Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Batman/Superman #23

Batman/Superman #23 came out last week, the second title Greg Pak is writing that is involved with The Truth. Unfortunately, this book came out the same week as Action Comics, the other Pak book covering The Truth. I say unfortunately because this book couldn't help but suffer in comparison to Action.

Of course, The Truth is taking a roundabout look at Superman's story, telling 4 separate stories. While Action is looking at what is happening in Metropolis, and Superman/Wonder Woman is looking at what is happening in Smallville, Batman/Superman is looking at what is happening in Gotham and Subterranea. With disparate plots, it is easier to compare and contrast the approach.

In this book, Superman is acting more and more like Batman, like a street level vigilante, riding a tech-loaded motorcycle and relishing the fisticuffs. With the focus of the story moving to Subterranea, Superman needs to wrestle with this identity crisis and decide who he wants to be.

And above ground, Jim Gordon begins to investigate Superman, wondering if the Man of Steel is trustworthy. What a terrible DCU we have when Commissioner Gordon doesn't trust Superman. And to rub salt in the wounds, we see that distrust spread into Superman's supporting cast.

The cover dress is 'Alienation'. I suppose it works to remind us that Superman is alone now. Some close friends have turned on him. And he is down in the depths of an alien nation. 

Adrian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, and Beth Sotelo do a good job on art mixing the fantasy landscape of Subterranea with the above ground, more normal scenes.

Pak does do a good job of making the antagonists of the piece sympathetic. Ukur is now leading Subterranea. And all he is looking for is light and an energy source so his people can live. It is enough to make Clark question his next move. We went from the bullish guy who was craving a fight last issue to someone wondering if he should be helping.

I definitely like this panel as we see the magnificence of Subterranea, as seen in those earlier Action issues, reduced to a camp of tents, lit by fires. And while I am sure that Clark doesn't regret stopping these folks from using living creatures as an energy source, there is no doubt that he is somewhat responsible for their current state.

The WayneTech experimental sun is the easy answer to Subterranea's problems. But Batman doesn't care. He moves the sun to a safe place.

But this is where that ugly New 52 feeling rears its head. Gordon wonders out loud to Lucius Fox if Superman can be trusted! What a terrible question, reflecting how insane this DCU Is. At least Fox knows that the police of Gotham haven't exactly been trustworthy with Clark either.

One of my main complaints about last issue was this feeling that Superman was devolving into a street level crude brawler. I wonder if Pak was baiting a trap, knowing he was going to change directions an issue later here.

This Superman knows his powers are severely diminished. He knows he can't win a huge brawl. He wonders if he should call in his powerful hero friends. But then he knows that he has to win this as Superman. I suppose that means trying to be an inspirational figure, trying to talk through the problem and get to a peaceful end.

It leads to a fun little riff where Superman says he has to act like Batman, donning a 'costume' to hide his face (Subterranea armor found on a fallen soldier) and going undercover. Superman even calls himself lucky for surviving, a word Batman used to describe himself in Miller's Year One and DKR.

That theme of Clark feeling more human, more like 'the little guy', is accentuated when Supes learns that part of this Subterranea refugee camp are humans, escaped prisoners from Gotham prison.  Of course, the prisoners are sympathetic figures, not hard criminals.

And then, the worst moment of the book ... so bad it overwhelmed almost everything else.

Gordon decides to actually investigate Clark and if he can be trusted. Sigh.

But then, in a sequence I simply can't believe, Perry White throws Clark under the bus. He doesn't trust Clark. He doesn't want to work with Clark. He doesn't want to see Clark.

This is ridiculous. 

A Superman people don't trust. A Perry that hates Clark. What an awful place this is.

It is followed by the best moment of the book. Lois follows and then confronts Gordon.

And she defends him! "Clark will always do the right thing."

Gordon worries this makes Clark a dictator, not thinking of the 'little people'. But I think this simply means that Clark is a better, more human person than most. He thinks of what is truly right. He puts others' needs above his own.

It is great to see Lois defending Superman and Clark. But we still need to learn why she did what she did.

But this mohawked, brash, angry Gordon is a far cry from the archetypal Gordon in my mind.

Meanwhile, back in Subterranea, Superman is truly exposed to the plight of these people.

Ukur is something of a charismatic leader, giving a rousing speech that galvanizes his people. In a slick style, Ukur disparages his prior accomplishments only to then promise light and heat in Subterranea once more. He promises to bring the WayneTech sun to their land.

Even Superman is effected by the speech. Look at him, raising his arm in unison with the crowd, almost blank-eyed. Does Superman empathize so much with the plight of these people as to get caught up in the fervor? Or does Ukur have some mild mind control powers?

I wonder if, now grounded and near powerless, suddenly Superman understands the plight of 'normal people' a little better. His Smallville days are a while ago. Maybe he needs a reminder of what it means to be human.

I am trying to look for the best in this arc. But part of me wants a Superman who doesn't need to be reminded.

And then, a decent cliffhanger.

Ukur has an ally, someone who can help claim the sun ... Aquaman.

Now I don't read the Aquaman title. I don't know what is going on in that book. Would Aquaman join Ukur? Is he anti-surface? Or is this another sign that Ukur has some mind powers?

So, I think this is an up and down sort of issue. The 'Superman as Batman' riff is sort of interesting. Clark's thoughts that he has to be the person to help end this, not someone with a clenched fist, is also nice. And lastly, the Lois scene is very good.

But the Perry scene is a disaster. The all too easy ' Gotham prisoners are victims of  circumstance, not evil criminals' feels a bit too simple a turn. And lastly, the foundation of The Truth, the depowered Superman, on the run, not trusted, and shunned by friends ... I still can't get behind this.

I suppose that means I should give Greg Pak some kudos for engaging me as a reader, even for a little bit in this issue.

Overall grade: C


Martin Gray said...

I'd up that grade to a B- for the art. I don't think it's mind control so much as Clark acting, while being genuinely impressed.

I was so shocked by the Perry moment that I had to force an excuse over at my review - there's no way Pak can fail to get Perry, his personality has been unwavering ever since he got one.

Anonymous said...

Quick Question...maybe I'm all stupid like, but does Supergirl even exist in the DCU anymore? Because her damn cousin seems to be on his last legs. You'd think she'd look in on him now that he is a semi depowered street brawler....


Wondering said...

I am here to answer a couple questions~

In regards to the Aquaman book, of recent (and judging by his costume change, their going by his most recent.) He gained a number of powers (teleportation from any source of water, ice powers, an upgrade on his trident...) And he is a renegade on the run from Atlantis, because he is protecting an incursion of Atlanteans who escaped from another universe, whose presence threatens to erase the original Atlanteans from existance.
The current take on Aquaman is the sort who would be VERY willing to do this. Not because of a hatred of land dwellers. (Because in new 52, he lived on land until he was 18) But rather, because he has a mindset that it is better to side with the downtrodden minority than the powerful majority, even if the minority is not necesarily in the right, simply because they are suffering.

As for Supergirl, it should first be noted that her book was cancelled just before the status quo change for Superman, which many people thought was because they were rebooting the line, though in retrospect, I think it was because they wanted Superman to be isolated as possible.
If you look at the last page of the final Supergirl issue, she even makes a comment about how she has lost her powers.
And for that matter, krypto has also been missing for a while now.

Anonymous said...

I'm tired of this take on Superman and this take on Gordon. I've been collecting Superman and Batman for years, but I don't think I can any longer. Issues like this really don't help. I'll still continue to buy comics, just very few from DC now. Hopefully Supergirl will get her own comic again soon.

Anonymous said...

I can at least understand why people liked last week's Action Comics even if I didn't but good grief was this issue horrible to hear about. Gordon's sudden mistrust of Superman even though he worked with a lawless vigilante for years, Superman's arrogance and willingness to jeopardise a situation, sympathising with terrorists and Perry White throwing Superman under the bus was just awful to read about. It's a shame Pak's Subterranean sub plot from his Action Comics run is being wasted as a sub plot of Truth rather than a focused story of its own.

All in all, I found this to be another bad issue of arguably the worst comic in the Superman Truth event. And that is saying something.


Martin Gray said...

'All in all, I found this to be another bad issue of arguably the worst comic in the Superman Truth event.'

But from the rest of your post, it sounds as if you haven't actually read it, so you can't have judged it bad, Louis. It's one thing to hear about stuff, another to check out the execution.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have read it Mart, I just haven't done so in a...proper manner if you get what I'm saying. So for this issue I have definitely read its execution and I stand by my comments all the same. It's a terrible, poorly handled and unsuitable direction for Superman that has essentially become the antithesis of what I like about Superman and read his comics for.


Anj said...

I agree that this is a rough arc and rough time.

This isn't my Superman.
This isn't my Gordon.

There is no Supergirl.

I am trying to see the good that is in these books, hoping they will turn themselves around.

Makes me cherish the Morrison Action run that much more.

Anonymous said...

Ditto Anj, I would take Morrison's cocky and rookie Superman in a heartbeat over a Superman who doesn't seem to have changed a single bit over his 5 year career or however long he's been a superhero for.

Anyway, happy NCBD by the way! Enjoy your pull list and whatever else you pick up.


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for getting back to me Louis, it's just your references to 'read about' and 'hear about' had me thinking you were getting your information solely from this post.

Anonymous said...

What I liked about this issue was Lois's conversation with Gordon. I said this on Martin's review, so forgive the duplicate comment but it felt as if Pak was breaking the fourth wall and telling the readers that Lois did not out Superman out of bitterness or for her personal gain.

Anonymous said...

Well as well as coming to this blog for Anj's fair reviews of current and back issue comics, great opinions and thoughts plus the discussion, I won't deny I did come across Anj's blog as a means of reading comic book summaries initially. Do you not think Anj summed this issue aptly for those who haven't read it


Martin Gray said...

I do, but even my own equally cuddly summaries are no substitute for reading the things and allowing a reaction to come, rather than forming an opinion based on the bare details.