Monday, November 8, 2021

Review: Batman/Superman: The Authority #1

The Batman/Superman title may have been canceled but DC Comics has given us one more bite at the apple with the Batman/Superman Authority Special #1 which came out last week.

I suppose it serves any number of purposes. The Warworld Saga is about to start in the pages of Action Comics and this acts as a bit of an hors d'oeuvre for that. With Batman prominently displayed on the cover, I bet DC is hoping fans of the Dark Knight might pick this up and get intrigued with the Warworld arc and head over. The Superman and the Authority mini series also just wrapped up. While that seemed very trippy and self-contained, it did indeed lead here. So maybe DC is also hoping that folks who enjoyed that title and are mulling over reading Action Comics might also give this a try and get hooked. 

But specials like this usually don't figure into the main plots they are teasing in a major way. So as a stand alone story, they better be worth it. Luckily, this one fits the bill. Outside of one significant 'how did that happen' moment at the end, this is a pretty interesting tale which hints at being a prologue of its own.

Writer Philip Kennedy Johnson has already shown a deft touch for creating potential families for major characters having given us the House of El lineage. Here he gives us the Dark Universe evil progeny of a major DC character that needs to be foiled by the World's Finest and the Authority. This plot grabbed me more than I thought it would. (I have avoided Metal and Dark Universe stuff as much as I can.) In particular, the Batman and Midnighter moments stand out.

And given this is a story told in two universe, we have two very different artists. Ben Templesmith brings his unusual style to the Dark Universe proceedings with a nice dark palette of murky colors. Trevor Hairsine does the work in the main universe. The contrast works very well.

On to the particulars.

We start in the Dark Universe where it is apparent that the Al Ghul family have taken over. The skies are dark, lit only by fires. Monstrous guards chant loyalty to the family name.

Within the throne room, Talia Al Ghul asks her children what prizes they have to offer to the silent monarch sitting on his dark throne.

One offers a broken Green Lantern ring. Another, the bent helmet of Fate. The daughter, Janan Al Ghul, offers something even better, something from outside space, which promises of future worlds to conquer.

The dimly lit art here works well.

And if you didn't guess who is sitting on the throne right now you haven't been reading comics for a while. Still, I suppose it could Ra's.

On our Earth, Batman approaches Superman with the problem. 

He needs help. 

Since he knows about the Authority, he asks Superman if the Man of Steel and his team will help him. 

There is some friction here. This Authority isn't exactly your typical hero team. Batman says it looks like a team made by someone trying to prove something. I don't even know what that means coming from a guy who made the Outsiders and has a 'family' that includes the Red Hood. But okay.

I am glad Superman calls him out on some of the nonsense. "Oh, you need my help? Remember when I needed your help with Warworld? These were the people who said they would when you refused."

Nicely done. But it also shows Superman can rise above it. I might have slammed the door in Batman's face. 

Instead he hears from Batman how in the Dark Universe, the Al Ghul family has a stranglehold on freedom. They have taken over completely.  There is no saving that world. Nice splash here showing the undead monsters of that army and a world that looks pretty Apokoliptian. 

But now they are aware of this Earth and want to expand. That must be stopped. 

Manchester Black can cut through the obfuscation. Batman needs a stealth team to invade and remove the capability the Al Ghul's have of coming into this universe. That is why he is asking this team and not the JLA. 

I guess there is some consistency in Batman's reasoning here. He refused to help Superman because Earth's safety should be the primary goal of the JLA. If this dark world is planning an invasion, it needs to be stopped to protect Earth.

How will the Dark Universe get through. Janan has captured a 'Fuginaut', a being that sounds like a Watcher but could be a Monitor. They will use its powers to open the gate. Clearly this thing is in pieces, tortured and barely alive.

There is some discussion amongst the Al Ghul family about the power of that being on the throne. Why are they silent? Are they dying?

But Janan knows that person is alive and well and sitting in silent judgment.

For anyone who has read Metal and all its issues, are Fuginauts a thing? Are they that universe's Monitors?

I said before, the moments between Midnighter and Batman are fantastic. 

In a sparring exercise, Midnighter is clearly trying to goad Batman into a fight to see who is better. 

And Batman isn't taking the bait. 

I often think Batman is a written like a conceited, know-it-all, jerk. Midnighter is that but even more intense. 

 I also like this art trick of the Earth-0 characters morphing to fit the realm of the Dark Universe. 

This place is fundamentally broken. So people look different.

And Templesmith's art is a perfect fit. Weird and warped.

It turns out this whole thing was something of a feint. 

The Fuginaut died. The Al Ghul's need someone else to open the gate. And the Enchantress is just that person. The heroes are quickly split up. The Enchantress is strapped to the machine. And Janan Al Ghul and her brother slip into Earth-0.

But they aren't alone. Midnighter also came back.

As I said, Midnighter's disdain (or perhaps obsession) with Batman is funny. The Al Ghul siblings are in bat-inspired armor. Midnighter calls them out on it.

In fact, I love that he says that he doesn't understand the fascination with Batman. Maybe this is Johnson injecting some meta-commentary on why Batman is so massively popular right now, pushing others out of the spotlight. Heck, this very book shows that.

Back on the Dark Earth, we see Superman pounding on people to find the Enchantress. That seems to happen off screen because suddenly the rest of the team is home. 

Meanwhile, Batman has defeated the Al Ghul's and pointed out the error in their ways. Peace achieved through tyranny isn't peace.

Janan however reveals just what we all thought. The person on the throne on the Dark Earth is Batman. The Al Ghuls are his children. 

Our Batman isn't quite there yet.

With that, the Al Ghul's are sent back this time with no doorway to return.

As for the World's Finest, Batman says Superman has put together a good team. 

Echoing the early scene, the Dark Knight recognizes that Superman could have told him to pound sand but he didn't. Respect.

And, perhaps swayed by this near incursion, Superman recognizes that Batman is probably needed on Earth. Respect.

I never mind seeing Superman and Batman shake hands. And this seems like a logical ending to this disagreement.

But we aren't done.

The Batman on the Dark Earth finally speaks.

He knows about this other Earth now. They'll meet again.

Nice little story settling the mini-feud between Batman and Superman. Nice seeing the Authority in action again. And wonderful art portraying the story. 

For a special, this worked very well.

Overall grade: B+


Bostondreams said...

Tempus Fuginaut was a 'watcher' of sorts for the Tales from the Dark Multiverse stories.

Looking forward to reading this!

Anonymous said...

I also wondered why this book came to exist, and you offer some excellent reasons. Of course Batman books sell!

You mentioned "Outside of one significant 'how did that happen' moment at the end", and while I had a couple of those, I wonder what you were thinking of.

There are a number of elements that confused me about how the teleportation of the Al Ghuls, Midnighter and Batman along with June and the Fuginaut "horror machine" worked, vs. how it was supposed to work, or what Midnighter and June did (per Batman) that managed to bring her and the Fuginaut back with them. (I'm pretty sure Batman also came along with them and hid in the wings of the Fortress till he was needed - after all, he was the one who "sneaked off," and Midnighter followed him. But how those two escaped the room everyone else was trapped in remains a mystery to me.)

If the dead Fuginaut platform was supposed to control June's abilities in some way, that failed, since she came along with the Al Ghuls to the Fortress, and evidently that was not supposed to happen. But what else was the Fuginaut machine supposed to accomplish now that he was dead? It lured them before he died, but now what would his remains do for them? June already has teleportation skills. Maybe the Fuginaut-machine was supposed to imprison her, allow them to force her to do their bidding, and augment her powers so they would have been able to teleport larger armies all at once. That's a tall order, and these Al Ghuls don't look like scientists exactly. But strapping June to the platform does make for a very eerie and cool image.

At first I couldn't actually tell that the Fuginaut had been rescued or that June was back either - he was never distinctly drawn in the Fortress, and at one point June just seemed to be there and sit up. Eventually, I noticed the Fuginaut's platform was present right from the start when the Al Ghul's arrived, with June on it, and pieces of the Fuginaut hoses were visible in at least one panel. It's easy to miss.

But how is June able to simply unhook herself and sit up?

Despite my moments of head-scratching, it was a very good yarn. A few words and a tweak to the art could have probably explained away all my questions. And this is pretty straightforward when compared to the dimension-hopping time-traveling organic-powered machine the TV show "Fringe" came up with.

I haven't seen Templesmith's work in a long time, and it was great to see his exotic work again, and Hairsine's work has gone from awkward the first time I saw his art in DCeased, especially with faces, to quite reliably good.


Martin Gray said...

I was pretty disappointed with this one, there just wasn’t enough of the Authority in there, and while the art gimmick was clever, I found the storytelling once if switched to Ben Templesmith very hard to follow.

Also, I hate all things Ra’s al-Ghul and Dark Multiverse.

Tempus Fuginaut debuted in the super-fun, terribly underrated Sideways. Buy the collections!