By: Jeff Lemire (story), Karl Kerschl & Scott Hepburn (art), Gabe Eltaeb (colors)
The Story: We all knew Batman had a big brain, but who knew it was that big?
The Review: So as it turns out, the whole storyline with Huntress and Power Girl concluded in the pages of Worlds’ Finest, leaving you with no resolution whatsoever in Batman/Superman. Had I known, I probably would’ve just skipped the issues altogether, which sort of exposes the potential marketing flaw in these kinds of crossover events. Needless to say, I was more than a little annoyed to be robbed of at least some kind of wrap-up to a storyline I was asked to invest in for two issues.
That’s not the ideal frame of mind when you’re then presented with a blatant filler issue: completely different set of creators working on a completely inconsequential plot. Working off a hastily constructed premise–“Batman has been unresponsive since we returned from repairing the Chinese space station,” says Superman, reporting a scene we don’t even get to see—Lemire fails to deliver anything memorable or even very entertaining, which is a shame, because the issue had so much potential to be both of those things.
It’s been a long time since I thought about Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., but I remember what a fun kooky bit of old-school sci-fi it was. The idea of a microscopic city nestled in Batman’s brain, a city that turns out to be a massive (in terms of scale) starship carrying its own set of superhero and supervillains, is just the kind of thing that would have been made an enjoyable multi-issue arc for the agents of S.H.A.D.E. Except here, S.H.A.D.E. isn’t really involved. What the issue ultimately turns out to be is a Superman-Ray Palmer team-up, in which the former takes too much of the spotlight and the latter not enough. Other than lending Clark the shrinking technology and universal translator to deus ex machina the problem at hand into submission—and, okay, wielding a sword—Ray contributes little to the issue.
In Lemire’s defense, there’s no way he could fully flesh out an entire alien race (who never even get a name) in a single issue, especially with the page count reduced as it is from better days. But that’s exactly what we needed to fully appreciate the story he offers. Without that necessary substance, all we have is a handful of promising concepts, clumsily arranged into an outline of a story.
Lemire tries to paper over these shortcomings with bits of humor, but the defects are obvious just the same: blaming the patently silly villain names, “Dr. Smashammer and Titan Super Gladiator,” on bad translation; Batman’s uncharacteristically chatty, though accurate, assessment of Gladiator, “For the record, you’re a brawler. You’ve got power, but no finesse. In short, you’re about as stupid—as you look.” Ultimately, the issue reads like a weaker episode from the former Superman/Batman series, from its light tone to its airy substance to its total lack of impact.
Kerschl and Hepburn’s art are barley distinct from each other, with Kerschl being perhaps a bit more angular than Hepburn’s more wobbly lines, but they both fall into the mid-to-lower end of the DC house art spectrum. As with all artists of that school, the work produced here is rarely confusing or unpleasant to look at, and fairly energetic when it’s time to fly around and throw punches, but it also has little interest in taking risks or giving much thought to what’s drawn. One noticeable example: the way Superman clutches Smashammer’s neck is so forceful that it makes Clark look excessively violent, like he’s ready to kill just because he something “actually hurt.”
Conclusion: The story could have been great, but it needed more time and thought than Lemire got or provided. With so many issues in a row being this disappointing, I’m starting to think this series isn’t worth the $3.99-a-pop investment.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I don’t know when we’ll ever see S.H.A.D.E. again, but I sure hope that someone will make it stay relevant in a DCU with an increasing number of sketchy government agencies.