Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War started with a provocative idea: what if Selina Kyle was able to convince Gotham's goons to give up working for the likes of the Joker and instead pivot to more considered crime. She trained an army of elite cat burglars to only steal from the ultra-rich in an attempt to reduce violence in the city and redistribute the money to those who actually needed it.
It was never destined to work - a Gotham without crime is a Gotham without the need for Batman, after all - but it was a fun thought experiment and one which served to divide Bruce Wayne not just from Selina Kyle, but from most of his other allies too.
The arc has taken several interesting diversions since then. Batman is psychologically compromised - if not entirely possessed - by the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. He's brainwashed Red Hood so that he is unable to fight. And Vandal Savage has rocked up with his daughter Scandal in tow for good measure.
It's been pretty exciting overall, but in - deep breath - Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Scorched Earth #1, by writers Tini Howard and Chip Zdarsky and artist Mike Hawthorne with Nikola Čižmešija, these tangents overwhelm the main story.
Scorched Earth begins with Batman and Catwoman deciding to temporarily put their differences aside in order to take down Vandal and Scandal Savage.
As we learned in Batman #138, Vandal was granted immortality by an ancient meteor that was also the source of Ra's al Ghul's longevity. The shards of this meteor still exist and he plans to exploit them for his own ends, little realising that they are acting as a homing beacon for a different and much bigger meteor that will lay waste to the entire Eastern Seaboard. This is a sudden new development and perhaps one that will benefit from further exploration somewhere down the line. For now though it feels as dumb as, well, rocks.
Meanwhile the rest of the Bat-Family are tied up fighting Two-Face, Scarecrow and some of the other rogue's gallery villains. Honestly their motivation and place in this story has felt a little fuzzy, but they do allow for some expansive fight scenes that put the art team through their paces.
Red Hood isn't involved in any of this thanks to his recent brainwashing by Bruce. As Gotham War has progressed it's become clear that he, rather than Bruce or Selina, is at the heart of this arc and he gets some nice moments here, overcoming his new found terror to take control of the Bat-Wing and make a self-sacrificing death run at the meteor.
In fact, he is able to bail out at the last second. We're not sorry that Red Hood lives, but it does take away from the emotion of the scene. That's presumably because the book has a bigger death planned...
As the smaller meteors rain down, one larger piece remains and crashes to the ground. Vandal takes the opportunity to try and steal all of the power for himself, double-crossing Scandal. However, he soon discovers that "the power is different" and is consumed in a mighty explosion that also seems to take out Catwoman. Batman helps save Scandal but is left mourning his fallen ex.
So there we have it - Catwoman is dead! Only... not really. Somehow she (and presumably Vandal) survived. Despite this Bruce, still under the influence of Zur-En-Arrh, uses her 'death' as an excuse to separate himself off from the Bat-Family once and for all. Then, in a final epilogue, one of Catwoman's men discovers his secret identity. Cliffhanger!
This issue is a lot. There's fights and revelations and surprise developments - some more compelling than others.
What it's not is a conclusion to the story that we thought was being told here. Selina's plan failed the moment Vandal showed up and she certainly seems to have lost interest in it. Likewise the "war" between Batman and Catwoman was actually fairly easily resolved when the two sat down to talk. That's fine, I guess, but when you start an arc with a premise as provocative and intriguing as Gotham War, it's a shame to see it pushed to one side in favor of another simple supervillain scrap, a whole lot of set up for future issues, and a big rock from space.
Batman/Catwoman: The Gotham War: Scorched Earth #1 is out now from DC Comics.
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