Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Batman/Superman #4

I continue my 'catch up' on comic reviews by looking at last week's Batman Superman #4 by writer Greg Pak and artists Jae Lee and Ben Oliver.

I have been very happy with this book and this first arc. The contrast between the World's Finest teams of the two Earths has been very perfect, showing the mature veterans and brash youngsters trying to understand each other. I have had my issues with the New 52 Superman and the 'new universe' in general. I thought it was a shame that the Earth 2 original 'wonders' were eliminated before we really got to know them. So to turn back the clock like this and play the characters off each other has been fascinating. Pak really seems to be able to get to the core of these characters in a short time. Within a few panels, I 'knew' the Earth Two Superman and (as impressively) that world's Lois.

And Jae Lee has absolutely brought his A game to this arc. While the backgrounds have been sparse, it has allowed me to instead soak in the characters. That and the amount of surreal detail in hair, capes, etc really have given this story a dream like quality. Which makes sense given that the whole thing is forgotten by the characters in the end, a dream to them.

Ben Oliver pitches in for the epilogue wrapping things up. He has a less stylized, more realistic style which works well given this is the 'real' part of the story.

The last issue ended with the two sets of heroes meeting at a military installation where a 'magical crystal' is being used to make an anti-Superman weapon. The chaos goddess Kaiyo has said the crystal is needed to defeat Darkseid. The older heroes want to take control of this situation. But the younger guys want to have a say too.

I  love that the younger heroes feel pretty confident about who they are. They don't like being talked down to, scolded by their older versions. In fact, their distaste for their elders is so powerful that they two younger heroes, formerly prickly with each other, decide they need to form a unified front.

The older heroes recognize it for what it is .. something potentially destructive which should be destroyed. But the younger heroes think it needs to be used ... controlled ... and not destroyed. It is the difference between the heroes. Who wants power? And who is trying to protect people?

The young Bruce wants to keep it, bring it to Earth One. And the older Bruce thinks they should be confident in their own skills to repel whatever is needed. 

This, of course, leads to the usual skirmish where they 2 Supermen fight and the two Batmen fight. It is a pretty uneven match with the elder Superman schooling the younger.

But that sort of darker take on heroism, so prevalent in the New 52, is thrown in the Earth Two heroes faces again. E1 Batman talks about needing something like the crystal to stop Superman should he 'lose control'. Heroes that distrust each other, that only become friends when faced with a bigger threat, a universe where we cheer on villains because there are worse villains and 'evil is relative' ... it paints a sad picture of Earth One.

And frankly, I am sick to death of this Batman is destined to fight and kill Superman trope. Enough. It's played out.

But another thing that Pak hones in on is that friendship and love are crucial to the lives of the Earth 2 heroes. We have seen a lot of this world's Catwoman, Bruce's wife, here. And we have seen a strong Lois here.

I mean what could be cooler than Catwoman and Lois in a batjet trying to help Wonder Woman battle Kaiyo. I thought this was great.

And I love Kaiyo's grappling, monkey like fighting style. It's hard to punch someone who his wrapped around you like this. Beautiful art in this whole sequence.

The crystal is some sort of wish machine, a magical item that can bend reality. Something like this is almost too powerful.

And we see that played out when the Earth One heroes actually touch it and activate it. And the 'wishes' the machine grants are windows into the souls of these characters.

The machine resurrects the dead Kents from Earth One and brings them to Superman. His wish is that his parents were alive. That is wonderful. But it grants that wish like The Monkey's Paw bringing them back to life but not rejuvenating them, their moldering corpses staggering like a nightmare. Creepy stuff by Lee here.

And Batman ... his wish is to become even scarier. He transforms into a true bat-like creature of the night. Frightening that that would be his dream.

Luckily the pairs of heroes are able to stop the petty fighting and actually get down to some heroing.

The Earth 2 Superman uses a Waynetech satellite to send the crystal's energies back onto itself, destroying it.

And the Earth 1 Superman flies for the first time, grabbing the crashing Batjet, saving Lois and Selina.

The page set-up is great, putting narrow horizontal panels next to each other on a two page spread showing the two Supermen dealing with their threats, similar yet different. Very visually engaging.

And then the great wrap up. Kaiyo stops fighting and basically 'ends' the story. She wanted to know which Earth had what it took to repel Darkseid, because that is the Earth she wants to live on. It is where she thinks she can hide and survive.

So even though the Earth Two heroes 'won', destroying the crystal and unifying to fight Kaiyo, they 'lost' in her mind. It was the ruthless, raw, and dangerous that have what it takes to defeat Darkseid. They wanted the power.

I will again say it is a sad commentary on the state of the New 52 ... but it is an accurate commentary. The heroes or Earth One are raw, ruthless, and dangerous. They crave power.

Those aren't the heroes ... the inspirations ... I hope to see in comics. If the modern take of Superman is ruthless then maybe it is time for this aging comic reader to stop reading.

I suppose I shouldn't be so glum.

There is a great moment between the two Supermen. The elder Clark reminds the young Clark that even when tempted he did the right thing. He needs to remember that. Old Superman wants Young Superman to emulate him.

But then Pak turns things on its head. Young Clark tells Old Clark this is a teaching moment! If Old Clark wants to survive, he needs to emulate Young Clark. Now that is great moment because we know that Earth Two failed to stop Darkseid completely. Lois is going to die. Wonder Woman is going to die. And Superman will become a mockery. Maybe Old Clark did have something to learn here.

Great small scene in this book. It is the small moments that give action books their punch.

Kaiyo ends up sending everyone back to their right worlds, removing the memory of the whole things. But something reverberates.

Bruce and Selina enjoy a raucous night on Earth 2 because Bruce feels the world might be ending soon. Clark and Lois on Earth 2 enjoy a nice dinner with the Kents.

And the Earth One Bruce and Clark. They seem to have a begrudging respect for each other now.

What a satisfying book and arc. This is one of those times when words and art complemented each other so well that the total of the book is more than the sum of its parts. The way the two worlds play off each other throughout the story is the electricity that gives the plot its juice. And Lee's dreamy painted style adds a lot to this 'imaginary' tale.

It all works. Hopefully some of the good intentions of the Earth 2 heroes has embedded itself in these younger versions.

Overall grade: A


Jay said...

I don't think its as much a sad commentary on the state of the New 52, but rather our first glimpse of a flaw in the original Earth 2 Trinity. Hubris. We know the young Prime Earth Bruce and Clark flaws, we saw them clearly, but finally Pak gave us a flaw to the others. They're so confident in themselves that they too can, in their own way, act a bit reckless because of that over-confidence. Its understandable of course, they're fantastic heroes and their world at that point is damn near utopian, but its a flaw nonetheless that they pay dearly for. I think its this, just as much as the Prime Earth heroes' more dangerous nature, that goes into explaining why Prime Earth repelled Darkseid himself and why Earth 2 fell to Steppenwolf and his army.

Anj said...

That is a great comment Jay.

It is hubris. They think they can handle whatever is thrown at them and that leads to their downfall.

That is why that 'teachable moment' panel is so big. It shows the flaws of both sides.

Thanks for articulating it better than me!

Jay said...

Thank ya!

I think there's hints of this from the very beginning too. Like when Wonder Woman spears Lois to drive out Kaiyo. I mean, there was no trick there, she flat out stabbed the woman without a thought. And Superman nonchalantly patched her right up. Furthermore Lois herself wasn't in the least bit concerned either. Kinda displays perfectly right there how they were all just so accustomed to winning.