BATMAN/SUPERMAN #1 – Perfection on Paper

batmansuperman1BATMAN/SUPERMAN #1
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Jae Lee
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

Perfection on paper. The only thing I didn’t enjoy about BATMAN/SUPERMAN 1 is the fact it didn’t come out 22 months ago. Pak and Lee have effectively given me exactly what I wanted from the New 52 by recreating the true beating heart of this universe from the beginning. BATMAN/SUPERMAN is the collision of optimism and cynicism, light and dark, hope and despair. It’s the superhero embodiment of life and the human condition. And it comes enveloped in lush art and deep mystery. AND IT WAS THE RIGHT WAY TO RELAUNCH THE DAMN UNIVERSE!!!!!!

As far back as FINAL CRISIS I cried out for DC to reboot; the universe had become too cumbersome and complex to sustain itself, much less welcome new readers. I asked them quite simply to launch with two titles: ACTION and DETECTIVE. It was my belief that the other characters of the DC Universe were contrivances of another age. In my wild fantasies I imagined a universe that would begin with Batman and Superman, and then introduce new superpowered companions more indicative of today slowly, patiently, organically from story instead of forcing the stories into the characters. As much as I love Booster Gold, the man and the future he came from were reflections of us looking outward from the optimistic 80s; likewise for many other of the 52 titles that time has now proved were no longer necessary (at least that’s how I view cancellations). I got my wish with EARTH 1, but my unborn child will be in college by the time those books reach issue 10. Thankfully, I can now delightfully rejoice in the corrective measure on the more rapidly scheduled BATMAN/SUPERMAN . No, it’s not going to cancel out 50 other titles, but I can tell just after one issue it will add the much-needed steak to the less than soulful sizzle that birthed the New 52 in the land of “5 years before.”

Actually, totally forget “5 years before”, because this book simply starts “years ago.” I give kudos to the team for addressing my chiding and fan outcry about this corner DC painted itself into (especially when you start doing the math on how long Bruce Wayne would have had each ward), and I give congratulations if it was an accident. Either way, this nebulous time that was is far more palatable than an actual number.

Secret identities first, powers later. This was another misstep, in my opinion, from the New 52 launch. We got all action and no heart. In BATMAN/SUPERMAN we open with Clark Kent hunting down Bruce Wayne for a story about Wayne Enterprises. Even the inner dialog of both men is surprisingly without powers, as both reflect on the lessons taught to them by their parents. The ray of light that was cast by the Kent’s and the dark pall of the Wayne’s deaths in part created these heroes; it should be the first thing that’s acknowledged when retelling their origins. The next thing that needs to be addressed is the environments that they grew up in. If one part nature, one part nurture is right, what we see and absorb as children is just as instrumental as DNA in shaping who we are. We learn about the soul-sucking nature of Gotham from Clark’s POV as he traverses the streets looking for his story.

Once the two meet, back when Bruce wore a stocking cap as much as he wore the cowl, the book shifts into sixth gear. A fight between children that Clark chooses to interrupt as Bruce sits creepily on a park bench introduces in one scene their different ideologies of self-sufficiency versus the need to protect all life. You’ll gain a much greater respect for Lex Luthor’s hatred of Superman for depriving us of our own evolution once you read Bruce’s rationale for letting the fight continue…well, at least I did.

After Bruce tells Clark to bugger off we get into the meat–excuse me, plot–of the story. It was already pretty meaty on characterization up until this point. Bruce ends up in Metropolis on the trail of someone killing Wayne Enterprises executives. I won’t spoil who the killer is; suffice to say, though, she is merely a puppet of the arc’s true big baddie. Here’s also where Bats and Supes meet for the first time in costume…well, at least I think it is. I thought the first time they met was in JUSTICE LEAGUE 1; however, all that Ecstasy I was dropping back in ‘11 could have clouded my memory.

This scene doesn’t last for long, though, since the killer was merely bait to bring Batman and Superman together so Superman could be boom-tubed to a corn field in Kansas. The person behind the booming remains a mystery, all we know is she speaks in cryptic verse and is presumably a denizen of Apokalips. The where, however, is not the cool part–it’s the when. T-shirt Superman ends up face-to-face with today’s Batman, packing a Kryptonite shield. The boys tussle until things are broken up with the appearance of Pa Kent.

BATMAN/SUPERMAN poses a lot of questions as a first issue should, but those questions also lead to a scrutiny of what has come before. In JUSTICE LEAGUE 1 it was the first time anyone saw a boom tube; likewise, as I mentioned earlier, it was supposed to be the first meeting between Bats and Supes. I mean, they both say it so it must have been true. This book exudes subtle layers of genius in art and story. Lee makes every panel worth examining in some of the most original layouts I’ve seen all year. It’s the direct opposite of the universe’s bombastic and superficial launch of yore. I just hope, though, we’re not in for a ret-con, an easy mind wipe that will make young Superman forget these events, or–the worst of all sins–not even acknowledging these continuity landmines. If you have bailed on DC, come back for this book alone. For those of us who have remained steadfast fans, do yourselves a favor and forget all that has come before to truly revel in this book’s goodness.

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