Saturday, 7 December 2013

Rescuing Strays - Batman/Superman #1-4

Jack Meldrum introduces a new column, looking at recent comic book stories you may have overlooked or missed out on. We kick off this first instalment with a look at the New 52 Batman/Superman title.

Right now, the Grek Pak-penned Batman/Superman is kicking off a... difficult-looking arc with art by the contentious Brett Booth, but I'm sticking through it. My reasoning? The first four issues (with art from Jae Lee, Yildiray Cinar and Ben Oliver) are sublime.

It's no secret that Pak is a ludicrously talented writer - the man who brought us the near-flawless Planet Hulk - and one who generally goes about kicking bottom. He's a smart, stylish writer and Batman/Superman's début arc demonstrates that with style and flair to spare. It's just perfect comics, and the thing that gives it strength is the setting – B/S spends four issues in the past of the New 52 and most of that time on Earth-2, which lets Pak and the art team go hog-wild with big, nutty ideas.

If the New 52 has failed to tap into anything, it's the five years between Superman's origin and the present, and it's there that Pak and company kick off. This is a tale of the hotheaded t-shirt Superman and a grungy, paranoid Batman; it constantly emphasises both their differences and their shared youth. They're strong personalities, especially when backed by Jae Lee's elegant, eloquent art, which flawlessly uses lines of sight and motion with innovative layouts (including several pieces designed to create the heroes logos, which never failed to get me smiling) to draw out Clark Kent's raw heroic angst and Bruce Wayne's cold detachment.

It's the central premise, though, that makes these first four issues (plus a kind of coda in the very weird but enjoyable Villain's Month Darkseid issue) a treat – the brash youthful heroes paired up with and against their older, stronger selves from Earth-2. Lee handles most of these sequences with a fantastic eye for design, backed by June Chung's peerless colours. The characters are never indistinguishable, with differences not just in costume but word choice, body language and the tones and highlights of their colours. Pak's refreshing tweak on the archetypal butting-heads that new teammates have (where Clark and Bruce-Prime are at odds with each other, then in alliance with their doubles, then allied against them as their youth and impudence clashes with the smoother older heroes) is just the right kind of stuff. It's big fun.

No, really, it's so much fun. Wonder Woman slices a plane in half while riding a pegasus. I'm not kidding when I say that's my favourite comics moment of 2013, because it's the kind of ballsy action that works perfectly in the medium. And I would be remiss to not mention the deliciously entertaining Kaiyo, the ostensible villain of the piece. She's a fantastic creation, apparently an addition to the New Gods, and she's terrific – a moody, snarky teenager who serves as a living Boom Tube. Good times.

Batman/Superman #1-4 is a cracking story with a lot to offer. Seek it out in floppies or trade – it's well worth it. Wonder Woman slices a plane in half while riding a pegasus!

Jack Meldrum is still really excited by Wonder Woman slicing a plane in half while riding a pegasus, and he wants you all to know.

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