“The Rules of Engagement,” Part One
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Joelle Jones
Minor Spoilers Ahead!
Writer Tom King weaves a tale of the aftermath of Bruce’s proposal to Selina Kyle with a story of two different perspectives: Batman’s and the rest of the Bat-family.
This issue follows two main plot threads: the mystery of why Catwoman and Batman are transversing the desert and the Bat-family’s reactions to the proposal. Between the two of the storylines, the Bat-family plot that features Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Damian Wayne, Duke Thomas, and Alfred is far more interesting. Not to say the main narrative was a bore, but the interfamily dynamics between the Robins is more straightforward and funner, whereas the Batman/Catwoman plot is filled with cryptic hints and teases that does not really pay off until the last page.
Of course, King intentionally dropped readers right in the middle of the story in order to slightly disorient our sense of narrative direction. However, after reading King’s Batman for the past 33+ issues, these storytelling tricks feel a little trite. Much of the vague dialogue either does not have follow up or is so opaque that it is difficult to discern what the meaning is.
For example, what is the point of the opening scene where Catwoman shoots a horse? Batman nonchalantly watches her and then says, “I love you”. Is Batman accepting that Catwoman is able to cross some line that he cannot i.e. intentionally taking another living thing’s life? It is never referred to for the rest of the issue, so it feels like a throwaway scene. It is possible that King will follow up that scene in later chapters, but King has a tendency of not doing that.
On the flip side is the drama between the Robins. The scene has more of a traditional storytelling structure. However, it is more enjoyable because King writes Grayson, Todd, Thomas, Damian, and Alfred in such a fun way. They are a family unit. They act like a gang of brothers who tease each other, but will still support one another. One has to question the scene where apparently Ace the Bat-Hound is stronger than the League of Assassins-trained Todd, but whatever. It is easier to ignore it because the tone is fun and slightly tongue-in-cheek. King really shines with the characterizations with the Robins. The best moment is Damian’s reaction to the proposal. It is shocking and unexpected, yet still in character. The only downside of the scene is artist Joelle Jones draws Damian a little too old. Honestly, for a few pages he looked more like Tim Drake’s age.
This is one criticism of Jone’s art. The rest of the issue is beautiful to look at. Jones illustrates big, epic scenes well, along with the quieter talking scenes. Jones has lush, thick lines make for a sort-of rough style. That makes for a perfect depiction of Batman in the desert.
Just like many of King’s past issues of Batman, this one feels like the tale of two comics. One part feels overly-ambitious and disappointing and the other part is fun and enjoyable. If King would stick with a more conventional storytelling approach with tight, interpersonal character dynamics his comics would be a little more enjoyable.
Images courtesy of DC Entertainment