When cartoonist Cliff Chiang joined me on Off Panel this week to talk about Catwoman: Lonely City, his DC Black Label series that debuts today, 11 one of the most absorbing parts of the conversation came after we stopped recording. We were discussing this story of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and how she contends with a changed Gotham – complete with all the fittings of a police state through a 2020 lens and a ban on all vigilantes and masks – after spending ten years in prison because of the events of Fools’ Night, a disastrous evening that cost the lives of Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Nightwing, The Joker 12 and untold others. As we chatted, the conversation shifted to their demise. Or more specifically, why was it necessary for those four characters to be taken off the table?
There were multiple reasons, with each depending on the character. I suggested Nightwing was necessary because he is so good and so competent that there’s no way he would have let Gotham become a city run by Mayor Harvey Dent and his fascist police force, the Batcops. Chiang largely agreed with that idea. And when it came to the other trio, it became a conversation about a perhaps unfortunate truth about Gotham stories. If you’re working within that city and its structures, that troika is almost always present even when they’re not on the page. Characters like Batman, Gordon and The Joker have immense storytelling gravity, a pull to not just appear but dominate the narratives of this city and the thoughts of its readers. To get to the story Chiang wanted to tell, these characters needed to go.
That’s not to say Chiang couldn’t have made it work, deftly injecting them into this series. He already does that through flashbacks within its pages. But their absence and the toll it took on the city itself presented powerful questions for the cartoonist to answer: what is Gotham without those four pillars of its identity, and what remains for those left behind?