Batman/Superman #22 came out this week, the next chapter in The Truth, the next issue of this arc with the label justice, and the next issue of this arc which reads quite different from the one which preceded it.
Last week, I read the Greg Pak written Action Comics #42. That issue showed a Superman willing to stand up for people, to be a wall of justice, and to inspire. Of all of The Truth, Action Comics is the comic which comes closest to some version of Superman I can get behind.
In Batman/Superman #22, Greg Pak writes a slightly different Superman. This is a brasher Superman, a darker Superman, a bit more of an anti-hero of a Superman. And while there are brief glimpses of a more classic Superman here and there in this book, the overall feeling is of a crass super-powered dude.
The cover for Action Comics showed a Superman bound in chains, standing between people and a squad of soldiers, trying to squelch a riot. I can get behind that image. The cover here is Superman on a motorcycle, in front of a busted down storefront, beneath a blood red sky. This gives of a very different vibe. Slip a skull t-shirt on him and this is a Punisher cover.
And it is this disparity between the tones of the different titles which ends up taking me out of The Truth. Because I can't wrap my head around this Superman. Caring and inspirational (Action)? Brash and crass (Batman/Superman)? Angry and unhinged (Superman/Wonder Woman)? Idiotic and inane (Superman)? I feel like I am on an episode of 'To Tell The Truth'. Will the real Superman please stand up?
The art on the book is done by Adrian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes with colors by a team of colorists. At times in this book, it looks like Syaf and Cifuentes are trying to ape Romita Jr. and Aaron Kuder. I suppose it is a way to try to streamline this series.
Last issue, Superman and the Jim Gordon Batman were about to square off. A group of armored behemoths have been attacking Gotham and Superman is there to help. Batman isn't sure if he wants the help.
Superman extends his hand in an attempt to form an alliance. The weapons the beings are using are energy draining tech. Together, maybe the two heroes can put an end to the attacks.
Gordon, of course, really wants no part of it. You would think after working for years with Batman that he would be more open to working with 'vigilantes'. But Gordon knows Superman is wanted. And, linking to Action, he also knows Superman punched a cop. I suppose a 'by the books' guy like Gordon would not want this team up with a 'criminal'. (Yeesh, I have called Superman a vigilante and a criminal in that paragraph. Something is wrong.)
The bad part is the last panel. Superman is losing his temper, becoming angry. He is less patient than he once was. I am not against a furrowed brow and grit teeth on Superman in the right instance. But this seems too soon.
Clark has to admit that he is still getting used to this lack of power. He can't fly in thinking he is going to be fine and save the day. He can be hurt physically. And he can be hurt psychologically. Trusting someone is a risk. Gordon welcomes him to humanity.
And while this is a decent moment, I had to shake my head at it. Clark was raised human. He acted as a human. He had a job, paid rent, had friends, fell in love. He has been hurt romantically. He trusted Jimmy. He loved his parents.
Superman is supposed to be teaching us how to be the best humans we can be. He shouldn't be getting life lessons from Jim Gordon in a robotech mecha.
Superman tells Batman that he isn't leaving, so Gordon begrudgingly teams up.
Superman is able to use a bat-copter to track the draining weapons as they converge on a Wayne Tech facility. Suddenly Gordon realizes that he could easily be on the run like Superman. If people learn it is Gordon under the mask, he could also be marked, targeted, hunted.
Now I don't know why Gordon would hate Superman for this. Recognizing they are similar should bring empathy from Gordon, not hate.
And look at that second panel, with the shading on Superman's face. That just looks like Romita Jr. No?
Lucius Fox is at the Wayne warehouse. Fox is worried about the 'Dawn Command', early morning technology thieves, most likely the armored beings with the energy draining weapons. And this would be a great target for them.
Because the tech division of Wayne Enterprises has created a 'small sun' which they are housing in this building. The sun is unstable. The company wants to move it but they fear it will explode and incinerate part of the city.
Again, we see that crass Superman. He decides he'll flex his muscles and defend the building from the Dawn Command and leave the moving of the sun to Batman. He tosses a wrench at Gordon's head while smirking.
Is that really Superman?
In a nice call back to an earlier arc, it turns out the Dawn Command are from Subterranea, a kingdom in Pak's earliest Action issues. Subterranea was using living animals as a fuel source and Superman stopped that. Now the general of Subterranea, Uruk, is coming to the surface to find energy sources and get his revenge. While I didn't post it here, the splash reveal of Uruk has a Kuder-ness about it. And initally we see Superman laughing his head off as he jumps into the fight wielding a giant wrench.
A cackling Superman, wallowing gleefully as he enters a brawl, and swinging a wrench? I don't know if that is the image people have when they think of Superman.
Finally though we see a smidge of 'Superman'. He realizes that maybe the mini-sun could be used for Subterranea's energy crisis. He allows Uruk to throttle him so he can get close enough to say that there is a way all this could end peacefully.
And for a second, Uruk seems to think about it.
Yay inspiration! Yay high road!
But how can you go from wrench swinging thug to diplomat in a couple of pages?
Unfortunately, in that pause, Gordon impales Uruk, literally stabbing him in the back. Uruk heads back underground screaming that the city will burn.
And then we get another peek at a more classic Superman. Depowered and battered, he is still going down to Subterranea to try to calm down Uruk and stop the impending attack. This Superman wants peace.
That last sentence is great. The real Batman wouldn't have speared Uruk. Gordon isn't Batman.
I guess I can say this was something of an uneven book. The art seems uneven. The characterization of Superman seems uneven. I suppose I can try to rationalize it by saying that this Superman is still learning what this new depowered reality means. He might be reeling from the chaos of his life and as a result he is emotionally all over the map.
But between the odd extremes in this issue and the different tones of all the titles, I feel like I am on unstable ground as a reader.
And, like I said in a recent review, I just want to read a good Superman story. And I don't think we are there. At least not yet.