Friday, June 12, 2015

Review: Batman/Superman #21

Last week, Action Comics #41, the first glimpse at The Truth storyline came out and I was very impressed. Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder brought a sense of joy and humanity to that opening arc, bringing back the feel of an early crusader Superman, a man of the people. I was impressed.

Batman/Superman #21 came out this week, the next chapter of The Truth released, even if it isn't the next chapter in the story chronologically. And it did not give me the joy of the opening chapter. And it showed me all the worries I had about this arc to begin with.

As I have said, I have reservations about The Truth. I worried that this depowered Superman, with bloody cloth wrapped around his fists, riding a motorcycle, might be much too grim or street level for my tastes. And we see a lot of that here.

And let's not forget the elephant in the room ... Lois revealing his secret identity. We still don't know when, why, or how she revealed it. But at least this issue scratches the surface of that plot point. It also gives us a phenomenal scene with Lois, perhaps the best scene with her in a long time. That scene elevates the issue.

Somewhere on the internet Greg Pak wrote that The Truth isn't going to be told linearly. In fact, I think he said that each title could be read individually as each focuses on a different aspect of the story. So Pak must think despair or darkness is the viewpoint here which might seem apt as Batman co-stars. But this felt very different from the Action book. This Superman read very different from the one in Action. It read odd and disjointed. And it doesn't help that this issue refers to an event from next month's Action just like Action referred to two issues of Superman neither of which have been released.

Adrian Syaf remains on art and brings a clean style to the proceedings. His action sequences are kinetic and powerful.

We start out with Superman brawling in a neighborhood, taking out some low level super-villains who are trying to 'kill the alien'. This isn't some elegant combat ritual; it isn't martial arts. This is a backstreet brawl. We see Superman stomping on hands, breaking fingers, and punching up. Again, we see him splattered with the blood of his enemies. Done right, with the right tone, this can be fine for Superman.

But it is the captions here that worry me. Superman calls the villains jackasses. He says that pounding on them felt good. He enjoyed cutting loose. I don't want a street level brawling Superman, gleeful in doling out damage. Superman isn't the Punisher. He isn't Rorschach. It's insane.

Last issue we had kids swinging from the arms of a smiling Superman. Here, a week later, we have him pulling a knife from his leg and reveling in his battering of foes.

The police response is interesting. They are present but stay back and watch the fight. And once over, they ask Superman to move along. They know that penny ante thugs like these nameless villains will try to make a mark for themselves by killing Superman. Because of that Superman is a threat. He needs to get out.

Superman wonders why this cop, who defended him before (the reference to next month's Action - thus unseen) is now against him. And the cop says he has his orders.

Immediately Superman thinks it must be Luthor who is giving those orders. Cue the brooding, blood spattered panel of Superman's face.

Without even cleaning up, Superman heads to confront Luthor. He semi-forces his way into Lex's office.

Now I must admit I love this exchange. Luthor simply cannot believe that someone as 'ordinary' as Kent could ever be Superman. Is this some elaborate ruse that Kent and Superman cooked up? Why would Superman be Kent?? It reminded me of John Byrne's Superman #2 where a computer figures out that Kent is Superman and Lex simply can't believe it.

Superman seems almost paranoid here. He thinks Lex is behind the reveal, behind the police orders, and behind the attacks. Lex shrugs it all of because the idea of Kent being Superman is too bizarre for him to deal with. But he does know that the energy weapons being used on Superman can be tracked to Gotham.

Lex's being perplexed by Superman's decision of having a secret identity is just fantastic and I hope is explored more.

Lex and Superman head to Gotham together to figure things out.
Batman (that is Gordon in armor) attacks Superman.
Superman grabs evidence about the energy weapons and runs away.

We read a DC universe where those top three sentences are true. Incredible? Crazy? Depressing?

At least we hear that the GCPD was being attacked by 'barbarians in space armor', wielding the energy weapons. And Superman saved the police from them. Too bad we didn't see that!

Superman decides that he needs help to figure out who is arming these villains and why they are attacking him. And who better to help him figure it out than the real Batman. Clark jumps on a bus and heads to Wayne Manor.

On the bus, he sees a child playing with Batman and Superman action figures. The kid's imagination play has them fighting each other.

Again, this shows the reality of the DCU. There isn't any reality where Superman and Batman are friends. Not even in a child's play.

This panel made me a little bit sad.

Clark heads to the Batcave only to hear from Alfred that Bruce is gone, apparently dead.

At least Alfred is able to dole out some wisdom. Batman is the shadow. Superman is the light. Superman shouldn't be Batman. Superman should be Superman. Pak must realize this is true. You can't write last month's Action and not believe that somewhere.

Maybe Pak is trying to smudge up Superman, bring him down a little bit before he re-ascends?

Finally we get to the Lois scene. Clark calls her.

He is still angry at her for revealing his identity. She again says that she had her reasons. And she told Diana.

There is some reason behind this more than a scoop. More than 'integrity'.

But since we haven't seen why yet, we can only hope that there is a decent reason behind it. I am hopeful Because this Lois is written strong and confidant. She is clearly an equal.

And it goes even farther. Superman's life has dramatically changed since the reveal for the worse.
So has the Planet's. Perry might be fired. There have been death threats. Things are rough.

But Lois lays it all out there.
She is his best friend.
She is still Lois. He is still Clark.
He needs her help!
So he should talk.

Oh man! Now that is straight up Lois. And it made me very very happy.

Maybe between Lois and Alfred, something gets through. Clark admits he belongs in the sun.

But he follows that up by spray painting a Batcycle bright red. And then he goads the Gordon-Bat out for another fight, probably to convince him to team up.

This was a much grittier Superman than last week's Action. There wasn't much joy here. It is a very different Clark. Such a contrast only 7 days apart made this feel disconnected and odd. Maybe this book is being done to show the darker side of The Truth, the more difficult areas of life with the secret being out there. I mean, life can't always be street fairs and kids playing.

And we got that Lois scene. And that Lois! How can I not be happy about that?

Overall grade: B


Godzylla said...

I have to say this doesn't appeal to me at all, though I do like Lois' exchange. (Personally, I think it's really Dana Sterling in the Batbunny suit, once again displaying the wonders of "rabbitechnology", but I digress for a cheap shot.) Grimdark Superman is a ridiculous concept, but I wonder of the cop's "I have my orders" is metacommentary on the Superman books. Anyway, Batman/Superman highlights Pak's versatility as a writer, completely different in tone from Action, but I'll still pass on this one.

Nice review!

Anonymous said...

Was Lois supposed too come off as a self-righteous shithead? If that's the case, i think Pak really succeeded.

Martin Gray said...

You're so right, the brutality was was awful.

But Lois was awesome.

Goodness knows what tone the next Siperman series will have - Superman/WW presumably, because I reckon we 're never going to get to Superman #41!

Jay said...

I dunno, to me Superman has always enjoyed taking down the criminals. And they are jackasses to him. In any incarnation. You can't just take out the thrill someone might have in taking down someone meaning to do harm and getting them off the street. If his inner-monologue had him saying something about wanting to kill them or something, then that's too far, but just getting a joy out of kicking the butt of someone out to kill him, at a time when the chances of success are much greater due to his physical status? Not seeing a problem. Even boyscout era and Reeve Supes enjoyed taking out the trash.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

I agree Superman likes taking out the trash. I also like to think that he wants violence to be last resort and that he doesn't relish it.

And a Dana Sterling reference, one of my cartoon crushes!!!

PRgirl1294 said...

Except we all know that it's actually Jim Gordon in the Batman robot suit.

Craig said...

I'm sure the newbie fanboys will love this take on Superman. Today's vocal fandom seems to love this stuff. Grimdark and angry was sexy enough to make Image popular in the 1990's, and it seems today that kind of attitude is what's acceptable and praised. DC is bringing Superman down to the level of "the majority" today. Lois Lane is the b***h, not the sexy goddess Wonder Woman is that Superman gets to shag and hang out with. If Diana is all about the big bloody sword, it's only "right" that Kal-El follows.

When you look at promotional/ style art before the New52, DC's super heroes were generally depicted as smiling. Even Jim Lee had them smiling. Now even the art (unless it's retro) is with the heroes grimacing or angry. I really don't understand the appeal of having them depicted this way; is it, as Kara might say, stodgy to be in the mindset that super heroes are supposed to inspire hope and adventure, not misery and hate? I don't expect that every super hero is to be shiny happy people at all times, but overall, I think that a super hero is supposed to make you feel good, not more angry or upset.

As cheesy and as nonsensical as a lot of DC stories could be, there were also a lot of great storytelling that was "not happy, cheery" but at the end of the day you could still count on Superman to be something bigger than all the grime and dirt that's everywhere.

It seems that DC feels that in order to make Superman "cool" they have to have every version of him as twisted, or killing, or grimdark, or street thug or whatever. That's why the Supergirl TV show is soooo refreshing - it's sad how in just four years Superman's been dragged in the mud. It makes me think of that story where that girl who experienced all that hatred and bullying caused her to be so angry that she manifested this demon thing that Superman had to fight. Superman defeated the creature and the boy that bullied the girl was so transformed by what he saw that he turned around and reached out to the girl. That's what Superman is supposed to be about, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I have admit, I don't mind an irritable Superman when there is cause for it. For example this exchange with Lois could have come across with Lois looking like she's picking on him except Clark was right there with her, giving just as good as he got, even more so because he is the one who called her and then needled her. We don't know what went down between them, clearly something happened. I agree that whatever it was, her reasons for publishing his identity goes a lot deeper than a scoop. There is something behind all this and I'm curious to know what it is.

Thanks for the review Anj!

Godzylla said...

Robotech joke.

Godzylla said...

You're welcome!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for resurrecting long buried memories Godzylla!!

mac said...

And where is the continuation of B&S Annual 2???