The plot is this. After Catwoman Selina Kyle accepted his marriage proposal at the end of his long, dumb story about that time he tried to stab The Riddler in the face but The Joker stopped them, Batman has gone off the grid with his new fiancee, in order to perform a task that must be completed before he can marry (This story's title? "The Rules of Engagement." Get it?!). I have to admit, the gradual revelation of that task is actually quite well-handled, particularly given how much build-up--almost 20 pages worth--that goes into making it seem like something of world-threatening proportions (I'm not entirely sure it scans with relatively recent stories in comics like Robin: Son of Batman, but whatever).
So Batman puts on the end-of-the-world outfit from the most incoherent part of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and then he and Catwoman saddle up on horses and ride them through a Middle Eastern desert for some reason, to get to a secret, forbidden place to do something. Meanwhile, Alfred calls "the family"--that is, all of Batman's closest, male sidekicks that are currently alive--to announce to them that Bruce proposed to Selina, Selina said yes, and now he's gone off to do something stupid that requires League attention.
The issue is drawn by Ladykiller (note the title of Damian's book) and Supergirl: Being Super artist Joelle Jones, who is a female. This is, unfortunately, worth noting, because in the 75-ish years that there has been a Batman title, I think maybe, like, one issue was drawn by a woman. No woman has had a run as the book's regular artist yet, and if Jones simply draws this entire story arc, she'll set that particular record. It would be nice if she stayed on for a while so that, in a few years' time, it might not even be worth remarking on the fact that a woman is drawing Batman, but given the book's now twice-a-month schedule, she'll have to turn the baton over to someone else pretty quickly. (Me, I'd like it to be Jan Duursema, perhaps inked by Tom Mandrake, and then Jones and Duursema could trade alternate arcs back and forth, but no one cares what I think.)
Jones does a pretty incredible job, and is quite adept at the various characters' faces and their expressions. She also draws a very, very good Ace...perhaps 1,000,000-times better than pencil artist David Finch did when he introduced this particular version of Ace not too long ago. She even does a reasonable job of distinguishing the many black-haired young men from one another when they're not wearing their costumes (With Tim Drake MIA, Dick, Jason, Damian and Duke gather with Ace and Alfred to hear the news).
Because she does such a good job, and because a lady drawing Batman is still so rare, I feel like a heel saying anything bad about the art, but, well, I don't like her tall, lanky version of Damian, who looks five years older than he does when drawn by most other artists, and that first panel of Tiger King on page eight looks like it's facing the wrong way, given how the characters are posed. Alfred looked a bit off to me too, and then I realized why; colorist Jordie Bellaire gives him gray hair, like that of the Batman: The Animated Series Alfred, and the last time I read a long stretch featuring the character prominently was in All-Star Batman, where his hair is still black and he looks remarkably young.
Anyway, this is a pretty nice-looking comic, and as I so actively dislike the work of David Finch and find Mikel Janin's art good but kind of cold and relatively lifeless, this may be my favorite issue of the current volume of the series, visually.
I found the bit where Batman cocks a shotgun and hands it to Catwoman so she could shoot a dying horse, putting it out of its misery, really, really weird, given Batman's overall aversion to guns and the sacredness with which he regards life. As I questioned the scene, a voice in the back of my head started to argue, "The horse was probably injured and suffering, wouldn't it be crueler for Batman to not have it shot?" but then I immediately stifled it with the thought that this is all just stuff writer Tom King is making up, so why the fuck would he even come up with that dumb-ass weird scene?
|The Whirly-Bat never collapses from exhaustion, never needs to be shot in the head with a rifle to be put out of its misery.|
Also, why is Alfred so loose with Superman's secret identity? Did Jason, Damian and Duke all know it already? That's a pretty wide circle of people who know it!
Writer Marguerite Bennett gives a couple of very nice lines to the original (I think) character Emily regarding Wonder Woman, lines that emphasize what was one of the compelling aspects of the original, Golden Age conception of the character that has been lost in more modern interpretations:
They get her legend wrong.Here, here! Part of my hopes Bennett is DC's eventual choice for the "regular" Wonder Woman writer, based on how well she seems to get her in the pages of this book and its predecessor, but then, I didn't really care for Bennett's Batwoman at all, so I wonder if maybe she wouldn't fare so well in the DCU as she does when playing in her own little corner of it as she has been in these books.
She isn't the Wonder Woman because she wiped her enemies off the map.
She doesn't have any more enemies because she turns them into friends.
The rapid rotation of artists continues, with this issue being half drawn by David Hahn and half drawn by Pasquale Qualano. I liked the Han half better, but then, I'm more familiar with his work, and had some pre-existing affection for it.
A bunch of plot stuff happens here, but the issue is most noteworthy for its use of horseshoe crabs. I don't know for certain, but I think this is the first time in a superhero comic that someone has tried to pull off a crime that involves horseshoe crabs and the first time someone used horseshoe crabs as a weapon in a fight scene. There's a cheeky editorial box explaining why horseshoe crabs appear in here at all. I just learned about them and that they are actually a pretty valuable resource a few months ago when I read the chapter on them in Willy Ley's excellent The Lungfish, The Dodo & The Unicorn: An Excursion Into Romantic Zoology, which I would recommend everyone read.