Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Batman/Superman #18

Batman/Superman #18 continues the 'Superman's Joker' storyline and once again showed me that my confidence in Greg Pak writing Superman is well founded. Pak's work on Action has been spectacular, especially his reintroduction of Lana into the Superman universe.

In Action, Pak has Superman in a horror environment. Here he has placed Superman in a Batman scenario, having an insane, obsessed enemy picking off his loved ones. I have heard people say that writing Superman stories is difficult because 'he is invulnerable and what can threaten him'?  But putting Superman in odd situations for him, for making him uncomfortable or unsure of himself, to make Superman ask himself tough questions, is how Pak is accomplishing it. Superman doesn't usually deal with psychopathic serial killers. How would he react?

But then, and this is so important to me, Pak puts Lois in the spotlight in this issue, showing us just how brave and powerful she is. If there is a character in the Superman universe who has been underutilized in the three years of the New 52, it is Lois. I have been waiting to see the 'real' Lois for some time and outside of Superman Unchained and the occasional snippet in Geoff Johns' Superman, I haven't gotten enough. So I love that she is front and center here.

The issue moves the plot along nicely with a not so surprise ending. But it is the character moments as Superman and his friends struggle to deal with this killer that makes this such a good issue.

The art by Adrian Syaf is sort of scruffy with lines and cross hatching that works well for this grimmer sort of story. This looks more like a Gotham book than a clean bright Metropolis book.

And I think the cover is an homage to Days of Future Past.

The story starts with Superman straining the slowly rebuilding Fortress computer to try and figure out who the killer is. I have to admit I had forgotten that the Fortress got demolished in Doomed. I think that story was so muddled and jumbled that some plot points have been lost amid the detritus.

Supergirl however doesn't think that is the right move. She barrels into Superman to stop him from accessing the computer.

While I don't like the physicality of her stopping him, I like that she does. Here she reminds him that the computer may not be able to survive a search this early in its regeneration. She knows he might regret this choice. And this Kryptonian computer is needed for other things too.

I have liked the interaction between the two super-cousins recently.

In a bit of serendipity or foreshadowing, Kara talks about the bottle city of Kandor, apparently lost into the Phantom Zone.

Much like the destruction of the Fortress, I didn't recall that the bottle city got somehow swept into the Zone. But Kara knows the Fortress computer will be needed to somehow find the city and revive the people in it, including her friend Tali Zar.

One small complaint about the art here. For a second I  thought Kara was holding the bottle which seemed unsafe and impossible. I know this is supposed to remind us what the bottle looks like ... but maybe don't position it in her hands, or have her hands away from it?

There discussion is interrupted by Batman.

He has deduced a plan. Talking on a magically protected line, he says that Superman's Joker must be lured out by someone so close to Superman that it would grievously hurt the Man of Steel should they die.

And that person is ... Lois Lane?

Now maybe this might be true in just about every other DC Universe. But we haven't seen these two interact much in the New 52. And while some sort of history is hinted at between the two, and maybe they are friends, we haven't seen anything that would make us (as readers) think it is true. Even Supergirl is shocked. After all, wouldn't Diana be the person he would miss the most?

Turns out the whole thing is a ruse. The communication isn't protected. It is all a stunt to use Lois as bait to lure out the killer.

And Superman knows it. There is nothing for Superman to do except fly to the rescue. And Supergirl heads there too.

It is clear that Superman cares for Lois greatly. But as a reader, I have to rely on my memory of "Lois and Clark" to feel that.

That said, this Lois is incredible.

Look at her standing there, arms crossed, steadfast whatever threat is heading her way. She plays up this role, saying how she loves Superman and remembers the 'wedding proposal on the moon'.

And here, she tells Batman that she is glad that he pulled her into this mess. She would have kicked his ass if he hadn't. She is that big of a friend of Superman, that big of a presence in his life.

This is the sort of Lois that I want to read.

But in an interesting turn of event, the 'bullet' doesn't go after Lois, evades Superman and Supergirl's efforts to stop it, and hits Batman in the chest.

This Joker says that Batman is the person Superman would miss the most. Batman is the person who understands Superman the most.

Now I suppose that Batman and Superman are best friends. And I guess 'understand' doesn't mean 'agree with' as I think these two are very different. And maybe this killer isn't targeting Wonder Woman because she is more difficult to kill. Because I would think the person Superman loves ... Diana ... would be the one who understands him the most and the person he would miss the most.

I also think it is interesting that Batman has Kryptonite built into his armor. This has to be defense against Superman ... although it is timely.

More Lois though. Superman seems a bit irked that Lois would put herself in danger at Batman's request. But she had no worries, knowing that Superman would save her. She always bets on blue.

But then Pak has Lois backtrack from any sense of true feelings, having her say that her 'love' was an act. Is she protesting too much?

Still, this is a great representation of Lois.

That Kryptonite laced armor probably saved Batman's life. The 'bullet' was a Kandorian flying at high speed! And he's dead!

So does that mean Batman killed this guy with Kryptonite? Is it self-defense? I have to mull that over in my head a bit ...

What is even more interesting is that this Kandorian, Kan Ko, was a 'Wellness Officer', a sort of selfless doctor type who helped save people afflicted with Sky Flu. How could this sort of saintly figure become a living weapon?

Lois thinks it is Brainiac but Batman doesn't think it fits the typical Coluan M.O.

Well it turns out that Batman was able to trace the bullet's trajectory. It came from ... a bottle ... which is in the middle of a tech shielded beach on Iceland. And looking at that thing, we see that there are a lot of angry people in that bottle, maybe Kandorians who are angry that Superman hasn't done more for them? A sort of revenge squad?

This is very good issue. I have to congratulate Pak for bringing a strong Lois into the story. Her willingness to risk herself for Superman and to do so unflinchingly is refreshing. I like the interaction between Supergirl and Superman.

I suppose the decision to target Batman is an interesting one. I wonder why, in the New 52, these two would be friends. Pak has done a lot to show why they would be. And elevating Batman to that status shows the strength of this friendship. Still ... I would think Diana (in this current DCU) would be the one Superman would miss most. And in a perfect world it should be Lois.

I don't know the motivation of these Kandorians yet. For me, that is going to be the linchpin for the story. If I don't understand why these Kryptonians would become killers, the foundation of the arc might crumble. But why worry about something that might be fine.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

What a great issue indeed! I think the Lois ruse would work even if people didn't know of the old relationship (is there anyone?). Take it at New 52 face value and it's there.

But yeah, Lois is SO protesting too much.

Maybe the villain agrees with us - Diana doesn't understand him at all.

Great spot on the cover homage.

I do like, too, that having Kara's friend among the bad/spellbound Kandorians - it gives her a bigger stake in th story.

AndNowInStereo said...

Based on my interpretation of Batman/Superman and Superman/Wonder Woman in the New52, I have to disagree with you Anj. Bruce and Clark agree more often than not, especially the way Pak writes them, they both look up to each other for the different things they represent and have a lot of respect for each other, it's been shown in nearly every arc Pak has written - only in Action during Doomed did Pak put a wedge between them. They both learn from each other and don't seem to to question that the other will back them up when needed. Contrast that with Soule writing the SM/WW book, where there wasn't a lot of warmth on display and often quite a lot of angst due to the pair's lack of mutual understanding, not to mention pretty heavy handed dialogue which undermined the 'romance'. And when Superman needed someone to talk about it to, who did he contact? Yes, that's right, even with Soule writing it was Bruce. And of course, under Tomasi SM/WW has become even worse, just look at the last issue. I still have no idea why Clark and Diana are even together and I certainly don't buy them being in love.

So yeah, if you ask me who Clark understands and trusts more out of Batman or Wonder Woman, based on just these two books alone it's no contest in my mind.

Anyway I really liked this issue, my only gripe was the unnecessary lines on some of the faces, I liked everything else. It's good to have Clark and Kara working together and to have Lois involved, and also to get more progression with what was happening with Kandor and finally get a little bit more info about Tali who we haven't seen since Supergirl #15. Do you think that's her on the final page? She has the right colouring.

I hope they don't kill the Kandorians off... Again. Two massacres of the same people in the space of five years might be a bit much for DC to countenance. Hopefully they get to wake up, even if still in the bottle?

Jay said...

I think this arc is better than the first arc of the book. Its just...well, awesome. Pak just gets every single character in the Superman mythos. I knew he'd do a good job with Lois. Outside a flub with RL Supergirl during Doomed, he hasn't missed a beat with a single Super-character.

As for Wonder Woman, story wise I just assume that the Kandoran whose masterminding this knows of Diana's powers and how a "Kryptonian bullet" wouldn't' do anything to her. Practically, being a title specifically about Superman and Batman, it makes sense it would ultimately focus on their friendship as opposed to romantic interests. Diana is the one Superman would miss the most, so maybe Pak overstates things a little here, but I can understand the motivation considering the title. I think it would have worked best if he just left it at Batman understanding him the most. Because that's still plausible even though Clark's in love with Diana. Bruce has been his friend longer. It makes sense at this stage that his best friend would still kinda have the one up there.

Anj said...

Thanks for great comments.

I agree thatvPak has done much to make Clark and Bruce seem like friends. And yes, Diana is a harder target.

I wonder if my own lack of understanding the Clark/Diana relationship is coloring my thoughts too much.

I do think that is Tali.

Still, a very good issue.

Saranga said...

On whether Bruce killedthe Kandorian or not, I say not because he didn't know the bullet was a kandorian, or that he was the target. He couldn't have prevented it.

I think Bruce will feel very guilty about it, but there is no way he can be held responsible for this guy's death.

Anj said...

Good point on intent Saranga! In essence, this guy killed himself.