By: Greg Pak (story), Jae Lee & Ben Oliver (art), June Chung & Daniel Brown (colors)
The Story: Batman and Superman bond over their blind spots with kids.
The Review: I don’t know which genius came up with the idea of writing DC’s two biggest icons together, nor do I know the context, but it’s safe to say that he probably had no clue how writers since then would run away with the pairing. Certainly he couldn’t predict that Batman-Superman adventures would eventually become less a contrast of skill sets and personalities, but one of moral ideology.
That’s what really sets the Batman-Superman relationship apart from all other superhero pairs. Because both characters represent much more than the sum of their physical or personal traits, they’re perfect for exploring some of the more interesting philosophical dichotomies. Pak taps into this material very quickly in this issue, which immediately sets Batman/Superman apart from its eventful but relatively meaningless predecessor Superman/Batman.*
From the first scene, the differences between the two men’s outlooks on life, and their approach to heroism, are clear. Each comes with their attendant flaws, whether it’s letting others find their own strength to overcome challenges (“So you were just going to sit there and watch a little kid get beat up?”) or wanting always to lend a helping hand (“Not so sure he wanted the help.”). It’s significant, however, that the story opens with Clark entering Bruce’s harsh, unsentimental, dog-eat-dog world. It’s a reflection of the times, really. Once upon a time, most heroes fit into Superman’s mold—bright, hopeful, outstandingly virtuous—but now, the norm falls more into Batman’s style of vigilantism, and society at large has become more sympathetic to it as well.
This sets up a very interesting dynamic between our dual heroes. While Superman challenges Batman’s physical limitations, Batman in turn challenges Superman’s fundamental values. Is there room for Clark’s goodhearted intentions when they’re met by scorn and ridicule from even children? On the flip side, Pak shows that Batman’s perspectives aren’t exactly kid-friendly either, inspiring as much fear in the victims as much as the criminals.
As important as the differences in Clark and Bruce’s personalities are, we shouldn’t take for granted their physical differences either. I’m not just talking about Clark’s superpowers, although they do make Bruce break into a rare sweat (“If he sneezes, I’m dead.”). As it turns out, Clark’s instincts as an intrepid reporter are powerful weapons in his skill set as well, frustrating Bruce’s attempts to stay on the down-low and to paint Clark as merely a “[s]anctimonious” strongman.
As for the plot, it remains a bit on the vague side for now, though it quickly takes a wild left-turn towards the end of the issue. It’s too soon to make any judgments on how effective it is—much depends on what Pak does with it—but transferring a young, T-shirted Clark and an older, friendlier Batman to an era of Smallville where Jonathan Kent still lives is certainly an unusual scenario, if nothing else. Hopefully, Pak will make some good use out of it and the villain behind it as well.
Lee is certainly an unexpected choice of artist for this title, which seems primed for a more purely mainstreamed style of drawing. Lee’s style is instantly recognizable, but almost impossible to categorize. It’s neither flat, nor photorealistic, nor retro, nor indie, nor pop; it truly is its own entity, deep, almost brooding, with an organic, almost snaky approach to figure and line. The result is that even with Clark’s flashback to his halcyon childhood, there’s a kind of ominously fragile quality about it, thought that might just be Chung’s deep, earthy palette of colors. Oliver makes for acceptable fill-in art, but it’s still kind of flat, sparse, and affected.
Conclusion: Certainly not what you might imagine from a Batman-Superman comic, but that’s in no way a bad thing in this case.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * I choose not to see the switch in names as an indication of their popularity, but as a matter of aesthetics; Batman/Superman just sounds better—and it’s alphabetical! But yeah, it’s definitely a popularity move.