It’s not a secret that I’m not the greatest fan of this series. The Batman Who Laughs stuff didn’t resonate with me, and I also did not give issue #7—which started off the current arc—a favorable review. This issue, however, is definitely an improvement! Let’s have a look.

Nick Derington is one powerhouse of an artist. His panels flow well together and this issue is filled with action and great renditions of characters. His art balances lightheartedness with a more serious tone really well: the overall aesthetic could work fine in a book for younger readers and yet the expressions of characters and fight scenes add weight and grittiness to the story. For example, we see Ra’s al Ghul mercilessly striking at his Kryptonian opponents with his kryptonite sword, and Zod threatens to relentlessly snap Ra’s al Ghul’s neck. The only complaint that I have is that the backgrounds in this issue are mostly rather dull and repetitive, as there are a lot of green walls, which just aren’t very interesting to look at. Compare those to, for example, the futuristic skyline on Krypton in the flashback sequence, and it’s just such a big difference that I can’t help but notice it. That said, Derington is without a doubt one of the most creative minds working in the industry today. Even when his backgrounds are dull, his characters, action scenes and page layouts are still full of life and energy.

The writing is a step up! Zod is really the main character in this story, even though it’s mostly told from Superman and Batman’s perspectives. It’s Zod that makes this story an interesting read, because Zod goes through real character development, gets an interesting backstory and has a motive. He considers himself the hero and truly believes that he’s doing the right thing, but in that he’s also misguided because there are true negative consequences to his actions. This leads to a moment where Zod is forced to make a moral choice, and the choice that he makes is a direct response to something that Batman tells him. The character dynamic between Zod and Batman is well-written as it really contributes to Zod’s character development. By the end of this story, I feel like Zod has learned from his mistakes and has changed to some degree, even if it’s relatively subtle.

However, it’s like so much focus and energy went into Zod’s character development that the other characters got left behind in the process. Yes, Batman does contribute to Zod’s progression, but it’s a one-way street as Batman himself remains quite static, although he is definitely in-character and his dialogue is good. Superman has the same problem: he is also in-character, and his voice is distinct enough from Batman’s that we can tell the two apart (something that was problematic in previous issues), but Superman doesn’t receive the character treatment that he deserves. Ideally, if Zod and Superman face each other in a story, their character progression should run parallel so that they enhance each other’s arcs. As for Ra’s, well, he’s very one-note here; all he does is mess with other people’s plans and create chaos, but there just isn’t much to him, and I think his role here is entirely forgettable. That said, focusing mostly on Zod is a strategic choice that works in the character’s favor—this is Zod’s story, after all.

Lastly, I have to say I don’t like how the people of Kandor are portrayed. I get that they have lost their minds, but I don’t like how they behave like a superpowered swarm rather than actual people. I’m not saying they should be actual characters with voices and motivations here, because that would be well beyond the scope of this comic, but them behaving more like a swarm than a community of people diminishes the stakes as it makes it harder for me to relate to and care about them. They are faceless and nothing but a plot device in service to Zod’s arc. Herein lies a missed opportunity, if you ask me.

Recommended if…

  • Nick Derington, everybody!
  • You’re here for Zod. So what if the other characters don’t get as much attention?
  • You love Kryptonian lore.
  • You’re here for Batman’s well-written speech.

Overall: The fact that I can honestly say that I enjoy this issue makes me happy, because I have been very critical of this series so far. Zod is easily the most interesting character here, followed by Batman. These two create the best moment in the comic, which contributes to Zod’s progression in a meaningful and significant way. The people of Kandor are a bit silly, though, and Ra’s al Ghul is criminally underused. But Nick Derington continues to deliver—that dude can draw!

Score: 6.5/10

Call to Arms: Your LCS needs your help now more than ever! If you can, swing by and pick up that issue, trade or statue that you’ve been meaning to pick up. Not only will you help out your LCS, you’ll also have something to read while you wait out the storm. Shout-out to Henk Comics and Manga Store, my LCS in Amsterdam! I know the majority of you are in America, but if you’re in Amsterdam right now, it’d be great if you could pay them a visit!

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.