Review: Batman/Superman Vol. 2: Game Over hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 17, 2014

In Batman/Superman Vol 2: Game Over, Greg Pak once again writes another volume that evokes well the spirit of the now-classic Jeph Loeb team-up series. Even when the book is too flip in places, it's impossible not to see the influence of the Loeb series all over this, from storylines to villains to narration, and I have no problem with Pak giving us more of what we love. Artist Jae Lee shines brightly as always, and though Brett Booth is a jarring addition after Lee's first volume, it's hard to miss the similarities between Booth on this title and Ed McGuinness before, so precedent resounds.

[Review contains spoilers]

This book's second half is the "First Contact" crossover with Paul Levitz's Worlds' Finest. I have recently expressed my frustration with Worlds' Finest, and Greg Pak's use of the characters only makes that frustration worse. Pak's parts one and three of "First Contact" are filled with interesting insights about the characters -- how Superman relates to Power Girl's power surges since he experienced the same thing learning to control his powers as a child; that Huntress remembers that the Earth 2 Superman could modulate his voice to the exact frequency to help people calm down (how cool is that?).

In contrast, Levitz starts off his issues with silly-sounding dialogue -- Power Girl's "Helluva way to wake up," and rather spoon-feeds the audience the character beats, like Batman having to tell Huntress not to stare at him and Huntress saying, obviously, "You're so like [her Earth 2 father]," but different." Having these two writers set one right after the other with the same characters fortunately demonstrates what another hand could do with Huntress and Power Girl, but unfortunately only makes more obvious Worlds' Finest's flaws.

Jae Lee's art is something to behold on a normal day, but he does especially well here specifically with Huntress, whose mask he draws a little more curved; it's always supposed to have been bat-ears, but in a flash it looks like bat-ears and Earth 2 Catwoman ears in a way I don't think the Worlds' Finest artists have achieved so far. Nor, importantly, does Lee ever overemphasize Power Girl's chest. Lee's success is to the detriment of Worlds' Finest's Scott McDaniel and RB Silva; the characters are more cartoony, and note for instance the fourth page of Worlds' Finest #20 ("First Contact" part 2), in which Silva has Power Girl's costume window higher in panels one and two than in panel five, and nearly enveloping her entire top on the following page, middle; the position of the window when Power Girl carries Batman at the bottom of that page makes no sense at all.

While I am glad to see Wildstorm's Kaizen Gamorra as the story's villain, one error made on all sides is that, according to Birds of Prey Vol. 4: Cruelest Cut, Gamorra is most sincerely dead as of the events of Team 7. I've read online perhaps that the Gamorra here is the original's son, but this book itself never says so specifically.

The first three issues of this collection are Pak and Brett Booth's "Game Over" story. As compared to "First Contact" that followed, which was immediate and relevant and dealt ultimately with ongoing plotlines in Earth 2, "Game Over" felt simplistic to me, and I liked it less. Especially in view of the good character work that Pak does in "First Contact," I thought Superman and Batman's petty bickering in "Game Over" came off a bit juvenile (though granted each is being mind-controlled or affected in these points). In retrospect, the presence of the villain Mongul in this story makes sense, given Mongul's history with mind-controlling plants, but at the time the appearance of serious villain Mongul in such a light story seemed incongruous and "off."

At the same time, I can absolutely see shades of Loeb's Superman/Batman: Public Enemies in "Game Over." This is present simply in the action-packed, "widescreen" feel of it, but also, certainly not accidentally, in Pak's use of the Toymaster character Hiro Okamura that Loeb created. That Pak is specifically using a Superman/Batman-created character in this title is a lovely nod to where Batman/Superman came from, and again also helped orient me in the right way to appreciate "Game Over."

Given the choice between Lee and Booth's halves of this book, with all due respect I'd have to go with Lee, but I recognize some very respectable work by Booth here, most significantly that his entire three-issue arc is drawn so as to be read horizontal. That's more than just your average comic book, and clever given the video game themes of the story. It seems to me frankly exactly the kind of thing Loeb and McGuinness would have tried in Superman/Batman before, and so again gave me a lens with which to view "Game Over." I'd rather have Lee as the artist of this book (which it seems he is not, going forward, more than he is) but the "Game Over" arc is a feather in Booth's cap.

I will say that when the book transfers from Booth to Lee for the Batman/Superman annual, it did feel like coming home to me. The annual is my favorite part of the book -- for one reason that even with the changed artist, the annual's connection to (but not reliance on) "Game Over" felt like an excellent sort of fluidity on Pak's part. Second, that again Pak is riffing well on pre-Flashpoint entities by introducing the son of Mongul; third, that in the spirit of all great franchise crossovers, the story teams not just Superman and Batman, but Supergirl and the Red Hood and Steel and Batgirl. All of the teamings are well thought-out and charming -- the sparks between Supergirl and Red Hood, Steel and Batgirl as "science bros."

To cap it off, I wasn't sure exactly where in the course of events the annual fell, and to have it ultimately turn out to be a memorial issue for both Damian Wayne and the New 52 Superboy (Superman's "Requiem" tie-in, as it were) was the perfect finish. This aspect is reminiscent even of Karl Kesel's pairing of the death of Jason Todd and Superman's execution of the Phantom Zone criminals in his World's Finest miniseries, though Kesel's pairing was in retrospect and Pak's is in the "authentic" here and now. (It's worth a shout out to Sterling Gates's World's Finest miniseries as well, which paired the Superman and Batman families in their New Krypton/RIP iterations respectively.) In all, an excellent use of continuity in deference to Superman and Batman's individual universes.

In all, Batman/Superman Vol. 2: Game Over is another impressive effort from Greg Pak, and it makes me all the more eager to check out his first volume of Action Comics. Pity to be sure that Jae Lee isn't sticking around on this title, and I don't see much more upcoming from him besides Catwoman covers; he's got a fan here and I'd like to see him on another DC book.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook section]

Later this week ... my review of Jeff Lemire's Teen Titans: Earth One.
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  1. The Kaizen Gamorra who shows up in "First Contact" really is the original's son. He also had a twin brother who was introduced in Worlds' Finest Annual #1, which will be collected in that series' fourth volume. What annoyed me was Levitz's insistence in misspelling his last name as "Gammora", while Pak spelled it correctly. Was that fixed in the trade?

    Speaking of that, one thing trade-waiters were fortunate not to deal with was the crossover's third chapter shipping weeks after the fourth one, thanks to Jae Lee's chronic lateness.

    1. I wonder if the World's Finest Annual item is a fix or if it was always planned this way; it's unfortunate the Gamorra issue comes off as a gaffe in Game Over if it's not supposed to be.

      Always fascinates me the different perspective of those reading the single issues vs. the trades. I've got nothing but praise for Lee and would love to see him stay on Batman/Superman perpetually because of his art, but I understand in reading single issues that he represents frustration over the late issues.