Batman/Superman #17 came out last week and continued what might be this title's darkest storyline. "Superman's Joker" started last month, pitting the Man of Steel against an unseen and powerful enemy who seems able to strike at will. More importantly, this villain seems to mirror the Joker in terms of psychosis, striking specifically at targets that will effect Superman.
This issue picks up the story, again showing how obsessed this killer is with Superman and how untouchable he/she is, evading not only capture but detection. The issue doesn't move the plot along that much, instead showing the fall out of the killer's triple assassination attempts that ended last issue. And, it did a good job of showing that Superman is already feeling the strain of these matters.
Greg Pak has done a good job on this book showcasing the differences between Batman and Superman. This story, Pak does a good job of telling us that the world needs both approaches, both the light of Superman and the dark. Pak does make a little misstep with one of the plot points (in my opinion), stretching continuity to showcase how evil the killer is.
Adrian Syaf is on art and does a very good job on art. His work feels a little sketchy at times. But that sort of grit works well in this arc.
Last issue ended with the killer apparently striking down three people by shooting them in the chest with super-speed bullets. With little recourse, Superman streaks to the scenes of the crimes in hopes of saving the potential victims.
We learn who these villains are later, but this piece of information grabbed me as Batman tries to coordinate from the cave. The villain not only knows where the heroes are, not only can communicate to them via the Batcave's communications (no easy feat to hack into those). He also seems to know where the cave is! And he no longer is talking over the computer system. He seems to be there!
Now we know that the Kandorians get involved in this arc soon. So I suppose this could be a super-small Kryptonian buzzing around the Batcave. It would also explain how these 'bullets' can't be stopped, outraced, or deflected.
Unfortunately, Superman is unable to save the first two victims: General Ahmad who was trying to secure peace around Khandaq and Glory Miau, a young pop star who sang of hope.
The third victim was Lex Luthor whose armor slowed the bullet enough for Superman to arrive in time to save.
What I love about this scene is how casual Lex assesses, in human lives, just what these assassinations mean. TRMs - tangentially related mortalities - are the currency of events like this. And Lex's calculations (with his assistant Hope) are remarkably quick, as if he is always thinking in these terms. Chilling.
So how does Superman react to these deaths, clearly meant to unnerve him
For Ahmad, who Superman had saved from prior assassination attempts, Superman actually decrease the arms of the opposing armies in Khandaq's wars (even Khandaq) in accordance with Ahmad's peace treaty. It is a bold move and might make Superman even more vilified by governments and military.
And Glory was a young woman named Felicity Regan who Superman had saved from committing suicide. For her, he can only mourn with her fans.
I recognized the name Regan as being the girl Superman gives hope to in All Star Superman.
Bleeding Cool does a good showing us a girl named Felicity from Grounded. (What a different suicide scene as penned by JMS!)
I have to say I didn't like this at all. Now you can say that neither All Star Superman or Grounded are in continuity. That Felicity Regan may not be Felicity from Grounded or Regan from All Star.
But the truth is, this scene from All-Star Superman was so incredibly powerful. I have read posts of people who were dealing with depression in real life who were helped by this scene. It is so well known, possibly the best known seen from All Star. Even possibly killing of a version of this version of Regan seems cheap, a stunt to make it more emotionally charged than it would otherwise. But it also negates this scene in some ways.
Now I talked about how part of this arc is Superman dealing with a Batman-style villain and seeing whether that sort of lunatic could push Superman out of the light and into the grim and gritty shadows that Batman thrives in.
One thing that I have liked is how Batman realizes that it is important that Superman remains true to himself. So even though this killer has surgically attacked Superman's psyche, Batman reminds Superman to stay sane.
One Batman in the DCU is enough.
The duo head to the only telepath they know of who can help locate the killer. Despite countless telepaths and magic-based heroes they could call on, the two ask Hector Hammond to help them. Odd! And maybe a little forced. It does lead to a good moment where Hammond reads Batman's feelings on the Joker. Remember, this is Superman's Joker we are looking for. Seeing Batman's pain let's you infer what Superman may end up feeling.
Hammond locates one person with the hate and power to do what has been done. It just so happens that Lobo is on Earth. And Superman isn't happy.
We see what this 'Joker' is doing to Superman. That stern look. This yell. It all shows that Superman is close to losing control. And I think that is what this story is all about.
Turns out Lobo is not the killer and he is summarily removed from the planet by Superman.
Seems like Lobo is here only to give Superman a target he can pummel to show how close he is to losing it. Thank goodness Hammond didn't link to Deathstroke or Deadshot. They'd be dead.
And then we see how this has really effected Superman. He begins doing laps around the planet to try to find the killer. And he sends the super-family and JLA around to protect those he loves.
I was happy to see that he trusts the Daily Planet to Supergirl.
But all this protection might make the assassin shy away. And Batman wants to catch him. So he uses the ultimate bait ... Lois Lane.
In the New 52, it has never been established that Superman is very close to Lois. Or that she would be the ultimate bait. Wouldn't Batman be more of a target? He is clearly Superman's best friend and basically undefended. Why would Lois mean more?
I simply don't like this odd status of Lois in the New 52. So this ending makes sense classically, but it makes no sense currently.
So the plot isn't really advanced that much here. Instead I think the purpose of this issue was to show how shaken Superman is already. It is more of a character issue than a plot issue. That said, the 'Regan' moment, the appearance of Lobo as a plot point, and the idea that Lois is an effective lure as a target felt just slightly off.
I am still very much interested in seeing where this arc is going.