I recently reviewed Action Comics #27 and discussed how I felt Greg Pak had a great handle on who Superman is a character, what he should do and what he should represent.
Batman/Superman #7 is a very different comic from that issue of Action. It is a loud, brash, violent slugfest of a book. And yet despite that different tone, complete with snazzy stylized art by Brett Booth, still manages to show that dedication to Superman's character. This is a story which could have devolved into parody, a bloody punch-up between Batman and Superman, a fight which has been done so often in the last several years that it feels moribund. Instead, Pak has Superman rise above a bit, helping the little people and inspiring goodness in a cynical world. Incredible.
Sure there is a lot of crazy loopholes in this story, a bunch of gaps in the story that as a reader I have to roll with. I know that is a complaint I have with Scott Lobdell. The difference here is the characters are acting the way they should. And that helps bridge some of those jumps. I don't know if I exactly know how it all happens.
As I said above, Brett Booth does the art here and he is perfect for this sort of wild comic. Between the crazy fights and the 'matrix' world of the internet video game, Booth shines here. It is great when an artists style flows with the story rather than grate against it.
The issue starts on the street level with a young woman desperate to get a letter out, postmarked by 5pm, the post office minutes from closing. The line in front of her is long including a woman making the postal worker weigh an inordinate number of packages and tell her the different costs individually. The woman's letter is crucial for her to get a loan, and therefore maintain her home, her job, her child custody.
Then the post office itself is crushed by Superman fighting Batman and suddenly that letter won't be sent. Put that failure together with violence-inducing spores, and a link-up to Mongul's live action video game and we have a recipe to turn this normal woman into a killer.
I thought this was a great scene on its own, showing how challenging life can be for everyone, how one bad thing can set off a trail of dominoes that will fall, ruining a life. That is why we can be cynical. That is why this plot will work ... because we all would love to work off some steam.
But as great as this scene was to show how millions of gamers could feed into this violent fantasy, Pak has it pay off later. And in an even better way.
Because a nanobot-strengthened Batman continues to have puppet strings pulled by millions of minds, thrashing Superman. We learn from Mongul that the players realize that this game is real, that they are killing the real Superman, but they continue. The Fury blossoms have all those repressed feeling surging to the surface.
It is a sort of semi-damning view on humanity. Can our daily problems be so horrible that we only need a nudge to turn into killers? It is why Mongul thinks this plot will work.
There really is an easy answer to this. Superman could simply smash the console that Mongul is using to plug all these gamers into Batman. The problem is that could kill Batman who is only alive because the nanobots rebuilt his heart.
I do like this characterization of Batman, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his friend from being beaten to a pulp, to save the world.
But as great as that was, I love this Superman characterization more.
It has become something of a running theme in recent books. In Superman, in Action Comics, now here, Superman says the words 'there is always (another) choice' to murder or killing.
I would love to think this is a response to the defense of the Zod-killing in Man of Steel, all those people who said 'what other choice did he have' other than snap that neck.
This pose is almost Christ-like as Superman decides to have Batman actually kill him, knowing the nanobots will then resurrect him as a new character in 'the game' and now he can work things from the inside.
Incredibly risky but isn't that what Superman is all about? Doing the impossible.
I don't know why exactly the nanites would save him. But they did.
And then, plugged into the matrix, Superman is actually able to talk to all the people controlling the game.
And he does what Superman does. He inspires them. He asks for their help because it is the right thing to do. Because they have to overcome their rage and do what is right. He can help them as much as possible. But he needs their help too.
Pumped full of fury spores, angry at life, desensitized ... they still are able to be inspired, to stop the heroes fighting each other, to become heroes themselves.
That is Superman!
There has a been a fair amount of meta-textual stuff in this story as the snarky gamers complain about the real life scenes as 'boring filler'. I have found it amusing.
Here is more, as the gamers say that heroes fighting then teaming up to fight the real villain is 'a trope that works'. With the gamers on their side, Batman and Superman team up, luring Mongul outside of city limits, and then battering him unconscious. (I can't help but wonder if the 'outside city limits' was also a commentary on Man of Steel's ending scene.)
It is a tried and true formula to have heroes meet, fight, then become friends. I thought this was an ironic little twist.
And just like that the story is over and everything is well.
The alien tech is shut off and our heroes live. The fury spores die out over 24 hours.
And Superman is able to help everyone he can. This is pure Superman gold, finding the woman who needed the loan, and letting her know her letter got through 'somehow'. This is the equivalent of saving a kitten in a tree. This is Superman looking not only at the big picture but the small one, knowing that this act of kindness will inspire this woman to be kind to someone else and so on. Paying it forward.
Mongul is even tossed into the Phantom Zone.
Superman is the big winner. Batman seems unhappy that Superman trusted people enough to do what he did, that he trusted people enough to listen to him. The gamers could just as easily taken control of him and that would mean game over.
But Batman is like Eeyore.
I'd rather have my heroes inspire.
This isn't high-minded comics. This is fun and fast and furious and even had a little bit of a heroic message. As I said in a prior review, this was a summer blockbuster, a popcorn movie. But one with a little extra.