Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: Batman/Superman #5

Batman/Superman #5 came out last week, the second arc in this title, written by Greg Pak and drawn by Brett Booth with inks by Norm Rapmund.

After the dreamy, surreal, flashback Earth 2 crossover in the first arc, the book is literally and figuratively turned on its head. The literal aspect is that the issue is drawn in a horizontal fashion. Turned on its head this way allows Booth and Rapmund to use wide screen panels as well as use overlapping smaller panels to connect one idea. I don't know if the story *had* to be told in this manner but I think it augmented some of the aspects of the story as you will see.

Figuratively, this is a very different story than the first arc. This seems like a "rock 'em sock 'em" action driven wild ride of a story. There is something sort of 'summer blockbuster movie' about this opening chapter, maybe aided by the horizontal view. I felt the first arc was character driven with some nice action on the side. I think this story is going to be the opposite, infused with crazy fight sequences with some sprinkles of characterization here and there. It shows the versatility of Pak. Even the art by Booth lends itself to this story which would feel very different if Jae Lee was back.

In the end this was a fine opening chapter.

The book opens with Superman in space smashing some small meteors which are falling to Earth and could cause some damage.

As he is busy, it is up to Batman to take down Metal-Zero who is stomping around. Despite Metallo being a 'super-villain', Batman is able to eliminate him pretty quickly, relying on his preparation, something he admits he is good at.

It is a nice opening sequence immediately giving me the 'feel' of the story. The opening pages are splashes including a 2 page split-screen splash in that 'horizontal' plane making the panels feel huge. And the art, as seen here, veers to 90s Image-y style, giant teeth in darkened faces. There is a sort of Liefeld-feel here, right?

So right away I knew to pop some popcorn and enjoy the show.

As I said, there are some moments of character here. Superman congratulates on taking out Metallo, a villain who is 'big' for the Bat. I thought that was probably meant as a true compliment by Superman. Of course, Batman thinks it is trolling, maybe mocking Batman's 'weakness'.

Even Superman using their familiar names when talking shows the difference in the two. There wasn't much 'old chum' here by Batman. This felt a little cold for heroes that are supposed to know each other the best and are friends.

After Batman takes off, Metallo simply disappears.

I turns out that Metallo was some projection being controlled by Hiro the Toymaster, who has created a video game where you link to the character, controlling them with your mind. Sort of a true virtual reality.

Unfortunately, it is clear that he thinks it is a game and not something manifested in reality. His tech person Agnes seems to be aware, even smirking a bit when Toyman wonders if Superman and Batman will fight. I smell foreshadowing.

I did like the t-shirt he is wearing, a take on the breast plate of this Toyman's giant robot from way back in the first arc of Superman/Batman.

It turns out that the 'smashed' meteors still land on Earth, albeit in smaller forms. The asteroids then sprout into odd flowers and spread glowing spores over the land. Some even get into the batcave where Bruce inhales them while working out. The next punch breaks the heavy bag chain.

Hmmm ... a request for Batman to fight Superman? Then Bruce displaying super-strength? This place reeks of foreshadowing.

As I said, the horizontal format allows Booth some latitude with smaller overlapping panels which don't distract from the overall plot. Here the Toy Master has recruited some more players to beta-test his game. With more characters who need to comment on the action, the wider format allows Booth to get them into the story. One of those beta-testers in Jimmy Olsen? Interesting.

Anyways, the players still think they are in true video game and so snark away, commenting on 'real life' action as if it is simply virtual reality. They provide some good comic relief to the book.

The first 'match' is Nightwing vs. Batman. The players are all mentally tied into Nightwing, controlling his moves. Of course, they aren't the Batman. Bruce is able to quickly defeat the projection of Nightwing.

One thing I liked, in that I thought it was a commentary on the comic world, is Jimmy gleefully smiling at playing the villain in the book. Earlier they say that the purpose of the game is to kill Batman.

This is where we are in comics. People want to be the villain.  People are happy to be the villain. People want to read about the villain.

It is base wish fulfillment. Let's do whatever we want and crush those who stand in our way.

Somehow Batman is able to figure out where the signal is coming from and brings the fight to the Toy Master's lair. Suddenly Hiro is himself in danger as the fight rages around him. He gives Batman the 'cheat code' to defeat Nightwing who dissipates.

Suddenly Hiro realizes that he is being played. His video game has broken through to the real world.

But the best thing about this scene is the grousing of the beta-players who think this is still a video game, a self-referential 'boring' game. Fantastic!

And then the real villain of the story appears - Mongul!

Turns out that Mongul realizes that the millions of people playing billions of hours doing on-line battle games are soldiers he can use. If they can fight for themselves, why not fight for him? What better army to upset super-heroes? And if you can juice people up with alien spores, then you are really talking!

Despite this serious plot twist, Pak still throws in some humor. The gamers are sooo bored by this, even though it is really happening. They want this 'cut scene' to be shorter. That sort of slacker humor really increased my enjoyment of the scene and issue.

But this game, despite the Toy Master's protests, is real. And we will be seeing Batman throw down with Superman at some point.

This isn't the slick, dream-like first arc which I thought was superb. It seems to be a sillier action piece with the nice wrinkle of the video game players being put into the mix. The art and sideways presentation and story all complement each other nicely.

I suppose I would like this issue more if I wasn't comparing it to the heady brew of the last arc which was just spectacular. This is a fine comic book, a fun action-packed diversion. But it isn't the strong character piece of the earlier issues. And that's okay. Not every arc needs to be some deep delve into the characters. Sometimes I need to see some cars thrown around as range weapons.

Overall grade: B

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