Today, Michael and Patrick are discussing Batman/Superman 22, originally released July 8th, 2015.
Michael: Any given issue of Batman/Superman is a coin toss. The relatively young incarnation of this relatively old idea is more of a companion piece to writer Greg Pak’s other Superman series, Action Comics. It’s an exploration of different avenues for Superman while being grounded by Batman as the constant. What happens when both the constant and the variable of this story-telling formula are changed? Is it the same book?
After an abridged “classic superhero misunderstanding” battle, Clark and Bat-Gordon decide to temporarily partner up. They follow an energy signature of the mysterious weapon Clark swiped from a crime scene and follow it to another WayneTech site. There, Lucius Fox gives us some healthy exposition about a miniature sun some of his scientists “birthed by accident,” as well as reports of break-ins at experimental energy projects around the world. Cut to the reveal of Ukur, Beastlord of Subterranea (from Pak’s Action Comics.) After some smash smash, punch punch, Clark offers to help Urkur find a solution to save his world without zapping the energy from ours and kill millions. Then Gordo blows that all to hell by literally stabbing Urkur in the back.
My main problem with this book is that it feels too rushed; in both story and concept. With each passing issue we are seeing a Superman who is very different from the hero he was a few months ago. Clark’s actions are brasher and his manner is more cavalier; he openly admits to Bat-Gordon that he’s essentially using Luthor for information. By stripping him of his identity and invulnerability, we are left with a Superman that is unfamiliar to both the people around him and himself. Just like Clark, Gordon is also getting acquainted with this new version of himself. So in a book called Batman/Superman we have a Batman and Superman that aren’t yet fully formed – pupas emerging from the chrysalis too soon. I think that these characters hardly know themselves well enough to be playing off of each other in a successful way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the new directions that these characters are headed but putting them in these circumstances feels a little pre-emptive. I guess that the lack of familiarity between characters and readers benefits the uneasy alliance between Batman and Superman in a way. But as a reader I can’t really find my footing with two characters that are so unfamiliar to both themselves and to me.
As I mentioned earlier, Batman/Superman 22 is very much the “classic superhero misunderstanding” that we’ve seen countless times throughout comicbookdom; or at least it’s the beginning of it. In terms of their relationship dynamic, Gordon and Clark have gone from “not trusting” to “sort of trusting” back to “definitely not trusting.” As Clark ventures underground to make amends with Urkur he tells Gordon that he’s “sure as hell not Batman.” While we’re at it, these two are sure as hell no dynamic duo. Clark and Gordon’s idea of a superhero team-up is a dick measuring contest of taking the lead – which, granted is how most superhero team-ups go but still.
Pak plays up the lack of communication between the two heroes: Gordon misguidedly assumed that Clark was baiting Urkur while he attacked from behind. It’s a type of shorthand that might’ve worked with the GCPD – neutralizing the threat – but not necessarily with Superman; especially when he has a history with Urkur. Batman/Superman is a book that often falls into recognized clichés, including the overuse of internal monologues from characters of opposing viewpoints. While they’re in the helicopter, Gordon’s monologue needlessly diverts for a page and poses questions of “what if MY identity was revealed?” capped off with the “for all of our differences, we’re actually pretty similar” realization.
Ardian Syaf’s typically inconsistent art stays typically inconsistent. Gordon’s mech Batsuit looks scaled down compared to the original Capullo design. Syaf’s best work came with the arrival of Urkur, whose fury and rage was well-expressed through fiery eyes. With three separate colorists there’s an uneven palette at work as well: Gordon’s armor changes several shades of blue and gray by the end of the book.
Clearly I’m not finding a lot to love in this issue. Pak is more seasoned in writing Superman, so his characterization shines through better than Gordon’s does. As I’ve mentioned in other recent “Truth” tie-ins, I love seeing Clark have fun when he goes into action; Gordon even notes that he thought Clark laughed as he whacked the huge beast with a wrench. Patrick do you have any positivity to send Batman/Superman’s way? Are you finding these characters more approachable than I am? How about that part when Clark was kind of turned on by the miniature sun?
Patrick: Hey man, I’d be turned on by a miniature version of the thing that gives me my super powers, wouldn’t you? I mean, I’m not sure the idea totally holds up (wouldn’t a miniature sun still have so much gravity as to make it impossible to contain in some underground lab?), but as long as we’re being silly, Superman may as well get excited about it.
Michael, I think I did like this issue more than you did, but I can’t really argue with any of your points about the characters feeling alien. I would argue, however, that is the point and precisely the position Pak finds himself in. While Batman Superman is indeed an extension of Pak’s Action Comics — hence the Subterranea stuff — the series is also necessarily altered by big changes from outside this series. If the readers feel like they don’t know Batman and Superman yet, that’s great: Batman doesn’t know Superman and Superman doesn’t know Batman. Their rhythms, their values, even their abilities are more or less mysteries to all parties. And I find that fascinating.
I also think that Pak handles that responsibility without getting bogged down by it. Except for a few instances — such as the “we’re pretty similar” monologue Michael mentions above — this issue stays light and goofy, allowing Pak and Syaf’s humor to cut through any awkwardness in character or plot. My favorite joke in the issue is also something Michael already posted: how the fuck is Batman typing with those ridiculous gauntlets? Superman teases him: “Like I’m going to figure out your secret identity if I see your bare knuckles?” Sarcasm from Superman! It’s a brave new world, people.
But that pacing and humor is persistent throughout the issue, and it only gets delightfully weirder as Pak piles on his insane details. Here’s a page that shows off both written and visual humor that I just loved.
There’s so much good character work here: the look on Superman’s face when Batman boxes him out is just priceless. But that moment is also scored with Gordon’s inherently ridiculous line about getting the sun “packed up,” as though he’s referring to picnic leftovers. And then, naturally, Batman can’t even finish his sentence before his stomped by a heretofore unseen dinosaur/dragon/monster. That’s Monty Python-esque – he’s just splatted by a giant foot from nowhere! In the final panel, Clark has repurposed the same tool Jim was using to boss him around moments early, and is swinging that wrench (and a comically large wrench, at that) at the creature’s foot.
That wrench actually serves to help the reader identify a shift in the issue’s priorities, from Batman over to Superman. Prior to this point, we’re mostly dealing with Batman stuff — Lucius’ team, Gotham City, the new Powers Batman Tech, etc. — but after this stomping, it’s all barbarians and dinosaurs from Subterranea, which we’ve discussed is more from the Superman brand. When Batman hold that wrench in the page above, it’s pointed down and to the right, but as soon as it’s in Superman’s hands, it’s pointed the other direction entirely: up and to the left. It’s a simple visual cue, and one that even sorta forecasts the shape of Ukur’s crooked staff, but it totally works to set off the transition from one hero’s world to the other.
That’s a transition that’s also handled by the change in colorists (which, again, Michael mentioned). I didn’t find those shifts quite so distracting because it seems to me like those colorists are being tapped for the specific feelings they evoke, and each shift more or less comes at the start of a new scene. I do say “more or less” because the change to Beth Sotelo’s flatter coloring does feel like it comes a page too soon — like her starker influence should have been held until Clark and Jim get into the helicopter instead of deploying it a page earlier. But it’s pretty close.
Okay, I’ll leave us with one more nice, humanizing and humorous moment, then we can go back to arguing about the quality of this team-up in the comments.
First of all, what an insightful piece of writing about Jim Gordon, particularly as it relates to his relationship with Batman. But also, how great is it to have Supes get a good chuckle out of being welcomed to the human race? By Robot Stranger Batman, no less!
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