If you’re ever looking for a perfect example of how a major comic storyline should be handled, look no further than Batman: Cataclysm.
From start to finish, this trade develops and builds upon its central story, emphasizing so many different key plot points without ever once feeling dragged out.
Cataclysm opens with a 7.6 magnitude earthquake striking Gotham, decimating the city and its inhabitants. Power and water lines are downed as countless buildings are demolished and untold numbers of people are trapped beneath the rubble, either dead or seriously injured. It’s a city-wide crisis the likes of which Gotham hasn’t seen since Contagion. The only difference here is that there is no simple cure to offer, no bad guy to hunt down; the city is in peril, and there’s no other recourse but to work together to try and save as many lives as possible.
The damage is widespread, and what makes this comic so brilliant is that the writers were able to carry a single storyline across numerous titles, with each enhancing the overall story.
The difficulty of writing such large scale stories is that every comic that takes place in that city must fit into the narrative. It doesn’t make sense to have the Batman comics featuring city-wide destruction while Robin and other titles make no reference to it. It takes a lot of coordination to make all the storylines line up, and it takes even more skill to make them line up well. Somehow, Cataclysm hits the mark perfectly, with each tie-in comic elaborating on the base story, shedding light on various characters’ individual experiences in the aftermath of the earthquake.
One of the most interesting of these side stories is Catwoman’s, in which she becomes a begrudging hero in this time of crisis. Out on a routine heist, she finds herself trapped in a falling building with a group of innocent people. Despite her reservations, she ends up helping those trapped alongside her, even comforting a young girl who was injured. Unfortunately, Selina witnesses the young girl dying as she tries to comfort her.
It’s one of the few times in the entire story that a victim is shown actually dying, and it seems fitting that it should be one Selina is trying to save. Catwoman is so much more interesting as a tortured soul, and I’m glad to see the writers steering her away from the typical “cat burglar” role and allowing her to flip-flop between anit-hero and villain. It makes for a much more compelling character, and leaves me wanting to read more about Selina’s troubled moral conflict.
While Gotham tries to clean up the mess left behind by the quake, they are faced with a new threat as a mysterious villain named the Quakemaster claims responsibility for the earthquake and threatens to cause another if the city doesn’t pay him one hundred million dollars (cue Dr. Evil pinky raise.) This threat, though adding a new level of drama to the story, never felt as poignant as the natural disaster element, and ultimately is proven to be a hollow threat made by none other than the Ventriloquist.
Once the mystery is solved, the immediate threat of a repeat quake is removed, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the actual disaster. Gotham is in ruins, and our heroes contribute aid to their city in their own unique ways.
Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Huntress, Catwoman, and many more help do whatever they can to save lives and prevent the complete and utter destruction of their beloved city. While their roles are noble, none is more impressive than Oracle, acting as simply Barbara Gordon in this case.
In this story Barbara is thrown into the fray, no longer hiding in her tower but instead acting as just an ordinary citizen. While her wheelchair might seem to make it difficult for her to be much help in a debris-strewn city, she sets up a base and starts handing out assignments to police, rescue teams, and volunteers, organizing search and rescue operations and setting up treatment centers for the injured. I loved seeing her strength and determination shine through, proving that even if she wasn’t aiding superheroes on a daily basis, Oracle would still be doing everything in her power to help those in need. Her role may not be as action-packed as her superhero counterparts, but she nevertheless proves that she is a vital and irreplaceable addition to Gotham City.
As the story comes to a close, there is still much to be done. Gotham is in ruins, and its surviving citizens face an uphill battle if they wish to rebuild and regain their lives. For once the bad guy wasn’t a crazed lunatic in a mask; instead, it was an act of mother nature, one that couldn’t be stopped or controlled. In a sense, it’s the worst foe Batman has faced off against, because there was quite literally nothing he could do to prevent the suffering the earthquake caused. All he and his allies can do is try to rebuild their city and prevent opportunists from cashing in on the chaos.
The intersecting stories in this collection unite perfectly to give the reader a full view of Gotham’s suffering, with hero and villain alike being represented. These vignettes help show every side of the tragedy, and together they create a thoroughly intense and enjoyable read. I’m not sure where Gotham goes from here, but it seems certain that Batman and company will be there every step of the way, doing what they can to help.