Last week I gushed a bit about how great Superman was portrayed in Superman:Lois and Clark #1. How great was it to read about these heroes working hard to help people.
Batman/Superman #25 came out last week. And it was a slap in the face, shocking me back to the reality of the New 52. Because the Superman in this issue, as written by Greg Pak, is about as far away from the Superman in Lois and Clark as you can get. He is depowered. He is edgy. He is glad that he angers people. He wants to isolate himself from his friends. He wants to rush into danger foolishly.
Thankfully, the role of 'Batman' in this issue is played by Batgirl. And does she shine in this book. She is the exact opposite of Clark. She goes out of her way to help Superman. She uses her intellect to figure things out. She tries to calm people down. She moves cautiously.
The art on the issue is done by Cliff Richards and he brings a fine lined, precise look to the book which sparkles. What can we do to get Richards on a book full time? Part time? And the Francis Manapul cover is a fascinating sort of art piece which grabbed my eye on the rack.
We start out with 'Batman', out of the bunny armor and in costume, asking the Gotham City Police Department to hunt down and capture Superman.
Superman has meanwhile already left the city, flying away in a WayneTech flyer while wearing a WayneTech light refractor. He is happy to be back in the clouds, invisible to cameras, and on the move tracking down the Dawn Patrol terrorists who stole the artificial sun last issue. All of that would be fine.
But there is something annoying about Superman's smirk. He is smiling because he hears how angry Batman is. And he says 'who the hell needs Batman anyway?'
This just doesn't sound like Superman to me. Did he steal this tech? He's happy to be annoying? He mildly curses a fellow hero? It is this slow coarsening of Superman's character since his depowering that has been irritating to me.
And it didn't help that I had just read Jurgens' Lois and Clark, a more classic Superman, a harsh contrast to this guy.
It becomes pretty clear in this issue that Superman needs Batman ... or someone from the Bat family. In fact, it seems like one of the points of all of The Truth is that Superman needs people. But he should know that.
Because Superman is able to track down the Dawn Patrol. And while he is able to stop their troop transport easily, their boss is a different story.
It is Vandal Savage. But Savage isn't just an immortal, conniving behind the scenes. This Savage has strength. He pounds Superman easily. He is about to kill Superman when a large explosion distracts the group.
But I have to say, there was something very meta about Savage's dialogue here.
"You're not Superman any longer Kent. Superman is dead."
I will say there is a nice humorous moment in this battle. After the explosion, Savage laments not having the incinerating weapon he wanted at the ready when Superman arrived. Incensed, he immolates the flunky who didn't have the weapon prepared.
Eager to get back into the vehicle to track Superman, Savage hears that the flunky he torched was the one who had the keys. Hysterical in a gallows humor sort of way!
Luckily Batgirl was following Superman (we had seen her tailing him as simple motorcyclist earlier).
She scooped him up from the battle and whisked him away.
She is calm and collected and confident. She knows who Superman is, what he has done, the hero he has been. And so, despite a direct order from Batman, she has decided to help Superman.
And good thing she did! He was about to lose, possibly die!
Why this completely depowered Superman hasn't realized he needs help is beyond me.
Richards Batgirl is fantastic. And that second panel, with Superman clearly looking up at Batgirl, we know who has the high ground here. Great composition.
And then we see her get to work. Putting together a bunch of clues and intuition, she is able to track where Savage is.
We hear Superman realize that he has pushed all his friends away. But here is Batgirl, who I don't think he knows very well, whistling a tune while she jumps into the fray.
Is this the moment where Superman knows he needs help? That he can't do it alone? That he should know what his strengths are and what they aren't?
Not quite yet.
But I love this splash page of Babs. She is larger than life in this book. This deserved a splash, seeing her be the super-hero and Oracle and happy and helpful.
Turns out that Savage has set up a camp of workers in Siberia. These aren't Dawn Patrol, these are just ordinary people. And he has them securing uranium from some nuclear missiles abandoned in the snow. And when Savage teleports in, Superman is ready to jump again into the fray.
This Superman is just dense. He doesn't think. He wants to use his fists.
Luckily Batgirl is there to slow him down and hold him back. This Superman doesn't learn.
Is this another effect of Wrath? I don't care.
Savage teleports away after threatening this crew that they better have results when he comes back.
So know you think that Superman would have learned? Would have asked Batgirl what she thought they should do? How they should play this?
Instead, he jabs a finger in her face telling her that they are going to run down there and protect those people right then. At least his heart is in the right place! He wants to help those people.
Batgirl knows that they need help. She tells him they need back-up. And there are Dick Grayson and Red Hood. But Superman is still a bit of a jerk here. When Batgirl says she has a suggestion, he doesn't say 'good' or 'tell me'. He says 'What the hell' as if how dare she try to change his plans.
Suffice it to say I am quite sick of this Superman, eager to snap at friends, pushing people away, and actively irritating others. He was pretty unlikable here.
That said, if you want to read a great Batgirl story, I would read this. Babs is in charge here, brilliant on all fronts.