Image: DC Comics. Batman #79 art by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris.
Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are engaged, and wedding bells on the horizon promise one of the most fundamental changes to the Bat-canon we've ever seen. Or it should be, if this wasn't an idea DC has plumbed since the earliest days of the Dark Knight. But even then, Batman's history of marriage is a bit more complex than just repeated trips down the altar.
You see, Bruce and Selina's latest attempt at blissful batrimony might actually be the first time that Bruce -- specifically "our" Bruce of DC's main reality -- has married someone for love (assuming they actually make it through their vows without a supervillain appearing, that is). As you'll see below, Batman's gone through marriage many times, but until now, they have all been for myriad kooky reasons.
In the early days, if Batman was getting married, more often than not it was because of an elaborate plot -- whether it was one of his own or one he just so happened to go along with, apparently because Bruce Wayne apparently loves showing up at chapels in his superhero costume.
The very first time we saw a Bat-Marriage, in 1953's Batman #79, it was one of those bizarro plots, in which Vicki Vale, attempting to get out of the advances of the Shah of Nairomi without causing a diplomatic incident, announces she cannot accept his marriage proposal... because she's engaged to Batman. One leak of a trashy tabloid rumour later, Bruce manages to get the whole thing called off while Vicki avoids being married off to the Shah for the good of the country.
An altogether harsher ruse involved Superman and Batman playing a spectacularly cruel prank on Lois Lane in 1965's Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane #59. Lois suddenly believes she's unmasked Bruce Wayne as the alter ego of Superman, and as she wants to marry Superman, immediately hooks up with Bruce. Superman finds out about the whole deal, but decides to tell Bruce and they go along with the wedding, just so Superman can swoop in at the last minute and break Lois' heart. Bruce and Clark even laugh about it together afterwards!
The Batman and Wonder Woman of the Brave and the Bold animated universe nearly got married in All-New Batman Brave and the Bold #4, having been hit with a spell from Eros, the Greek god of attraction, that makes them fall for each other. The two break out of the spell thanks to Diana's lasso of truth, but decide to plan a lavish wedding anyway... and use it as a trap to draw out a bunch of supervillains -- who couldn't resist attacking the wedding of Wonder Woman and Batman! -- that they then proceed to beat the snot out of.
Batman's not always the one plotting the ruse; sometimes, he's the one that gets tricked. This occurred most infamously in DC Special Series #15, a one-off story from 1978 that saw Ra's al Ghul kidnap Bruce, render him unconscious, and then claim that his own nation's marriage traditions let him declare Bruce married to his daughter, Talia. Batman foils this plan and flees, but the marriage actually comes up again in the seminal Batman: Son of the Demon graphic novel, in which Talia and Bruce finally consummate their previous marriage as part of a new alliance between the two.
By the end of the graphic novel, the marriage is annulled and Bruce believes Talia has miscarried the child they conceived during the consummation. Eventually, however, it's revealed that Talia gave birth in secret to Damian Wayne, the current Robin.
Another popular trick early Batman comics would play on fans was something that's become a tired trope today -- a big splashy scenario to tease on the front page, only for it to be revealed as all a dream by the story's end. Unmaskings, deaths, and secret revelations are all favoured targets over years of comics -- as well as marriage.
When the original Batwoman, Kathy Kane, was first introduced in 1956, DC wasted no time in imagining her hooking up with Batman -- but the wedding bells being rung in Batman #122 were all in Robin's head. When the couple say their vows and reveal their secret identities to each other, Bruce tries to get Kathy to retire as Batwoman, but both her and his identities get exposed when she refuses... only for Robin to wake up from the terrible nightmare he'd been having.
After the earlier prank, 1969's Lois Lane #89 had another wedding between Lois and Bruce, this time with a wildly jealous Clark seething in the background. The couple went on to have a happy life and raise a son who was trained as "Batman Jr." by the caped crusaders -- but it was all revealed as a dream at the end.
Early on in Grant Morrison's run on JLA in the late '90s, a villain known as the Key traps each member of the Justice League in an induced dream world. In Bruce's reality, he's married to Selina Kyle and retired, with their son training as the new Robin with an adult Tim Drake's Batman. Naturally, it doesn't last, as the League eventually figure out they're in faux realities, and get pulled out of their collective stupor thanks to their latest recruit, Connor Hawke (the Green Arrow of the time).
Although the dream trope was played out decades ago, DC couldn't help but indulge itself again with a special event across the Bat-family comics released in February 2001 -- "This Issue: Batman Dies!!!" -- as a tribute to the old bait-and-switches of the classic comics. Batman would die an absurdly comical, imaginary death in every issue -- and Nightwing #52's "death" came in a daydream from Catwoman, in which she imagines marrying Bruce and then promptly killing him after realising she'll never be able to truly have him for herself with all his crimefighting duties.
Given that Batman has little time for romance, a few of the marriages we've seen over the years have been hypotheticals -- what-if timelines where he either never became Batman and had a happy life, or ones that look to his future where he retires the mantle in favour of quiet matrimony.
Batman #131 introduced us to another marriage hypothetical with Kathy Kane -- less than 10 issues after that first Batman/Batwoman marriage we mentioned earlier! -- but with more of a focus on the two having retired into elderly bliss together as they pass on the mantle of Batman and Robin to Dick Grayson and their son, Bruce Jr.... as Batman II and Robin II. Right down to the numbers on their costumes.
Much of the '90s JLA run saw Batman and Wonder Woman develop romantic feelings for each other, constantly dancing around whether or not they'd actually get together. Eventually in JLA #90, Diana decides to hook herself into a machine in the Watchtower that lets her see various alternate futures of her life together with Bruce, some happy, some tragic. Regardless of what she sees, however, both she and Bruce talk at the end of the issue and decide to put their feelings for each other aside to focus on their positions in the team.
We got to see another alternate timeline in the New 52 reboot of Detective Comics, after Bruce's recently introduced love interest Natalya Trusevich met the fate of most Batman love interests and got horribly killed for her connections to the Dark Knight. In Detective Comics #27, a 75th anniversary issue, a grief-stricken Bruce is introduced to a timeline where not only did his parents live, but he went on to fall in love with and marry Natalya. Even then, he couldn't allow himself happiness, choosing to leave the timeline so he could commit himself to the needs of justice as Batman.
We even got to see another alternate life recently in the pages of Batman #49, nearing the culmination of Scott Snyder's New 52 run on the character. The final arc of the series saw Jim Gordon take on the mantle of Batman while Bruce Wayne, having had his mind wiped of his past as the Dark Knight, lived a happy life and fell in love with a new version of Julie Madison (the very first love interest for Bruce Wayne, introduced nearly 80 years ago). But as Gordon buckles under a new threat to Gotham, Bruce discovers a way to restore his Bat-Mind, and in the process, flashes forward through the lives of various Batmen... including a future where he married Julie and had a child.
The Alternate Realities
Instead of what-ifs and alternate timelines, some Bat-Marriages simply happened because writers could accomplish them with a Batman of another Earth in DC's vast multiverse. Most famous of these marriages was the Batman of Earth-2's marriage to Catwoman, shown as part of the origin story for the Huntress of Earth-2 in DC Super-Stars #17 in 1977. On Earth-2, Helena was the daughter born from Bruce and Selina's marriage, and became the Huntress to avenge her mother's death.
The Elseworlds branch of alternate universes were rich for opportunities to play with Batman living the married life. In the events of 1999's Catwoman: Guardian of Gotham, Selina marries Bruce Wayne only to discover that he's nefarious thief Batman -- her greatest foe as Gotham's premiere superhero -- who planned to murder her and take her fortune. Oh, and he also happens to be the same mugger who murdered her parents in the event that inspired her to become Catwoman, as you do.
Just a couple of years earlier, Batman: Dark Knight Dynasty showed Bruce embroiled in a centuries-long tussle between descendants of the Wayne family and Vandal Savage, forcing him to leave his new wife Julie and attempt to defeat Savage for good. Bruce actually perishes in the attempt, but Julie was pregnant with his child, who would go on to continue the Wayne Dynasty that eventually birthed a Dark Knight who could topple Savage, hundreds of years after Bruce's death.
We still don't know how Bruce and Selina's engagement in the pages of Batman #32 is going to pan out. There's the expectation of tragedy striking, because, well, it wouldn't be Batman without a bit of tragedy striking. But as you can see above, if it does happen it would really be the first time Bruce has married someone for love instead of as an part of an alternate reality or as part of some elaborate plan.
If Bruce and Selina get married and actually stay together, it will be a massive storytelling opportunity DC has only briefly flirted with in the past, and even then, one that's been used mostly for jokes. Despite all the evidence above, it really would be a major change in the status quo for Batman as a character.