Greg Pak and Jae Lee this week launched Batman/Superman, one of DC's two most-anticipated titles of the year, the other being the recently-launched Superman Unchained. And like Unchained, Batman/Superman shows a lot of potential--but tries to accomplish a little too much in the first issue and, combining that with an artist who doesn't seem quite at home with the tights-and-flights crowd, feels a little off-base. There's a lot of good to be had in this first issue, but it's far from perfect. Greg Pak's character-driven script works pretty well, delving into a little of what drives both Superman and Batman in the opening pages, and giving Superman a bit of a lesson in humility when, disguised as Clark Kent, he believes himself to have gotten one over on the supposedly-incognito Bruce Wayne. That Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent meet before Batman and Superman ever do feels like a story beat that's been explored before--but I can't remember just where. In any event, it works nicely, especially in that--at least so far--they don't know one another's secrets just yet.
When it moves into the superhero territory, frankly, is when it's less convincingly great. Clark Kent, having called Bruce's attention to a mystery in Metropolis, inadvertently summoned Batman there and, when Superman arrives, Batman and Catwoman are fighting when Superman arrives and mistakes Batman as the villain (here, Catwoman has been possessed by an otherworldly force that compels her to kill). After a brief brains-versus-brawn showdown in which Superman and Batman end up someplace quite different from where you'd imagine. There, we get to see a shocking guest star for the end of the issue. The character development seemed to stand still a bit once action entered the equation, with these two characters both kind of mindlessly bashing away at the other. That can be problematic, especially for fans who are used to seeing both of these characters be reasonable and who are fairly accustomed to the pair having a friendship. Certainly it's a legitimate way to portray them as young hotheads who are running into each other for the first time, though. Especially Superman, whose first Action Comics appearances frequently depicted him as spouting off without thinking a bit. And on a meta level, it's fun to see the first two superheroes be the first characters ever to do the meet-fight-team-up dance. The issue raised a few questions for me--and while Pak clearly meant to raise some questions about the nature of Earth-2, it's not clear that any of these will actually be answered in the coming issues, so they seem worth making a note of here:
- If Jonathan Kent was alive after Superman was Superman on Earth 2, does that mean that the Earth 2 of the New 52 is more like the post-COIE earth than ours?
- After Catwoman awoke, apparently totally unaware of her location or what she'd been doing, did anyone ever tell her that she had apparently committed three murders earlier in the week?
- For that matter, Batman didn't seem to recognize Superman at all when they first encounter one another. A guy who can leap tall buildings and shoot fire from his eyes seems pretty likely to garner media attention, so are we suggesting that Catwoman existed in costume before Superman had been around for long enough that anybody much noticed him? That seems odd, especially after making Superman "the first" was one of the big things DC wanted to do by removing the JSA generation.
The difficulty is that the whole issue just felt...confusing. I like Jae Lee's work on specialty projects like Before Watchmen, but was skeptical that he was a good fit for something so mainstream as Superman and Batman, and this issue (or the first eighteen pages, which he drew, with Ben Oliver taking over the last few pages) did little to win me over. In the final pages of the story, the pair are brought to Earth-2, which I know only because I've seen the solicitations for the next issue. Other reviews I've read have suggested that they were shunted to their own future, so the signal was clearly not sent wide and strong. And the confusion that Superman feels when he's thrown into a situation where he's fighting a second Batman, this time in Smallville, with a totally different costume and who is (to his ears) ranting at him like a maniac (Earth-2's Batman thinks that he's Earth-2's Superman, and so talks to him as a familiar person) is mirrored by the sense of disconcert that came through much of the issue's art. While they might have been going for that feel--in which case, they succeeded admirably--it's hard to shake the impression that it's just a muddy and confusing book for me. Even the pages where the layouts were clever and the art itself beautiful, it just didn't feel quite right and Pak's writing, very quiet and character-centric, didn't quite offset the parts that didn't work for me. On a second and then a third reading, it was clearer and more enjoyable--but it seems to me that many fans wouldn't go that far.