing the ending, this review will contain spoilers for Batman #50. I'll add a spoiler warning where necessary.
Batman #50 has quickly become one of the most controversial DC releases of the year, even before its actual release. No doubt many readers are coming into this book ready to hate it, judging from the widespread backlash to the spoilers revealed by The New York Times over the weekend. DC did itself absolutely no favors there. But looking beyond the spoilers and whether or not the outcome of Batman and Catwoman's wedding actually lives up to the marketing hype, Batman #50 is one of the strongest chapters of King's run yet. It delivers another emotional, heartfelt look at two lovers and their intertwined lives. It also serves as a fitting climax to this particular phase of King's run while simultaneously setting the tone for what's to come in the next 50 issues.
Issue #50 hearkens back to King's previous Batman/Catwoman-focused stories in tone and presentation. Like in "I Am Suicide," the visual beats of the story are juxtaposed with narration in the form of letters Bruce and Selina have written one another. Like in "Rooftops," there's a dreamy, almost despondent quality to the way King highlights their long relationship, painting them as two soulmates who forever seem divided by circumstance. And as in many great issues of this run, there's an emphasis on mirrored storytelling. Every point Batman makes in his letter to Selina is immediately countered by her response. Letterer Clayton Cowles proves essential here, with his varied fonts and color choices helping to make it clear whose letter is being read on any given page.
King clearly has a soft spot for Batman: Year One, referencing the events of that storyline multiple times throughout the issue and emphasizing the idea that Batman and Catwoman's lives have been intertwined from the very beginning. It's not just the Bruce/Selina relationship that propels this story forward, however. The two characters spend relatively little time together, leaving King free to highlight Bruce's familial bond with Alfred and Selina's enduring friendship with Holly Robinson. The former two characters in particular share a scene that's easily one of the most satisfying and well-rendered of the entire series to date.
It all makes for a rich, emotionally engaging experience of the sort King and frequent partner Mikel Janin do so well. Janin only handles a portion of the pages in this issue, but his inventive page structure and warm character designs accentuate the mood in King's writing. The same goes for June Chung's inviting colors. There's a particularly impressive page midway through where the two parallel story threads converge and Janin works his way from both sides of the page into the center.
Alongside Janin, this issue features a massive lineup of guest artists, most of whom have made major contributions to the Batman franchise in the past (Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Neal Adams, Lee Bermejo, etc.). For the most part, these artists focus on crafting detailed splash images of Batman and Catwoman - images that could just as easily serve as more variant covers as actual pieces of the story. That approach does grow a bit repetitive over the course of the issue. I found myself more artists had followed the example of Tim Sale and told a short, sequential story with their pages rather than opting for the one image. Still, it's an impressive lineup of A-List talent, and these images with their varied costumes and styles further showcase the long history between these characters. Some of these pages, particularly Lee Weeks' haunting, minimalist image, deserve to be released as art prints.
Warning: the remainder of this review contains spoilers!
The ending to this issue will be the real point of contention for readers. And yes, on some level, after months of hype and build-up and numerous co,mics celebrating the love between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, it's disappointing to see this romance reach such an abrupt conclusion. If anything, I'll credit King for doing so much over the past year to make me want this marriage to happen, despite my initial reservations. It's difficult to imagine a married Batman being a good thing for this franchise in the long term, but you can't help but wish for Bruce to find some happiness all the same.
The key is that Batman #50 isn't best appreciated as a standalone story. It's actually a pretty lousy entry point into the series. King's script builds on two years' worth of stories and character development. Newcomers aren't going to appreciate the various callbacks to older issues or how integral stories like "The Travelers" and "Best Man" were in directly laying the groundwork for Selina's decision to abandon Bruce. Nor will the final page have the same impact as it reveals how everything over the course of 50 issues has been connected. In that sense, DC may have done new readers a disservice by putting so much hype on an issue that's as much an ending as it is a new beginning for the character. King is telling a huge, multi-year story here, and Batman #50 is merely the middle point in the journey.