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Batman #35 review: "Rules of Engagement" finale sees Catwoman vs. Talia al Ghul in a swordfight to the death

Comic Books

Batman #35 review: “Rules of Engagement” finale sees Catwoman vs. Talia al Ghul in a swordfight to the death

Cat-fight! Batman’s new fiancee Catwoman vs. the mother of his child, Talia al Ghul.

It’s the one thing that Batman’s prep time can’t overcome: Baby mama drama.

The conclusion of Batman #34 saw Catwoman, who recently became Batman’s fiancee, ready to take on Talia al Ghul, the mother of Batman’s child — in a swordfight to the death. It’s every man’s worst nightmare (or is that dream come true?) in Batman #35. Let’s get it on:

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In an interview with Polygon, writer Tom King describes a conversation with Eisner-award-winning comic book writer Mark Waid: “[Waid] had lunch with me,” King said, “and he’s like ‘Do you realize that more stories have been written about Batman than any other character — fictional, religious, nonfictional — in the history of anything? … You just have to write the next one.”

Batman #35 makes it more and more clear what this “next one” is that King’s going for: he’s going to write the best Batman love story we’ve ever seen. Or at the very least, a Batman love story that we’ve never seen before.

Batman #35 review: "Rules of Engagement" finale sees Catwoman vs. Talia al Ghul in a swordfight to the death

True, ever since the characters’ beginnings in DC’s Golden Age, Batman and Catwoman have always had about them an aura of overt flirtation and sexual tension; from Batman: The Animated Series to Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway on the big screen, there’s always been that “Will They or Won’t They?” vibe that has almost invariably ended in “Won’t They.”

But we’ve never seen a Catwoman quite like this opposite Batman. What King has done differently is solidify her as a character much more integral to the narrative than she’s ever been — not just an ancillary love interest that will inevitably double cross him (or vice-versa) — but a partner of equal standing and caliber. Catwoman saves him from towering, naked Bane and is the crux of the team’s success in “I Am Suicide.”

In Batman #14 the two have the vigilante equivalent of Netflix and chill: beating down a slew of thugs and having sex on a Gotham rooftop.

Again, Catwoman proves essential to foiling Bane’s plans when she frees his kidnapped victims (including Commissioner Gordon, Duke and Bronze Tiger) in Batman #18.

Batman seeks Catwoman’s approval (and amnesty?) before they can consummate their marriage by spilling his biggest secret to her in “The War of Jokes & Riddles.”

Batman #35 review: "Rules of Engagement" finale sees Catwoman vs. Talia al Ghul in a swordfight to the death

In Batman #35 however, the case for Catwoman’s intrinsicness to King’s overarching Bat-narrative is given its most poignant and convincing argument yet, though ironically through her most glaring vulnerability: further proof of and admission of her love for Batman.

Who has been the only other enduring love interest to Batman in his near eighty-year history? The mother of his child, Talia al Ghul. King skillfully juxtaposes the two most important women in Batman’s life through an issue-spanning sword fight that sees Catwoman and Talia clashing up and down stone staircases like female counterparts to Robin Hood and Sir Guy of Gisbourne, trading insults and braggadocio among sword strikes, parries and ripostes.

Talia has been molded by her infamous father since birth. “Fight or die,” she was told. “And so I fought,” she says. “Every minute. Every day… That is how I learned. That is how I know that you — for coming here with him — you will die.” Her attitude towards Catwoman is that of unrelenting scorn. “In all the world… only the detective, possibly, is my equal,” she says of Batman. What makes this petty cat-burglar worthy of Batman’s love?

Catwoman’s answer seems counterintuitive, both self-deprecating and deconstructive of the Batman character itself (and certainly the Bat-God persona that defined him ten years ago). “Batman. For his… justice… he’ll betray you. He’ll betray me.” “I’ll always be second to a child’s idiotic fantasy.” But she’s right. And it’s this deeply perceptive understanding of Batman and loving him despite his flawed psyche that shows she might understand him better than any love interest he’s ever had, even Talia.

Batman #35 review: "Rules of Engagement" finale sees Catwoman vs. Talia al Ghul in a swordfight to the death

Joelle Jones’ art is some of the most highly anticipated and singular stuff in the medium today and she doesn’t fail to impress here; alongside colorist Jordie Bellaire, Batman #35 is full of striking art from start to finish. The sword fight between Selina and Talia is choreographed with finesse, kickstarted by an impressive opening page where the two combatants’ shadow-shapes entwine on a mud-brick wall and followed by a close-up, double-page spread of the two clashing swords face-to-face, clangs of metal a stark counterpoint to their raucous screams. Most impressive however is the diversity in characters and facial expressions; fear of Jones’ inability to differentiate the Robins from one another (Damian, Jason and Dick all looked either too similar or misrepresentative of their ages in Batman #33) can already be allayed, as her depiction of Damian and Dick in this issue as they discuss Batman’s motives on the steps of a torchlit cave entrance gifts the scene with plenty of sentiment and age-accuracy. Selina is instantly recognizable, like an emerald-eyed, pugilistic Aubrey Hepburn, pixie-haircut and all but it’s Talia al Ghul, in her flowing, midriff-baring, green-black, silk outfit that is most distinctive; Jones gives her exotic features to match her sun-tanned skin, a look that better represents her ethnic origin than any I’ve seen.

If there’s any downfall to Catwoman’s increased importance it’s that it doesn’t give the Robins much to do. In “I Am Bane” they were suddenly and bafflingly frozen in cryogenic chambers to get them out of the way and here they aren’t given much more to do but sit around on the sidelines and talk about what’s going on (although this does provide for a touching moment between father and son come issue’s end). Still, we’re only on issue #35 of King’s proposed 100 issues, so it’s a criticism that will surely be abated by the time all is said and done.

Is it Good?

Powerful, poignant characterization, top-notch dialogue and superb art combine to make Batman #35 a must-read.

Batman #35 review: "Rules of Engagement" finale sees Catwoman vs. Talia al Ghul in a swordfight to the death
Batman #35
Is it good?
Excellent juxtaposition of Catwoman and Talia al Ghul throughout their issue-spanning sword fight.
Top notch dialogue and narrative from King.
Striking art from start to finish by Jones and Bellaire.
The Robins are pushed to the sidelines... again.

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