Considering Superman and Batman are the peanut butter and (dark) jelly of the DCU, it’s surprising that its taken this long for a team-up book to show up in the New 52. After reading Batman/Superman #1, it’s obvious now that the higher ups were just waiting for the right creative team. Greg Pak and Jae Lee make a dream tandem as they inject new life into an age old pairing, exploring that which came before and making it all their own.
So far in the New 52 the Supes-Bats dynamic has been tenuous at best. They’ve always been different – one an inspiring force for good, the other a scarred enforcer of justice – but previous incarnations at least played up their mutual admiration for one another. Tasked with reinventing this partnership to a new generation of readers, Pak does a solid job of setting their meeting in a way that feels both new and familiar. He uses the branched consciousness we’ve seen in other Supes-Bats titles, spending time in the head of each hero as we see the world through their lenses. His decision to introduce the characters in their civilian identities is a wise move, as the two get to assess one another in a non threatening situation. Their initial interaction is clever and Pak does a great job of differentiating the two in a way that doesn’t kick over tired tropes.
Of course, this is a tights (and jeans) book, and before long they’re introduced to their costumed counterparts. Superman and Batman are both looking into a rash of Gotham murders, and their separate investigations of course intersect. I love the level of unease in this scene; it’s apparent that both heroes have been on the job for some time, but neither has seen anything quite like their opposite. I wouldn’t say there’s any admiration just yet, but there’s certainly a twinge of respect. Also making an appearance is the series’ supposed heavy, a ghostly gal with a penchant for body hopping and mischief. The character’s motives are as of yet unknown, but she certainly seems amused with her powerful new toys.
If everything I’ve just said hasn’t sold you on the book, then ignore the words and look at the art. This book is beautiful; artist Jae Lee is a visual wonder, his imagery emotive and captivating. His style is so compelling, each page a gothic tapestry that looks too good to be in a comic. Lee is one of the few artists out there whose work you’d be able to recognize from one panel alone. His Gotham is bleak and dark, each corner exuding danger and malice, the city itself a trauma. Also amazing is his body language; characters tilt and move and twitch, their faces contorting into a myriad of facial expressions. That may seem like an odd compliment, but when it’s done this well it elevates the book to a whole different level. The only drawback to the art? Lee doesn’t draw all of it!
No offense meant to Ben Oliver, but you can’t start with Lee and end with someone else, especially in the first damn issue. For some reason DC had the artists share art duties, and while Oliver’s work is actually quite good, it’s a complete tonal shift from the rest of the issue. In fact, that entire section feels off; Pak adds a twist towards the end of the issue, and unfortunately I can’t say what that twist even is. Things suddenly got very confusing, and while I’m sure the particulars will be explained in upcoming issues, the end nevertheless feels jarring. Still, that’s a minor nitpick because OMG THE ART, GUYS.
Batman/Superman#1 is an exciting start to an old relationship, as Pak and Lee prove to be a winning combo. Though the last few pages disappoint, the issue as a whole is great, distancing itself from the deluge of releases out this week. The origin of comics’ most popular team-up deserves some fanfare, and this book deserves to be read.