By: Greg Pak (story), Jae Lee & Kenneth Rocafort (art), June Chung & Nei Ruffino (colors)

The Story: Can anyone really bring peace to Warworld?

The Review: It’s a touch unusual, some might say arrogant, for a series to put out an annual before it actually reaches a year’s worth of issues, but then again, what does Batman/Superman have to worry about?  It’s a title starring Batman and Superman, for crying out loud.  I suspect it could be written and drawn by a grade-schooler and still sell more copies than, Swamp Thing, Astro City, or Fatale.  So what the heck—let’s have an annual four months early.

But you know, had Pak taken those four months (or had his DC superiors allowed him to), maybe he could have delivered a better crafted annual, because this one reads like it was pushed out the door four months prematurely.  Here’s the scenario: after Mongul’s imprisonment in the Phantom Zone, his son Jochi appears, with Warworld behind him, ready to challenge the men that defeat his father and demanding they bring two members of their family to assist.  The premise is fine; it’s everything that comes after that feels messy and not very well thought out.

First, Clark and Bruce’s choices of seconds.  Supergirl and Red Robin are sensible first picks, but Steel and Batgirl are thrown in almost like afterthoughts, brought in purely to get a job (i.e., disabling Warworld’s destructive capacity) done rather than for any emotional reason.  Pak doesn’t even bother showing Clark’s solicitation of Steel, and Batgirl injects herself simply because Batman hasn’t chosen anyone else and because Steel needs someone to talk to while he’s relegated to the background.

Even more bizarre is how the plot suddenly switches tracks once the gang arrives on Warworld, tossing out Jochi’s challenge and replacing it with an internal power struggle on the artificial planet which turns Jochi from opponent into ally.  By the annual’s conclusion, Pak demands you to accept that Batman and Jochi have developed enough of a father-son bond to make their parting scene heartfelt and tragic.  Given their minimal interaction, however, you’re more likely to react with either indifference or disgust at Batman’s melodramatic screaming.  And this is the strongest emotional connection of the issue.  At no point does Pak deepen Bruce and Clark’s bonds with their chosen companions, which makes their presence almost as empty and unnecessary as Wonder Woman’s pointless cameo.

But there’s a lot to the annual that feels pointless.  The final battle—pitting Bat and Super clans against each other, of course—is mooted by Jochi’s beheading of the tournament judge and subsequent call for progress.  The call is instantly and almost universally denied, which is fine, because by that point, Steel and Batgirl manage to shut down Warworld’s systems.  Remarkably enough, they do not foresee that this would send the planet on a crash course with Earth, and their only response is to assume “we got Superman on the job…he’s always got a plan.”

The “plan” turns out to be sending all of Warworld into the Phantom Zone, which not only makes you wonder why he didn’t use this trick sooner, but also expands the Phantom Zone’s powers as a plot device to uncomfortable levels.  To put a period to this sorry fiasco of a story, Pak then has Mongul kill off Jochi, robbing his entire existence and evolution of any impact whatsoever.  As for our stars, they are pretty much unchanged from their experience.  The shadows of Damian Wayne and Superboy are a blunt reminder that Clark and Bruce have already gone through troubled mentorship relationships, with far greater depth and importance than anything you see here.

I’m at a loss as to what to make of Lee and Rocafort’s art.  Frankly, I’m inclined to say their work is too good to be relegated to a script this poor, but at the same time, their work is the only thing that gives the annual any kind of luster.  I say this without even being much of a Rocafort fan, as I find his storytelling clumsy and generally lacking in dramatic power.  Unfortunately, it’s Rocafort’s art that fills the bulk of the issue, with Lee’s elegant lines relegated to the set-up and epilogue only.

Conclusion: As ill-conceived as the last time Pak wrote a Mongul-related story, the annual is barely held together with solid artistic efforts and your own good graces.

Grade: D+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – As happy as I am to see Krypto again, I have to ask: where the hell did he come from and how did he show up at exactly the moment Clark needed him?

– Not sure how I feel about Kara and Jason’s intimacy in this issue.  Should I start dreading a romantic pairing down the line?