The Superman/Batman series has been relaunched for the New 52, but with Batman’s name first and an opening storyline that explores the DC Multiverse. “Cross World” rewinds the clock to an adversarial Batman and Superman who meet for the first time on an adventure into another dimension where they encounter different incarnations of themselves who represent what heroes the Man of Steel and Dark Knight could be if they set aside their differences and unite as The World’s Finest.

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Contents

This hardcover includes:

  • New 52 Batman/Superman #1-4 by Greg Pak, Jae Lee, Yildiray Cinar, & Ben Oliver
  • New 52 Justice League #23.1: Darkseid. by Greg Pak, Paulo Sigueira & Netho Diaz

Review

 Cross World

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The first saga in the book that pairs DC’s two biggest heroes is not about big blockbuster action and it’s not even about the plot. It’s a character-driven story. It’s about seeing young Bruce and Clark interact with one another for the first time and how the duo react to their Earth 2 counterparts, who are by all means more iconic figures and not only partners, but the best of friends.  The bond between the champions of Earth 2 is strong and their demeanor could not be more different from our own Batman and Superman, who are at this point in their lives very angry, inexperienced, and alone. It’s the contrast between these worlds and the conflict between our heroes that propels “Cross World” forward.

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The tale’s great flaw is that, as many readers know, the first arc of the New 52 Justice League that was adapted into the film Justice League: War marked what we all thought was truly Batman and Superman’s first meeting. So while you read this story, which is a flashback to the start of their careers something lingers in the back of your mind: something is going to happen to make these two totally forget about what’s happening here. Despite it being a character-driven story with most of its pages featuring people engaged in a dialogue and experiencing tremendous personal realizations, all of those moments will ultimately be washed away somehow.

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You’re either the kind of reader who can just enjoy the ride or you’ll feel like nothing that occurs here really matters. And in my opinion, most of it really doesn’t. There’s nothing all that interesting about how or why Bruce and Clark make their way to or back from Earth 2. Kaiyo, the trickster character who taunts them throughout the story feels more like a plot device than anything and we know so little about her that the numerous confrontations with her carry no weight because there’s no knowledge of what this phantom-like being’s weaknesses are or if she can be destroyed at all. More often than not, the dull plot about a special crystal seems to get in the way of the tale’s entertaining and emotional character moments, and I think those are the scenes you’ll ultimately remember most. Would you rather see Clark go back to the family farm and reunite with the mother he lost or see Earth 2’s Batman argue about a giant crystal? Personally, despite this cross-dimensional epic featuring such colorful characters and a villain who is arguably the most feared in all of DC Comics, my favorite section of the book is its most serene, a flashback to the childhood of Earth 2 Bruce and Clark beautifully illustrated in a charmingly nostalgic style by Yildiray Cinar.

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In addition to the drama of exploring who these characters are and who they could be, the other great aspect of the book is its artwork. I’m not a big fan of Jae Lee myself, but I recognize that many are and I can see why. His page designs and layouts are incredibly creative, I admittedly love the pages where he cuts the panels in non-traditional ways and pieces them together in a mosaic that forms a bat or Superman’s S. Emphasizing the foreground before a backdrop of vibrant clouds colored by June Chung also gives the pages an ethereal quality as if Jae Lee is inviting us into his own world rather than recreate any sense of reality that could be populated with these fantastical characters. Jae Lee gives the work a bizarre, otherworldly atmosphere that sets it apart from any other comic on stands today. However, I find that the stylistic imagery is better suited for covers since figures often look so static. When Batman and Superman get in an action sequences it’s difficult to even make out what is happening since the 2-dimensional looking characters seem to be posing more than fighting. There’s no sense of movement and without any backgrounds to speak of (nearly every set piece is just different colored smoke) it can be difficult to get a feel for any sort of time or place in the story. Lee’s work looks dazzling to the eye, but I don’t think it’s effective as sequential storytelling. Even the faces display very little emotion and often look placid like porcelain dolls. The most compelling scenes are when characters are in silhouette and the reader can imagine the expressions themselves (in the bonus material, Jae Lee goes into great detail about the usefulness of this technique). Another problem that occurs is that the painstakingly long process to get visuals that look this one-of-a-kind results in frequent delays for the series or instances in which a fill-in artist must be called in, which happens on a couple of occasions here with Ben Oliver (who shares a similar style) and Yildiray Cinar (whose pages are vastly different). However, the switch to Yildiray Cinar worked into the narrative nicely since it was only for a specific subplot in which we looked back into the past of Earth 2’s Bruce and Clark.

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Full, detailed reviews of each individual issue can be found at the following links, but you can probably skip the review for #1. When I say that some readers were confused by the shift to Earth 2 and were not sure if it was actually just a jump to the future, I’m talking about myself. I reviewed the comic thinking that time travel was the case and I got slammed for it in the comments section. So ignore Past-Andrew on that one, he didn’t know what he was talking about.

Apotheosis

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Serving as an unexpected epilogue to the 4-part Batman/Superman story is a one-shot Justice League issue from DC’s Villains Month event of 2013 that fits perfectly in this collection because in addition to being written by Greg Pak, it’s also narrated entirely by the trickster character Kaiyo from Cross WorldJustice League #23.1: Darkseid reinvents the character for the New 52 era with an origin that sees him begin as a lowly farmer and blasphemer named Uxas, who is consumed with rage for the abusive Old Gods that his pious world kneels before without question. The imagery does most of the storytelling while the prose are sparse and directly to the point as we witness a conniving Uxas desert his farmland and devise a way to ascend the mountain where the Gods dwell and overthrow them all. It’s an incredible journey that draws much from the Greek myth of Cronus, who also wielded a scythe when deposing Uranus. In addition to educating us on how Darkseid came to be, the issue also serves as an all-around great crash course in The New Gods that details Darkseid’s rivalry with Highfather and even gives a brief summary of everything Darkseid has done so far in the New 52, particularly the events of Justice League, Volume One. I found “Apotheosis” to be one of the best illustrated (there is a transition between artists, but I didn’t find it distracting) and most satisfying issues to come out of Villains Month and a must-read for all fans of one of the DC Universe’s most powerful enemies.

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Bonus Material

Wow. Batman/Superman, Vol. 1: Cross World definitely scores high in the way it was put together because in addition to collecting the Darkseid one-shot and all 4 chapters of “Cross World,” it also features the best bonus material I’ve seen in any New 52 graphic novel. Fantastic! First there’s the variant cover gallery, which is a staple of New 52 supplemental material and that’s great, but it’s followed by the exact kind of stuff I’ve been clamoring for ever since I started reviewing these things 2 years ago: COMMENTARY. A big part of the bonus material is 14 pages of the original script juxtaposed with Jae Lee’s original pencils AND commentary by Greg Pak, Jae Lee, and editors Eddie Berganza and Rickey Purdin! I spent most of my time with this hardcover just poring over that and it really made “Cross World” an all-around better experience. You’ll learn how Lee and Pak play off one another, what their sources of inspiration were for some scenes and Lee’s reasoning behind going off-script for much of his contribution to the story, and there’s even some dialogue that was cut from the finished product (most noticeably during the opening scene in a Gotham City park). It’s essential reading for fans of Greg Pak’s writing and Jae Lee’s unique style. And as if the commentary wasn’t enough, we finish the book with 2 pages of Jae Lee’s original cover sketches. Terrific bonus material on this one, I can’t stress that enough. I hope to see more of the same from future DC New 52 releases because this is exactly what I want.

Value: Full Price!

The story itself is decent, but one of my favorite moments of 2013 comics is nestled in there somewhere and no other book in your collection will match this volume’s distinct visuals. You can buy “Cross World” confidently for the full $22.99 price because it not only gives you plenty of reading material for your money (Five $4.00 comics plus a boat-load of bonuses to enjoy) but it possesses a high re-readability for anyone who is fond of the breadth of the DC Universe and Earth 2 especially.

Overall

The most impressive thing about it is that it’s probably the best put-together New 52 graphic novel yet released. This hardcover has every chapter plus a bonus issue all about the villain and there’s loads of in-depth bonus material. If you love the DC Universe then you’ll likely get a thrill out of just how much of it is featured here because it goes beyond just Batman and Superman. It’s not even confined to one dimension.

SCORE: 7.5/10

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