*Some Spoilers Ahead*
Batman/Superman #18 is the third chapter in a new story by Greg Pak and Adrian Syaf focusing on a mysterious killer described as “Superman’s Joker”. The killer has been targeting Superman’s closest friends in an attempt to break the Man of Steel’s heart. Despite knowing the world’s greatest detective and most powerful psychic, Superman is unable to discover the killer’s identity, but in Batman/Superman #18 Batman has a plan.
Pak features some very clever moments in this issue. During the execution of Batman’s plan, there is a page of dialogue that acts as foreshadowing. The exchange between Batman and Superman is soaked in irony discussing one subject when it is clearly about another. Pak goes on to explain this reversal later in the issue, but observant readers will easily understand what is actually occurring and recognize what will come next as a result. The dialogue also focuses upon the central relationship of Batman/Superman providing a nice moment of characterization, saying what these two characters may never admit. Pak’s revelation of the murder weapon itself is a fun twist, and one that builds tension within the story. The weapon is explored earlier in the issue, but in a way that prevents it from being easily guessed. This all allows the splash page reveal to land without any words being necessary.
The plotting of Batman’s plan ignores Pak’s generally good sense of character, and seems lazy after the fact. He sets up Lois Lane (with her permission) to be shot by the killer and plans on Superman arriving in time to save her. It is a plan that relies primarily on luck and places all of the risk on another person’s head. The fact that Superman cannot stop the bullet reveals that if Batman’s plan had succeeded, then Lois Lane would be dead. This goes beyond the general complaint that character A would not do B. It is a scenario that depicts Batman as willing to risk innocent lives and to do so in a sloppy manner. The entire episode is inconsistent with Pak’s presentation of the character as a careful plotter who acts heroically to preserve life. It is an example of plot driving character, rather than character driving plot.
Syaf’s compositions of all this action are well done. He consistently applies varying distances and points of view to maintain engaging visuals even in long dialogue-driven sequences. His style and design are an imitation of Jim Lee’s and feature excessive linework. This isn’t an issue (beyond personal taste) in most panels, with the notable exceptions of close ups. In Syaf’s close up panels, the gratuitous use of lines creates inconsistent appearances and shadows. Faces are twisted under the weight of the work and handsome characters are rendered unappealing. Lee’s self-serious and over-rendered design sensibilities are present in the final page in a set of new characters whose costumes are lifeless and unengaging.
The inclusion of three distinct inkers, Jonathan Glapion, Sandra Hope Archer, and Jamie Mendoza, does the art no favors. Their inking styles are similar enough that transitions between them are not jarring like in Forever Evil, but they are still noticeable. The texture of the art fluctuates slightly throughout the issue creating a faint distraction.
Batman/Superman #18 is an imperfect continuation upon an interesting concept. Pak is placing both of his leading characters under tremendous pressure, and detailing their emotional responses excellently. Lazy plotting and characterization like Batman’s in this issue detract from the impact of that situation. Syaf’s artwork tells the story well, but has begun to appear rushed under a monthly schedule with several inkers. This is an issue that would have been well served by one or two more weeks to iron out the wrinkles.