Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Review: Batman/Superman Annual #1

Batman/Superman Annual #1 came out last week and was a fine issue. I had very high hopes for this book for a number of reasons. It guest starred Supergirl. It also had Red Hood, Batgirl, and Steel! And it was to be a commentary on the recent deaths of Damian Wayne and Superboy. That is a lot of great stuff to cover.

It also had great creative clout with writer Greg Pak and artists Jae Lee, Kenneth Rocafort, and Philip Tan. I knew this was going to be a very beautiful book.

So I have a very rare complaint. I think this story was rushed!! I usually complain that in this current DC market that everything is decompressed and stretched to fit a 6 issue trade compilation. But this story is a whirlwind. In fact, the best parts of the issue is the opening chapter where things proceed at a nice pace allowing the characters to breathe a bit. But the middle chapter is so fast that the plot feels rushed. And the emotional 'oomph', the reflection of Damian's and Kon's deaths, is an afterthought when that should be the driving force of this book.

Now this isn't a bad book by any means. I enjoyed it ... especially the Supergirl parts! But I almost wish that this was a three issue mini-arc in the main book. There is so much untapped story here.

The book opens with Superman and Batman reviewing their recent battle with Mongul. The interstellar tyrant was thrown into the Phantom Zone by Superman. It is a somewhat chilly interaction between the two. Batman is surprised that Superman would have the intestinal fortitude to throw Mongul in that prison without a trial. And Superman thinks that he isn't a boy scout; he is there to protect.

I did love this moment, a sort of softening of Batman. He looks down on a couple of kids playing ball and says the 'little joys' make life bearable. There is a glimmer of hope in him!

This quaint reflection is interrupted by the arrival of a new Warworld and Mongul's son Jochi. On Warworld, grievances are dealt with in the arena. Jochi is upset about his father's defeat and needs familial justice. Batman and Superman will either bring a 'clan' to battle Jochi on his world to fight or Warworld will destroy the Earth.

There isn't much choice. Batman and Superman go to pick their 2 clan members.

As a Supergirl fan, I have had my share of complaints about how she has been characterized in the New 52. One of my biggest complaints has been her utter lack of interaction with Superman. Luckily ... happily ... Pak must not know about this. He has Superman pick Supergirl first ... the easy pick!

Look at how the 2 super-cousins are working together to save a falling bridge from a giant kraken-like thing. Superman and Supergirl collaborating!! Action friendly!! Acting like a family! Thank goodness.

And Jae Lee's art is so beautiful I love his representation of Kara.

I know we are in the Red Lantern phase of things. I can only hope when that story is over that Pak and Bedard smooth over this relationship.

Wonder Woman shows up asking to join the clan but Superman tells her she needs to stay behind to defend Earth should something go awry. Diana gives Kara her sword. It is odd that Wonder Woman doesn't seem to recognize Kara. They brawled in H'El on Earth.

And Clark and Diana share a moment to say goodbye. This is the first time I have read them interact as a couple where it sounded semi-reasonable and natural.

As Diana flies away, Supergirl talks to Superman about her and how much Kara likes her! Look ... two family members talking about their lives to each other!!!! It can be done!!

Along the way Superman picks up Krypto as his second and Steel as a hidden ally.

As for Batman, he approaches Batgirl and Red Hood to join him. They are interesting choices, especially Jason who is something of a wild card. Batman knows he might need someone a bit unhinged for the arena.

Despite my love of Superman, this is my favorite page. Batman knows he has already put these characters through the wringer. We see shots of The Killing Joke and Death in the Family (nice channeling of Mignola by Lee here). And we see a ghostly vision of Damian (looking quite Quitely).

Batman warns the two that they might not come back from this mission.

I love ... LOVE ... Jason's response. They might not come back from any mission. Bruce should realize that. Fantastic! For too long it seems that Batman has been an immutable force in comics. I am glad to see someone call him out a little.

This early chapter flows nicely as we see the main heroes pick their family to fight alongside. After this things get a bit rushed.

First off, Steel and Batgirl slip away before the heroes head to the arena. They are tasked with dismantling Warworld's weapons so Earth will be spared.

In the meantime, Batman sees Jochi alone in combat on Warworld. Jochi needs to fight for his own honor and for a place on Warworld. In an odd twist, Batman claims Jochi as one of his clan since Batman defeated Jochi's father. That right falls to Bruce.

It puts Jochi in an odd place. He either needs to join Batman (the guy he wanted to fight, the guy who banished his father) or get killed immediately.

Okay, I consider myself a decent reader of comments. But the muddled politics of Warworld are a little confusing. I guess I just have to roll with it.

While Steel and Batgirl try to eliminate Warworld's weapons, the 'Clans' on Warworld fight to see who will eventually rule the place. As expected, the last two clans are the Batman Clan and the Superman Clan. Because, after all, we need more of Superman fighting Batman.

But all this noble fighting has made Jochi have something of a change of heart. Maybe he can be more benevolent than his father was. Maybe he can change.

The final battle is a fight to the death. And if the two clans shadow-box, the Warworld elite will kill both teams and destroy Earth. How can this end??

I suppose having Jochi be a reasonable 'villain', someone outgrowing the limited views of his father, is a nice touch.

After toiling to do things his way, Steel finally relents to Batgirl's suggestion throughout the book. The easiest way to dispose of Warworld's weapons is to disassmble them with explosions. It is a funny moment.

But then the ending gets rushed. The two remaining clans fight each other. Batman doesn't kill Superman with a Kryptonite shard. Jochi tries to wrest control of Warworld. The Council sends Warworld on a collision course with Earth. And Superman sends the whole thing into the Phantom Zone. Oh, and in the zone, Mongul kills his son.

It all seems like just a bit too much too fast. There was no time to savor the fights, to give us more of those personal moments within the clans, to see Jochi slowly turning, to grasp the intricacies of Warworld's system.

There was this nice moment at the end. We finally get back to Kon and Damian. Of course, both of them were flawed 'sons' like Jochi. Maybe if time permitted, Superman and Batman could put the two of them on the right track. While Superman wants to mull it over, the pain must be too much for Batman who says they shouldn't dwell on the past.

Now that is a nice moment. It is really the payoff moment of this book. But it was only on the second reading did I realize that Jochi was a reflection of Kon/Damian. Because the fight scenes have to be there, because we need to get to the ending, and because we have to get there fast, everything outside of the Lee pages careens to the ending. I see glimmers of what could be a very good story with an emotional undercurrent. But I am left wanting a bit more.

Still, those glimmers are good glimmers. And the clan interaction when we see it is fantastic. I hope we see more Superman Family and Batman Family crossovers in this book.

Overall grade: B


Thomas Hayes said...

I liked this one, but I have similar criticisms to you Anj, it was a bit rushed and the reflection on Superboy and Damian did seem a little light. My other gripe is that Wonder Woman feels a bit cold - why call Kara 'girl'? They've met before and she knows her name! Although Diana must have some confidence in her to trust Kara with her sword.

Other than that I liked it a lot. I've been here or there on Lee's art before but I loved it here. Rocafort seemed a little less polished than usual and Tan was much rougher than the other two, but most of the art was good. I liked Rocafort's depiction of Kara and Jason. Finally having a Rocafort-drawn Supergirl who isn't spouting Lobdell's drivel is so refreshing!

The other thing, which I'm trying not to think TOO hard about, is where this story fits on all the heroes' personal timelines, especially Supergirl's. It's got to be after Krypton Returns, obviously. And according to the editor's note it's before the current events in Wonder Woman, which I don't read so I don't know if that seems odd. But trying to work out where in Supergirl's timeline this story belongs is a real headscratcher. If it's after Superman #25 but before Supergirl #26, it raises the question as to why the supercousins are getting on so well, given her state in SG 26 and 27. It can't be set 'now' in Supergirl's own series timeline because she's a Red Lantern now. So... is it in the future? I'm definitely not complaining about the way Pak wrote her, it's good to see them getting along, but it's still something that raises a few questions.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anj!
I have to agree as well, the beginning under Pak and Lee was amazing, and a pretty excellent presentation on the different "clans." I didn't mind the end, exactly, because I really liked Jochi and the factionalism of Warworld (I don't know if he's ever appeared before in comics or not but I thought it made Mogul/Warworld much more interesting to me. His seeming death at Mogul's hands was tragic!)
@Thomas Hayes, I try not to focus too much on the timeline of comics, especially annuals or one-shots that float in the continuity pretty loosely. I agree that it seems impossible to place it, but, c'est la vie!

Anj said...

Thanks for the posts.

I agree with you Thomas that it is weird to try to put together a timeline for these characters. I suppose this is immediately after the mongul storyline in Batman/Superman but before Red Lantern Kara.

And Rocafort did seem less slick.

Oblique, the Clan system on Warworld was an interesting concept. But I have to say I don't know if I understand it enough to appreciate it. It is another problem with a rushed issue.