Warning! Spoilers for Future State: Catwoman #2 below!
The meme where Batman slaps Robin has been a noteworthy piece of internet history since 2008 but it was recently referenced in the weirdest way possible by Future State: Catwoman #2. This panel from World’s Finest #153 has been redone, reinterpreted, reimagined, and even recreated for almost any and everything. In DC Comics, the Bat slap meme has occasionally popped up subtly within its stories but its obvious homage here misses the mark instead of sticking the landing.
In Future State, Selina Kyle still retains the Catwoman identity in a Magistrate-controlled Gotham where her notoriety has inspired unity in the downtrodden citizens. Selina intercepts and boards an advanced train that is carrying a mix of regular prisoners for rehabilitation while carrying two illegal vigilantes in custody. One of the vigilantes is former Batman villain Onomatopoeia who Selina releases and recruits to provide sound-effect commentary as they push through guards, one car at a time. As Selina’s plan is set into motion, she is unaware that one of the prisoners is her ex-fiancée, the not-so-deceased former Batman, Bruce Wayne.
In Future State: Catwoman #2 by Ram V with art by Otto Schmidt, Selina is exhausted after defeating another group of guards and passes out just as a crucial part of her plan is underway. She hallucinates and imagines attending an open casket funeral for Bruce where she admits her fear of failing those who depend on her, her lack of hero experience, and how she could use some help. Her wish is granted as an imposing Batman appears, declaring himself all that is left after Bruce Wayne’s death and telling Selina to be afraid of the same fate, dying alone and trapped in the dark. He insists that Batman lives before slapping her awake to find that it wasn’t Batman’s hand that did the deed but Onomatopoeia.
Now there are two problems with this moment. One, nobody was asking for this reference. The original panel was Batman slapping Robin over his refusal to believe that Superman murdered his parents in an alternate reality. This- Catwoman getting slapped by Batman- was not something fans were asking to see, even after the fiasco involving their failed wedding. The second is this is more than a reference, it’s an homage. The use of the colors, the positioning, even the movement of the slap is exactly like the original material, and the fact that the fake Batman said slap before and mid-slap literally makes it too obvious. The creators attempt to tie it into the current story by having it be Onomatopoeia which makes sense but still feels like the joke it’s referencing falls flat near the end of its execution.
Unfortunately, the situation with memes and their life expectancy can be depicted in Onomatopoeia and Catwoman’s altercation. When a meme comes out of nowhere and is put to good use, it’s funny, appreciated, and well-received. When it’s been oversaturated and its use isn’t even clever, the audience sympathizes with Selina who threatens to seriously hurt the reformed villain if he strikes her again, hinting that its relevancy is almost over. The creators get credit for featuring it in an unexpected place but its use after a moment of clarity that’s meant to motivate Catwoman only diminishes that moment’s significance, making it a missed opportunity that not even Future State’s dark detective himself, Batman, could overlook.