By: Greg Pak (story), Jae Lee & Ben Oliver (art), June Chung & Daniel Brown (colors)

The Story: Batman vs. Batman vs. Superman vs. Superman.  And Wonder Woman…

The Review: There are certain tropes that most comic book writers, especially the ones who make their living from the superhero genre, end up using (and re-using) at some point in their careers: the tragic loss of a loved one; the vendetta that pits a hero’s morals against his sense of justice; a character’s greatest doubts and fears manifesting in a psychic/magical/spiritual delusion.  As overdone as these scenarios are, writers never seem to tire of them.

As someone who reads comics for a living,* I can’t say I enjoy any of these plot devices very much, but my least favorite has to be the obligatory battle that ensues whenever two heroes meet.  The fights and preceding conflicts always seem contrived, no matter the context: alt-universe counterparts, time-traveling doppelgangers, or the simple meeting of two characters who don’t usually share the same title.  In Batman/Superman’s first arc, we’ve ended up with all three.

Pak does sell the match between Superman and Batmen somewhat by having them avoid a direct confrontation for as long as possible, then switch the plot to a different track soon afterward.  The heroes’ target, after all, isn’t each other, but the Chaos Shard which Kaiyo claims will save one of their worlds from Darkseid’s onslaught.  Ultimately, the shard has little importance in itself, only in what it reveals about our Earth-Prime heroes.**  Their willingness to fight tooth and nail for its power makes them “ruthless.  Raw.  Dangerous,” and the shard’s ability to bring their deepest desires to life reveals their respective self-loathing.

These are not exactly admirable qualities in the DCU’s two biggest heroes.  In that respect, they make the Earth-2 folk seem more like the icons we expect than they do themselves.  You’re inclined to agree with Lois-2 when she boasts that “the best champions” come from her world.  But Kaiyos reminds us that, even if it’s not necessarily their ideals which will lead to their doom, Earth-2’s trinity and their spouses are doomed anyway.  For better or worse, it’s the Superman and Batman of Earth-Prime we must look up to, which Superman-2 seems to acknowledge:

“[Kaiyo’s] right.  You’re…differentDangerous, even.  But when the time came, you did the right thing.  You have to remember that.”

It’s a teaching moment for us as well as the younger Clark.  It seems to suggest that even though Earth-Prime’s focus for the here-now is simply “survival” of the battle at hand, and that might encourage our heroes to be more aggressive, darker, than we’d like, they will come out alright in the end.  After all, the Bruce and Clark of Earth-Prime couldn’t have met under more different circumstances than their doubles, yet the end of the issue shows them arriving at the same point of friendship anyway.

These are all interesting thoughts for your after-reading reflections, but the reading itself is fairly engaging as well.  Pak’s not the most outstanding character writer in the business, but he very much knows his business.  The exchanges among the Batmen and Superman have some wonderfully natural details (Clark-Prime muses on his twin, “Now he’s using Dad’s voice.  Probably doesn’t even realize it.”), but it’s the women who get the brightest moments of the issue: Lois commandeering the missiles on the Bat-Jet while Catwoman remarks that Wonder Woman probably won’t appreciate getting fired upon in the middle of her spar with Kaiyo.

“She’ll be fine,” Lois replies breezily.

And as the torpedoes come whistling towards her, Diana turns, spots them, and growls, “Grrr…”

I’ve said it before and I can’t really help saying it again: Lee has a great, memorable style, but I’m not sure his elegant figures really fit with the bombastic attitude of this series.  He handles action well, but there’s something kind of awkward and random about the way the characters move around that doesn’t feel entirely convincing.  Oliver’s contribution is so limited, it’s hardly worth remarking on, other than to say that it’s as smooth and minimalistic as Lee’s work.

Conclusion: A solid finish to a solid arc.  The issue makes its points clearly, though without much brilliance, and there’s plenty of details to enjoy throughout.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * In a manner of speaking; we don’t actually get paid for any of this.

** I realize that no one has ever referred to the default Earth as Earth-Prime, but it’s a handy designation for my purposes.

– Okay, Pak—enough of the dry laughs.  If I have to hear another “Ha” or “Heh” out of any character’s mouth, I’ll have no choice but to blow a gasket.