The premise of Batman #39 is fairly simple. Wonder Woman and Batman team up to fight an endless horde of monsters in a parallel dimension. But seeing how this is written by King, things are never quite as simple as they initially appear. While you’re certainly welcome to see the story as nothing more than a team up/beat’em up, I think the issue is actually exploring the deeper ideas of fidelity and gender roles. Or at least it tries.
The issue starts off with Wonder Woman lighting the Batsignal in order to summon Batman. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why she needed to do that. It’s not like she doesn’t know that Batman is Bruce, has no idea where the Batcave is, or has no other way of contacting him. Fortunately, Batman brings up this very point. So, why did she need to do it? For fun. Yeah. That’s her answer. At least the comic is acknowledging that the opening is played for fun both in their world and in ours. And while Gordon’s reaction to the entire event was admittedly amusing, I couldn’t help but feel that the first 4 pages of the issue were somewhat of a waste. Yes, there is a nice splash page in there and it’s always nice to see rooftop scenes on the GCPD, but the opening scene doesn’t really contribute to the rest of the narrative in a strong way like every other element the book presents.
It’s at this point in the story where we are filled in on the basic plot. There is a world called Gehenna in another realm with an endless swarm of monsters that is created by the sins of man on our world. These monsters would come to our world and destroy it if not for the work of a lone hero called The Gentle Man. He single-handedly keeps the monsters at bay. He’s been at it for 1,000 years, and Wonder Woman and Batman agreed that one day they would fill in for him to give him a break. That day has come.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a strange concept for a Batman story, I’d agree with you. Funny thing is, right when I was thinking this, the comic addressed it. It took me by surprise because the comic already guessed what I was thinking in the opening scene. So, to have my thoughts addressed yet again right on the page in front of me was genuinely surprising. It’s almost as if King is initiating preemptive strikes on the things he thinks readers might have quandaries over.
However, unlike the opening where I agreed with Batman, this time I didn’t. Catwoman essentially tells Batman that dealing with something like this really isn’t his kind of “thing”, to which he replies, “I don’t have a thing”. Sorry Batman. You most assuredly do have a “thing”. That’s not to say that it isn’t ok to have stories like this that break the mold mixed in with a bunch of other Batman stories that fall more in line with what you expect to see from the character. But for him to imply that he doesn’t have activities that he takes part in more often than others just seems a little silly to me.
By this point in the comic, I wasn’t all that impressed. We had an extraneous scene and one that highlighted the fact that this just wasn’t going to be a Batman story made for me. Then I had my first ray of hope:
I read this exchange, and I thought we were about to get to something deeper. Perhaps a commentary on challenging the societal norms that exist in regards to men and women. But as I read further, I kept seeing things that flew in the face of that. Take this for instance:
While the action of the scene shows a woman in a position of power to help a male in need, the exact same panel takes the time to give the viewer a gratuitous butt shot. I wouldn’t categorize this as a woman showing off her femininity. I’d categorize this as a camera angle intentionally placed to sexualize the character. Then we’ve got shots like this where Bruce is shaving shirtless with an axe:
I mean, talk about overblown masculinity.
But for me, I think the most puzzling exchange was this one right here:
This came out of nowhere. Like, what is she even talking about? This was a mission. It’s not like Diana asked Bruce out on a date and he ditched Selina. This dialogue seems to imply that him helping her out to do their job is in some way him cheating on Selina. If you read deeper into that, it’s implying that men and women can’t work together in close proximity without becoming attracted to one another. Whichever way you spin it, that’s just silly.
This scene ends up being doubly silly because she is taking a shower while Batman is fighting for his life. I just don’t know what is going on in this comic anymore.
Another piece of info the comic throws our way is that minutes in our world are days in the other realm, but you don’t physically age. So, Wonder Woman and Batman have been alone together for 10 years fighting the good fight. Ok…this is like a desert island scenario. In the real world, if you are stranded on a desert island you eventually accept the fact that you aren’t getting off and you make a new life with whatever you have available to you. But this is Bruce we are talking about. He’s not a normal person. Let’s take a minute to think about this.
Bruce continues to honor a vow that he made to his parents 25 years ago. And in all that time, he’s never been in their presence to receive any kind of validation from them for his efforts. In essence, he’s the kind of guy that keeps his word even if he doesn’t get something in return. I think that kind of thinking can easily transfer to the kind of commitment level he would show Selina. Sure, he hasn’t seen her in 10 years, but he hasn’t seen his parents in 25 and still keeps his word to them. To me, it just seems unlikely that he would falter, even with the given scenario. Perhaps if King had made it longer than 10 years my feelings would be slightly different. I mean, at least stretch the time frame beyond regular human longevity. At like 100 years I could see the idea of cheating start to creep in. But after 10. That’s like no willpower at all. 10 years is within the confines of what I expect a normal person to be able to do.
Once you get to the end and read back through, it almost seems like Diana is trying to seduce Bruce throughout. And that doesn’t sit well with me. I mean, where is her sense of honor. I’m not the most avid reader of Wonder Woman, so I could be wrong, but this doesn’t seem like the kind of thing I’d expect from her given my limited experience with the character.
It seems to me that King came up with a very elaborate way to hook these two up and make it so that the audience doesn’t completely hate Bruce for cheating on Selina. I get why King might want to do this. After all, there have been times in the past that a relationship between these two was broached. So, King has decided he wants to have his cake and eat it too. Not only is he tackling Batman and Catwoman, he’s also tackling Batman and Wonder Woman.
A final thing that I found off-putting was trying to figure out the rules of Gehenna. It’s explained that there is no way out. That if you want to get back to Earth, someone on Earth has to open the portal to let you through. So, doesn’t that mean the monsters are trapped there too. I guess it’s one of those situations where some idiot from Earth would open the portal to fulfill some kind of prophecy, so it’s just better to kill all the monsters and make sure there aren’t a surplus of them waiting in case that ever happens. But it’s never explained, so I’m just guessing. Another thing I didn’t understand was how The Gentle Man called Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman makes it clear that Bruce and her can’t contact Earth. But The Gentle Man obviously did. If he does have some kind of special device that allowed him to do that, it seems kind of jerky that he didn’t give it to his temps before taking off to Bat-Burger.
- You…I don’t know….want to see Batman and Wonder Woman kill some monsters. Really, I don’t have any genuine recommendations for this.
Although, this shot of Catwoman is absolutely adorable.
After loving the last two issues of Batman, I was taken aback at how little I liked this issue. I’m just very unimpressed with it. Lots of questionable character actions, weird dialogue, unclear rules, and atypical events. While I think the theme is extremely worthwhile, I think the execution is poor. Admittedly, I was unimpressed with the first part of the Superman section of Super Friends, so maybe things will pick up for me when the story continues in Batman #40.
SCORE: 5 / 10