By: Greg Pak (story), Jae Lee (art), June Chung (colors)

The Story: Some memories are repressed for a reason.

The Review: I feel bad for writers who do the true crossover storyline, where the plot actually advances through alternating books. Not only do the writers have the challenge of crafting a cohesive story across multiple series and issues, since they have no guarantee that a reader will go out of his way to pick up all the participating titles—ahem, like me—they’ve got to make what’s happening in their individual series coherent on their own as well. Talk about patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.

To his credit, Pak manages to achieve this balancing act, though he reduces the plot to a trickle to do it. If it wasn’t for the fact that our paired-off heroes have switched partners since the last time you saw them, you’d be forgiven for believing there hasn’t been an intervening chapter since then at all. To sum up, our quartet is still in New Gammora, Clark and Karen are still out of control, and we still don’t really know what’s going on, even after reading through this issue.

Pak could’ve easily avoided this situation if, instead of having Clark explain for the umpteenth time who Helena is and where she comes from, he recap something useful, like what’s happened between #8 and #9. But speaking as someone who’s legitimately in the dark, I can tell you that if you didn’t read Worlds’ Finest #20, you won’t be able to piece together how Karen ends up with Bruce in facing off Kaizen, who’s apparently used her DNA to create supersoldiers and somehow devised a portal to Earth-2, all for reasons no one bothers to mention. Karen tries to stop him based on the simple reasoning that if he’s a villain and he wants it, even if she wants it too, “it can’t be good.”

Setting aside these expositional deficiencies, there are still some minor problems with the story Pak hands us here. For one, Pak can’t stop himself from using all those invasive little captions, which offer nothing except redundant insights into what our heroes are thinking. He ought to read through some of Mark Waid’s Daredevil, which actually uses captions to give us information we can’t perceive for ourselves. Here, they just clog up the narrative, even when the dialogue and Lee’s art perfectly suffice. In one panel, Batman remarks, staring at the portal Kaizen’s opened, “We—we’ve been over there before, haven’t we?”

“Yes…” Clark replies, staring in a chilled fashion at the same portal.

The stammer and hesitation in their voices already tells us what we need to know. But like those sinewy bits caught in your teeth after a bad steak, the captions get in the way, clarifying, “I see it in his eyes,” “He remembers, too,” “Aching dread…memories I shouldn’t have…guilt, danger, death–”

These flaws nearly obscure Pak’s solid character work with our foursome, though he’s clearly less in tune with how to write Bruce than the others, incapable of varying Bruce’s tone beyond suspicious. Pak’s portrait of Clark, however, manages to stick closely to our expectations of his core character—his values, friendliness, adventurousness—while still finding new angles to make him seem more than just an overgrown Boy Scout. You can see that dichotomy in the way Pak approaches Clark’s view of his powers. His conscience is such that he’s always burdened by the responsibilities his power demands (“On a good, sunny day, I can do anything. So every day…whatever happens…it’s kind of always my fault.”), yet he’s attached enough to them that relinquishing them isn’t easy, even when he knows it’s for the best (“…I feel like screaming all over again. [Helena] has no idea what it feels like to have so much power…or to give it up.”).

Lee’s sparse, minimalist art is still cause for frustration at times, especially if you’ve been conditioned to expect more spectacle from your big, mainstream books. But in his own way, Lee’s very effective at taking hold of the intensity of an action scene and keeping it firmly gripped within his tight, precise lines. His control is so absolute that you can see it even in the most chaotic flurries of movement. Every skewed strand of their hair, every ripple in their capes, all of it is drawn with Lee’s purposeful hand. Chung’s soft colors are the perfect complement Lee’s delicate linework, even if they make the title seem darker than it should be.

Conclusion: Very much on the thin side, with some technical annoyances sprinkled in the writing, though the direction of the plot and characters is very interesting.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I think Lee got a little mixed up in his parallel superheroes. In Clark’s memory of Earth-2, Wonder Woman-2 appears in her Earth-Prime counterpart’s one-piece instead of her full Amazon warrior gear.

– Somehow, Helena changed costume while rappelling down the crevice Clark created. That’s pretty impressive for a woman who doesn’t seem to have a spare change of clothes on her.