A Good Start or a Flawed Beginning?
The Pre Flashpoint Superman/Batman series was amongst one of the first comic book titles I picked up when I started buying comics monthly in 2007. With hindsight, I can see it wasn’t that great. A few issues here and there had something to them and an annual by Joe Kelly was amazingly good. But I eventually realised it wasn’t that good or in continuity. So I dropped it. Now, a new version of this title has been introduced written by Greg Pak and with art by Jae Lee. Does this first issue live up to my expectations or sink to the level of past writers on this title?
Immediately from the get go, Pak gets off to a very strong start writing these two iconic characters. Without a doubt, Pak’s introduction is the best thing about this issue. It involves a kid getting bullied and Clark and Bruce’s individual ways of reacting to it. Not only does Pak write it in a way that plays out brilliantly, he effectively uses the scene to demonstrate the differences between Clark and Bruce. Although they are both trying to do the right thing, in this case stop the bullying of the kid, both have a different approach to doing it. Clark is more willing to step in and stop the immediate threat to the kid. If the bullies came back, Clark would do the same thing. Bruce, on the other hand, would have allowed the kid to grow a spine and take matters into his own hand about defending himself from the bullies. This may well have stopped the bullying from occurring if they knew he was willing to defend himself. Both approaches are admirable things to do but this highlights the distinctiveness between Clark and Bruce. Also, I liked that Pak focused on the men behind the costumes first rather than Superman and Batman. Obviously, it’s Clark Kent that makes Superman the man he is rather than being Superman. Learning how to be human and the best he could be first is a key aspect to Superman and I’m glad Pak picked up on it. Likewise, although Batman is more accurate representation of who Bruce is, it is Bruce Wayne who defines Batman’s mission.
Afterwards, Clark and Bruce engage in a conversation and it’s the internal thought dialogue that stands out here. Pak makes the voices of each character clear in this sequence. From Clark being able to notice what Bruce has done the night before to Bruce’s comments on Clark being sanctimonious, I greatly enjoyed the thoughts each character had about the other. We then get that nice two page spread which really displays some intriguing backstory on each character. So far, so good for Pak.
Next, we zip to Metropolis and a fight between Catwoman, Batman, some Waynetech robots and Superman. This is where things get a tad confusing. It’s very unclear why a Wayne employee is unable to pick up on the cue that since Batman knew the code for activating the robots, he must have something to do with Wayne Enterprises. I mean it may be years until that announcement is publically made but Pak drops the ball in making such an obvious error. Despite this mistake, Pak does make the first impressions between Superman and Batman an entertaining one. The execution of this is spot on as Superman is angered by Batman’s calmness at the scene whereas Batman is worried about Superman’s sheer power. But this fight is also frayed by time/space distortions along with a pointless WTF was that for moment regarding Catwoman. Although it adds to the mystery of what Pak is doing, it doesn’t help the clarity of this issue much. When it’s unclear what exactly is going on in the issue, Pak doesn’t help himself by diving further into the mess.
As for the ending, this will leave some readers confused too. You’ll wonder who a certain character is and how Superman and Batman ended up in the place that they did at the end of the issue. Certainly then, the first half of the issue outweighs the second in overall story telling quality.
Now for the art. I’m not familiar with Jae Lee so some research was required. His past work includes Inhumans with Paul Jenkins, The Sentry, the Ozymandias series in the Before Watchmen line amongst other things. After taking that in, I have to say, as a freshman to Jae Lee’s style, it needs to grow on me. His Gotham panels were excellently portrayed I must admit. The towering shadows play well to Lee’s style and the gothic architecture of Gotham is expertly drawn to give the city the distinctive feel it usually has in the comics. Lee delivers on Gotham having a presence. But his weak spots, in my opinion, are his facial expressions. They lack emotion or a gravitas to them which alienates the reader into feeling too invested in the characters. For some reason, Ben Oliver takes over art duties for the last 5 pages and whilst his style is more humanising, I’m not a fan of multiple artists in one title. The switch over feels disjointed despite Lee and Oliver’s similar styles. Once I’m used to Lee’s style, it might grow on me.
Whilst the story is not perfect and the art has its flaws, this is a good start to Pak’s tenure as Batman/Superman writer. This issue is fun to read and has some excellent moments which stay true to the core of the characters involved. Plus there’s a set up for what Pak has planned in the next issue. Hopefully the fault s in this issue can serve as a point of reference for Pak and Lee to correct in the next issue.