Yes, the main story from Yang and Reis’ run ended in issue #21, but we haven’t seen the last of the Superman, Batman and Robin from the Archive of Worlds! Their stories continue in this annual, and I can say upfront that if you’ve enjoyed Yang’s run so far, you’re going to want to pick up this extra comic as well. If you haven’t been reading Yang’s run, but you still want to read this, you totally can. Prior knowledge will enhance your reading, but this can be enjoyed by itself as well.
First of all, I haven’t seen a physical copy of this issue. The reason I’m bringing this up is because I think that the physical copy will be slightly different from the digital one. There are two stories in this issue: one about Superman and another about Batman and Robin. In the digital version we first read Superman’s adventure, which is then followed by Batman and Robin. But I expect that for the print version, you’ll have to flip the book over to read the other part. This way the stories run separately until they connect in the middle, sharing the same conclusion. That would read much better than the digital version where it’s slightly awkward to read the ending before getting to the Batman and Robin portion, which then just abruptly stops and you have to turn back to the ending again.
Francavilla draws the Superman story and Pelletier’s on the Batman and Robin one. Both artists have very different styles but this doesn’t bother me at all. The only time some readers might find it slightly jarring is when they get to the ending page, on which both artists are featured, swapping panels. That said, I do think that Francavilla’s style is a good fit for the World of the Knight, with its darker tones and Gothic aesthetic. Likewise, Pelletier’s art works well for the World of Tomorrow, since it’s quite clean and Hi-Fi’s colors pop. The difference in art styles also helps to distinguish the worlds and storylines, so when you see both artists on the concluding page, it really feels like the stories are coming together. Another thing that I want to point out is that we can see that the Fortress of the Knight (which is the base that the heroes share) exists between the two worlds, since it’s literally sandwiched between both stories.
You’ll also have to rotate the issue 360º when you read the ending, because the panels are placed in a circle. If you’re reading on a PC, this will be awkward and potentially somewhat annoying, but on a tablet I don’t see this being a problem. Of course, the print issue is designed to be read like this, so that should work out perfectly as well. To be honest, I tend to dislike when I have to hold my comics in weird ways just so I can read them, but in this case I think it’s a creative decision that makes the book feel kind of interactive, as you get to decide which story you will read first. This also influences through which character’s perspective you read the ending. There’s no need to fear spoilers, either; if anything, it will only make you curious about the other story and prompt you to flip over the book and read that one right after.
The stories themselves are a lot of fun, but you shouldn’t expect any deep meditations on the characters or on certain themes. These are straight-up action-adventure stories, short and sweet, and they can totally be enjoyed by younger readers as well. Since the ending of the main story in issue #21, Superman, Batman and Robin have been working together and hanging out as friends. This time, they’re called to each other’s worlds to deal with certain problems.
Superman visits the World of the Knight and Batman and Robin go over to the World of Tomorrow. Superman is faced with a good challenge. In order to save Metropolis, he’s plowing through villains without any trouble, but when he’s about to resolve the situation by destroying a machine with a single blow, he discovers that there’s an innocent person trapped inside that machine. Superman has to think outside of the box to come up with a way to save this person as well as the rest of the city. So far this is a good setup, but I think that the way he comes up with the solution—even though it works and is actually very sweet—plays out a little too conveniently. It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but if the solution to the problem is found so quickly, then the challenge doesn’t really feel like a challenge anymore in the end.
Batman and Robin’s story is a bit more introspective than Superman’s. The Martha Wayne of the World of Tomorrow is still alive, and the following question is raised: what if Bruce could have mourned his father together with his mother? It’s a topic that I think is worth exploring in full but, understandably, there’s no room for that in this annual. In fact, I think it’s for the best that Yang doesn’t linger on this point, as at that stage the overall tone of the story would get too somber, whereas this is clearly supposed to be more upbeat and lighthearted. Yang also writes a fantastic Bizarro Two-Face: one half talks normally while the other talks in Bizarro speak. It’s a strange mashup, but it makes for a fun and memorable antagonist.
- You have been reading Yang and Reis’ run and don’t want the story to end.
- You haven’t been reading their run, but you just want a solid two-in-one comic book.
- Superman, Batman and Robin forever!
Overall: This annual is put together really well, making good use of the medium, and it’s a delight to see these characters once more. The stories themselves won’t add too much to the main story, but they do stand on their own and it’s just a good time. Younger readers will probably have a blast reading this as well. The art is strong throughout and well coordinated, and it’s just a great comic—recommended!
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.