WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman Annual #2, by Tom King and Lee Weeks, on sale now.
To say that Rebirth's Batman series has been deeply invested in the Batman and Catwoman dynamic from day one would be putting it pretty lightly. The relationship between the Bat and the Cat has been one of the run's singular and most obvious driving forces. From their recent engagement to the heart wrenching confessions directed at one another during the book's second arc, "I Am Suicide," and beyond, Selina and Bruce's dynamic has become the foundation upon which Tom King and his collaborators like Mich Gerads, Mikel Janin, David Finch and Joelle Jones have built on.
So it's pretty appropriate that Rebirth Batman would close out its second year with an annual focusing, specifically, on the origin -- and the ending of -- Batman and Catwoman's whole situation.
But this is far from your run-of-the-mill "Caped Crusader versus Femme Fatale" narrative.
Building the Myth
The mythologizing of DC's heroes is par for the course -- it's something that comes with the territory when you're dealing with any characters that are closer to a hundred years old than they are to fifty. Batman has become part of our modern folklore and, as such, sometimes gets bolstered by stories that explicitly treat him as such.
Kubert and Gaiman's Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader, Morrison and McKean's Arkham Asylum, even to some extent Miller's Dark Knight Returns, are all stories that have played into the esoteric quality of a character who is, essentially, both locked in stasis and yet perpetually changing. These stories work to build up the myth of the Batman, both within the universe of the story (as ever shifting and malleable as it may be) and outside of it -- our understanding of just who this guy in the cape and cowl is.
Batman Annual #2 slots itself right into that tradition by telling a story that doesn't specifically exist in any one place or time, that isn't exactly told by any reliable narration, that plays fast-and-loose with its own continuity; but does so all in service to the much better idea of mythologizing Bruce and Selina's romance.
The annual isn't set in any specific time frame, just "near the beginning" and "later" and it's not beholden to any specific Earth, blending in elements of the Dark Knight universe, Earth-2, and even King and Weeks' own imaginary Batman/Elmer Fudd crossover universe. It paints a fuzzy, patchwork timeline of an entire life lived together in montage, like you're being told a story only half remembered -- like a folktale that's been passed around one too many times to be anything but slightly ambiguous.
So, What Does All Of That Mean?
Here's the thing: rather than being frustrating, the ambiguity of the story actually bolsters it. The important thing to remember about this specific brand of superhero narrative is that they're typically incredibly self aware about the transitory nature inherent to these characters -- there's no way to tell the "true" story of Selina and Bruce's first meeting, the actual story literally happened decades ago and the universe it happened in, technically, no longer exists.
It's that self awareness that makes these mythological stories work the way that they do -- digging into some fundamental truth about the characters rather than looking to push them forward along the tracks.
Which is to say that, rather than trying to parse out Easter eggs or mince chronology or trying to figure out just where this story slots into Batman's history, it's actually more worthwhile to zoom out and view the entire picture.
In Batman Annual #2, Bruce and Selina live an entire life. They have a daughter (Earth-2 continuity's Helena Wayne), Carrie Kelley has been brought into the fold in some way, Duke Thomas, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain -- it's a complete, but unfamiliar Bat Family who stand by as an aged Bruce succumbs to lung cancer. This is a world where superheroes age and keep aging, where time pushes forward and doesn't magically pause when it's convenient. It's not a place we get to see Batman very often.
It's pretty unlikely that we're ever going to see this story in it's entirety for Batman and Catwoman in any iteration of main continuity. Bruce is never going to be allowed to age or die, he and Selina's marriage probably isn't going to be a permanent thing, but here, in this strange and liminal space, all bets are off. We get to see a version of the marriage we're getting over in the main book that (probably) isn't actually going to happen, but would be lovely if it did.
That's the important take away from the story and the reason it matters: not because it's moving the ball any further toward the omnipresent superhero story horizon, but because it's building a "what if" scenario that shows both Bruce and Selina at their most unfamiliar bests: loving spouses, matriarch and patriarch of a huge family, happy and whole.