EP0064: Batman, Volume 5: Rules of Engagement

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Catwoman and Batman are engaged but they have to settle some old business and also a double date with Superman and Lois Lane.

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Graham: Batman and Catwoman go into the desert on a secret mission and then they go on a double date with Superman and Lois Lane. Find out more as we take a look at Batman Vol 5: Rules of Engagement, straight ahead.

[Intro Music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Classy Comics podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise Idaho, here is your host Adam Graham.

Graham: Rules of Engagement is a really interesting Batman book about Tom King. It really doesn’t hinge on the fight scenes or the big action sequences you saw, particularly during the first three volumes of Tom King’s run and, of course, a little bit in The War of Jokes and Riddles. This is much more a character-based book. It collects issues 33 to 37 of Batman along with Batman Annual #2.

The first part of the book is issues 33 to 35 and the story, Rules of Engagement, in which Batman and Catwoman are heading to Khadym, a restricted area that no one on earth is supposed to enter, especially superheroes. There’s even agreement with the Justice League but Batman is violating the agreement because, as it eventually turns out, the woman who is responsible for the hundreds of murders that Catwoman has been accused of and is still wanted by law enforcement for is in Khadym but she’s also there with the League of Assassins and Talia Al Ghul. So, with the help of Tiger a friend of Nightwing’s, i.e Dick Grayson, they make their entrance into Khadym. There Tahlia sends out the League of Assassins to weaken Batman before she can come out and finish the job and defeat him. However, Catwoman stands in her way and the two have the best fight in the whole book, which is essentially a book length sword fight. As can be expected with anything Tom King writes, there is a lot of dialogue in there but it is really a great dual and of course there’s an explanation in the book because one thing you might wonder is why Batman is kind of down from the count, not able to do anything while Catwoman has the wind and strength to actually carry on the sword fight but the reason, as stated in the book, as Dick Grayson said, he always would take the brunt of any fight whenever he fights so. Catwoman has not received the level or severity of fight as the brunt of the battle came on Batman.

As they dialogue Talia Al Ghul essentially says that she views herself as the best and Batman as the only man who could possibly be her equal. Catwoman scoffs at that and challenges her and tells her how she views Batman. “The man is broken. All the way from the start, cracked. He’s always going to put a vow, a vow he took as a 10-year-old, a vow to war on crime, whatever that is. He’ll always take that vow over anyone”, and she goes on to say, “If you think of yourself as the best and you’re looking for the best, whatever he is Talia, I swear he’s not that. What he is, all he is, he’s just the stupid man I stupidly love”. And it’s a very honest statement but there’s some sweetness in it too and I think this is one reason why the entire Selina Kyle/Bruce Wayne marriage could work and I think, if nothing else, it does explain part of what he finds attractive. Selina doesn’t love him as this mythic figure, this incomparable perfect a legend. I think that so many women in the D.C. Universe have had designs on Batman but really have just kind of have this very mythic view and put him on this huge pedestal and that’s really uncomfortable for anyone but I think Selina’s view is a lot more honest and accepting of who he is and it’s something that he can live up to.

The book is also interesting because it does feature more of the Bat family finding out about this engagement, in particular, Alfred breaks the news that Batman is gone into Khadym on an illegal mission to Dick Grayson, to Jason Todd, to Damian Wayne, and to Duke. Duke was a character who Tom King had as kind of a bat cave assistant to Batman. I think it was kind of making him into a bit of an oracle type character but the last few volumes, Duke has not really been used that much but he does show us that he didn’t quite forget about the character as he does appear here. Damian does decide to go off to Khadym and see what he can do to help and he is not able to actually get into the country, so there’s not a whole lot he can do. However, when Damian went out to Khadym, Dick Grayson came along with him and there’s just this lovely dynamic between the two characters, that really the inclusion of Dick Grayson and Damian was completely surplus requirements for this book. It did not really need them, you could have shown them learning about it in issue 1 of the story or issue 33 overall and that would have been fine but it was really not necessary to take them out into the desert of Khadym. But what really made it work is that they have this dynamic between them with Dick as sort of this older brother figure in Damian’s life, occasionally bordering on a parental figure. During Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin Dick Grayson was Batman with Damian as Robin. So, the two have a close relationship and that portion of the pre-New 52 D.C. Universe was confirmed to have happened in a volume of Nightwing. So, those characters have a very close relationship but here they really play off each other with Dick as the older brother figure and it leads to some interesting dialogue. And Dick is trying to explain to Damian in this one portion of dialogue I really love, he’s trying to explain to him what’s motivating his dad’s action and Damian says, “What my father chooses to do, is the choice of my father” and Dick says “What does that even mean?”. “It means he’s Batman and I’m Robin” and Dick says “Wait, did you just actually say that, like out loud, say it. He’s Batman, I’m Robin? Those were words that were in your mind and exited in your mouth? Seriously, shut up Richard.”. And he goes on a bit and Damian repeats the request to shut up, “Fine I say I’ll shut up. I will.”. “Yes, you will because you’re Robin and I’m Nightwing”, and Damian responds back with an “I hate you” and it is just such a cute and fun scene that highlights the nature of this relationship. So, really kudos to Tom King for the story and just for really, it’s just great character building with a little bit of nice sword fighting mixed in but that is as action heavy as this book gets.

The next two issues are Super Friends. In the first issue of the book is about the fact that Bruce and Clark have not gotten together to discuss Bruce’s engagement and there’s all sorts of hesitation. Selina wonders if Bruce is ashamed of her and Clark is worried that Selina might figure out his secret identity and that that would be very risky. Lois figures she’s probably already figured out ,this isn’t exactly complicated and so they’re working through the objections, mainly of Bruce and Clark towards getting together and the story takes a look, it’s a parallel of how they view each other and it’s interesting because it begins, one panel has Lois talking to Clark and the other has Bruce talking to Selina and they’re talking about the other one and Clark says, “His parents died when he was so young. Shot and killed right in front of him.” and Bruce says, “His whole planet was destroyed. He’s the last of a holocaust.” and Clark says, “He was raised alone, a kid in a huge manson with memories of his mother and father.”. Batman says, “He grew up in the dirt finding out slowly how different he was. A stranger, discovering every day how strange he was.” and then Clark, “He had a love and they took it from him. He should be a killer. He should want to tear the world apart for what it did.” and then Bruce, “He has the power to tear the world apart and he could with a pinky. It’s not his world. We’re not his people. We should be like ants to him.” and then Clark, “and yet he took that pain, that shock of death and he turned it into hope.” and then Bruce, “Imagine that, imagine being on the outside. The pain that that would come from, always being on the outside and yet he took that pain and became the symbol of hope” and it goes on like that for more than another page and it’s just such a beautiful thing and it shows the kind of foundation of the Superman/Batman friendship, that respect and love for the other but it also creates a little bit of a sense of when you are in awe of the other person. A bit of a sense of difficulty in communicating feelings because both of them actually say in this, that they think the other is a better man than them and it’s just such a beautiful portrait of those characters and it’s a great contrast, I think, to a lot of stories that have had, particularly, Bruce just disrespecting Clark, disrespecting Superman and it’s just such a nice portrait of that friendship in contrast.
Of course, they do end up meeting, not by choice. They quickly dispose of a villain. I mean, I think it’s maybe two or three panels and then they finally decide to go on that double date.

And that leads into issue 37, which is a fun romp. They go to an amusement park but they show up on superhero day where you’re only allowed in if you’re wearing a superhero costume and so they change into costume but they change into each other’s costumed and Lois and Catwoman also swap and it’s just a fun story where they’re talking, where you’re getting a sense of who they are s characters and you also have Lois and Selina playing a really big role in that story. So, you get a sense of how this marriage could work in this very important dynamic relationship between Superman and Batman. So, this was just a lot of fun.

Then the book wraps up with Batman Annual #2. The title is Some of These Days. It’s written by Annuals that have, you know, like a bunch of people who don’t normally write Batman, write the story and it starts out really as this kind of fun-filled, slightly romantic teasing frolic of Batman and Catwoman and early adventures and his attempts to catch her and her kind of playful evasions. It’s a fun story and then you get into the final 8 pages and the story takes a different turn as we get to see an older Batman, perhaps from another universe, as he’s aging and getting sick. It’s a beautiful bittersweet ending that really does kind of parallel the first part of the story and it shows the strength and the endurance of a real love. And the more you tend to be romantic, the more you’ll enjoy the story. This is an unusual Batman book. You don’t really have a battle with the big bad. You don’t really have huge action set pieces, for the most part. This is about the characters and the world of Batman. If every Batman story were like this, I think it would be ridiculous but I love this book for what it does and certainly we’re going to have more action and craziness in Batman, as time goes by but for what this is, it is a wonderful look at these characters that gives them a lot of depth and shows some great understanding.
Probably the only fair criticism is that some of what Talia said about her relationship with Ra’s Al Ghul seems a bit off compared to their relationship as portrayed in earlier works. Though I do think that the nature of the Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul relationship has gotten a bit harder over time in its portrayal but I did find that maybe a little bit off but other than that, this book is very classy. It manages to tell a story that makes the Batman and Selina and these characters feel so alive. So, I’ll give this a ranking of very classy for Batman Vol 5: Rules of Engagement.

Alright, that’s all for now. If you have a comment, send it to me classycomicsguy@gmail.com. Be sure and rate the show on iTunes. Follow me on Twitter at classycomicsguy. From Boise Idaho, this is your host Adam Graham signing off.

One thought on “EP0064: Batman, Volume 5: Rules of Engagement”

  1. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this marvelous gift. After listening to this episode, I went to my local library and borrowed this book. It was an excellent look at Batman’s relationships — with his various Robins, with Alfred, with Talia, with Catwoman, with Superman, and with the relationships among those folks, as well, because of Batman. It was an unusual look at Bruce under the cowl.
    I especially enjoyed the three-page sequence of panels with the alternating between Superman’s view of Batman and Batman’s view of Superman. If nothing else, those pages should be required reading for anyone who writes a story of Batman and Superman.
    Finally, by an interesting coincidence, as I started reading the last story, from Batman Annual #2, I was listening to a recording of the great Sophie Tucker singing “Some of These Days”, turning the page to Alfred singing the same song as he went about his duties.

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