What happens when the Trinity heads to China to track down a solar flare with an identity crisis? What does a Chinese Justice League look like? These questions (and more!) are answered in this week’s Batman/Superman #32, as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman continue to investigate a dangerous new threat, with Superman’s impending death looming subtly looming over their quest.
After fleeing A.R.G.U.S. custody, the (now slightly less) mysterious super-being we first saw back in Superman #51 has led Bruce, Clark, and Diana all the way to China. As they cross the border, the three get an aggressive reality check in the form of China’s own “Great Ten”, who aren’t too keen on American superheroes operating on sovereign Chinese soil (or in sovereign Chinese air–heck, if Aquaman were here, the water would probably be off limits, too). After a rather extended scuffle (and yes, I’m perfectly aware of how often I use that word–thinking of renaming this arc “Scuffle League”), all of the heroes agree to a temporary treaty as they team up to track down Dr. Omen and her bizarre experiments. We get some answers from the (not so) good doctor, a peek at Rebirth’s New Super-Man, and an unsettling final panel that leaves me eager to find out what happens in next week’s Action Comics.
I’ll say it right up front: I’m pretty disappointed with this book. After a promising start in Superman #51, Batman/Superman #32, and Action Comics #51, things stalled (for me) with last week’s Superman/Wonder Woman #28. My biggest beef was Wonder Woman’s characterization, particularly in the way that she relates to Superman. Even though I didn’t like that aspect of the story, I’m willing to chalk it up to taste, because several comments here at Batman News and around the web seem to indicate that not everyone shared my displeasure. This time around, I’m convinced that there are some structural errors that have nothing to do with my preferences. And I’ll get to those structural problems shortly, but first, let’s talk about what worked for me.
The first few pages are outstanding. They’re drawn beautifully by Doug Mahnke (and inked by some person, though who I cannot guess–more on that later), but they also have a playfulness in dialogue (see above) that I just can’t help but smile at. I love to see Clark ribbing Bruce, and Bruce having some tolerance for levity, yet drawing a firm line as to how far he’ll allow his friend to take it. This is pretty much the only character-rich moment in the entire thing, so savor it.
Now that you’re done savoring, I’d like to point out that Mahnke does an excellent job throughout. As usual, his figures are well-proportioned and dynamic, and the big battle (scuffle?) is super-exciting (even if Tomasi lets it go on for far too long). There are a few oddities, such as when Diana speaks a line that I’m pretty sure was meant for Bruce (“you’ve been gathering and manipulating residual streams of Superman’s coalesced solar super-flare and given it some kind of sentience”), or on the final page, where Superflare (that’s mine–I’m getting the copyright and registering the trademark today) lacks the New 52 high-collar on his suit, even though he’s got it on the opposite page. Overall, though, Mahnke himself turns in another great issue of Batman/Superman.
Unfortunately, there are four different inkers working on this book (the italics mean that I’m speaking like a condescending jerk). This is an obvious problem for consistency; however, some of the inks here are not merely different, but also negatively impact the work all by itself.
This panel was penciled by Mahnke, but it doesn’t even bear any of his characteristic facial style. Here’s another one (the aforementioned final page):
Lois here looks different from the previous page, but even within this one, her lips and nose are distracting (it’s a shame, too, because the whole scene is otherwise quite gorgeous). Based on last month’s Batman/Superman, I’m guessing that most of the really good work here (especially that fight scene) is probably coming from Jaime Mendoza, but without knowing who specifically did the rest, I’m not sure who specifically to blame. And honestly, the problems probably owe more to tight deadlines and last-minute requests than to the actual abilities of any of these artists.
What’s this all about?
Last week’s Superman/Wonder Woman gave us the most in-book exposure to Superflare that we’d yet received from Tomasi, but Clark’s battle with Ulysses helped remind us that it is the approaching death of Superman that sits beneath this entire arc. This time around, however, Clark’s fate is merely assumed, and there is only the implication of it in his green, glowy eyes. Even in the too-long, sprawling battle with the Great Ten, we see none of the mid-battle difficulties that plagued him last week. You could argue that–as he says himself–he feels better now that he’s not in a subterranean A.R.G.U.S. bunker; but it seems strange, because we saw him fall out of the sky two weeks ago in Action Comics, so he’s clearly got some issues manifesting, even in the warmth of the sun. It’s a wasted opportunity, too, because Superman’s weakness would have been a very believable trigger for the Great Ten’s compassion (and subsequent cooperation).
Speaking of the Great Ten, it seems like this might be their only appearance in the arc. As the issue closes, the Trinity heads for the exit (the exit from China), and unless the New Super-Man comes into play in the final three issues, I can’t imagine there being any reason for the Chinese team to get involved again. If that is indeed the case, what will have been the point of devoting so much space (ten pages–the great ten pages) to what feels like a pretty contrived fight between JL-lite and the Great Ten? The fight already has little-to-no consequence in this issue, and if I’m right, it will ultimately prove to be a beautifully-drawn waste of space.
A bad Omen
Dr. Omen, the Chinese scientist/astronaut/super-functionary chef, has been a compelling backseat threat up until now. We get a bit more information about her work this time, but now that she’s out of the box, I’m not nearly as interested. At the end of the issue, she’s in the custody of the Great Ten, and while she may end up playing a bigger role in this arc’s conclusion than they will, I find her (and her work) much less fascinating than I did before. It’s always a tough thing when a writer gets to that (inevitable) point when secrets must be revealed, so I’m sympathetic to Tomasi’s plight; nevertheless, I’ve got to call it like it is, and I don’t think he’s handled Omen’s unveiling nearly as well as with Superflare, who continues to make me wonder, and who’s got me super-frightened for Lois.
- You want to know what happens next in Super League/Final Days/
Justice League ChinaGreat Ten.
- You want some delicious-but-empty calories, courtesy of Doug Mahnke.
- You want to believe that all of this will make better sense once things are wrapped up at the end of the month (I’m not sure I 100% believe it, but I’m still holding out hope!).
I still like this arc, and I’m still very interested to see what’s going to happen next. I would have liked a stronger tether to Clark’s health problems, and a better reason for the Great Ten to be included than “we’re in China”, but in spite of my complaints, this was still an entertaining read. Too many inkers drag Mahnke down on occasion, and Tomasi’s lost (some of) the heart that made the first three installments so strong, but here’s hoping he finishes well after the recent lull–I’m certainly rooting for him.