Review by Frank Plowright
Batman’s ‘Rebirth’ graphic novels until this point have focussed principally on Batman. Commissioner Gordon has had a role to play, as has Alfred, but none of Batman’s other associates have featured to any significant degree. The Rules of Engagement shifts that considerably. For starters, among the characters King introduces for the first time in his run is Batman and Talia’s son Damian. He’s an extremely difficult character to write convincingly, being both a supremely talented warrior and a very snotty kid, and too many times under other writers he’s failed the presentation test. King pitches him just right, his faith in Batman absolute, and his heart on his sleeve befitting his age.
The end of The War of Jokes and Riddles brought what King had been developing with Batman and Catwoman to a natural dramatic point, and they’re committed to getting married. Before they can do this however, a few matters need to be settled, not least Catwoman being wanted for 237 murders. There’s also the matter of how Batman should broach the subject with Superman, technically his best friend. How that’s resolved is a brilliant piece of writing about two couples on a date night at the funfair, using a very simple, but very clever method of having them reveal some answers. The trick has been pulled before, but never with as much meaning or panache. Clay Mann came of second best to the extraordinary art of Mikel Janín last time around, but without that impossible comparison to withstand he’s the star turn despite three other very good artists. On the first of two parts he displays his skills as an action artist, and on the second it’s all about personality.
Those other three artists are Joëlle Jones, Lee Weeks and Michael Lark, with Jones on the opening story. This is a little mannered in places, King wanting to convey the difficulty of cutting through an alien way of thinking, but the formality and style never quite meshes. That’s not down to Jones, whose gritty approach to gritty conditions looks wonderful, and in the middle of it all there’s the so appropriate assessment of Batman delivered on the sample page as Catwoman and Talia have a swordfight. It’s at the heart of King’s attitude of reverting Batman to a human being, and so does the playful penultimate story concerning a series of tests. Weeks constructs a dark and rainswept Gotham, the type in which Batman always looks his best, and King delves into Catwoman’s fears.
A strange glimpse into the future completes the book, Lark drawing Batman and Catwoman beginning with a fateful visit to the doctor. It speaks of lives fulfilled and celebrated, despite a mournful tone, and again does much to humanise the previously inaccessible Dark Knight.
This is another fine collection of Batman stories showcasing variety, intelligence and character, with King prioritising entertainment and surprises throughout. Bride or Burglar is next.