Superman/Batman #77 came out last week and was a great read. Written by newcomer Josh Williamson and drawn by Ale Garza, this was a nice surprise in the middle of my comic pile last week.
The issue is yet another look at how Supergirl interacts with the Batman Family.
We know that Dick acts as a big brother (as seen in JLA); we know that both Tim and Steph consider Kara a close friend and colleague. Damien, on the other hand, isn't too easy to be friends with. He is opinionated and cocky. He isn't warm and fuzzy. And he definitely would be a tough person to easily team up with. He would want to run the show. The last time Supergirl and Robin interacted was in the excellent World's Finest mini-series where she chastised him for calling Steph 'Fat Girl'. They wouldn't be easy pals but can they be crime-fighting partners?
Williamson seems to have a nice grasp of the motivations of these characters and an appreciation of their histories. In particular, I thought he really 'got' Supergirl. And this isn't always the case when it comes to these stand alone issues. Sometimes they read a bit 'out of continuity' (remember the awful Supergirl/Raven Brave and Bold issues a while back). So when a story like this seamlessly slips into continuity and reads true for the characters, I appreciate it.
This issue was a mix of horror and humor, perfect for Halloween. And it was much more of a treat than a trick.
The issue opens with Supergirl coming across a crime scene in the Suicide Slum area of Metropolis. A mass grave of young victims has been discovered, their corpses in a state of decay. With Superman on his 'walk', Supergirl has been left as the hero of Metropolis. Already we get the sense that this is happening 'now' in the DCU. And nice that Supergirl is acting as the city's champion with 'Grounded' taking Superman away.
The police officer on the scene is sort of disrespectful to Supergirl, telling her that this street crime is below the usual bar that super-heroes respond to. Supergirl should find a 'monster' to fight and leave the grunt work to the police. I get the sense that he wouldn't talk to Superman that way ... but maybe he would; maybe this is the bedrock that 'Grounded' is built on. Superman isn't considered an ally to the police anymore as he is above it all.
Supergirl vows to help get to the bottom of this horrific sight and realizes she will need the help of someone who is a better detective than she is. She flies to Gotham. I didn't mind this at all. She recognized her limitations and the Bat-family' strengths. It isn't weakness to ask for help.
In Gotham, she comes upon Damien fighting Killer Croc. It is a great page with Supergirl crashing onto the scene and taking out Croc with one punch. She 'saves' Damien, although he was holding his own.
They aren't exactly buddies as they act cold and prickly to each other. He calls her 'alien'. She says she she is looking for someone to help her with a problem in Metropolis. The tone of this early scene felt right given the prior World's Finest encounter. These two would not be easy allies.
He knows that she is looking for help with the mass murder. I love his response when Supergirl seems surprised that he knew why she was there. That slow 'son .. of .. Batman' is just what Damien would say. This is Robin writ large, showing off the more obvious parts of his personality and not as nuanced a characterization than we see in Batman and Robin. But in a one issue story there isn't time to look at the minutia of a character. You need the broad strokes. And the feel is right. He is very sure of himself.
He somehow convinces Supergirl to let him help her. The rest of the Bats are busy. And Supergirl realizes that any help is better than no help. But she won't help him get to Metropolis. He needs to find his own way.
At the Metropolis morgue, it is discovered that all the bodies in the mass grave were young people who died of heart attacks. Supergirl's scans with her super-senses doesn't uncover any cause for these strange deaths. In a nice barb, Damien thanks her for using her senses for him, as if she was a tool for him to exploit. Even better is him saying that Bruce did it to Clark all the time.
Luckily Damien finds a connection. All were LexCorps interns from a local college. A quick trip to LexCorp HQ clears the company of being any ill will. In fact, Luthor's second-in-command Spaulding seems sad, calling the interns the future of the company.
Luckily, another lead pops up. The interns were all invited to the college's Halloween party.
In some ways I was impressed with the ease with which Damien put these clues together. I understand that the plot needed to be finished in 22 pages so there was little time for investigation. But I thought Robin was written in the sort of uber-Bat style where he was always a step ahead.
The two go undercover to the costume party. This whole thing is perfect. First off, Damien's choice as going as a 'young Matches' Malone is really spot on. Of course he would want to be cool and slick and be in his father's image. I also like how he puts Kara in a giant pink bunny suit, a ludicrous thing for her to be in. Given the somewhat abrasive nature of their relationship, that seemed right on the money.
Scanning the crowd with her super-hearing, Supergirl comes across someone who is neither talking about the murders or acting nervously. He has to be the perpetrator.
In a nice change, Damien recommends caution and a calculated take-down. Supergirl simply runs off grabbing the alleged criminal. It is a nice reversal of the usual encounter between Batman and Robin. Usually it is Damien who is wading into battle without careful thought.
Again, this reaction by Supergirl was the right one. After all the trauma she has seen, she isn't going to waste time. She wants to mete out justice.
The criminal turns out to be the Scarecrow and does Kara with his fear toxin.
The resulting madness in Supergirl was the high point of the issue for me.Supergirl's fears unfold before her. The resurrection of Reactron. Her parents complaining that she wasn't able to save them. Superman saying Superwoman is stronger and a better partner for him.
Those would be her fears. She isn't afraid of harm or monsters. Her fears are that she has let people down. Her fears are more emotional than irrational or physical fears. I tip my hat to Williamson for having that understanding of Supergirl and her current feelings.
While panicked, Supergirl thinks Robin is Reactron and tries to attack him.
Another part of this scene that I thought was great was how Robin finally begrudgingly shows his respect for her. He tells her to snap out of it because 'she's Supergirl dammit!'.
And with that, she does snap out of it.
With Supergirl in command of her senses, the Scarecrow gets quickly captured. It turns out that he hates Lex because during Blackest Night Luthor stole the Scarecrow's Yellow Lantern ring. And now the Scarecrow craves that power, that sensation of fear. He dosed the interns with fear toxin causing them to die of heart attacks. He then simply dumped the bodies in the slum. I hope this vendetta continues forward in the DCU.
With the case finished, Supergirl and Robin finally bury the hatchet a little bit. He calls her Supergirl ... not 'alien'. She carries him back to Gotham rather than making him fend for himself. They probably aren't best friends but they can work together.
In my second favorite scene, Dick talks to Damien. I love how he first says Supergirl is way out of Damien's league. And then ... in a great deduction ... Dick realizes Damien has a crush on Supergirl. It makes sense. Damien would want a strong, powerful, intelligent woman who would stand up to him. He respects her. He might deny it ... but it feels true.
I think Joshua Williamson did a very good job here with the characters. It is a fast paced and engaging story with a lot of whimsy. How often do you read a 'fun' comic these days. Despite the horror elements, this was fun. Between the high quality of Batgirl #14 and this issue, I think we need a 'Young World's Finest' mini-series.
I didn't really like Ale Garza's work on the title in the past. It looked a bit to scratchy and blotchy then. Here, his J. Scott Campbell-esque style looks much more polished. I think his art is something I appreciate more in doses than on a month to month basis.