Who is Batman’s Greatest Love?
Like Spider-Man, Batman has not only one of the most excellent rogues galleries in all comics but also some of the most numerous love interests. From Wonder Woman to Lois Lane (depending on the canon), to Vicki Vale, to Julie Madison, Batman has had many an admirer, not to mention the many, nameless babes he carries on his arm as Bruce Wayne to help solidify his playboy persona.
You might be someone who prefers Batman with any of these other ladies, or anyone as wild a choice as Harley Quinn, the Joker, or even his bestie Superman, but there’s no denying that when it comes to longevity, his greatest loves boil down to Gotham’s finest cat burglar, Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, or daughter of the demon, Talia al Ghul.
Catwoman is undeniably Batman’s most famous love interest of his more consistent pairings. If you ship him with Superman, that’s subtext or fan wishing (or fan fiction… and please point me to some good ones, asking for a friend), and if you prefer Wonder Woman, they either never last or they’re relegated to other media like the DCAU or hinted at in the DCEU. Selina Kyle, as early as her very first appearance even before she took on the Catwoman mantle, was a thief whom Batman let escape on account of liking her. While this may not be how their dynamic works in contemporary stories, it is a very early hint of feelings all those decades ago.
Catwoman has been a villain, an antihero, and everything in between. There has always been an attraction between the two, but Batman usually had to stop Catwoman from her thieving and/or villainous ways. Some stories in the silver or even bronze age teased the possibility of Selina reforming the Catwoman identity and settling down with Bruce. In one way or another, their happiness never seemed to last. By the Post-Crisis/Pre-52 era and onwards, Catwoman became more of an anti-hero, still thieving from time to time but mostly teaming up with Batman and the Bat Family to fight crime in and around Gotham. During this time, Bruce and Selina would develop more of a relationship in and out of costume, though he would keep his true identity a secret while knowing hers for most of her career. This would change in Batman: Hush when he finally trusted her with his identity as they became more and more serious as both costumed and civilian identities. Catwoman never revealed his identity even when knowing it has endangered her life. During Hush, Alfred remarks to Selina that when she is around, he smiles more, which makes the surrogate father happy and root for the pair.
Love them or hate them as a couple, Bruce and Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, is one of Batman’s most interesting pairings. A trained assassin, Talia is perhaps the deadliest of Batman’s lady loves, that even (if we’re being honest) outclasses Selina in terms of sheer skill and experience. Talia is best known for being in love with Bruce while also being torn by her devotion to her father and his cause. The other interesting tidbit is that, unlike most fathers disapproving of the men their daughter’s love, Ra’s encourages Bruce to be with Talia and wants him as his successor as head of the demon and leader of the League of Assassins. It is Bruce, however, that rejects the idea of taking over the League or killing Ra’s to be his successor, even if he loves Talia. The main thing stopping Bruce and Talia from being together is the fact that he cannot live the life or accept the calling that being with her entails. Bruce wants to fight people like Ra’s and the League, and Talia wants him to join them.
Bruce and Talia are likely as popular as they are due to the fascinating way in which their relationship and their dilemma unfolds, as well as the sheer sensuality of it. With Talia, Bruce is often shown at his most romantic and the two have had many kisses and implied sex scenes and even married at one point, resulting in a child that was apparently stillborn (more on that later). Unlike Catwoman at the time, Talia was shown to be far more willing to play on Bruce’s level and was far keener on a genuine romance, while Catwoman at the time liked toying with Batman and flirting long enough to get away (though genuinely being attracted to him as well). Talia knew Bruce’s secret a lot longer and he had been closer to her in many ways that he wasn’t yet willing to be with Selina. During the No Man’s Land storyline in which Bruce had his back broken as Batman by Bane and temporarily retired from his tenure as Batman, it was Talia who encouraged him to return to action. Bruce and Talia, prior to the New 52 which saw a horrible retcon change the dynamic of their relationship forever (more on that later), had a complex relationship that wasn’t all wonderful but wasn’t all pain either.
Why I Prefer BatCat
While Bruce and Selina are far from perfect, as are the individuals that make the pair, Selina compliments Bruce in many important ways. The two have been damaged by the crimes and evils of Gotham, albeit in ways that set them on different paths. And while Bruce is wealthy as hell, and Selina is not (hence her being a thief in the first place), the two have found common ground on more than one occasion. They both fiercely care for the people they love: be it Alfred and any of Bruce’s children or Selina and her cats or longtime loved one Holly Robinson, the two have a greater sense of humanity about them and cope with their dark pasts in similarly destructive ways, while also wanting to help people, maybe Bruce far more than Selina most of the time, but she too can’t resist helping others, especially in modern incarnations of her character.
Batman and Catwoman are people who cannot grieve or process their trauma properly. If they could, they would not be dressing up as a bat and a cat and beating people up. Bruce and Selina may or may not (depending on who you ask) have the same intensity of passion that Bruce and Talia do, but passion do they have! They also have the massive benefit of longevity and promotion in other media. Catwoman, far more than Talia, is an iconic and well-known comic book character who has been featured in almost as many adaptations and alternate comic versions as Batman himself. She was his main love interest and one of the main antagonists in Tim Burton’s iconic Batman Returns played by Michelle Pfeiffer in a performance many people, myself included, count as the single best live-action performance of Catwoman of all time. Beyond Catwoman herself, Pfeiffer and Michael Keaton’s Batman sparked one of the best versions of Batman and Catwoman, as well as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle’s, relationships as well. Duality was established and earned. The comics would also establish undeniable chemistry between both Batman and Catwoman and their civilian identities, most evident in Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Hush.
Why I Don’t Ship Bruce and Talia
The easiest thing would be to mention the New 52 retcon where it is established that Talia drugged and took sexual advantage of Bruce which led to the birth of their son, Damian Wayne. This was a retcon, because, in the Pre-52, Bruce and Talia were shown to have gotten married and had very loving and very consensual sex leading to their son’s conception. It is said that this retcon was a misunderstanding, yet it remains canon now and has been (disturbingly) mentioned and maintained in other media, namely the DC animated films of recent years featuring Damian Wayne. Some fans prefer to ignore this fact or reduce it as a silly retcon, I myself agree that it is unnecessary, but beyond whether or not it ruins the BruTalia ship (great ship name, by the way, I never knew what it was until now) I feel that the bigger issue is that Batman stories (and maybe DC ones overall, or all of comics) like to use r*pe as drama and doesn’t have most of the characters deal with it in realistic or meaningful ways (it happened to Bruce in other instances, canon or not, has happened to Nightwing, implied to have happened to Barbara Gordon when she was paralyzed, and others).
Instead, when it comes to why I don’t care much for Bruce and Talia it’s because I simply don’t buy the relationship from jump. Talia is an assassin. Bruce hates killing. He’s not in love with thievery either, but Selina, generally, does not kill people. Beyond Talia simply being a killer, the entire goal of the League of Assassins, y’know, the organization she and her father want him to lead, has a mission statement of sanitizing at least 50 percent of the entire world’s population in order to save it from humanity. How, the holy hell, can Batman be so horny for Talia that he can time and time again overlook or ignore that her goal is to wipe out half of humanity? How can anyone give someone shit over dressing up like a sexy cat-themed cat burglar, when the other option is someone who actively seeks genocide??? Talia often tries to see things Bruce’s way, but she always ends up returning to her father’s side or heading up the League herself. Furthermore, r*pe aside, we also see her willing to harm and even kill her own son if he no longer serves a purpose for her anymore. While we see Catwoman actively fighting crime at Batman’s side, can we say that Talia al Ghul, really, would be down to settle for that? To give up all that she was raised to do and wanting to prove to her father and her people that there never needed to be a male heir to succeed Ra’s, that she, more than anyone, was ll the heir he needed and could be just as cruel and decisive as he ever was. Talia, for me, works better as a villain. Maybe not an assaulter, but definitely a villain who may or may not have a soft spot underneath it all, but still has ambition as her main drive.
Bruce and Selina, though different in some key ways, work much better as a match.
A big reason why some fans still prefer or otherwise support BruTalia is that it resulted in Damian Wayne. Some people like Damian Wayne. A lot of people consider Damian to be Bruce’s only child, because (in this continuity anyway), he is his only biological child. This completely ignores and undermines Bruce’s adoptive children as also being his children or as much his children as Damian is, for, in most canons, Damian only meets Bruce after he has grown up somewhat (at least to some age, sometimes it’s a smaller, but still deadly, child, sometimes it’s a young teen). Damian’s usual character development is learning how to kill less and embrace the teachings and pathways of his father and extended family. It also involves shedding his haughty, standoffish personality and becoming kinder and humbler, even if only somewhat.
Meanwhile, while not biological, Dick Grayson, Bruce’s first son, has been raised by Bruce (and Alfred) since eight or twelve years old, depending on the canon (side note, the people that ship Bruce and Dick also don’t take into account, or don’t fully take into account, that Dick is his son, same with the people who ship or fan pair Bruce with Jason or Tim. I haven’t seen Bruce and Cassandra Cain, Carie Kelly, or Stephanie Brown, but surely it exists somewhere *cringe*. Babs was never completely a daughter figure to Bruce, but he’s her dad’s best friend and she has significant ties to his son, so it’s still cringe whenever people pair them together… *cough* Bruce Timm). Many fans refer to only Damian as Batman’s son, which is terrible again because it ignores Bruce’s other children solely because they aren’t biological, but also because Damian is the most annoying, personality-wise (for some). While Damian may or may not have been conceived in love, if you choose to accept the retcon, he and his parents are hardly the idyllic family, though idyllic has never really been a thing for Batman anyway. Even still, between Damian (often) being an entitled brat, Talia being a monster willing to harm or even kill her own son as well as one possible reason why he exists in the first place, and Batman not jiving with her quest to kill half the planet and anyone who gets in her way, this pairing and the family resulting from it isn’t even great by Batman standards. If you are a fan of Damian, especially during those times when he is allowed to grow as a character, his growth and greatness come in spite of the darkness coming from his mother and grandfather’s legacy and embracing his father and siblings more.
Depending on who you are and how much you know about DC Comics’ history, this image might remind you of a different Huntress by the name of Helena Bertinelli. Before Bertinelli in the Pre-52/Post-Crisis continuity, there was the Bronze Age/Pre-Crisis Helena Wayne of Earth-Two. Earth-Two was an alternate earth from the primary Earth-One that had many of the same characters’ Golden Age counterparts existing and often still actively fighting crime so as to not affect the main continuity where newer, updated versions of those characters were active. Helena Wayne was the biological daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, who had since retired from her role as Catwoman and settled down. When being framed to become Catwoman once more, Selina tragically died and this helped spur Helena into action, becoming the Huntress and wearing an outfit reminiscent of both parents. Huntress was a vigilante and hero like her father, through and through. Despite an uncomfortable mutual crush on an older Dick Grayson, who is by all accounts her adoptive brother, Helena as Huntress was so popular that when Crisis On Infinite Earths wiped the slate clean, elements of her design, her first name, and her weapon of choice were transferred to new, but unrelated Helena Bertinelli.
Bertinelli and her gritty mob daughter backstory were also well-received by fans, but some fans sought to see the return of Helena Wayne and were surely delighted when she was restored during the New 52 continuity. Shockingly, the only Huntress at the time on the current Earth-Prime (where the main DC continuity currently takes place) was indeed Helena Wayne. It is revealed that the multiverse was restored and that Wayne came from the restored Earth-2. Eventually, however, Wayne would return to her native earth, while the real Helena Bertinelli (now darker-skinned to set them apart visually) would take over as Huntress. A couple of alternate future versions of Wayne would surface, one in Paul Dini’s Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular in 2020 where Batman has died and Selina talks with her daughter about him and their connection. Here Helena is just a civilian, but Selena comments on how much her mannerisms remind her of Bruce. In 2018’s Last Rites storyline, a possible future once again shows Bruce dying, surrounded by his wife Selena and his children (Dick, Jason, Tim, Stephanie Brown, Carrie Kelly, Duke Thomas, Helena, and also Barbara Gordon. Only Cassandra Cain is missing for some reason, though Carrie Kelly is curiously present, despite her usually being an Elseworlds character). Here, rather than becoming Huntress, Helena takes up the mantle of Batwoman in honor of her father.
Most versions of Helena have her suffer the untimely deaths of her parents. It could be this or the absence of a League of Assassins upbringing, but Helena Wayne (Bertinelli is often characterized by being either outright willing to kill or being brutal even too much for Batman’s liking) has always unambiguously been a hero. The loss of her parents somewhat mirrors her own father’s backstory, aside from their costumed careers and legacies. She also doesn’t usually lose both parents at the same time, and in both possible futures, Selina remains alive and it is only Bruce who dies. While having a gritty go of it, Damian’s parents remain alive and he is capable of having them influence him, his development, and life’s direction in very concrete ways. Helena, like her father, can only go off of memories and decide the legacy she wishes to follow. Selina reforming in all versions helps cement Helena’s path towards heroism rather than, say, deciding between the life of a vigilante or a thief. Helena’s personality tends to be more grounded, which also helps fans appreciate her. Most importantly, the state of Bruce and Selena’s relationship, though always ending with the death of one or both where Helena is concerned, is shown to be loving and healthy in a way Bruce and Talia just can’t seem to maintain. Flawed as her original Bronze Age backstory was (Selina didn’t even consider just talking to her husband about someone framing her for murder, instead she did as the framer demanded and suited up again to “protect” him or something… it’s convoluted as hell), Bruce and Selina were still genuinely happy and in love, and Selina’s death hurt Bruce in a way he never fully recovered from.
The way you feel about Bruce and Selina, versus Bruce and Talia, will vary. We all come into fandom at different points and with different perspectives that color our experiences and preferences differently. Me, I grew up with Batman and Catwoman either flirting or outright making out, and that helped sow the seed for my preferring them. I also was exposed to Helena Bertinelli in comics and would soon learn about the tragic daughter of Batman and Catwoman who predated her (didn’t mention, Helena Wayne died during the events of Crisis On Infinite Earths which led directly to the Post-Crisis/Pre-52 continuity and the Helena Bertinelli version). I liked Huntress the moment I first saw her in Batman #609 during the Hush storyline. Her design, while not short of cheesecake, was awesome and she was a total badass. Learning that while technically not the same Helena Wayne, by all accounts a spiritual successor to her down to the color scheme, basic design elements, and use of the crossbow, Helena Wayne had been the reason for Helena Bertinelli’s existence. There is also something increasingly satisfying to see that Batman and Catwoman’s decades-long cat-and-mouse game led to a crossbow-wielding, ass-kicking badass, one version of which is often associated with one of my favorite superhero teams, the Birds of Prey.
One other throughline I hadn’t touched upon as strongly is that many writers across the decades seem to share the same idea that Batman can never be happy. He must brood or suffer in order to be the hero Gotham needs. I never agreed with that. Bruce being happy, even some of the time, will never erase the deaths of his parents or the crime in Gotham. Remembering how he lost his parents as a small child as well as the losses of the many boys and girls he took in as his own, not to mention all the losses across the city on a regular basis, is more than enough to fuel his desire to dress up as a bat and beat up bad guys and give us great stories. Including Selina not only shows two hot badasses fighting together but shows how one person’s crusade can influence another person and have them join it. Even if Bruce and Talia manage to overcome certain issues in their relationship, I don’t see her abandoning the League to fight crime in Gotham. Talia has always had bigger plans. Selina may or may not do a jaunty thievery every blue moon, depending on the writer, but these days she is the other side to Bruce’s coin. She has more fun and brings the fun side out of him and makes him smile more, he helps her see that thieving isn’t the only thrill there is and that fighting crime, among other things with him, can give her all the thrill she craves while also making a difference. Not a bad deal at all.