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Comicscape: Batman Superman #1
Two to Tango
By Joel Rickenbach
June 28, 2013
Welcome to Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. This week: The New 52’s take on the Bat and the Blue!
Batman Superman #1 (by Greg Pak, Jae Lee, Ben Oliver, June Chung and Daniel Brown) DC knows who butters its bread- the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. A staggering amount of DC's New 52 publishing slate is taken up by books featuring Superman, Batman or a member of their "family". I may be a few titles off, but by my count DC currently publishes 13 Bat books and 5 Superman books, and that's not including the Justice League, or digital only titles. That is a hefty focus, and pretty darn narrow, so when it's time to put out a new triple A title, which of these two heavy hitters are you going to rely on? How about both?
The Batman/Superman team up has existed in one form or another for quite some time- from World's Finest all they way up to the pre-New 52 Superman/Batman title. Despite the overabundance of books featuring these two, it's hard not to be attracted to the dichotomy they can provide when forced together. A tradition of this title has been the dual monologues, which can lead to some interesting and hilarious moments. A memorable example from the last run was an arc where Lois Lane was kidnapped, and Superman had to rely on Batman's detective skills to find her. Superman was a desperate mess, and Batman treated him like an annoying client, which led to some very memorable text boxes. On the flip side, there are plenty of moments where the writers have shown that Batman can get lost in his own persona. Even if he may end up getting results, Superman can show him things don't always have to be doom and gloom, there is another slant on life. This style has been retained by writer Greg Pak on Batman Superman, and he attacks the differences between the two head on.
The first thing you’ll notice about this book is that it takes place in the past, we're seeing the first time New 52 Batman and Superman encounter each other. Superman is still rocking his t-shirt and jeans look, and Bruce is still going incognito in his old army jacket. They first cross paths in Gotham, Clark is in the city on the trail of three Wayne Enterprises employees who were murdered in Metropolis in the last eight hours. He meets Bruce while walking through a park where a couple of bullies are picking on a defenseless little boy. Bruce is sitting on a park bench watching, and Clack is standing there in shock. This is where Pak tackles their different methods at full speed. Clark breaks up the fight, saving the kid from further harm, but he's chastised by Bruce, who wanted the kid to stand up for himself, otherwise the bullies will return again, and beat him twice as hard. It's a contrived situation, but it's also very well told, and perfectly represents both of the characters at that point in their lives.
The big action comes later that night when Wayne Tech board member Ralph Mangubat refuses to relocate for the night on Bruce's orders. Whoever was responsible for the other Wayne Enterprises deaths has come for Mangubat, and she wears a skintight suit and has razor sharp claws, although there may be a bit more going on than just that. As Batman arrives on the scene, Pak delivers another great character moment- in trying to rescue Mangubat and his young daughter, he ends up frightening the little girl with his methods, and instantly regrets it. It's a moment that perfectly defines the younger, less experienced Batman, and also shows us just how much he can learn from Superman. Speaking of, Superman busts in (literally), and the real fun begins. Batman and Superman go at it, and at one point Batman is shoving office furniture out of a window on to Superman below. It’s nice to see a bit of humor, particularly from the Batman side. Eventually the true villain is revealed, and the book ends with a bit of a head scratcher.
We have to take a moment to recognize Jae Lee’s art. People seem to be divided on his style for this book, but personally I find it to be incredible. He picks up right where he left off on Before Watchmen: Ozymandias- Structured layouts that frame the panels in unique ways, many of them owing their style to the Art Deco era of design. His pencils and inks have a meticulous level of shading, and his characters have a sinewy look all his own. Unfortunately, Lee couldn’t finish the book, so Ben Oliver steps in to handle the last few pages, and he does an admirable job with his own style. It also helps that he takes over at a point in the book when the story actually shifts focus, so the change in art actually works, although I’m still pretty sure the change was due to getting the work done on time, and not a creative decision.
Overall, Batman Superman is worth your time. Greg Pak mines a lot of gold out of their disparate personalities, and shows he’s willing to give the big two flaws that can be used to make them grow as this book progresses. There are a few questions, however- the last few pages of the book are a bit of a conundrum. I can see what they are trying to suggest, but it’s not handled very smoothly, and may confuse some readers, particularly ones not as familiar with comic books. There’s also giant, hollow-eyed robots that come out of the floor at Wayne-Tech. They look cool, but don’t make much sense in the context of the book. The other problem is, as far as we’ve read, wasn’t Justice League #1 the first time Batman and Superman met? I could be wrong, but there seems to be some funky continuity going on…