Overview: To celebrate their impending nuptials, Batman and Catwoman have traveled to Khadym in the Middle East to see Talia al Ghul, daughter of the Demon, mother of Damian, ex of the Bat. Not the trip I would have chosen, but who am I to judge. As “Rules of Engagement” continues, we find out the real reason the pair has made the trip, and, sadly, not much else.
Synopsis (Spoilers Ahead): In the desert, Batman and Catwoman are surrounded by the tongueless soldiers of Talia al Ghul. Away from the action, Talia meets with one of her lieutenants, who confirms with her that the woman with Batman is to be wed to him. She orders her soldiers to move forward and the fighting commences. Batman is unsure as to the intentions of the army as they don’t seem to be going for the kill during the fight. Meanwhile, outside the gates to Khadym, Damian and Dick have made the trip to find out what exactly is going on, but are stopped by Superman. Due to the agreement between the United Nations and the heroes, the area is off-limits and Superman cannot allow them passage. Damian makes idle threats of violence by magic, but Superman brushes them off before heading to Central City on another crisis. Dick knows better than to attempt to go in, so the pair resolves to wait it out together.
Back inside, Batman has put together a theory regarding the army’s intentions. They are there to tire out the pair. After dispatching the soldiers, Talia herself makes her appearance and demands one-on-one battle with Batman. Batman is not interested in fighting her, and proceeds to explain why they have come. Holly Robinson was tracked to the area. If you recall from the “Rooftops” story, Holly is the one actually responsible for the murder of 200+ terrorists that Catwoman took the fall for. They are there for her. Batman makes his case for an audience with Robinson while he avoids Talia’s attacks, but since he is unarmed she eventually overcomes him and puts a sword in his shoulder. With her first target down, she turns to Catwoman, the current lover of her ex, and prepares to continue the fight. Catwoman grabs the sword from Batman’s shoulder and we leave off moments before the two women engage.
Analysis: Let’s start on a positive note. Joelle Jones is doing some great work on art in these pages. She’s taken Batman out his element, far from the shadows and alleys of Gotham and dropped him into an Arabian Nights story (which Batman isn’t altogether unfamiliar with) that is engaging and beautiful to see. It’s a shame that her top notch visual storytelling is backed up by some of the weakest stories that Tom King has put out on this title. The bickering between Batman and Catwoman is going to be divisive. Some will enjoy the quirk it brings to the characters and others will decry it as being out-of-character. I’m middle of the road. I have no problem with King bringing some levity to the character, he deserves it after all, it just needs to be of a consistent quality. Too often in this book I found myself enjoying an exchange only for it to go sideways and sour the page.
Again in this chapter Tom King shines on a small moment. The brief interlude with Superman and the boys was pitch-perfect. I don’t know if its Damian’s barely restrained insolence or Dick’s ability to be the perfect older brother, but I love their dynamic. Seeing King get these parts of the story so right makes the rest more painful. The man has a great sense of humor and timing for dialogue, so when it falls flat in other parts of the book it can be frustrating. In regards to the actual story advancement, I’m happy with where things are going. It seems this is actually a quest to clear Catwoman’s name of those pesky murders she previously confessed to, which I suppose is important to do before marriage. How Holly Robinson wound up with Talia al Ghul of all people will be interesting to hear. I also enjoyed the dynamic between the three main characters, despite the uneven dialogue.
Final Thoughts: After my first read-through of this chapter, I was greatly disheartened despite the numerous great story elements. With subsequent read-throughs, I warmed up slightly, but I still can’t get past the clunky dialogue. We’re deep enough into Tom King’s run that the flaws in his approach are becoming readily apparent. There needs to be some course correction if King is to remain on this title for an extended period. He has great plots and decent execution, but the dialogue and writing have been stiff, especially in the middle chapters of story arcs. We’re back in two weeks and, yet again, I find myself saying that King needs to stick the landing because of the mediocrity of the lead-up . I look forward to not saying that someday as I am the eternal optimist.
P.S. I hate the last panel where Catwoman says “Meeow.” If it was stylized as “Mee-ow,” I’d be fine with it. Am I justified or am I being pedantic? Discuss.