Reviews

Review: Batman Superman 1: Fast Friends? (Spoilers)

John Byrne's Superman
John Byrne’s Superman

When I first heard that Batman Superman was going to be released, I actually had to consider whether I would add it to my pull list or not. A shocking revelation, I know. Here’s another shocking admission: I have not been a huge fan of Superman, over the years. I know, I know–heresy; bear with me and don’t stop reading. Superman, to me, has always been difficult to relate to. He’s perfect, has all of the best powers, and great looking and well-respected by citizens and heroes alike. I cannot relate to any of that on a personal level. I did collect John Byrne‘s run in the 80’s primarily because it was Byrne, but also due to the promise that his powers were being reduced to make him less invincible. For some strange reason, I also liked Grant Morrison‘s Eisner Award winning series All-Star SupermanIt wasn’t because I could relate his Superman any better. I just felt that the challenges Morrison threw at his Superman were worthy of him. They were completely outlandish, in that Morrison way, and so, in my mind, the story and hero matched. It sounds odd, I know, but if I never see another story about how some normal guy uses Kryptonite to bring Superman down, it will still be too soon. Blame television and movies if you like, since they are most guilty of using the Kryptonite crutch, but it’s how I feel.

Batman, on the other hand, is a guy I completely understand. He is a singularly motivated, driven, alpha-male who wants nothing more than to help people and protect those he cares about, at any cost. He’s the hero I would be if that sort of thing was really possible. When the incredulous Justice League confronted him over having a plan for taking them down if they ever went rogue, I got it. They felt betrayed, but Batman was right to have that plan, he just should have taken better care of it. He surrounds himself with needy and disenfranchised young people and, like a surrogate father, he raises them to be self-sufficient.

Most people consider Batman and Superman complete opposites. One has massive powers, the other doesn’t. One is an iconic leader of men, the other is a seeming introvert. One is powered by the sun, the other thrives in the shadows. One is respected, the other is feared. I see through all of that to some parallels as well. Both heroes are loyal, almost to a fault. The most intriguing trait that they share is that their identity and alter-ego are flipped. Most comic book superheroes hide their identity behind a mask to protect their “real-life” family and friends. These two heroes are the mask, using their alter egos to support and protect their hero identities. Judging just from the first issue, I’d have to say that Greg Pak may be looking to explore this parallel. Pak has them meet for the first time as Bruce and Clark, not as their heroic identities. They immediately distrust each other. Pak explained in an interview, “They don’t even know about other superheroes. So when they first bump into each other, they immediately assume the other guy is the most dangerous guy on the planet. And you know what? Each guy might be right about that.”

Batman Superman 1, Cover by Jae Lee
Batman Superman 1, Cover by Jae Lee

Obviously, I did buy Issue #1, or this review would be over by now. My curiosity was piqued. Greg Pak (Herc, Alpha Flight) is writing for DC Comics for the first time, and he will have the best toys in the toy box to play with. Jae Lee‘s (Before Watchmen: Ozymandias) art is incredible. He has a dark, eerie style that pulls you into the emotion on the page. He is one of a few artists whose style is perfect for Batman. The big question is how he will handle the iconic, sun-powered Superman? It’s hard to say at this point, since the scenes with Superman in costume are generally dark, in this issue. The last six pages, which bring Superman to the light, are drawn by Ben Oliver (Batwing) seemingly to separate the locations (and possibly times). The cover is Lee’s and shows, in no uncertain terms, the artist’s understanding of the characters. Batman is emerging from the darkness, his cape (wings) extended, his face shrouded in darkness. Superman is taking flight behind him, an iconic pose, his face bathed in sunlight. Simply brilliant!

 

Batwing by Ben Oliver
Batwing by Ben Oliver

Greg Pak’s writing is solid. It’s simple but shows an understanding of all four characters. Yes, I consider Bruce and Clark separate characters from their heroic counterparts. He adds some humor to the story, with a kid flipping off Clark after he saves him from a bully, without diminishing the tension. Pak writes the story from both perspectives and does so without flashbacks, or repetition. The two men size each other up immediately. Bruce sees Clark as sanctimonious hero wanna-be, Clark sees Bruce as a care-free playboy who sees the people around him as fodder. Wayne Enterprises employees are being killed, both men want to know why, so they can stop the murderer. Enter Catwoman, the alleged killer, who is stalking her next victim as she is interrupted by Batman. In the ensuing melee Superman shows up and history is made. The obligatory, but necessary in this case, hero vs. hero fight ensues. Batman immediately realizes he’s in trouble. He laments the situation through internal monologue, “If he sneezes, I’m dead.” Superman is wary of his opponent, but doesn’t show it, thinking to himself, “I’ve fought bullies, mobsters, and Neo-Nazis.  But, this might be my first monster.” So much for fast friends. As the story progresses, Catwoman is revealed as nothing more than a pawn of some sort of creature that had possessed her. The entity sees its chance at a better target, The Man of Steel. This is where the scene (and maybe the time) changes to Smallville, art courtesy of Ben Oliver. In this part of the story Batman knows Superman is Clark, but Superman is confused and enraged and ready to kill Batman. No explanation is given to explain these drastic plot changes, but you have to leave something for next issue. As Superman squeezes Batman’s throat, what great hero shows up to save the day? Who else but Jonathan Kent, Clark’s father, of course. There is my missing connection to Superman! The man who raised him, like my step-father, did so without question, never doubting that this boy was his son, regardless of genetics. I have something in common with Superman!

Batman Superman 2
Batman Superman 2

 

As I finished the story and looked back over the pages, I no longer had any doubts about adding this book to my pull list. I am confident that Pak and Lee will provide us with a tale worthy of two of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. I want to see just what it is that draws these two people together. With so many differences, yet still so much in common, how could they become friends and eventually brothers. I am a character guy. I do love a great fight scene too, but the fights mean more when you understand what motivates the combatants. I think we’re going to bear witness to a character study of these two heroes who sacrifice so much to protect those around them. After Issue 1 of Batman Superman, I am along for the ride. Counting down until next month, 30…29…

 

About the author

John Kowalski

John is a veteran of the United States Air Force. He is currently a retail manager in a company who shall remain nameless. He is the father of three awesome children, despite his parenting. He has loved comics, books, television, movies, and gaming for as long as he can remember, and uses any excuse to escape into worlds of fantasy and intrigue. His Dad called his room the Bat Cave when he was growing up and had no idea of the significance.

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