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Superman/Batman #81 – Meddling in the Affairs of Wizard Batman [Review]

I recently talked about how I wished more comics were presented in the stand-alone story arc format used in Northlanders, and then this week realized that this is, strangely, the approach of DC’s Superman/Batman.

It’s not a perfect comparison. Superman/Batman is a book that rewards readers who have a good background knowledge of its title characters and often requires readers to know at least the basics about any guest stars showing up. But it doesn’t demand readers to be paying strict attention to current continuity in order to appreciate the story.And it seems to be edging more toward telling longer stories, with the recent two issue Chris Roberson/Jesus Merino story now being followed by a four-issue arc, titled “Sorcerer Kings,” by writer Cullen Bunn, penciller Chriscross, and inker Marc Deering. Bunn’s supernatural western The Sixth Gun has been fantastic right from issue 1, and fans of that series will be glad to hear that Bunn’s telling a story in Superman/Batman that’s once more heavy on magic and once more off to a promising start.

Magic has been relegated to a strange position in the DC Universe. Its presence is undeniable, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of secret conspiracy of wizards actively keeping it a secret, but for the most part the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care. Granted, that’s because when you live in a universe with Superman and the Flash and the Green Lanterns and the New Gods, people aren’t going to be as easily impressed by someone who can teleport by speaking the language of forgotten mystical lords or wield a sword that shoots skull-shaped fireballs that sing death metal in Sanskrit.

Still, given that magic’s about as useful in your everyday spandex punch fight as any of other source of power, it’s a little strange that magic based heroes always end up relegated to solving problems in the much beloved but infrequently visited magic corner of the DCU. It’d be like if Green Arrow were only allowed to get involved in fighting crimes that involved archery. Yet that’s the fate of the Shadowpact, the team of magic heroes who tend to get assigned to deal with magic problems.

Bunn’s story opens with Blue Demon, Ragman and Warlock’s Daughter fighting off an army of demons swarming through a portal from an unknown source. They come to the aid of a mystery warrior wielding a giant glowing blue sword and wearing an intricately decorated suit of armor that seem to indicate he’s been raiding instances in World of Warcraft. Unfortunately, said mystery warrior doesn’t make it through the fight. Worse, he appears to be Superman, which makes the Shadowpact uneasy at best. And which makes Superman, when they find him and show him the dead body, seriously creeped out.

I’ve always liked the idea that Superman’s weak against magic. Yes, it’s a little silly that Superman can shoot heat rays and fly and have super strength because he absorbed the rays of our yellow sun and that’s how science works, but then you can kill him by taking the rabbit out of your top hat and throwing it at his face. And yes, it does beg the question of why Lex Luthor hasn’t tried wizarding Superman to death instead of relying on green, glowing, entirely scientific and non-magical rocks that drain him of his power. It’s like the man has never read Harry Potter.

It’s also a bizarre twist that a character who’s one of the clearest example of being a wish-fulfillment fantasy is in turn vulnerable to the fantasies of his own world. Bunn shows signs that he’ll be playing with Superman’s uneasiness towards and possibly even fear of magic as the series goes on, and so far he’s done a good job of showing the character’s vulnerable side by confronting him with his weaknesses and his own mortality.

Following the shocking experience of seeing what looks like his own corpse, Superman’s soon kidnapped by what is essentially alternate universe Wizard Batman. Armed with a Bat-Sword and a utility belt of mystic tools, this Batman needs another Superman to finish the mission of the one who’d been killed. The Shadowpact set off to rescue him along with the help of non-wizard Batman, who gets recruited in a scene involving Commissioner Gordon and Detective Chimp that made me realize that not enough comics have scenes between Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Detective Chimp. Take note, DC, that needs to happen at least four times a year from now on.

The art team of Chriscross and Deering are asked to supply suitable magical fireworks to accompany the story’s mystic fight scenes, where massive armies of demons are populated by many distinct and menacing creatures. Magical objects like Blue Demon’s staff and Superman’s glowing sword have fittingly ethereal appearances. The last splash page, in particular, has me excited to see what the world shown in the rest of the series will look like. And at the same time Chriscross and Deering are just as up to creating a fitting mood for a moonlit talk on top of the GCPD headquarters between two men and a monkey smoking a cigar.

“Sorcerer Kings” is off to a great start and I’ll be looking forward to seeing where the next three issues take it. If you’ve been enjoying Bunn’s The Sixth Gun, or if you’re a fan of the Shadowpact or the magical side of the DC Universe, it’s worth checking out.

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