Although Batman/Superman is a brand new ongoing series (previous World’s Finest series notwithstanding), it should be clear that its first arc, “Who are the Secret Six?”, is a direct continuation of the 7-part The Batman Who Laughs miniseries by Scott Snyder and Jock. It isn’t necessary to have read Snyder and Jock’s comic because there’s plenty of exposition in Batman/Superman #1 to bring new readers up to speed, but it certainly helps to have read the preceding series because then you’ll already be familiar with the characters and what they have been through. Another thing that I’d like to say up front is that there is no mention of the Secret Six in this issue and it’s as of yet unclear what part the Secret Six will play in this story. As for this first issue in particular, I have mixed feelings about it, so, without further ado, let’s jump into the review and have a look.
This is not a bad comic, but it is definitely flawed, and that has a lot to do with the fact that this is the second chapter of a story (that began in The Batman Who Laughs) disguised as the start of a new story. On the one hand it wants to stand on its own so new readers can jump in without having to worry about anything, and on the other hand it has to continue where Snyder and Jock’s comic left off. The result is a book that is filled with exposition because there is quite a bit of background information to process, and as such the book is off to a bit of a wonky start. I’ll just get my criticism out of the way before I talk about the good stuff.
There is a scene in the book where Batman is bringing Superman up to speed, but the way that this is executed is rather odd. Batman is on the GCPD roof to meet with Gordon because a boy got kidnapped. At first, I find myself asking why Batman is telling Gordon things that the commissioner already knows. A couple panels later we find out that Batman is actually talking to Superman, who then comes flying into the frame. This doesn’t work for me because the exposition itself is dry, factual, and—if you’ve read The Batman Who Laughs—pretty boring because you’ll already know all that stuff. Sure, it makes sense for Batman to want to explain everything to Superman if they are to work together, but why doesn’t Batman simply call Superman? Why does he pretend to talk to a guy on a rooftop who already knows everything that he has to say, and assume that Superman is listening to him from a distance? The whole scene just seems weirdly fabricated instead of something that these characters would actually do.
However, that’s not the only thing that seems weirdly fabricated. Throughout the book Batman and Superman’s inner monologues are juxtaposed in an attempt to show how similar they are. Their lines are often short, every so often they repeat each other, and sometimes they interrupt each other. To me, it reads awkwardly because it’s lacking ebb and flow. Even though the narration boxes often match each other in the sense that they express the same kind of sentiments, they never quite connect, as if they were written apart from each other and then put together in the book.
This same problem extends to the dialogue. There are moments where a character says something that doesn’t relate to the topic or which interrupts the flow of conversation. An example is the moment where Superman tells Gordon that he should consider quitting smoking, which seems inappropriate because a boy is missing and Superman, of all people, should know that time is of the essence. Another example is when Batman keeps asking Superman if he has a contingency plan in case Batman ever goes bad. While this is definitely something that Batman would be worried about and it also foreshadows the upcoming theme of trust issues, the conversation itself is stiff and lackluster because it’s something that’s been done to death by now, and Batman is really mean about it, too. I know that Batman is focused on getting answers, but I’m tired of writers portraying Batman like a tool, especially when he’s talking to close friends and family.
Before I move on to the good stuff, I want to point out a plot-related issue that bugs me. Gordon tells Batman and Superman about a buzzing that he heard when he was captured by the BWL in Snyder and Jock’s series. Gordon does tell Batman and Superman about a place where he used to live, but how Batman and Superman are able to find the exact location where they can hear this buzzing isn’t entirely clear to me. Nor is it explained what kind of buzzing this is. An “electronic buzzing” doesn’t sound very specific to me, especially not in a city that’s probably filled with electronic devices. Had this been more clear, I think the plot would’ve been stronger.
As for the good stuff, I think the opening sequence is fantastic. Superman is called by a shadowy Batman and is asked to come to the Justice League base immediately. The closer Superman gets to the satellite, the more suspenseful it gets. We are presented with a horrific image of dead Justice Leaguers and a sick Superman that is throwing up and bleeding from his eyes after being exposed to kryptonite. All of this builds up to BWL’s reveal, and it establishes him as a major threat and a true villain. It’s a great way to draw in new readers, as it raises the question of how Superman and Batman are going to deal with BWL, and the implications of what’s happening to Superman are big (hint: pay close attention to Superman’s suit).
Furthermore, once you get past some of the stiff dialogue between Batman and Superman and Batman’s snarky comments, it’s great fun seeing them working together again. Especially the scene in the BWL’s lair, where Superman is talking about the mementos that Bruce keeps in his Batcave and how the cave therefore is like a reflection of Bruce’s mind, is effective and entertaining. After all, BWL’s lair is a twisted version of Bruce’s cave, and Superman’s speech is meant to emphasize how he doesn’t think that Bruce is anything like BWL. It’s not just a commentary on Batman’s character, but it also says a lot about Superman as well as how Superman sees Batman.
Moving on to the artwork, David Marquez (pencils/inks) and Alejandro Sanchez (colors) are doing great work. I love their rendition of Gotham City: it’s dark and gothic and eerie, and its many lights conjure up the feeling that people actually live in the buildings that we see in the background. The page layouts are lush, and there are a few great splash pages that instantly have my attention (such as the interior of BWL’s lair). The characters also look great: the proportions are mostly spot-on, the facial expressions say a lot about what characters are feeling or thinking, and I dig the color contrast between Superman’s bright outfit and Batman’s dark suit. All of this combined makes for an aesthetically pleasing comic book. The only complaint that I have is that the fight scene between Batman & Superman and a bunch of robots doesn’t flow very well.
The entire fight scene is very short and plays out in seven panels across two pages. In panel one we see Batman and Superman descending into BWL’s lair, and in panel two we see Batman standing on some rubble with Superman before him. So far so good. However, when we pay attention to the fact that Batman is indeed standing behind Superman, the third panel turns out rather odd, because it shows Batman leaping at the robots, but now he is in front of Superman. If we could change the camera angle so we look at the characters’ backs, we would see, in the first and second panels, that Batman’s on the left and Superman’s on the right. But then in the third panel, Batman is suddenly on the right and Superman on the left. The fourth panel, in turn, doesn’t follow logically from the third because it depicts a completely different action, and the fifth yet again shows something completely different. Had this passage actually been sequential, rather than a collage of Batman and Superman striking cool poses, the fight scene could have been a lot more interesting, which would have been nice seeing as it’s the only real fight scene in this issue.
- You are a World’s Finest fan!
- You have read The Batman Who Laughs and want to see how the story continues!
- You are intrigued by phrases such as “The Superman Who Laughs!”
Overall: So far, this is purely setup. The stakes, characters, setting and themes are introduced and the mandatory exposition is out of the way. The artwork is particularly strong, although some of the writing could have been more streamlined. All in all, it’s an enjoyable start to this ongoing, especially if you’ve read The Batman Who Laughs and already have a good idea of what our heroes are up against. However, there’s no mention of the Secret Six, and how this is connected to the Secret Six at all still remains a mystery. If you’re here just for the Secret Six, I recommend continuing to check out the reviews to make sure this is actually something that you want to spend your hard-earned money on.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.