(2007) Andy Diggle, Titan Books, £16.99, hrdbk, 144pp, ISBN 978-1-401-2-1481-4
Penned by Andy Diggle, alumnus of the 2000AD route to American comics, Rules of Engagement promotes itself as pitting two of the DC Universe's greatest minds against each other. The quick wits and resourceful mind of Bruce Wayne face the cunning and sheer intellect of Superman's infamous rival Lex Luthor. The double lives of both of these iconic characters become threatened as the rival billionaires vie for a lucrative military contract, and Bruce Wayne is forced to involve Batman in the proceedings as it becomes clear that Luthor's intentions are far from honourable.
It is a tale set early in the Dark Knight's history and there is plenty of mileage in both Wayne's and Luthor's ignorance of each others secret identities. Diggle plays the suspense very well, and even manages to drop in a few red herrings that make us keep questioning whether Luthor is the villain after all. Diggle writes a damn fine thriller and knows when to throw in some good comicbook action too. For the most part this is a well-written and engaging story. There is a vibrancy to the writing and the artwork, something that makes clear how fresh and youthful these characters are. It is far from the haunted, angry and often disturbed Bruce Wayne we see in Batman's most notable adventures. This is pure Batman comicbook thrills. This is helped in no small part by Batman's signature 'toys' that play a key part in this story. Thanks to the handy defense contract McGuffin that brings Wayne and Luthor into conflict, Diggle is able to explain away Batman's veritable arsenal throughout the story (and, presumably, throughout the character's history too). Set against Luthor's own formidable forces from beginning to end, Batman digs out nearly every vehicle and gadget the series has ever featured.
The only disappointment for me is really the last couple of issues. While stuffed full of action from cover to cover, these issues seem like too atypical superhero fare for me. The earlier issues, full of imposing shots of the Dark Knight stalking the dark streets of Gotham and conducting some industrial espionage through the murky depths of LexCorp were the more satisfying. But Andy Diggle's version of the Dark Knight is a fun and vibrant one, and the man knows how to stuff a plot with 'thrills and spills'. It is certainly not classic Batman, but a fine guilty pleasure nonetheless.
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