WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman #78 by Tom King, Clay Mann, Tomeu Morey and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle were supposed to get married in Batman #50, but Selina's doubts led her to abruptly leave Bruce at the altar. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, though, and in their time apart, both have come to new realizations about themselves. Batman's life has only got tougher since then, and Selina has now returned to help him fight his battles. In Tom King and Clay Mann's Batman #78, that time together stands to make the Dark Knight happy again -- and potentially change what that means for Batman.
Why Batman Can't Be Happy
During the engagement, Selina had an encounter with The Joker -- and a revelation stemming from their fight regarding marrying Bruce. The Joker put the notion in her head that a happy Batman would eventually mean no Batman at all -- that he would lose his drive to fight crime. From that point on, Selina wrestled with the dilemma that her love for Bruce would deprive the world of one of its greatest heroes.
And for her to be a hero, she would have to sacrifice that love -- not marry Bruce -- if Batman were to carry on. On her way to the wedding, Selina's friend Holly Robinson all but affirmed her doubts. Holly, of course, did so at the behest of Bane, as part of his mission to break The Bat. Convinced she could not be the one responsible for bringing Batman's career to an end, Selina instead chose to leave him.
Not helping matters any is Bruce had largely convinced himself of the same thing. His vow to fight crime left no room for love, or happiness. The pain of his parents' death is what made him continue his fight. Any kind of happiness he allowed himself would only dilute that drive. The idea is nothing new to the Batman mythos -- Bruce Wayne has rarely had any kind of lasting relationship since he first adopted the role of Batman.
Why Batman Can Be Happy
Batman #78, however, begins to challenge that longstanding assumption. To the world at large, Bruce -- or rather, Matches Malone -- and Selina appear to be enjoying a romantic getaway in the tropics. But the two aren't just sipping cold drinks on the beach while Bane continues his chokehold on Gotham. While Bruce recovers from his last encounter with his alternate-reality father, Selina also helps him train for their eventual confrontation with Bane and his allies. And as Bruce gets better and his strength returns, so do the feelings Bruce and Selina still harbor for each other.
Part of that return, though, is each of them confessing how their time apart has changed them. Selina, for all her heroic intent, didn't feel very heroic after what she had done. Leaving Bruce wasn't a victory for her -- she had killed the future she envisioned for them. She didn't feel like a hero for allowing the world to keep its Batman; she felt like the thief she's always been for stealing that future away from Bruce.
For the first time, Bruce admits he was broken, and it was because of Selina leaving him. His emotional state was obvious to everyone else around him, whether it was openly spoken of or not. Selina was gone, and the world kept its Batman, but it was a Batman driven to the depths of despair. He was no longer the Batman Selina thought she was preserving.
But even though he was broken, he never blamed her for it. He instead blamed himself and his own belief that he forever needed to be alone.
Let's Try This Again
Yes, Selina's departure, and the time since, has made Bruce start to rethink what his heart needs to be Batman. Bruce has long believed that his vow to fight crime, and the desire to be happy, were mutually exclusive goals. Now, though, he's beginning to realize that might not be the case and, perhaps, never has been.
"Maybe we don't live because of the hurt," Batman tells Selina. "Maybe we live to fight the hurt."
Batman's statement is a defining moment in the character's history, because for the first time he's acknowledging that he doesn't have to continuously cloak himself in darkness and loneliness to be who he is. He can still fight crime and be happy while doing it. The pain he's always endured doesn't have to be embraced -- it can be fought.
The first thing this realization leads to is a loving embrace. Yes, Batman and Catwoman have kissed and made up, and both are stronger for it.
Happily Ever After
If Selina leaving Bruce is what broke him, then arguably their reunion has made him whole again, at least emotionally. He still has plenty of emotional pain to deal with -- like Alfred's apparent murder last issue, of which Bruce remains unaware -- but is now better prepared to face it. Bruce is no longer being teased with the idea of happiness. He now believes he can actually achieve it.
The revelation doesn't just equip Batman with the emotional strength he needs to defeat Bane, it could also serve him well for the remainder of his career. Once the threat of Bane is addressed, Batman can go forward reconciling his two greatest needs. He can maintain his vow as Batman, continuing to honor his parents as he promised to do long ago. But he can also do that while living a happy life -- a goal that's pretty much shared by everybody.
Batman might even become a better superhero than he already is. After all, who doesn't do better at their jobs when they're happy?
"City of Bane" continues in Batman #79, on sale Sept. 18.