Jun 27 2013

Review: Batman/Superman #1

Batman/Superman #1 - Jae Lee

A classic team-up returns to recap their first meeting in glorious Jae Lee art. Yet this may not be everything that it seems.

Batman/Superman #1 (2013)

Batman/Superman #1 Cover

WriterGreg Pak

Artist: Jae Lee, Ben Oliver

Publisher: DC Comics

Rating:  ★★★★½

More info

One of the casualties of the post-Flashpoint DC world was the excellent team-up book Superman/Batman, originated by Jeph Loeb back in 2003 and running under various artists and writers until the line-wide termination in 2011. Itself an update of the classic World’s Finest Comics series that regularly featured DC’s best and brightest teaming up, its return to the New 52 also signals a renewed focus on teaming-up great writers and artists in an environment that allows them to explore character nuance on a far deeper level.

Like the previous run of the similarly-titled book, Batman/Superman is allowed to neatly side-step the current continuity and tell stories important to the titular characters. It begins with the historic first meeting of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. The former is trying to disguise himself as street tough, while the latter has just arrived in Gotham and can’t help but being a big boy scout. They think  they have each other’s numbers immediately, but as the story pans out with the introduction of Catwoman, it becomes obvious that both are missing important pieces of the puzzle. Clark, for example, is wearing the t-shirt and jeans combo that would suggest the early days of his career, but a few lines from Bruce/Batman suggest that some time/space mishap might have occurred.

Greg Pak instantly puts us on familiar turf by using Loeb’s original motif of running Clark and Bruce’s inner monologues throughout the panels. Beginning with parallel memories of their formative years, father figures loom large in the monologues, giving new readers mini-origins to help ease them in. For established readers, these parallels might actually give a fresh perspective on the similarities between Kal-El and Bruce’s origins. Reflecting on the respective deaths of their parents, Bruce says it best: “That’s what Kent can never understand. He wants answers. But sometimes there aren’t any.” This motif adds extra tension to a fight scene between the two characters, as they trade mental blows without throwing a single punch. When the hits do come, you feel every bit of reasoning behind them.

Jae Lee’s art is intricately detailed and stunning in its simplicity. His opening shot of Gotham city frames the panels within the arches of its gothic architecture, a twisted and nightmarish vision that would not be out of place in one of Richard Corben’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. Similar to his work on Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, Lee sometimes uses a light touch on Superman, as though his gentle giant of a presence effortlessly lights up the world he is in. By contrast, Batman inhabits his panels completely, his cape and cowl wrapped into the very fabric of his city, and darkness follows him. A title page spread shows this contrast nicely in fanning panels,  Clark’s fused with the autumnal colours of hope and courage, and Bruce’s the greys and browns of darkness and revenge. Even though much of the book is set in Metropolis, it’s this darker framing that dominates. Indeed, the introduction of Superman’s adopted city literally frames the page in an art deco motif, one that Batman smashes through to bring his brand of “nightmares” to the city. As the story changes tone and location radically, so too does the artist, with the final six pages delivered by Ben Oliver. It’s an on choice for a first issue, but not one that is entirely inconsistent with the story structure.

After some especially strong one-shots featuring this team-up in James Tynion IV and Alex Maleev’s “Ghost Lights” backup for Batman, the New 52 version of Batman/Superman proves that a mature and compelling union of these characters is possible in an ongoing series. It’s early days yet, but Pak and Lee have laid the groundwork for a terrific exploration of what makes these characters tick. It will be interesting to see if the multiversity of the initial story arc can carry the emotional weight of the story they have set up so far.

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  1. Cover Story: Best Comic Book Covers of June 2013 » Behind The Panels

    […] The first issue of the returning Batman/Superman team-up, in the grand tradition of World’s Finest Comics, is worth picking up simply for Jae Lee’s idiosyncratic art. We have quite literally never seen Batman or Superman like this before, and it just gets weirder inside. Full review for issue here. […]

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