Category Archives: Comic Books/Graphic Novels

A Batman: The Rules of Engagement Review – Woundmates

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 5: The Rules of Engagement
AUTHOR: Tom King
PENCILLERS: Joelle Jones, Clay Mann, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark
COLLECTS: Batman #3337, Batman Annual #2
FORMAT:
Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED:
April 25, 2018

***WARNING: One or two minor spoilers ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Didja catch that? See what they did there? “Rules of Engagement.” Only it’s like, engagement. You know, to be married and stuff. Yeah, you get it. See, it’s that kind of clever wordplay that’s kept the Batman mythos alive for 80 years…

So before DC went and made a lot of people mad with the Batman/Catwoman wedding storyline, this was the early portion of the build-up. Basically, this is the part where most of Bruce Wayne’s closest allies react to his decision to marry Selina Kyle. Damian, Dick, and his various surrogate sons. Superman. Even Talia al Ghul. Hijinks and violence ensue.

Oooo! I’ve got one! Ready? Together, Bruce and Selina are about to learn that the only “rules of engagement,” are that there are no rules.

Oh c’mon! If they can get away with Rules of Engagement

1. A Walk Through the Desert

The first part of the book sees Batman and Catwoman enter the Middle Eastern country of Khadym, which the U.N. and the Justice League have designated off-limits. It also happens to house Talia al Ghul and the League of Assassins. But Talia has something Bruce and Selina need to move forward with their marriage. Thus, the two sides are on a collision course. As you might expect, there are swords involved. Like, a lot of swords.

Presumably because of Batman v Superman, this book sees Batman don a duster and goggles, despite also being in full costume. It was stupid in the movie. It’s no less stupid here. The look would eventually return for another desert story, and it was no less stupid there either. I’ll be incredibly happy when this damn trend fades away.

As she would later do on the Catwoman series, Joelle Jones turns in some marvelous work, alongside colorist Jordie Bellaire. While her style, complete with the dark jagged lines, doesn’t exactly mesh well with the quiet scenes in Wayne Manor, it’s a tremendous fit for all the desert stuff. Jones often shines when the dramatic and the grotesque come together. So when things get bloody, slicey, and stabby, she’s right at home.

Not surprisingly, things culminate in a fight between Talia and Selina. It manages to be a pretty good fight. Not because of the physicality, but because of a stretch of dialogue where Selina proves she knows Bruce in a way Talia never has. She has a kind of insight into his mind and heart of which Talia may be incapable. From a writing standpoint, it’s one of the highlights of Tom King’s entire Batman run.

King also revisits the “Can Batman be happy?” idea he touched on during I Am Gotham. He uses Damian, grief-stricken that his father is marrying “that woman,” and Dick Grayson. Again, very poignant and effective stuff that cuts to the heart of the Batman character. I’ll leave it at that for now, as we’ll need to revisit it down the road anyway.

2. Double Date

The book shifts from bloody to comedic for a double date story that tips its hat to the sillier Superman/Batman stuff from the Golden Age. In “Super Friends,” Bruce and Selina take in a night at a carnival with Clark Kent and Lois Lane. King, Clay Mann, co-inker Seth Mann, and Bellaire go all out with the premise. The characters wear each other’s superhero costumes. Lois and Selina get drunk from a flask. Superman and Batman swing at baseballs. By and large, it’s genuinely fun. Clay Mann’s rendering of Clark Kent in the Batsuit, glasses and all, is hilarious.

It does, however, raise one of the issues I often have with King’s writing: He can go a little off the deep end with the banter. It’s not so much an issue in “Super Friends,” as it’s a blatant comedy. But when you have, for instance, a high-stakes tale about Batman and Catwoman confronting Talia and the League of Assassins, going too heavy on the banter can cut into the drama.

Case in point, when we open issue #34, Batman and Catwoman are surrounded by assassins, hell bent on cutting them to pieces. This is a portion of the dialogue we get just before the fighting gets underway…

B: “Cat, I may be wearing a leather bat costume. But do I look dumb enough to make fun of you?
C: “I don’t know, Bat. Do I look dumb enough to not know what ‘a lot’ is?”
B: “No. You look lovely.”
C: “Sure, you say that now. Wait’ll I’ve got their blood all over me.”

One of King’s greatest strengths in writing Batman is how he conveys the connection between Batman and Catwoman. But even by couple-bickering standards, stuff like this is overindulgent. Sadly, this book is hardly the end of it.

3. Woundmates

I read an article not long ago that introduced me to the term “woundmate.”  Long story short, it’s someone with whom you share a similar kind of trauma, or unsolved emotional problems and as such they feel like a soulmate. But in the end, they aren’t.

Re-reading “Some of These Days” from Batman Annual #2 reminded me of that article. Because in the end, that’s what Bruce and Selina are. Woundmates. That’s beautifully, and literally, illustrated by Lee Weeks as he channels his inner David Mazzucchelli. The story is obviously meant to be an extension of Batman: Year One, but it doesn’t work at all without Weeks.

Michael Lark is tagged in for the last few pages, as we time-jump to a potential future where Bruce and Selina have grown old together. Again, poignant. And downright touching when you get right down to it. I love Gotham Central as much as anybody, so I’ll never complain about seeing Lark back on a Bat-book.

4. A Deeper Connection

King uses the annual to retcon Batman and Catwoman’s history so they have a deeper connection. Most notable is that they discover one another’s identities very early on. I can’t say I love that, but I don’t hate it either.

What I’m not necessarily a fan of is Catwoman’s motivation in the story. She breaks into Wayne Manor multiple times, and later reveals she’s been doing it to essentially sharpen Batman’s edges so he doesn’t get killed. (See above image.)

Frankly, I just don’t buy it. Maybe I’m too hung up on the classic Batman/Catwoman presentation where they’re simply flirtatious. I can accept Selina being able to penetrate the walls Bruce has put up and catch him off guard. I can accept the idea that she cares about him. But something just isn’t right about the notion that she takes time out of her life to sharpen Batman’s skills. Remember how early in her career this is supposed to be. Early on, Catwoman is a hardened thief out for herself. She may have a heart of gold underneath it all, but that only extends so far…

5. The Verdict

The Rules of Engagement isn’t a must-read, even if you’re simply following the wedding storyline. It has the same flaws as most of Tom King’s Batman run. There is, however, some amazing art to be seen. I can’t help but be partial to Lee Weeks, but it’s also a strong outing for Joelle Jones. And if, like me, you’re a fan of the way King writes Bruce and Selina’s chemistry, you’ll enjoy it.

For more of Tom King’s run on Batman, check out I Am Gotham, I Am Suicide, I Am Bane, Batman/The Flash: The Button, and The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

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Astonishing Art: Orange is the New Black by Victoria Haigh

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’m currently zipping through the final season of Orange is the New Black, as I imagine a great many people are. I’m not finished yet, but thus far they seem to be going out on a pretty heavy emotional  note. Several of them, actually.

Today I happened to look up Beth Dover, the actress that plays the Linda Ferguson character, on Instagram. One of her posts led me to Victoria Haigh, an amazing fan artist with an obvious love for the show. Dover used the image at left on her page, which reminds me a lot of the ensemble images Kevin Maguire does.

For an added dose of astonishment, check out Haigh’s web site. You’ll find not only more Orange, but lots of Kate McKinnon, and she’s certainly no stranger to superheroes!

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Astonishing Art: Fatherhood Edition, by Pena Nezuki

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Three days ago, my daughter was born. I’m not yet sure what I’ll refer to her as on this site. My wife has been Mrs. Primary Ignition. So…Li’l Primary Ignition, maybe?

Naturally, emotions are running high. I spotted this piece by Puna Nezuki on Father’s Day. It smacked me in the feels then. But now…

What makes the image for me, outside of the quality of the character renderings, is the variance between young Splinter and old Splinter. The former standing up straight and tall in his early days of parenthood. The latter with a bit of a hunch, facing old age, but able to look around at a job well done.

Thankfully, I only have one to look after, as opposed to four. I’m also not raising them in a sewer. Truth be told, Splinter might be the most overlooked father in all of pop culture.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Panels of Awesomeness: Joker in the Court

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: The following contains a spoiler for Batman: The Long Halloween. If you haven’t read it, run (do not walk) and do so right this minute.***

THE ISSUE: Batman: Dark Victory #7

CREATORS: Jeph Loeb (Author), Tim Sale (Artist), Gregory Wright (Colors) Heroic Age (Colors), Richard Starkings (Letters)

RELEASED: June 2000

THE SCENE: In an underground “courtroom” setting, Batman’s enemies try to ascertain the identity of the “Hangman” killer. The Calendar Man takes the stand as Two-Face prosecutes.

WHY IT’S AWESOME: After recommending The Long Halloween to a friend, I recently took the time to re-read the pivotal entry into the Batman mythos, along with its sequel, Dark Victory. While Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s work might be my favorite take on Batman and his world, I came away realizing Dark Victory wasn’t quite as good as I remembered. While it’s nowhere near bad, and it’s still great to be in that Loeb/Sale world again, it’s a sequel that doesn’t live up to the original.

Odd as it may seem, this page is my favorite in the entire book. Specifically because of that last panel, in which the Joker lets out a tiny “Ha.”

In the scene, Julian Day, a.k.a. the Calendar Man is about to reveal the true identity of the Holiday killer from The Long Halloween, whom the world believes to be Alberto Falcone. But Day knows the truth. And without spoiling too much from the book, Harvey Dent has a very personal investment in the truth not getting out. So he pulls a gun on the Calendar Man before he can get out a name. Then the Joker laughs.

I’m not sure if Julian Day knew the truth or not. Hell, even Batman never knew. But to me, that one little word bubble with those two little letters reveal one hell of an untouched detail: The Joker knows. I don’t know how he knows, but I suspect it may have something to do with his appearance in Harvey and Gilda Dent’s new home in The Long Halloween. It would certainly explain the way he behaves toward Two-Face in Dark Victory.

I also love the way this panel is colored. The ultimate evil standing off in the shadows. Laughing. Because he knows your dark and dirty little secret. Most likely because part of that awful, unthinkable evil that resides in him, now resides in you too.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Astonishing Art: Joker(s) by Gabriel Soares

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Naturally, there’s been plenty of buzz over the new Joker trailer. From where I’m sitting, it actually looks pretty good. Keep your expectations low with these DC movies, folks. Then at least you won’t be disappointed…

As it happens, the high visibility of the trailer gives me a chance to spotlight an artist I’ve had my eye on for awhile: Gabriel Soares. A 3D cartoonist from Brazil, Soares puts a lot of great detail into his work, while still keeping things in that exaggerated cartoon realm. Even if it’s only slightly so. To illustrate, I’ve included his takes on the Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Jared Leto Jokers.

Soares’ work can be found on ArtStation, as well as his Instagram.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Panels of Awesomeness: Supergirl: Being Super

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

THE ISSUE: Supergirl: Being Super #1

CREATORS: Mariko Tamaki (Author), Joelle Jones (Pencils), Sandu Floreau (Inks), Kelly Fitzpatrick (Colors) Saida Temofonte (Letters)

RELEASED: December 28, 2016

THE SCENE: In the opening pages of this out-of-continuity take on Supergirl, we meet Kara Danvers and her friends.

WHY THEY’RE AWESOME: I’m a sucker for body language and certain subtle visual cues. Comic books are, after all, a visual medium. I wasn’t even two pages into Supergirl: Being Super when I found one I absolutely love.

The book reestablishes the character as a modern American teenager. One of the book’s best attributes is establishes strong connections early on between Kara and her supporting cast, specifically her friends. One of those friends is Dolly Granger. 

What I absolutely adore here is how perfectly the art and the caption boxes are intertwined. The one on the left is our set-up, as we get this information about Dolly’s parents. Then we have the reveal of her hair, which beautifully points to her non-conformist streak without saying a single word. We probably don’t even need the caption on the right. But it’s a nice bit of garnish. Incidentally, it’s probably not an accident that the background is rainbow colored.

One of the book’s best attributes is how real and genuine Kara’s friendships feel. They work wonders in making this otherwise goddess-like character feel very down-to-Earth. Often it can be cumbersome to get those supporting characters established while still doing the business of the plot. But Dolly’s introduction is quick, seamless, and masterful.

For more Joelle Jones, check out Panels of Awesomeness: Catwoman #1.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

 

Astonishing Art: Pro Wrestlers By Nolan Harris

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It doesn’t take a doctorate to see that pro wrestlers and comic book characters have a lot in common. They’re flamboyant, colorful, expressive, often muscled to the point of ridiculousness. Most importantly, when they’re done right, they’re both a hell of a lot of fun.

Nolan Harris’ art captures this parallel about as well as you possibly can. Whether it’s the bright backgrounds, the little details he accentuates, or the occasional otherworldly element he adds (see Demon Balor), his work is a real joy to behold. And if you follow his Instagram, you know he’s really damn prolific. Lately, in addition to creating new content, he’s started “re-mixing” some of his old works. I’ve included six of my favorites here.

You can see more of Harris’ work, and also purchase prints, at his official site. Nolan is also the co-owner of Over the Line Art.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.