Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Batman/Superman #8

I am finally back from the institution of higher learning and that means I have to get through all of last week's comic's reviews. And there are a ton of them.

I thought I would start out with what I thought was the best of them - Batman/Superman #8, the first official part of the First Contact story, the crossover between the Prime Earth Superman and Batman and their Earth 2 family members Power Girl and Huntress.

I have had nothing but praise for the Batman/Superman book so far with its two very different story arcs and two different art styles. Greg Pak really seems to have a grasp of who Superman and Batman are. The characterization in this book (and for Superman in Action Comics as well) has been spot on. We see a cautious almost paranoid Batman but one who honors his parents and who is trying to fix the world. There is more than darkness and fear in him here. And Superman carries just enough Silver Age optimism and fun with a more measured modern feel to make him the best of all worlds.

So I was not surprised when Huntress and Power Girl felt more real and natural as well. Paul Levitz has tried his best to infuse characterization into Helena and Karen in their main book. But they often feel two-dimensional or caricatures of themselves. So I was thrilled to hear them speak like heroes and act more well-rounded here.

But the real grist is to hear Helena and Karen contrast the Batman/Superman relationship on this world - tenuous, barely existent -  to the true deep friendship of the Earth 2 pair. It is that contrast that sheds a light on the dark current DC.

The real treat here is Jae Lee's art. As I said in his first arc, there is an occasional surreal, dream-like quality to his art and it really works here. I understand the near complete lack of backgrounds. But this book is mesmerizing and beautiful. Another of those rare books that I thumbed through after just to look at the pictures. In fact, it was hard to choose reviewing panels because they are all so sharp.

The book starts were last month's Worlds' Finest ended, with Helena trapped in the Batcave. Pak does a great job here having Helena explain who she is. We get to see the origin of her crossing to Prime Earth in Lee's style. I love this lower panel of the the PG/Huntress pair.

But Pak also gives us Bruce's internal thoughts of trusting her. It is interesting to see this crack in the impenetrable emotional wall of Batman. How he flashes to the first storyline, meeting the other Bruce and how his heart (he has one?) senses this is his daughter. And yet that trust isn't enough to just accept her. He drugs her and runs a scan ... one that confirms what his heart told him.

One thing that stuck out last issue was how quickly Helena got caught by a simple trap in the cave.

I love how Pak shifts power back to Helena by having her overcome the drug and escape the trap quickly. Not only that but she does it so silently she is able to sneak up on Bruce and take over the computer system, driving it with secret orders and codes.

And instead of attacking her, he trusts. Very nice moment.

She explains about Power Girl's recent explosive powers and how she needs Batman's help. Realizing the danger of an out of control Kryptonian, Batman agrees to work with the Huntress. But Huntress is amazed that Batman isn't calling in his 'best friend' Superman.

Batman replies that this is a different world, that Superman jumps into problems too easily, without thinking. Why would Batman call Superman when he clearly doesn't trust him.

Helena responds the way I want to respond - 'That's nuts!'

Because I like having a Superman/Batman friendship that is real.

We have seen Power Girl's power fluctuation over in Worlds' Finest for some time. But Lee makes it feel palpable. Heat vision herelooks more like solid plasma pouring from her eyes. Her hair is alive like a star. In other places flares of power arc off her while her body contorts spasmodically. Just beautiful.

Luckily Superman does show up as Karen starts to do some real damage, endangering the lives of villagers in Baja California. He is able to subdue her.

Now here is the part of the issue I had the greatest difficulty with. He recognizes her as a Kryptonian. But he somehow doesn't see that it is an older Kara?? And no where in their conversation is the word Kara or Supergirl even brought up. She doesn't tell him she is his cousin??

It is just another reminder how DC seems to want to marginalize the Supergirl character. Superman can't even recognize her. Won't even say her name.

As I said before, Pak has such a great handle on Superman. His first appearance in this issue he is literally saving a puppy. He subdues Power Girl by dropping half a mountain on her. Then he talks to her gently, taking her to a safe place where she can discharge all the energy. And he ends the moment with a high five!

Where was all of this when Supergirl was having her problems?

I just have to move beyond that and be happy that I see this relationship here.

And Power Girl calling it a sneeze is great!

At least while all that is happening, Batman and Huntress have figured out why Power Girl's powers are fluctuating.

Something is emanating from the country Rheelasia, an Asian country growing in power and lead by Kaizen Gamorra. You might remember that as the name of the young man Power Girl kissed when she snuck out to the bar scene in the Worlds' Finest Annual. Somehow that brief make out session is upgraded to having 'dated him' and having some major connection with him.

Seems like a big leap.

In the other weird moment of the book, Bruce and Helena decide to enter Rheelasia to do some on the ground investigating. But Bruce has her dress up as one of his many dates. She then acts like he was inappropriate so she can sneak off.

Still, wouldn't it feel a little icky to have your daughter (or doppelganger's daughter) trussed up and acting like your floozy date?

I guess it was an easy charade to explain her presence there.

Still, it is clear that Gamorra is doing something to Karen and she is approaching critical mass.

And Karen does approach critical mass. She decides the best way to save everyone is to head up into space. It is a one way trip as she is going to explode.

But Superman won't let that happen. And that is why I love him in this book. Even with Batman yelling that it is too risky, Superman grabs Karen and absorbs the energy into himself. But his conviction as he does it is perfect. It is risky ... but he is wearing the red cape with an S-shield. He has to do it. Fantastic.

So this is a great comic and a perfect opening chapter to a crossover story. Great hooks, great characterization, and superior art. Everything really flowed wonderfully here. It really is just that non-Supergirl moment that stuck out a bit too jarringly. There is still time for that to get rectified though!

Overall grade: A-


Martin Gray said...

Yes indeed, overall, a great issue and so much more my cup of tea than the video game stuff, which I stopped buying.

Who knew Ken was meant to be Asian?!

I like that Helena shook off the drugs, it's a nice callback to the early WF issues in which we learn that she got some kind of drugs protection from her mother.

AndNowInStereo said...

I had to ask the same questions. I thought at least there'd be a flicker of recognition and some comment on how much she looks like Supergirl, in the narration boxes even. For there to be nothing like that is odd.

Anonymous said...

How come Superman acts so nice and concerned and indulgent with PG when his cousin from this dimension literally needs to be enrolled in Rehab for her Rage Addiction?
I give up on DC, if there is a bad creative decision in hiding, they will route it out no matter what the cost...


Count Drunkula said...

Wait, does this story take place in present time? Because Kaizen Gamora was killed years ago in TEAM 7 and then retconned so that his consciousness was fused with the mind/body of a member of Team 7 in BIRDS OF PREY? It was horribly stupid, and it would make sense for Pak to just ignore the hell out of that New 52 history, but I'd think an editor would have caught it. Y'know, if the editors cared.

Jay said...

Superman is nicer to PG here because Greg Pak is writing him. That's essentially all there is to it. Lobdell handled most of Superman and Supergirl's interactions thus far. And while I will defend the man on one thing, he blew that dynamic big time. It is the only instance in which I think Superman has been an unnecessary jerk in the New 52.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Count - I think this is supposed to take place now. Maybe this Gamorra is the one from Earth 2 who somehow survived the explosion in the Annual, as opposed to the one you saw die?

Jay - I would love to see Pak write a Superman/Supergirl story. I guess we'll need to get through the Red Lantern business first.

And Tom and John, the fact that Superman doesn't recognize PG as Kara really irks me.

Jay said...

For the record I made a typo in my last post. I mean to say, in regards to Lobdell, that I'll defend him on "some things" as opposed to "one thing". But yeah, I completely agree, I can't wait to see Pak tackle Kal and Kara. Everything else he's touched in regards to Superman is gold, so I don't see why he can't fix this immediately as well.

How does Johns write Kara? I only ask because he's probably going to have plenty of opportunities as well when he takes over Superman.

Anj said...

Johns has written a very strong Kara in the past, best seen in the Brainiac storyline. That was at the tail end of the Joe Kelly/Kelly Puckett era of the character and Johns' helped rehabilitate the character, handing her over to Sterling Gates.

Diane Darcy said...

Echoing what most people said already, I felt this was the stronger issue of the two, largely for the stronger handle Pak has on the characters and the art from Jae Lee is gorgeous. There are so many great character moments in this, I've read and re-ready this issue over and over again. :')

Admittedly, Bruce was made to look like the arsehole in this book, most notably during his scenes with Superman. But other than that, I felt all the characters were given well-rounded characterisation and the interaction between them felt natural.

Anj said...

I agree. This is the better of the two. And the art is sooooo beautiful.

Pak seems to have a handle of the Super/Bat relationship so things do sound and feel better in those moments.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciated the Greg Pak/Jae Lee run when they started Superman/Batman and I'm so glad they're back! I really wish it was a Supergirl crossover (reminding me of the 'meh' Superman/Batman: Supergirl crossover) but I suppose I will wait for the supposed Batman/Superman Family 'fight' coming up (according to the submissions revealed on the DC website.) Don't know how I think about that...

In terms of the timeline debate, I put semi-independent issues like Superman/Batman (or Wonder Woman/Superman) in another "floating" timeline. There's no real point in trying too hard to reconcile them--they're comics! ;)