The part of this issue that’s relevant for Batfans is the first story, which collects the Digital Firsts 40 & 41, Part 1 & 2 (of 2). The book clocks in at 40 pages and will cost you an extra buck at the stands ($3.99). What you get for your extra pocket change is a second one-shot story about Superman babysitting Sugar & Spike (I really wish I was making that up) and having to save Metropolis from spatial fissures and Atomic Death at the same time.

To be honest, the less said about the second story, the better. I mean, it’s goofy and makes for an interesting contrast to the first story, so if you’re a fan of Superman and want to read something that feels pretty throwback (but with more exciting visuals), then you might dig it for nostalgia’s sake. I confess I laughed really hard at Atomic Death’s reaction to meeting Sugar & Spike (which was more or less an echo of my own reaction to the whole story), so at least it provided one good and worthy panel.  I’ll just say that the inclusion of this extra story has no bearing on my rating for the book overall.

And yes, I would pay the extra dollar regardless–the cool cover by Jock makes up for the filler.

So without further ado, let’s talk about:

“The Sound of One Hand Clapping”

Here’s a first visit between Batman’s arch-nemesis and the Man of Steel. Joker has popped over to Metropolis on a lark, threatening detonations all over the city to ensure that Supes will make their meeting on time. And yes, Batman makes an appearance late in the story, but this is really a two-character/one-set piece.

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Play spot the reference with a full page of awesome variations!

The Good

Writer Max Landis takes a very (very!) simple idea and knocks out a one-shot that’s engaging and thought-provoking–particularly if you like to get philosophical about your comic books. This is a book that is almost all talk and very little action, but it works–with a few minor caveats. Artist Jock keeps things lively with big energy in his lines and expressions, lots of negative space to make the principal characters really stand out, and the interesting choice of generally placing Joker in full light while Superman hovers in front of the sun, often with deep shadows on his face. There’s a curious edge to this as it makes me question which of the two is really more dangerous in the grand scheme of things (those of you reading Injustice: Gods Among Us might have strong opinions on that answer).

My favorite part of the story is that Superman actually finds the Joker to be funny, which completely unnerves the Clown Prince of Crime who is more accustomed to being scowled at. It plays on the question of “what happens when we actually get what we want?” Apparently for the Joker, it’s more than he bargained for–his retort: “Stop laughing at my jokes!” is priceless.

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And the jokes aren’t even that funny!

The Bad

The plot’s so simple (that’s not the bad thing), that I’m dropping the rest of this under a tag so as not to poison anybody’s thoughts before they read it.

Spoiler

Unfortunately, even taking into consideration it’s a Superman story (where one might expect morality to rule), this gets a bit preachy. Part of me thinks, well, Superman is trying to further unhinge Joker by degrading his very existence as vapid and boring. But it just feels pedantic and weirdly mean–particularly when it’s followed by a “vague” death threat. None of this is behavior worthy of the Big Blue Boyscout (especially since he was already derailing Joker by being amused, which I think was far more interesting). As a reader I had the feeling I was being lectured to by the author–being told what to think about the Joker and why. Not that I mind the challenge; I love the idea! But maybe the execution could have used more finesse. It also doesn’t help that Superman’s subsequent encounter with Batman is equally bullying. Does he have cause to be angry? Sure. But he shouldn’t be such a jerk about it.

Maybe in the wake of certain tragic events some writers have felt the need to try to put the clown back in the box–permanently. While I empathize with the sentiment and feel like too many people absolutely idolize villainy as portrayed in comic books, we’ve also come a long way from Seduction of the Innocent and it’s possible that a certain amount of violent escapism may actually be psychologically necessary. So either this story is a brilliant examination of our own biases or it’s a messy political statement which attempts to fight fire with fire. Is it being deliberately ambiguous? Honestly, I can’t tell. Perhaps there’s a subtle hint in the excellent cover. Or maybe that’s just a bit of random conceptual art and I’m a dog chasing my own tail.

The art, by the way, really is solid (some may not like the loose style, but I think it works for the needs of the story). Only one moment struck me as weirdly composed

Spoiler
when, at the end, Superman finally gets his hands on the Joker, there’s a great panel of him holding him under one arm like a squealing piglet and they are obviously still on the rooftop, but the next instant we see Joker apparently walking out of the Daily Planet into a crowd of cops. Did Superman just pick him up and then put him back down and tell him to go downstairs to turn himself in? Did he fly him down and leave him at the door? Just feels like there’s a beat missing.

The Ugly

Unless it really gets you riled to see Superman do things you would rather he didn’t, and unless any of the stuff in the spoiler above is a hot-button issue for you, this is safe sailing. Supes kinda annoyed me personally, especially his behavior at the end, hence the dent in the score.

Recommended If…

  • You love the Joker in spite of himself–and no matter what Superman thinks.
  • It’s time for a one-shot diversion from regular New 52 continuity.
  • You typically find yourself thinking: “Fight fight fight!” whenever you see Superman and Batman together.
  • The “new” Superman is a hard ass–and you like that.
  • Food for thought on the “no kill” code is something you’d like on the menu.

Overall

While we’ve seen these two face-off in other settings under other creative teams, this particular take on Joker and Superman’s introduction may challenge some assumptions about Superman and (for better or worse) attempt to knock the Joker off his popularity pedestal. The filler story about Sugar & Spike is kind of throwaway, but your mileage may vary.

SCORE: 7.5/10