BATMAN #37 & #38

Last night I tried wife swapping for the first time, and to be honest, I found the overall experience to be a very rewarding one. Somehow I managed to swap mine for a brand new Nintendo Switch. Well, it was either that, or the following story created by Tom King, Clay Mann, Travis Moore, and published by DC Comics in January, 2018.

TO QUOTE J. Paul Getty: 'Before marriage, many couples are very much like people rushing to catch an airplane: Once aboard, they turn into passengers. They just sit there and do nothing'.

After some careful deliberation, Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane, finally decide on where they should go to have their double date. It will be at an Amusement Park situated in Gotham City, America, but for them to gain entry they each need to wear a superhero themed costume. Not their own, however, because that would be silly, very silly. So what they do instead is to carefully swap costumes based on gender, rather than style, with Bruce wearing Superman's outfit, Clark wearing Batman's cape and cowl, Lois wearing Catwoman's form-fitting bodice, and Selina putting something on which is passable at best. 

Once they all suit up and enter the Amusement Park, each couple then bide there time by partaking in the usual activities. This includes eating corndogs, sailing through the tunnel of love, having a quick game of baseball, as well as some talking, drinking, and laughing, without forgetting to stop the odd crime that catches their eye. Nothing major, mind you! Just some silly sod who takes it upon himself to steal Lois Lane’s purse! 

After a while it becomes pretty obvious that the day's festivities have to come to an end. After all, true friendship is something that gestates over time and needs nurturing, understanding, and someone to connect with on both a personal and spiritual level. 

Funnily enough, this brings me quite nicely onto another adventure Bruce has a couple of weeks later. This time though, the adventure doesn’t involve an Amusement Park or a group of friends having some fun. This time the adventure is situated closer to home, a lot closer to home, and involves a serial killer who copies the same M.O. as certain members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. His first set of victims are a young rich couple who leave behind an orphaned son, Mathew, whereas his second set are the frail parents of Victor Zsasz, the notorious killer, currently behind bars. Whoever next? Two Face’s Mum and Dad, or someone else completely different? To find out please pick up issues 37 and 38 of Batman today. But before you do that, here, check this out.

Part One) DOUBLE DATE:   If you picked up issue 37 of Batman hoping that it would be a hard boiled adventure full of murder, mystery, and death, then I’m afraid to say that you will be sorely disappointed. Not because the overall story was badly told or hard to follow. No. Far from it. But because the overall story isn’t what I would call a conventional comic book pot-boiler! It doesn’t feature any villains. Its narrative structure was fairly free-flowing by design. Plus to top it all off, I’d say it was more of a character driven piece than a full blown action-adventure, where person X has to beat up person Y in order for them to save person Z. Know what I mean?

I obviously say this with all due respect, because I did enjoy this story and I do admire what Tom King was trying to accomplish with it. Essentially he tried to present each character without obstructing their personalities with a villains plot, a natural disaster, or some other distracting event of that nature. Sure, there was that one brief moment where a thief attempted to steal Lois Lane’s purse. But apart from that, the rest of the story concentrated on who these people are, what they represent, and what they’d do in a fairly conventional setting. 

Unfortunately this is where the story slightly lets itself down. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed its humor, its conceit, and most of its execution, what I wasn’t buying into is what it had on offer! I mean, is the world now ready for a domesticated Batman, or even a budding friendship between a respected journalist and a notable thief? Come to think of it, would Bruce even allow himself to be seen in public wearing a colorful costume or mixing with the likes of Lois and Clark?

I’m not sure he would. Honestly I’m not. As much as I would like to think he‘d be ok with this, there’s a part of me that suspects Bruce would want to wear a disguise, and I’m not talking about that bold Superman outfit he ended up wearing. I’m also not entirely sure how he’s going to explain away Selina’s extra curricular activities! Is he going to give her a new identity, a new job at Wayne Tech, or would he prefer to tell people who she is without being ashamed of her past? 

Well, let’s face it, how many millionaires do you know that marry thieves? There's not many, that's for sure. But then again, there’s also the other side of the equation, the more emotional side that talks about love, friendship, companionship, and hope, which are all desirable attributes to be applauded and embraced, no matter what. 

Part Two) A BAD JOKE:   In a funny way issue 38 of Batman reminded me of an old joke. Picture the scene: After many months of arguing, testifying, and providing evidence in a court of law, a lone barrister stands next to a group of jurors and let’s out his final summation. ‘Now I know what most of you are thinking’, he says, ‘You’re thinking that my client is a cruel and evil man for killing both of his parents. But no, no he’s not. He’s just a misguided individual who’s been led astray by his own mind and mentality. So before you pass sentence, please try to show him some kindness and compassion because he’s now an orphan’. 

Yes. That’s correct. That was supposed to be a joke. Obviously a bad joke, but a joke nonetheless! Which, in around about way, kind of sums up my feelings towards this stand alone issue.

Well, just like many of the others written by Tom King, overall I felt that this one was a pretty mixed bag. On the one hand I did like the story's dual nature as well as the notion of a serial killer who plagiarizes Batman’s Rogues Gallery. What I didn’t like, on the other hand, was the fact that the mysterious figure behind these crimes didn’t have a clear or understandable motive. 

Now don't get me wrong, I completely understood that he was a stark raving mad lunatic obsessed with Bruce Wayne, and was meant to represent a warped mirror image of our titular hero. But that said, none of this was reflected within the actual telling of the story, not in real terms, and not until his identity was eventually revealed.  I mean, for a murder mystery that’s pretty bad storytelling, because a story of this genre should leave behind clues, little pockets of information, alluding to the fact of what’s really going on. But not in this case, no, I’m afraid not. Even though the adventure was a very interesting one to follow, the method in which it was filtered through felt a little bit shallow on the surface, and didn’t pack a punch like all good murder mysteries should. 

Part Three) SAY THAT AGAIN:   Sometimes when I write a review I ask myself rhetorical questions in order to highlight certain points I’d like to make. Generally this technique is a pretty useful one because it allows me the opportunity to express myself in a natural and reflective manner, doing so without making my dialogue feel too forced, too staged, or too trite on the page. That said, however, if I use this technique too much I’m sure the opposite would also be true, and inadvertently make my prose feel too repetitive, too predictable, or too conventional by design.  

Now the main reason why I’m bringing up this point, dear reader, is because I feel that is precisely what Tom King is currently doing on this series. A few issues ago he conjured up a scenario where Bruce Wayne’s children and lovers had their say about him within the confines of an action oriented adventure. And now, in this month's episodes, he did exactly the same thing, albeit through Lois, Clark, Selina, plus a murder mystery which has a perverse connection to his own origins. 

So, I suppose what I’m trying to say here, is that tonally Tom is starting to repeat himself and its becoming pretty damn tedious. Yes, we all know that Batman is a very complicated character, and yes, a lot of people respect him for what he stands for and what he represents. But in the same breath, too much reflection is precisely just that – too much – and sometimes we need a stop gap within this framework so we can finally read a solid story rather than an excuse to hear what people think about our favorite Dark Knight. In a good way of course! 

Part Four) KEEPING IT REAL:   Have you ever picked up a pencil and tried to draw a picture of two people talking? It isn’t very easy, especially if you want the end result to be dynamic, expressive, and interesting to look at! One way of doing this is by adapting your style of art to fit the mood of the story rather than the pace of it. That’s what Clay Mann did in issue 37, doing so by illustrating behavior over style. 

Take a look at those scenes he drew featuring Selina and Lois. In them, you will notice how he concentrates on making each lady appear more human in temperament, instead of superhuman in stature. Admittedly, on occasion he does sex them up slightly, particularly during those scenes set in the changing room. That said, however, whenever we see them both sneaking a drink -- which to be honest, were some of my most favorite moments in the entire book -- you could clearly see how behavior and temperament took precedence over style and superficiality.

I also enjoyed his montage sequences too. Most of them were pretty well paced, bordering on the sublime, as they managed to say a lot more through mannerisms than words. Once again, take a look at one of my most favorite scenes -- the one where all four of them are eating corndogs -- and you can clearly see how each character has been distilled into an archetype: With Bruce being the moody man; Selina being the sexy party girl; Clark being the country bumpkin; and Lois being the maternal modern day woman.

Now, to a certain extent, Travis Moore tried to do a similar thing when he illustrated issue 38. Although, in his case, his illustrations felt timelier in tone due to the constrained paneling technique he deployed throughout the adventure. Not that this was a bad thing, mind you, because his style of art does keep in sync with Clay’s style, even though this wasn’t really needed within the bigger picture.

A song popped into my head after reading issue 38, and yes, this song was catchy, somewhat ironic, fairly mellow, and does seem very appropriate to musically match up with. So take it away, Bruce Springsteen, with your ‘Song for Orphans’.

Whenever I see two sets of couples going out on a dinner date together, like we did during issue 37 of Batman, I can’t help but think of a Woody Allen film, such as Annie Hall, Husbands and Wives, and Manhattan, to name but a few, thus justifying my comparison for this month. 

At the end of issue 38, Batman finally finds the serial killer whose murdering people throughout Gotham. So, out of the following eight options, can you guess what he says to this fiend before the police take him away? Does he say that he’s...

  • Dutch.
  • Sick.
  • Undernourished.
  • Smelly.
  • Ambidextrous.
  • Vertically challenged.
  • Tired.
  • A mystery.
Nuff said. 

BATMAN #37 & #38 BATMAN #37 & #38 Reviewed by David Andrews on January 18, 2018 Rating: 5

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