The name’s Julius “Left-Eye” Malone. You’ve probably heard of me. I’m President of the Coalition for Bat-God Purists. My good friend Russ, who usually does AiPT!’s Batman reviews, lost a bet — whose conditions he requested remain undisclosed out of “fear of his losing his job and loved ones.” Therefore, I’ll be reviewing Batman #33, written by Tom King and drawn by Joelle Jones.
Last issue, Batman finally revealed to Catwoman the harrowing secret which left him so guilt-racked at the end of “The War of Jokes & Riddles.” Despite how distressed the whole ordeal left him — Catwoman still said “yes” to his marriage proposal. Behind every great man, right?
Before we get some 69-page, chromium-embossed, hologram-covered wedding extravaganza with rice-sprinkling Robins, ring-bearing Supermen and Wonder Woman and Big Barda fist-fighting over the bouquet toss, though — first writer Tom King’s taking Bat and Cat into the desert on a search for peace and inner happiness.
And what King has described in interviews as “something we’ve never seen before in a Batman tale.” What might that be? We find out in the first part of “The Rules of Engagement”:
Batman #33 takes Batman out of his hometurf of Gotham City and into the deserts of Khadym. From the very first page, something struck me. Batman’s toting a shotty:
Before I was able to toss the book down in sheer disgust at such a brazen falsification of Batman’s methodology however, I remembered the wise words of my psychiatrist, Dr. Lenny Maurice Thompkins: “Golden Age Batman, Julius — he always used guns. Batman also used guns on his Bat-Cycle in The Dark Knight movie (2008), in Batman: Year Two (1987) and in Final Crisis (2008) when he shot up Darkseid to prevent him from consuming all of reality. Also, please remember to submit your stool sample in the clean plastic container provided, not used sandwich bags.”
So yes, Batman does wield a very big gun on the first page of Batman #33, but he only uses it to assist Catwoman in euthanizing a poor horse that could no longer endure the unrelenting heat and bitter sands of the Khadym desert:
Goodnight, sweet prince.
Sad. But what’s sadder is: so much for Batman’s vast prep-time sapience, huh? These days under King’s tenure, Batman can’t even save the life of a single horse for an expedition, let alone outsmart both the Joker and the Riddler in less than four panels like he would have under Dini or Morrison’s scripts. But I digress.
As unfamiliar and exotic a locale like Khadym might be, one constant remains: it’s a place where Batman can profess his love to his future wife as they trek through the howling desert sands; a place where they still refer to one another affectionately as “Bat” and “Cat.” Perhaps King is telling us that god-like prep-time proficiency has been traded for the ability to genuinely love in his rendition of Batman.
En route to their mysterious destination, Batman and Catwoman come across the “Tiger King of Kandahar,” a bearded, keffiyeh-wearing, ostensible native of Khadym. Oddly enough, he knows Dick Grayson by name and Batman acts like it’s no big deal to be name-dropping Dick all impudent-like; as if he’s not referring to his former sidekick turned protege in a way that’s blowing up his spot.
“Khadym is not a country for business,” Tiger King says. “Khadym is a country for war.”
Were this a story for Bat-God purists, Batman would have already had the Tiger King tamed, hog-tied, tranquilized with truth-serum off-page five panels prior and revelatory of some secret underground tunnel that would have led the protagonists to their destination and back before issue’s end. But here, Batman has to strike a bargain: “Can you get us in or not?” Tiger King can, but not before Batman and Catwoman must face their first challenge. (Which King has the tandem solve in a way that accentuates Batman’s generosity as a fiance in humorous fashion.)
The desert sequences are punctuated by ones back at Wayne Manor, where Dick, Jason, Damian and Duke (apparently very forgiving or perhaps just forgetful of Batman preemptively seizing them without their knowledge and placing them all in cryogenic freezing chambers so they didn’t hurt themselves going after Bane during the “I am Bane” story arc) learn of Batman’s sudden campaign through Alfred; of his marriage to Catwoman; a conversation that ends with Damian in tears, all too cognizant of what Batman is doing in Khadym:
“I know why father… why he would want to go to Khadym.” The reason is both crucial to Batman’s marriage and compelling enough to make me want the next issue immediately.
Joelle Jones’ art in this issue is stellar for the most part, aided by Jordie Bellaire’s mesmeric colors. The pair paints a distinctive Catwoman; lithe, limber, high-cheekboned and emerald-eyed. Batman is also striking and straight bad-ass in his desert gear: a long duster (or is that the trenchcoat from Dawn of Justice?) and motorcycle goggles. Khadym is in every panel an immersive place; from the convincing architecture to the meticulously detailed topography — windblown dunes, flat-topped buttes and mesas fringed with alluvial fans; copper-colored mountains, hills crowned by massive inselbergs and an orange-red desert sky that pervades it all. Jones’ pencils and inks look a bit too thick in the Wayne Manor scenes however, like with the wrinkles on Alfred’s face for instance, and this causes some glaring dissonance with Bellaire’s colors. It’s also hard to discern the age of the Robins from first glance alone, as they all look like they could pass for their mid-twenties in nearly every panel — even Damian.
Though a Bat-God purist like myself is more accustomed to Batman breezing through endeavors such as this, there is a part of me that likes the uncertainty that comes with King’s humanized version of Batman. I don’t know where the story is going next but I absolutely can’t wait to see — especially with the revelation at issue’s end. And that’s the crux of what makes Batman #33 work so well.
Are you ready to invite righteous prep-time into your heart and let the Bat-God become your personal savior? Admit you are a sinner and join us at the Coalition for Bat-God Purists.