A Batman, Vol 11: The Fall and the Fallen Deep Dive – Too Much Canvas

TITLE: Batman, Vol. 11: The Fall and the Fallen
AUTHORS:
Tom King, Andy Kubert, Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing, Mairghread Scott, Steve Orlando, Tim Seeley
ARTISTS:
Mikel Janin, Jorge Fornes, Amancay Nahuelpan, Carlos D’Anda, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith (Inker). Eduardo Risso, Patrick Gleason. Cover by Kubert.
COLORIST:
Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Luis Guerrero, Tomeu Morey, Dave Stewart, John Kalisz
LETTERER:
Clayton Cowles, Steve Wands, Andworld Design, Tom Workman, Tom Napolitano
COLLECTS:
Batman #7074, Batman: Secret Files #2
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$24.99
RELEASED:
December 18, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As a whole, City of Bane, which essentially starts here, is Tom King’s version of The Dark Knight Rises. Or if you want to go back further, the Knightfall storyline from the ’90s.

It’s also where the wheels come off King’s Batman run. I take no joy in saying that. But the proof is in the pudding, kids. So let’s dip our spoons in…

1. Daddy’s back.
The Fall and the Fallen is when we finally see Bane and Flashpoint Batman, a.k.a. Thomas Wayne from an alternate universe, team up to break our hero once and for all.

Yes friends, Thomas Wayne, one of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is here. You know about Bruce Wayne’s parents, right? They were murdered in front of their young son. It was that heinous act of violence that inspired Bruce’s vow to wage war on criminals for the rest of his life, and ultimately the creation of Batman. We saw these two come face-to-face in The Button, and it was a tremendously emotional experience for Bruce. One can only imagine what would go through his head if his father, even an alt-universe version, masterminded some kind of plot against him…

So tell me something: Why is Bane our big bad in this story? Why bring him into this when Bruce’s father shakes his son’s world to its core simply because he exists? Add the fact that this version of Thomas Wayne is his universe’s Batman, and Bane becomes redundant by comparison.

Batman #72 takes us back through the events of the series and outlines Bane’s plan, which all centers around the Bruce/Selina marriage. In the end, Thomas proposes a partnership.

But picture this, Thomas Wayne somehow survives the destruction of the Flashpoint universe and winds up in the DC Universe proper. He initially wants to seek out his “son,” but this alternate world intrigues him. So he opts to lay low, observe, and learn.

Remember, in The Button, Thomas pleaded with Bruce to stop being Batman and simply live his life. Devastated that Bruce hasn’t heeded his words, he decides he’s the only one that can stop his “son.” So he opts to do what must be done, by any means necessary.

In the end, it comes down to Batman against Batman. Father against son. It can be on the rooftops of Gotham, the Batcave, or anywhere really. All we need is the emotional impact of that showdown.

In the end, Catwoman shoots and kills Thomas in an act of desperation. Bruce then has to decide if he can forgive her or not. This would pay off the revelation from The War of Jokes and Riddles.

Not bad, huh? But no, instead we got another big fight with Bane. Yippee…

2. Father/Son Time
And what of what we actually get from father and son? They journey through the desert to get to a Lazarus Pit, occasionally stopping to fight members of Ra’s al Ghul’s personal guard. They take turns riding a horse, which is dragging a casket behind it. I won’t say who’s in it. But if you consider who we have in this scene and where they’re going it’s not too hard to figure out. There’s a really nice subtle reference to Batman: Knight of Vengeance, which is low key one of the best Batman stories of the last decade.

Old timey music has been a theme during Tom King’s run. In issue #73, he has Flashpoint Batman singing “Home, Home on the Range” to himself. Fun fact: It’s really weird to read that scene while playing Bing Crosby’s version of the song in the background…

Issue #74 is where things finally boil over between our Batmen. Thomas’ motivation, as always, is to get Bruce to surrender his life as Batman and live a normal life. That’s a hell of a premise for an issue. The trouble is, King spends far too much time harping on a story about a bedtime story Thomas told Bruce as a child about a bunch of animals eating each other in a pit. If I’m not mistaken, it’s an actual story written by Alexander Afanasyev, who’s widely considered to be the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Father and son talk about the horror of it all, and why Bruce supposedly liked the story. They eventually get to the real meat of their conflict. But by the time they do, you feel frustrated because they’ve spent so much time talking about that damn story. Even during their inevitable battle in the pit, King uses the story as a narrative backdrop.

And all the while, I can’t help but think…Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is standing right there. And this was the best they could do?

3. Dump the Duster
Okay DC, we get it. Batman v Superman was a thing. You guys liked the image of Batman in a duster and goggles, so you decided to use it. Fair enough.

But these issues came out in 2019. The movie came out in 2017. There was no need whatsoever to put the Flashpoint Batman in a duster and goggles just like the ones his “son” happened to wear several issues earlier in The Rules of Engagement.

If it looked cool, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. Plus, it’s impractical and redundant even by superhero standards, and therefore silly.

What’s done is done. But let’s make this right. If you want to have Batman wearing his costume in the desert, that’s fine. Heck, if you want to have Bruce Wayne wear a duster and goggles, that’s fine. But you can’t have Batman wearing his costume in the desert with a duster and goggles. The two ideas are mutually exclusive. That’s got to be a rule in writing Batman from now on.

4. Batman Gone Batty?
Issues #70 and #71 focus on a needless, and at times silly plot point about people thinking Batman is losing it, and Jim Gordon severing ties with him.

When we open the book, our Caped Crusader is punching his way through Arkham Asylum, facing off with most of the supervillains you’d expect to see. It’s a great opportunity for Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes to draw virtually all of the iconic rogues gallery.

The trouble is, King once again supplies us with bad Batman dialogue. Not the least of which is: “You challenge me with…nightmares? I live the nightmare! Bane! Why can’t you understand! I’m Batman! I am the nightmare.”

Shut up, already.

Given how convinced Batman is that Bane is faking insanity to remain in Arkham, and how intense and violent he is in his pursuit of the truth, Gordon becomes convinced that the Dark Knight has gone off the deep end. In issue #71 he tries to kick him off the roof of police headquarters (shown above).

That skepticism spreads to his extended family of superheroes, who are convinced Bruce is still grieving over his broken engagement to Selina Kyle. The situation is punctuated when he punches Tim Drake in the face.

There’s no worthwhile payoff to any of this. It all comes off like padding. Because it is padding. You can revolve an entire story arc around either of those moments. But instead they just come and go. That’s particularly a shame when it comes to the Gordon story, as there could have been some real substance to that.

5. Where’s Wesker?
This trade also contains Batman: Secret Files #2, which in theory is supposed to spotlight all “the villains who broke the Bat.” Okay, sure.

For what I think is the first time since Batman #23.1, Andy Kubert gets to write a Batman/Joker story. Things fare much better this time, largely because he goes the comedic route. Also, Amancay Nahuelpan draws a hell of a Clown Prince of Crime.

Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing put together a so-so story about the Psycho-Pirate leading a cult. Artist Carlos D’Anda overachieves on this one, which I did not expect.

Mairghread Scott and Giuseppe Camuncoli turn in a Riddler story that holds up pretty well. More amusing to me is the fact that “Sideburns Riddler” is still a thing.

Steve Orlando and Eduardo Risso steal the show with a Hugo Strange tale featuring multiple Batman “specimens.” Given he’s a mad doctor, I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions on what that story is about…

Tim Seeley teams with one of my personal favorites, Patrick Gleason, for a story late in Bane’s pre-Gotham days. I’m used to Gleason working with a much brighter color palette than John Kalisz provides here. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.

My big problem with this issue? No story about Arnold Wesker, a.k.a. the Ventriloquist. He’s on the cover, and plays one of the more interesting roles in Bane’s big scheme, as sort of Bane’s counterpart to Alfred. It’s a little disturbing, considering what happens to Alfred in the next volume.

6. Consistence and Versatility
The Secret Files issue notwithstanding, our drawing duties are split between Mikel Janin and Jorge Fornes. While The Fall and the Fallen may have its share of story problems, I can’t find much to complain about artistically. Both these men are awesome Batman artists very much in their element.

Mikel Janin was a star coming into this series. But he’s a superstar coming out of it. Speaking for myself, Janin’s art can now sell a book on its own. His line work is always super clean, his figure work consistent, and his character acting on point. I now look forward to specifically seeing his versions of Batman, the Joker, and even less flashy characters like Alfred and the Penguin. The fact that he’s got colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire backing him up in this book does nothing but help, of course. But Janin’s style on its own is versatile enough to handle any story. Whether we’re on the streets of Gotham, the Source Wall at the edge of the universe, or anywhere in between.

Objectively, Janin’s best work in this book is probably issue #74, as that’s where the book hits its emotional crescendo and is really firing on all cylinders. But selfishly, I’m partial to issue #70 because Janin gets to draw some of the more obscure Batman villains. Calendar Man, Doctor Phosphorus, the Cavalier, etc.

It’s difficult to look at Jorge Fornes’ work without thinking of what David Mazzucchelli did with Batman: Year One. The figure rendering is similar, the texture is similar. Bellaire’s coloring doesn’t have the same faded palette that Richmond Lewis’ did. But it’s still reminiscent.

I can’t bring myself to complain about the similarities, because Year One is obviously one of the all-time greats. But that means Fornes is better in environments that are a little more mundane, and can have that noir-ish spin put on them. Street level scenes, Wayne Manor and Batcave scenes, etc. It’s no accident that a hero like Daredevil is also on his resume. But something tells me that, like Janin, he’s got a versatilty to him. One that isn’t necessarily apparent here. I’m anxious to see what he does next.

7. Too Much Canvas
When someone mentions Tom King the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is his 12-issue run on Vision. That was such a masterclass in comic book storytelling. It’s frustrating to think that someone who wove such a classic at Marvel could make these kind of mistakes on Batman.

What it all comes down to is too much canvas. Give an artist too much canvas to work on, and suddenly the focus of the art wavers. If any story has ever had too much canvas it’s City of Bane.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

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 nation 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, Batman dons 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.

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 and Dick Grayson for some 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 wasted. Superman and Batman play baseball. 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.

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