A very enormous Superman movie opened recently, and the Man of Steel's publisher DC Comics is availing itself of the occasion to launch some new projects designed not just to entertain its existing readership but to welcome Man of Steel viewers intrigued by what they’ve seen on screen. We already discussed the first issue of Superman Unchained, the new series by DC superstars Scott Snyder and Jim Lee, and this week saw the debut of Batman/Superman, billed as the story of the first meeting of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. The book is written by recent DC recruit Greg Pak, a ComicsAlliance favorite for his work on Marvel books like Planet Hulk and Hercules, and artist Jae Lee, the former Dark Tower illustrator and popular cover artist who raised his game immensely with the visually stunning contributions to the controversial Before Watchmen project.
As was the case with Superman Unchained, the pairing of Lee and Pak has drawn some lapsed DC readers back to see what’s become of the World's Finest since their New 52 makeovers. It is mainly from the perspective of that New 52 n00b that we contemplated this auspicious new issue and noted the following Very Important Things.
Apparently Batman/Superman #1 takes place in the same city seen in the background of this website.
Together Again For The First Time (Again [And Again])
Batman/Superman is the latest in a series of high profile "first occurrence or meeting of [something]" books DC has published since rebooting its entire superhero line in 2011. Other major examples include Justice League (seen above), Zero Year and some of the fifty-two #0 issues released last year.
The preponderance of deranged individuals in Gotham may have something to do with its incredibly weird public art and parks.
This is possibly the first time Superman has been given the finger in a DC Comics publication. That "the finger" gesture is made by a minority youth invites a deeper reading of the bullying scene as a political allusion, with Batman representing an aspect of Western power that wishes to see international conflicts resolved by the specific parties involved without interfering directly, and Superman representing what some might characterize as America's sanctimonious and ultimately unhelpful "Hall Monitor" posturing in affairs of the East.
Alternatively, this kid is pissed that Clark Kent broke the 7th rule of Fight Club.
Catwoman: Wanted Murderer?
The story implies that Catwoman is responsible for at least three murders and one attempted murder, all in Metropolis. Although it's made plain later that Selina was possessed by some kind of ghostly villain, it will be interesting to see if there are repercussions for her reputation in this title or elsewhere.
On this page Jae Lee makes two things very plain: he is totally over drawing circle-based layouts since Before Watchmen: Ozymandius; and he is calling out JH Williams III, Matt Wagner, Tony Harris and anyone else who wants to play the nontraditional page design game. This is both a beautiful piece of visual art and effective storytelling. Great contributions from colorist June Chung and letter Rob Leigh, as well.
Greg Pak and Jae Lee are very adept at choosing just the right moments for splash pages. Each one is a major action beat rather than the sort of dramatic pose or "reveal" that has become vogue in recent cape comics, When Jae Lee and June Chung are illustrating your comic, every panel is a dramatic pose or reveal, so splashes become even more important.
The World's Finest Tradition
It is has become World's Finest tradition that Superman make the incorrect assumption about Batman upon first meeting. This goes all the way back to John Byrne's Man of Steel, the 1980s Superman reboot that saw Superman travel to Gotham in an effort to arrest the dangerous masked vigilante. In that case, Batman actually kept Superman at arm's length by telling him that an explosive device would kill an innocent person should Superman get too close (it was a bluff, the explosive device was hidden on Batman all along). Years later in Superman: The Animated Series, it was Batman who ran afoul of Superman when he followed the Joker to Metropolis. Superman used his x-ray vision to peek at the the Dark Knight's true identity, but Batman subdued Superman with a piece of Kryptonite before executing what is surely one of the most brutal pwnings in superhero history. But things aren't so cute in the New 52, where Pak and Lee observe and update the tradition for modern sensibilities by having Superman mistake Batman for a murderous "monster," and the ensuing conflict brings down a good chunk of a building.
Pak makes a point of having his enigmatic antagonist describe both Batman and Superman as "young, angry and raw," illustrating a key difference between these new versions of the characters and not just their classic idioms, but also the slightly older (but still newish) versions seen in more recently in Scott Snyder's Batman and Superman Unchained. The latter of which we praised specifically for most effectively reconciling the familiar Man of Steel with the New 52's concept of a younger and less experienced Superman.
Earlier in this issue, dueling narration was used to express stark differences between the way Clark and Bruce think, but it seems that in their "masked" guises, they have more in common -- specifically, violent tendencies -- than either suspects.
Taken together, Park's Batman/Superman and Snyder's Batman and Superman Unchained begin to paint a cohesive picture of these heroes' emotional evolutions in the new DC Comics canon.
Superman Hits Batman So Hard The Artwork Completely Changes
Ben Oliver is very good (we especially loved his work on the recent Origin of He-Man one-shot), but the change in styles is jarring. It wouldn't be fair to speculate as to why Batman/Superman #1 has two artists -- perhaps it was planned that way all along? -- but Pak accounts for the shift by having his characters literally teleport to a different place and maybe even a different reality; we don't know by the issue's end.
If this inaugural Batman/Superman storyline is to play out across multiple realities or timelines, then collaborating with different artists for each of those sections is a good solution with a lot of precedent. Let's just hope Jae Lee returns to continue the story of the heroes' new first meeting.
This book -- the digital version, anyway -- comes with a cool switcheroo pin-up section where Superman artist Kenneth Rocafort dedicates his contribution to the Dark Knight, while longtime Gothamite Guillem March puts the Man of Steel front and center. One of Top Cow's most successful graduates and a New 52 mainstay, Rocafort's known for pages loaded with kinetic energy and stuffed with tiny details. Here he's taking a page from the Jae Lee cover design manual, keeping things sparse and spooky with a portrait of Batman while a distinctly moody Superman hovers in the background.
March is known for his sexy pin-up girls but uses this opportunity to render Gotham City in grand fashion, full of dark intricacies that contrast strikingly with his vaguely ligne claire Superman, who stands out boldly against the gothic background like a bright neon light in the dark.
We are absolutely in favor of cool cover concepts like this and of including pin-ups in comic books. Hopefully DC will invite more artists to participate as Batman/Superman continues.