Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Spotlight: Batman/Superman #1

(w) Greg Pak
(a) Jae Lee and Ben Oliver


Batman/Superman #1 is already being touted as the best #1 since the initial 'New 52' relaunch in September 2011. I'm inclined to agree. You'd be hard pressed to find another debut issue in the lineup that has as much grace, style, and readability as Batman/Superman #1. The creative pairing of Greg Pak and Jae Lee is an instant success and is simply stunning to behold. What really makes this issue shine, though, is how new it actually feels. Batman/Superman has been marketed as a series chronicling the early days of both the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel, and this initial arc is about the duo's first meeting.

The whole "first meeting" thing has been done on a number of occasions, in various mediums, but there's one major element that connects all these depictions: how each character feels about the other. Batman always just considered Superman an overly optimistic boy scout-type who had the luxury of trusting people because he was a demigod, while Superman saw Batman as a depressed loner who relied too heavily on fear and anger to drive his mission. Pak's Batman/Superman #1 basically throws out the old handbook and gives these two major players an entirely new relationship.

But a lot is different in the 'New 52', which means Batman and Superman's relationship must be based on something different. In the old universe, both men knew of the other prior to meeting, which gave them to chance to develop preconceived notions about one another. Batman/Superman #1 begins in a time when Clark was still sporting the tee shirt and jeans costume, and Batman was still an urban myth. The term 'superhero' hasn't been coined yet because it's not a reality yet. This is the world where Batman and Superman meet for the first time; not with a population that knows and accepts what superheroes are and mean.

Both men, interestingly enough, become defensive in the face of the unknown. 

For Batman, Superman represents the culmination of what he cannot learn: superhuman abilities. There is no tactical compensation for super speed and a punch that can crush a semi truck, only quick thinking and dumb luck. Bruce immediately assumes the worst and defends himself against an alien he's sure is intent on destroying him. Batman's response wonderfully conveys the type of paranoia and over-analysis he's known for, but it also reminds us how foreign and frightening a seemingly invulnerable man must seem to a mortal man.

Superman, on the other hand, becomes aggressive when he misinterprets Batman as a criminal attempting to murder a child. He's "fought bullies, mobsters, and neo-Nazis", but Batman is the first real monster, "a murderer dressed up as a bat." Clark's ability to sense heart rates distinguishes Batman's as the most calm, the most collected, the most like a murderer when everyone else is scared out of their minds. The nature of Superman's abilities and his relative inexperience at this stage in his career both lend to his snap judgement about Batman's intentions.

Jae Lee's artwork really seals the deal. Few artists can truly depict emotion through body language, yet Lee makes it look easy. The way Batman's body crunches in when Superman slaps him away, Clark's stance as he incinerates a TV set falling directly above him, the way the children in the opening scene interact -- all of these ar examples of how Lee's amazing art lends to the storytelling.

Batman/Superman #1 is a triumph. This is the right book at the right time with the right creative team. Though Ben Oliver hands the artwork for the last seven pages, Lee's influence on the tone throughout is evident. Greg Pak has such a handle on both characters, their inspirations, their passions, their fears, and their impulses as young men. This is the series that I didn't even know I wanted, and now I would write a strongly worded letter to DC if they said I couldn't have it anymore.


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