Review: Superman/Batman: Big Noise trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

One of the original tenets of the Collected Editions site, sometimes lost in the shuffle, was to review trade paperbacks like a bookstore customer, as if they were books and not the byproduct of previously-released monthly issues. The goal was to escape some of the monthly ups and downs of the titles -- if, for instance, delays struck the monthly issues of a book such that the issues came out two years apart, our focus would still be on "how does it read?" when finally collected. It was with a bit of this in mind that, rooting around for something light to read the other day, I picked up Superman/Batman: Big Noise.

DC Comics billed the monthly issues of this book, as you may know (and here I ruin the "book on its own" illusion already) as an "Our Worlds at War" tie-in, offering a sort of untold story of Superman and Batman during the aftermath of that 2001 crossover. The story, however, by one of the original "Our Worlds at War" writers Joe Casey, has little integral connection to the crossover. Fans were vocal in their upset over what appeared to be some gross marketing by DC -- suggesting Big Noise would tie in to "Our Worlds at War" and offering the barest of connection to make that true, but ultimately not delivering what the readers put down their money for.

What's interesting is that the collection of Big Noise -- along with being the first paperback-only collection of Superman/Batman -- doesn't mention "Our Worlds at War" anywhere in the trade dress. It suggests perhaps that DC learned their lesson with the monthly issues, and so decided first of all not to promise an "Our Worlds at War" tie if they couldn't deliver, and second to present the book at the paperback price in hopes that would bring in customers otherwise burned by the negative publicity.

It was lack of mention of "Our Worlds at War" that caught my interest. Here was this Superman/Batman story -- one that, as it turns out, is really just a non-continuity "general" Superman/Batman story -- that had been marketed as an "Our Worlds at War" aftermath and as such drew in readers with all sorts of expectations, now presented on its own just as a Superman/Batman story, no expectations needed. The question becomes, if you go into Big Noise blind, in the way that Collected Editions reviews are somewhat intended, is it a good story?

The answer is, it isn't terrible.

Big Noise is by no means of the caliber of Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite, writers Mike Johnson and Michael Green's masterpiece that's as good as the original Jeph Loeb Superman/Batman stories. But, it is on par with Finest Worlds, Night & Day, and Torment, other standalone Superman/Batman stories that a reader might just pick up "off the cuff" from the shelves.

Among Big Noise's overarching premises is that Superman must confront the fallout from Krypton's warlike past in the form of a time-lost alien warrior. This is emotionally difficult for the Man of Steel given his own general pacifism, and -- Casey has Superman admit -- that Superman has somewhat idealized the history of the Krypton that he never really knew. Big Noise is a considerably more Superman-centered than Batman-centered volume, but Casey does well in noting the irony that Superman mourns emotionally the dead civilization he never really knew, while Batman remains stoic in the shadow of the death of his own parents.

Despite that, in part Big Noise reads as well as your average Superman/Batman story precisely because Casey does not try to force the parallel narration or meta-examination of the characters that other writers do. Instead Big Noise just a solid story of DC's Big Two teaming up to solve a cosmic mystery, and I appreciated it for that. Ardian Syaf draws a sharp, realistic Superman and Batman in the first chapters, helping Casey's mystery get started, though the story peters out toward the end; a handful of fill-in artists pencil an elongated fight scene as Casey's dialogue begins to fail ("Bring it," a fiery villain emotes; "Oh, I am," Superman snaps back).

The book doesn't try to do too much -- and I can just as easily see why this is a detraction, not an asset -- but rather gives Superman and Batman a challenge and lets them figure it out, and uses established DC Universe elements for the big reveal. Big Noise, to an extent, could be a team-up episode of the Superman or Batman animated series, perhaps not surprisingly given Casey's Ben 10 and Generation Rex animation credits.

Yet, for a reader picking up Big Noise on its own, the fact that DC doesn't overtly mention "Our Worlds at War" here might be both a blessing and a curse. The Big Noise story certainly presents that some major cosmic war has just taken place on Earth; in a Comic Book Resources story, Casey suggests the reader could take this as any generic alien attack on Earth, from "Our Worlds at War" to the Blackest Night crossover, but my guess is that an uninformed reader will just feel like they missed something.

For the informed reader, even if Big Noise never directly states "we just fought Brainiac and Darkseid," there's little touches I liked, such as the 2000s "tesseract" Fortress of Solitude, and Superman's slang-talking Kryptonian robot Kelex. Casey also gets in a nod to the later events of Superman: New Krypton, and notes Big Noise as an adventure recorded in Batman's "black casebook" that we see in Batman RIP.

In the end, if you were going to pick up Superman/Batman: Big Noise or Blackest Night, pick up Blackest Night. If you were going to get Big Noise or the equally-defamed Justice League: Cry for Justice, get Cry for Justice -- the latter book has more heft, and ties more strongly for better or worse to what's going on in the present DC Universe. If, however, you just want a Superman/Batman story, what I found is that Big Noise is no worse than other standalone Superman/Batman volumes, despite the controversy that surrounded it

[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper]

When talking about Joe Casey I always like to mention his Adventures of Superman run from just after "Our Worlds at War" until Casey left the title. As part of the aftermath of "Our Worlds at War" (implicitly if not actually stated), Casey wrote a string of stories where Superman never resorted to violence to defeat his enemies.

The run is impressive not for that single fact alone -- though it makes a considerable amount of sense; if anyone should be slow to violence, it's Superman; and frankly what the world probably needs is more pacifist superheroes -- but also for the stories that resulted from it, full of weird worlds and super-science-fiction. By loosing himself from the constraints of superhero-punches-supervillain, Casey opened a world of Superman storytelling that felt fresh and exciting, and one doesn't miss the physical violence. One day, I'd like to see DC collect these stories and solicit them as what they are; DC touting a collection of issues where Superman saves the day without hitting anyone would be a significant thing indeed.

Thanks for reading!
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3 comments:

  1. What really tainted this arc for me, other than the artist change and the "OWaW aftermath" nonsense (if it's set right after that event, why isn't Superman wearing that uniform with the black-and-red insignia?), is the fact that the editors hired Joshua Williamson to rewrite the latter half of the final chapter. Do the TPB's credits make any mention of this?

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  2. The book does credit Williamson in little tiny type -- possibly that explains (I missed it the first time) why the end of the book seems so much different, dialogue-wise, than the beginning. And yeah, even though they got it right with the Fortress, etc., it would've been nice to see the black insignia. Can we tell ourselves this adventure took place after the end of the war, before Superman changed his insignia?

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  3. I read this book with any kind of expectation and I think it sucks huge time.

    Story is terrible. Art and design is terrible. Didn't enjoy the book at all.

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