Batman #20 came out last week, finishing the two part back-up story featuring Superman and Batman.
Writer James Tynion IV and artist Alex Maleev grabbed me with the first part, showcasing how deep Superman and Batman's friendship is as they battle a demon.
It is one of the conundrums of the New 52. The 'age of heroes' started 5 or 6 years ago. A lot has happened in between those initial adventures and now. As readers, we have no idea just what sort of friend Superman and Batman are. My sense of it is based on older universes and prior relationships. They certainly haven't seemed like chums in their interaction in Justice League.
So in these brief pages, I was impressed with how Tynion is able to convey how close these two are. And I like a DCU where Superman and Batman are allies and friends.
As I said last month, Alex Maleev is the perfect artist for this story with its insane demonic presence and the grimy, slimy pit it lives in. His stuff shines here.
Last month we saw a soul-sucking Will O' The Wisp, squatting in a Gotham apartment, laying waste to any who entered. We also met the ghost of the young girl who helped summon this thing. With her ghost safe in a magic circle drawn on the floor, the Wisp is bound to apartment. And with each soul it drinks, it gets stronger.
I like how Batman seems to be watching this fight like a boxing match and warning Superman not to get killed. You would think Batman would join in somehow! It turns out he decides that information will be more powerful than batarangs and so he talks to the girl.
I do find Tynion's take on Superman and magic interesting. It seems to be like Kryptonite, weakening him just by being nearby. I wonder if this idea will carry forward.
As I said above, the real juice for me in this story wasn't this magic battle but in the exploration of the heroes' friendship. As Batman tries to get information from the ghost, he talks about how great a friend and a man Superman is. Superman is here because he cares about Batman. And Batman counts him among his closest friends. Nice.
It also shows the perseverance of Superman as he continues to fight even as he is dying.
I just this whole part of the story, showcasing all this is great about Superman, showing Batman's deductive skills, telling us about their friendship, it all worked very well.
The girl tells Batman where the summoning spell is so Batman can form some counter-spell. There is some excellent Uber-Bat moments here, like him lighting the candles for the spell with a flaming batarang and his knowing enough Gallic language to say the spell (even if he needs to confirm the Gallic word for expel with Superman).
Only Batman would know Gallic ... just in case.
The spell cast, the Wisp disappears. And with the Wisp gone, the girl's hold on this world, even in ghostly form, also wanes. She fades away.
But not before she tells Superman to take care of Batman. She even calls Batman 'sweet'.
It is true that Batman's dialogue with her was more emotional than I am used to seeing him. But it fits with the context of the story and Damien's death.
And that sort of softening of Batman continues. With the threat gone, Batman lowers his defenses a little. He thanks Superman for coming to check in; he recognizes what Superman was doing and appreciates it. It again shows just how deep the friendship is here, but in a subtle way. And that 'showing' rather than 'telling' is always the sign of a superior story.
This was a great story all the way around - writing and art, a perfect mesh.
With Batman/Superman around the corner, I look forward to more stories of the original World's Finest.