WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Batman #49 by Tom King and Mikel Janin, in stores now.
The previous issue of Batman was all about the Dark Knight and his greatest enemy, the Joker. It dove into Joker's villainy by exploring it through the lens of the Clown Prince of Crime reacting to the news of Batman's upcoming wedding to Catwoman. It re-framed the way Joker views his relationship to Batman, and examined just how crazy he really is. Now, with issue #49, Batman is down for the count and Catwoman enters the fray to fight in her fiance's stead.
As the two villains clash, the relationship between the Joker and Catwoman is redefined as well. Both Selina Kyle and Joker spend most of the issue talking about their shared past, and it ends with a clever -- and slightly unsettling -- homage to Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and John Higgins' quintessential Batman story, The Killing Joke.
For the bulk of Batman #49, Joker and Selina are only a few feet away from another, lying in rubble. Their fight reaches a standstill, and now both are so injured that to move or even get up is almost assuredly a death sentence. So, with nothing other to do than to just lay there and try not to pass out, the two do the only thing they can: they talk. They talk about Penguin and Two-Face, about their respective relationships to Batman, and the good old days of crime in Gotham City.
But when the readers pull the veil behind the dialogue, it's clear that there is a certain kinship behind Joker and Catwoman. After all, The Killing Joke went a long way to establish the idea that Batman and Joker were very similar in a lot ways -- and if that is the case, then yes, Catwoman, who shares many qualities and faults with Batman, is also similar to the supervillain. Together, they form three points of a triangle, where each stands apart from the other, and yet where each is connected to the other to form a whole. This was part of the idea behind Killing Joke's Batman and Joker, and it's now the idea behind King and Janin's Batman #49.
In fact, in Joker and Selina's exchange, the criminal madman goes so far as referencing the ending of the Killing Joke -- the famous scene where Joker and Batman both share a laugh together. "I held him as the rain came and we laughed," he tells Selina. Then, Batman #49 goes even further than that by giving the two Batman villains their very own Killing Joke moment. Selina tells Joker a joke she used to tell herself when she was younger, and it makes him chuckle.
However, it's only later, when Joker has passed out from his loss of blood, that Selina holds him and laughs. Like the Joker had done before, holding Batman as they laughed, she too holds the Joker and laughs. Perhaps she realizes the craziness of it all. Perhaps she sees how crazy she is, in this life of criminals and capes and superhero weddings. Or perhaps, after her own blood loss and weak physical state, she finally allows herself to laugh at her own joke -- something she admitted she had never done before.
Selina and Joker may not laugh at the same time, but they still share the laughter apart. It's a moment that echoes The Killing Joke without copying it exactly. It examines the relationship between the two villains in a way we had never really considered before, and it makes us see that a life of crime, a life of violence, of pain and love and compassion can still take its toll on the humans who live underneath the clown make-up and the cat and bat masks.