Who is Superman’s Joker? Who would target those closest to him just to cause him pain? Batman/Superman Vol. 4 explores one possible answer to these questions, as the World’s Finest face a deadly threat with designs against the Man of Steel. Batman works against the clock to track down the villain and counter his methods, but can our heroes solve the mystery of Superman’s nemesis before it’s too late?
This volume collects three distinct stories. Where applicable, I’ll include a link to the original Batman News review for each individual issue. The first arc, which I’ll refer to as “Nemesis”, consists of the following:
- Batman/Superman #16, “Superman’s Joker”; written by Greg Pak, with pencils by Ardian Syaf, inks by Sandra Hope Archer and David Meikis, colors by Ulises Arreola, letters by Rob Leigh, and a cover by Syaf, Danny Miki, and Wil Quintana.
- Batman/Superman #17, “Deathwatch”; written by Greg Pak, with pencils by Ardian Syaf, inks by Sandra Hope Archer and Jonathan Glapion, colors by Ulises Arreola, letters by Rob Leigh, and a cover by Syaf, Danny Miki, and Arreola.
- Batman/Superman #18, “Sacrifice”; written by Greg Pak, with pencils by Ardian Syaf, inks by Jonathan Glapion, Sandra Hope Archer, and Jaime Mendoza, colors by Ulises Arreola, letters by Rob Leigh, and a cover by Syaf, Glapion, and Arreola.
- Batman/Superman #19, “Phantoms”; written by Greg Pak, with pencils by Ardian Syaf, inks by Mark Morales, Jaime Mendoza, Don Ho, and Vicente Cifuentes, colors by Ulises Arreola, letters by Rob Leigh, and a cover by Syaf, Jonathan Glapion, and Arreola.
- Batman/Superman #20, “Family Matters”; written by Greg Pak, with pencils by Ardian Syaf, inks by Vicente Cifuentes and Mark Morales, colors by Ulises Arreola, letters by Rob Leigh, and a cover by Syaf, Sandra Hope Archer, and Arreola.
The second story is a standalone annual, perhaps as much into its contemporary Superman issues as to Batman/Superman itself:
- Batman/Superman Annual #2, “Siege”; written by Greg Pak, with pencils by Tom Derenick, Tyler Kirkham, Ian Churchill, Ardian Syaf, and Emanuela Lupacchino, inks by Vicente Cifuentes, Kirkham, Mark Morales, Jaime Mendoza, and Ray McCarthy, colors by Arif Prianto, Fahriza Kamaputra, Jessica Kholinne, and Gloria Caeli, letters by Rob Leigh, and a cover by Syaf, Jonathan Glapion, and Ulises Arreola.
The final story spun out of the “Futures End” theme month in fall of 2014:
- Batman/Superman: Futures End #1, “Undone”; written by Grek Pak, with artwork by Cliff Richards, Jack Herbert, and Vicente Cifuentes, colors by Hi-Fi, letters by Rob Leigh, and a cover by Aaron Kuder and Wil Quintana.
By far the most appealing section of the volume, this five-part arc opens with an unseen, untraceable threat striking at anyone affiliated with Superman. As Batman and Superman investigate this mysterious foe, they discover a shocking truth with ties to Clark’s past and implications for his future.
After several volumes of up-and-down stories with various art teams, it’s refreshing to spend most of this volume on a solid, exciting tale drawn entirely by one penciller. Even with a plurality of inkers and colorists, Ardian Syaf’s Jim Lee-esque figures manage to look fairly consistent throughout, and I can’t overstate how welcome that is. It helps that he does a pretty good job, too. He’s occasionally liable to turn out some funky anatomy and faces, and sometimes his layouts are more confusing than clear; but most of the time, his work is nice to look at. I remember flipping and reflipping through these issues when they were originally published just to look at Syaf’s stuff.
For his part, Pak produces a relatively simplified script. We’re no longer dealing with alternate earths and realities, but rather a single, deadly foe and a fairly linear path to his doorstep. I’m not opposed to complex storytelling in general, but my impression of Pak is that he is not at his best in that context, so this more direct approach is welcome.
There are a few grating lines of dialogue, like when Bats utters The Worst Line Ever In A Comic Book® (“you’ve got yourself a Joker”), or when Pak drops some mostly-naked exposition; but these moments are outweighed by some fine character beats, particularly any that take place in a certain children’s hospital.
My biggest complaint: Pak wraps things up in a bit of a hurry. Once we know the identity of the villain, it’s all over far too quickly, and there isn’t much time to savor the peril before our heroes come out of it, predictably, unscathed. He already looks ridiculous, and almost impossible to take seriously, but his hasty defeat makes him seem like an absolute waste of time.
This almost makes the hasty conclusion ok…
All told, “Nemesis” is a somewhat flawed, but fairly enjoyable arc that makes the whole volume worth buying. And that’s a good thing, because it doesn’t get much help from its neighbors…
I haven’t been reading comics for all that long, but one of my earliest lessons was that annuals are seldom worth their increased price point, and often not worth the price of a normal book. “Siege” sadly fails to challenge that understanding.
It certainly doesn’t help that the story begins with the underwhelming villain from the previous arc (Pak used a similar pattern with the first annual for this title), but there are enough problems in the narrative that follows to render that a minor flaw.
Much of the early part of the script is driven by excessive narration spread out over many small text boxes, as though it were Bill Shatner, rather than Clark Kent, traveling to a Bahamanian island to investigate the aftermath of Doomed. After Superman renders himself powerless by using his new solar flare power (see Geoff Johns’ excellent but short run on Superman from roughly the same time period), he comes face to face with a number of Bat-villains who have a sudden urge to kill Clark Kent (and an uncanny ability to find him in a remote locale, to boot). Naturally, where there are Bat-villains, there is very often Batman, and with his help, the depowered Clark manages to avoid having a really bad day. OR DOES HE?
Digging a little deeper, I have some questions that Pak doesn’t answer, and I think not answering them hurts the story:
- We know why these villains are after Clark, but we have no explanation for how they’re able to find them. We can make our own assumptions, but there’s not much to go on…
- Given Knightfall, why would Croc work with Bane? The two of them together without precedent (I realize I could have missed the precedent) makes me feel like Pak is just randomly choosing villains to work together. It’s not always easy to tell which pre-52 elements carried forward and which were left behind.
As is often the case with annuals, there are between three and thirty-seven thousand different artists contributing to this issue’s pages, and it shows. The early stuff—some of which I’m pretty sure belongs to Tyler Kirkham—looks alright, but there’s a page where Killer Croc grabs Batman’s foot, and Clark’s face just gets weird—from that point on, the quality isn’t quite up to snuff.
Cue Batman doing this alone.
In sum: “Siege” is a bloated, overdramatic story with a few big, unanswered questions, and artwork that is obviously made by several people with non-complimentary styles.
Whereas I have a pretty good stack of notes for “Nemesis” and “Siege,” I have barely anything for this, our last story. Originally published during the themed “Futures End” month in 2014, and (more importantly) during the 48-week run of The New 52: Futures End, “Undone” would likely have played much better in its original context, when interest in the hypothetical future of this universe was higher.
The weakest of the three tales in the volume, this narration-heavy slog is light on actual plot, instead aiming for a study of Bruce and Clark’s now-fractured relationship. Perhaps to protect then-unrevealed twists from the main Futures End book, Pak gives little to chew on, leaving us with what is in the end a very boring account.
Richards, Herbert, and Cifuentes produce the most stylistically distinct work in the entire book, but the details are inconsistent, and once the freshness wears off, I don’t have a lot of good to say about it. There’s way too much shadow—sometimes illogically applied—and what makes it past the shroud is average at best. A few of the layouts are at least interesting, but more as standalone pieces, since Pak hasn’t scripted much of an actual story for this team to tell.
“Undone” provides no incentives for repeat consumption. Thankfully, it’s the seventh issue collected in a volume that also includes an annual, so even though it’s a throwaway, it doesn’t hurt the bottom-line value of the trade.
As with almost all New 52 trades, Batman/Superman Vol. 4 contains a variant cover gallery, featuring two variants for each of the five normal, non-annual, non-Futures End issues collected. Highlights include the variants from the Lego, Flash, Harley, and movie poster theme months, as well as a really sweet Darwyn Cooke piece.
Value: Sale Price
I found this collection more entertaining overall than much of Pak’s previous work on this series, even if only for its first arc. As a unit, it also benefits greatly from having one principle artist on most its content. I still don’t think it’s worth full price, but if you can find it for $8-10, I would say give it a shot.
Batman/Superman Vol. 4 starts with a flawed-but-strong five-parter, a refreshingly simplified story when compared to some of Pak’s earlier efforts. The quality trends downward after that first arc wraps up, but the book is ultimately made up of more good than bad. If you look past the annual and the one-shot, there’s enough quality material from Pak and Syaf to make you consider giving it a place in your collection.