Batman/Superman, Vol. 2: Game Over
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Brett Booth, Jae Lee, R.B. Silva, Kenneth Roccafort, Philip Tan, Scott McDaniel, Norm Rapmund, Joe Weems.
Colorists: Andrew Dalhouse, June Chung, Jason Wright, Neil Ruffino, Hi Fi
This is the volume two trade edition of the Batman/Superman (New 52) series, focusing on the early days of their time as … friends? … frenemies? Too soon to tell. By focusing on how Clark and Bruce are negotiating their relationship, the creators manage to sidestep the eternal World’s Finest conundrum: what the heck are these two guys doing hanging out together? Seriously, what is there for Batman to do when Superman is around … oh, yeah, kryptonite. Yawn. The question lingers into this new series a bit, as when Batman (spoiler!) defeats Mongul on his own and proves that any hero is powerful enough to defeat any villain by page 23.
Okay, cynicism purged, let me warn you that I’m about to use some heavy language and assert some strong judgments.
First, Jae Lee is doing the most beautiful work of any artist in superhero comics today. Yeah, I said that.
How do I know?
Maybe it was the crushing depression I felt when I opened up this volume (which reprints Batman/Superman 5-9, Annual 1, and World’s Finest 20-21) and saw that the art was by not-Jae-Lee … I mean, Brett Booth. No, I have nothing against Brett Booth, but (and here’s the second strong judgment) the first Batman/Superman volume (Cross Worlds) was the single best Earth 1/Earth 2 story I’ve ever read (and I have read more than my fair share) and Jae Lee’s art (and the June Chung/Dan Brown colors) were so central to Cross Worlds volume that I was eagerly (intently, longingly, fervently, hungrily) awaiting more of the Lee/Pak team — especially since Lee executed the cover of the volume (do you see the look on Cyborg’s face? Isn’t that precious?)
No Jae Lee for the first few stories. That was a blow. But writer Pak and Booth do a great job with the first story. Introducing Toy Master as a young video designer (a rake with a heart of gold) who is somehow tangled up with Dark Forces using his tech against Bats and Supes. It’s a good story, and Pak/Booth do a great job using parallel layout structures to compare/contrast Bruce and Clark. Every turn of the page brings up a landscape-oriented spread so comprehensive that I had to reorient my e-reader. A lot of zooming and scrolling going on, but well worth it.
The next story, though … blah. I find Mongul to be one of the most boring villains in the DCU. An idiot Thanos replica who lacks even the minimal charms of a Doomsday. Ugh. Thus, bias revealed, if you like Mongul, you may like this story. That’s the best I can say, at least until Jae Lee returns. And then … wondrous!
Mongul’s son emerges as the next Big Bad (much more interesting!) and the action shifts to Warworld. Also, Supergirl, Red Hood, Cyborg, Batgirl, and Krypto enter the tale. Be still … my … heart. An embarrassment of riches! This stuff is beautiful, playful, stylistic. And I’m convinced that Pak is inspired by Lee’s work. I do not know this for a fact and if Pak wants to disabuse me of that notion, I will acquiesce to his chastening … but Pak does all of the writing for this volume, and the writing for the Lee sections is sublime while the writing for the other sections is only very good.
In the final story, Powergirl and Huntress come into the young Bats-Supes-verse from Earth 2. Though PG and H are about the same age as Our Heroes, the fact that they are the cousin and daughter of Bats-Supes of the other world makes for some very interesting and very subtle (good writing!) character moments. (And I have to say again: Huntress is Batman’s daughter! I don’t know who thought having Huntress be “Helena Bertinelli,” the daughter of a gangster would be more interesting than her being the daughter of frickin’ Batman … but I hope their dosage has been adjusted.) Cross overs with World Finest (drawn by other not-Jae-Lees) reinforce my pro-Jae Lee sentiments, but the thrust of the whole arc (tying into the Earth 2 Darkseid tomfoolery) is wonderful and satisfying.
Verdict? I would buy it, yeah. But I am going to be buying everything that Jae Lee touches from now on. My fanaticism may not be the guide for you. I love this stuff because it gets at the implications of these two characters getting together (without the Sturm and Drang of Miller’s Dark Knight books), and does so honestly and compassionately while giving great story. You are invited to empathize with both Batman and Superman. If that’s your thing … along with the most beautiful comic art on the planet … then, yeah, buy it.
Bonus Batgirl pic because … Jae Lee!