The current Batman/Superman series hasn’t been the kind of book that I would also be reading if I wasn’t reviewing it. In my previous reviews I have expressed my opinions on dialogue, pacing, exposition, and the fact that the story itself is sometimes overshadowed by the many references to other books. However, I enjoyed Batman/Superman #8 for what it was, and considered it an improvement compared to previous issues. Unfortunately, I ended up having some of the same old complaints about #9.
The problem with this issue, as I see it, is that it feels very unfocused. For example, the comic opens with Batman delivering a monologue about how everyone wonders why people still live in Gotham, given that the city gets constantly attacked by super-villains. Batman concludes his monologue by saying, “In fact, the opposite usually occurs. We get an influx of people with something to prove. They want to show the world how hard they can be.” I have two problems with this. First, the idea that a large number of people deliberately moves to Gotham to prove how “hard they can be” seems ridiculous. Granted, superhero comics are often exaggerated versions of the real world and it’s generally best not to take them too seriously on that front and just suspend some disbelief. But people deliberately going to Gotham for the aforementioned reason is such a crazy idea that I’m not exactly sure what the creative team’s intentions are. Is this supposed to be a joke? Is this supposed to be more of a gritty tone? Is this commentary on the sheer amount of super-villains in Gotham? Or is it supposed to say something meaningful about the resilience of certain people, or perhaps about foolish bravery? In other words, I think that this is a false start in terms of establishing the tone of this book. But I also think it’s a false start in terms of establishing a premise for the story.
This sentence makes me think that the story is going to be about someone who comes to Gotham to “make it big,” either as a villain, a hero, or something else. But it’s not about that at all. The story immediately shifts to Atomic Skull, who is running wild through the city, shooting devastating beams at helicopters and cops, screaming “Help!” and “Leave me alone!” This leads into a problematic interaction with Batman. Now, I totally buy that Batman attacks Skull on-sight and ignores Skull’s comments about how there’s no time and that he needs to warn Batman about something. Why would Batman trust this guy? But it gets problematic when Skull starts to fire his atomic blasts at Batman. First of all, if Skull is trying to convince Batman that he means no harm, then why is he aiming his atomic blasts at Batman? Attacking doesn’t seem like an effective way to convince someone that you’re not the enemy. Second, there is an exposition dump about Atomic Skull’s background in the middle of the fight which interrupts the pacing. Third, I don’t understand how Batman is able to dodge Skull’s blast; the radius and point-blank range should make that impossible. Fourth, the transition from this brief fight to the next scene is very jarring.
I’m actually in two minds about that transition. What happens is that Batman dodges the blast and then vanishes. On the one hand, with a jarring transition like this, readers might share Skull’s confusion and therefore be able to relate to the character. On the other hand, I think that the transition itself is poorly executed. I’ll break it down:
In the first panel Batman somehow dodges Skull’s blast and vanishes. The following panel is a close-up on Skull, who’s rambling about the events that drove him crazy. The problem with this specifically is that it’s an awkward and sudden moment for that ramble, as it interrupts the flow of the scene. Furthermore, readers who haven’t been keeping up with Teen Titans probably won’t be able to understand what Skull’s trying to say, so this bit doesn’t add anything to this scene, and neither does it add anything to the issue as a whole. Another thing that I really dislike is that the editors of this series keep referencing other books that you’d need to read to get the full story. If you want to know why Skull is here and what happened to him, you’re not going to find that within the pages of Batman/Superman. An occasional reference is fine, but when a comic relies on a number of other series for context, there are going to be problems. It’s not as bad as #6, which was basically a 20-page ad for other books, but the fact that they are still repeating this pattern is a little frustrating to me.
On the next page we see that three cops are trying to attack Skull, but Batman appears out of nowhere again and takes them down instantly and effortlessly. Batman also quickly finds out that these aren’t cops, but that there’s something sinister going on, and he’s determined to find out what that is exactly. During this entire sequence there is no sense of place. The artists draw the characters from different angles, but where exactly everyone is, where they come from, and how they get there, is unclear. The backgrounds are also pretty much nonexistent. There is an occasional brick wall, but that’s about it. The only reason I’m able to tell that this is Gotham is because Batman is here and we’re told that this is Gotham at the beginning. There are hardly any people on the streets. There are hardly any other cops about. It’s like this entire scene exists within a vacuum. There are zero stakes because we know Batman can’t die and because Batman instantly takes down the opposition. We also don’t learn a lot of interesting new information that can keep us engaged and that can push the story forward. All in all, it’s just confusing.
What’s more, there are also a lot of “talking heads” moments throughout the issue. For example, Batman speaks out loud, but never once acknowledges Skull, and Skull ends up just kind of standing there. It’s like Batman is just mumbling to himself. Another good example of this problem is when the real villain is revealed: we see him dragging a police officer through rubble toward a cage, and meanwhile he’s talking about his plans. But who is this guy talking to? It doesn’t seem like he’s addressing the cop at all. And why would he reveal his plans to this cop in the first place? It just doesn’t add up.
I could continue complaining about this book, but beyond this point I would end up repeating myself, and it’s not like I enjoy writing a negative review anyway. Most of all, I’m just sad that this is the follow-up to #8, which I thought was pretty solid. Hopefully the creative team can still course correct, what with this only being the first chapter of this arc, but I’m not confident.
- You just want to see the World’s Finest together, no matter what.
- You’ve been collecting Batman/Superman, and you don’t intend to stop any time soon.
Overall: I’ve been critiquing similar things across these Batman/Superman issues, and although there is the occasional spike in quality, I’m not seeing much improvement. Maybe it’s because I’m always so focused on technicalities and details, but I really do think those are very important. An idea can be great, but if the execution isn’t up to par, then the end result leaves much to be desired. I hope that this series will get better, but for the time being, I recommend that you spend your hard-earned dollars on a different book. Batman/Superman #9 is a very average comic at best.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.