Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Batman/Superman #20

Batman/Superman #20 came out last week, the finale to the Superman's Joker. This has been an interesting story that showcases the differences between our title characters and their villains. After something of a slow buildup, we sprint to the ending. And it is a rough ending, a pyrrhic victory that truly felt more like a Batman story ... heck more like a Daredevil story ... where the margin of victory is slim, hope is an ideal, and losses are great.

Greg Pak does a good job of showing us how difficult it would be for Superman to engage with someone hellbent on breaking him down both physically and psychologically. Trying to win, trying not to sink down to the level of your enemies, trying to hold on to hope ... it is interesting to see Superman struggle. As I have said about Pak, the strength of his stories has been the ability to place Superman in environments that are pushing Superman into the unknown. This sort of dark revenge tale by Dr. Xa-Du is odd for Superman, and that means it feels novel.

Adrian Syaf is on pencils here and does a fine job. Things are rougher and scratchier and more warped in places than I would hope. especially given the futuristic setting of Kandor.

To recap, Dr. Xa-Du has awoken the Kandorians from the suspended animation and using 'living death' has taken control of their minds. Filled with hate and distrust of the El family, the Kandorians (including Superman's maternal grandmother and maternal aunt) have been attacking both Superman and people he loves.

Now being shrunk, trapped in a bottle, and in suspended animation is bad enough. But Pak throws in a new wrinkle that makes things more horrific. The Kandorians were mentally awake while their bodies were dormant!

If that is true than the Kandorians have been stuck in their bodies ... locked in with only their thoughts ... for about three decades. They all should be stark raving mad even without Xa-Du.

That is crazy!

But how devastating it must be for Superman and Supergirl to be fighting their loved ones.

This fits into the 'Superman's Joker' idea. Would this be 'Death in the Family'? Or 'Death of the Family?'

Nice splash page here.

We get some exposition Lois and Ray Palmer. Floating in the Ant Farm, they give us some of the back story of Dr. Xa-Du. First Phantom Zone villain. Creator of the Living Death. Hater of the El family.

How the heck do you defeat this Kryptonian? Palmer has an idea...

I do love Xa-Du's design. The Negative Man bandages with the glowing head and tattered cape is a great design. It is just the right mix of horror and science fiction.

The book, for the most part, is a brawl between Superman and Supergirl versus their family and friends.

Of course, this is a Batman book too. So he shows up with a red sun baton which he uses to beat up an old woman.

I always worry when all these anti-Kryptonian weapons exist in the universe. In the 'War of the Supermen'/'World of New Krypton' time period everyone had Kryptonite bullets, red sun shackles, Red Kryptonite chunks. If all that stuff existed, and if the military was so fearful of Superman, he would be dead. So I worry about Batman having something like this ...

And I am a bit tired of the 'Batman is prepared for everything' idea. If he had this red sun truncheon, why didn't he break it out in the Doomsday arc? 

 In the battle, it looks like Batman is vaporized by Superman's aunt. One more death at the extended hand of Superman's Joker?

It shows just how much under the skin of the super-cousins Xa-Du has dug.

The only way to stop them is to beat them down. I can only imagine how hard it is for Kara, who has felt so alone during this New 52 universe, to pummel her friend.

With the city's bottle broken more and more Kandorians gaining powers under the yellow sun, Superman uses his heat vision to explode the red sun baton making it a red sun grenade. The mind-controlled Kandorians are temporarily incapacitated.

And in a stroke of luck, The Atom drives the Ant Farm into Xa-Du's brain, enlarging in just the right place to strip him of his powers and send him back to the Phantom Zone. (See what I did there with 'stroke' of good luck?)

Okay ... seems like an answer plucked out of the air, a sort of deus ex machina.

Too fast? I think I had no idea that this could happen so it fell a little flat.

But that's that. Xa-Du is gone as is his control over the Kandorians.

Well ... his control is gone ... mostly.

The bottle is rebuilt. The city is safe and it's citizens awake. But 1.3% of the population remains crazed for vengeance against the El family. Superman's relatives and Tali are in that group. Kryptonian scientists have no recourse but to put those effected into a medical coma.

So it is a bittersweet victory for Superman and Supergirl. They have defeated Xa-Du but at great cost, as battles with someone like the Joker often do.

But we end on a good note. The young girl struck down by the Kandorians, the amalgam of the suicidal teens in All-Star Superman and Grounded has survived.

And this time, she gets to say to Superman that he is stronger than he thinks. That he needs to keep on doing what's right. Because he saved her.

Okay, way to stick the ending Mr. Pak. It is nice to see the dawn after seeing the darkest times before it.

While the battle in this issue and how Xa-Du is defeated were sort of missteps for me, the rest of this arc was pretty meaty. This was a dark trip for Superman. We saw him have to deal with a darker sort of villain. And now we have a real Kandor to become part of the Superman mythos.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

So Bat-God's prep time saves the day again? (Sigh) I'd hoped Pak wouldn't rely on it but considering what happened in Snyder's Batman vs Superman fight, I shouldn't be surprised. Just for once I'd like for Superman not to be upstaged by Batman, is that too much to ask?

Also, your introductory and closing comments are similar to why I'm still exasperated with Pak's run. He does have an understanding of Superman and the potential to write the right stories. But the constraints and depiction of Superman in the New 52 really harm Pak's run IMO. And Pak's been forced to do things I don't agree with on Superman.

The constant darkness and failures of his Superman have led to the nickname 'Screw-Up Man' on my forum and I don't think that name is an inaccurate one anymore. Still, this looks better than the farce coming in June.


Anj said...

Its true that Pak may have constraints put on him that limit what he can and can't write.

I do wonder if they are trying to set up a particular 'feel' for the Superman books. Go here for classic. Here for weird. Here for dark. Etc.

Anonymous said...

I think so too. Because he's definitely a classic Superman fan like you or I, not someone who wants to modernise Superman unnecessarily (no names needed I imagine.)

That could have been the case before DC's status quo in June I admit. The shoe fitted there. But Post June everything seems to be going dark and gritty. I'll come here to see your reviews of what Truth will be like but I don't have high hopes.