By: Greg Pak (story), Jae Lee & Yildiray Cinar (art), June Chung, Matt Yackey, John Kalisz (colors)
The Story: Clark and Bruce, best buds forever—until they try to kill each other, that is.
The Review: Never let it be said that Pak doesn’t know how to make lemons into lemonade. Getting handed a title starring DC’s two biggest icons is hardly comparable to lemons, of course, but the point is Pak knows how to make the best use of what he has. Your average writer might have chosen a more down-key story for his first arc, but right out the gate, Pak has written Batman/Superman like the boy who decides to play with the most expensive toys all at once.
As if having the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel at his beck and call isn’t enough, Pak has added on their superior counterparts from Earth-2, Wonder Woman, and now the biggest baddie of the DCU. Needless to say, this arc is turning out to have far greater reach than anyone expected, though much of its grandstanding is constrained by one fact: the fate of Earth-2, in particular its trinity of Wonders, is a foregone conclusion. That knowledge steals a lot of the tension away from the plot, though it retains most of its interest.
It’s kind of a shame, though. Our villainess Kaiyo only just managed to achieve a touch of complexity by revealing something like concern about Darkseid’s coming. At the moment, it’s ambiguous if he poses a threat to her; his choice of words is impossible to read either way.* However, Kaiyo’s clearly taking advantage of the fear he naturally inspires to manipulate our heroes for her own ends. The problem is we already know how both Earths will deal with the Apokoliptian invasion, and since neither involved a crystal weapon Kaiyo claims can save them, we also know her ploy fails.
Even though the destination of the story is fairly obvious, the path to getting there holds plenty of good material. The interplay among the characters is still a treat, though honestly, Pak seems to love and know the Earth-2 folk better than those from Earth Prime, and he clearly has a special affection for Superman-2, who receives the most attention and the best treatment in this issue.* Good-natured and faithful as he is, Superman-2 never comes off as corny or naïve, which seems like a good role model for his surly younger self.
This issue also stands out for Pak’s introduction of the most important distinction between the parallel heroes: Clark and Bruce of Earth-2 growing up as childhood friends. As much sweetness as is loaded into these scenes, they don’t feel saccharine, again because Pak keeps the boys acting and sounding as natural as possible. Yes, it’s played for the warm and fuzzies, but the character work obviously comes first. The smallest exchanges reveal something about Clark-2 and Bruce-2, down to their choice of greetings (an open, old-fashioned “Hi” from Clark; a short, cautious, decidedly urban “Hey” from Bruce), and Pak never needs to point out exactly how and where their lives diverged from their alternate selves.
I’m still on the fence with Lee. He really conveys the wrong tone for this series with his emphasis on shadow and silhouette, lending a menacing aspect to nearly every scene and character, even when there’s little cause for it. But that doesn’t mean his style is inherently mismatched with Pak’s script; when he so chooses, the characters can look as bright, regal, expressive, and inclusive as you can want. So perhaps it’s simply a matter of him choosing to save his shading for the right moments. While I’m not a Cinar fan, his work on the childhood flashbacks is undeniably precious, although that could just as easily be due to Yackey and Kalisz’s warm, rich colors. Put together, it reminds you a lot of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s work on Superboy, which is not a bad thing at all.
Conclusion: A reader who comes in with any kind of foreknowledge won’t find much stakes to hold onto, but there’s still plenty to enjoy from the script and art, regardless.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * I do have a wild theory that Kaiyo could be Darkseid’s daughter, given her universe-hopping and possession powers, even capable of flummoxing Wonder Woman. I wouldn’t bet on it, however.
* Although Wonder Woman comes a close second. Maybe it’s Pak’s Incredible Hercules habits rubbing off, but her dramatic exclamations are a pure joy: “The Lasso of Truth compels you!”