Review: Batman/Superman Vol. 3: Second Chance hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 09, 2015

Batman/Superman is arriving at a similar difficulty to its predecessor Superman/Batman, and faster, too. After Jeph Loeb wrote a series of semi-connected, DC Universe-changing stories (in the case of Supergirl), later teams struggled amidst the ever-changing Superman and Batman continuities to tell relevant stories, often defaulting to middling "tales" that contrasted Superman and Batman in repetitive ways. In Batman/Superman Vol. 3: Second Chance, writer Greg Pak not only goes back to a very similar well as in his own first Batman/Superman book, but there's also an entire issue devoted to recapping just the first couple pages of Earth 2 issue #1. With an issue guest-written by Jeff Lemire, a "Doomed" crossover issue, and a host of different artists, it's hard not to see Batman/Superman as just biding its time between being called off the bench for Superman or Batman events.

What bolsters Second Chance considerably is the strength of Greg Pak's writing. "Second Chance" could be a paint-by-numbers story, but Pak makes surprising character choices, not beholden by established Superman and Batman tropes, that make the story quite effective. A bit of Jae Lee art here never hurts, either. I still feel Batman/Superman could tell more stories with the two heroes without every story also needing to be about the two heroes, but Pak doesn't fail to entertain.

[Review contains spoilers]

Second Chance starts with a story by Jeff Lemire drawn in the style of Lemire's Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE and teaming Superman and Batman with Dr. Ray "almost the Atom" Palmer. (If DC's bimonthly Harley's Black Book team-up title works out, I'd be happy to see Jeff Lemire get a title where he gets to subject a different DC property to SHADE's weirdness every issue.) The story of Superman and Ray shrinking into Batman's head has a good dose of Silver Age strangeness befitting an Atom tale, and Lemire's not-so-reluctant-superhero Ray Palmer is charming. I especially liked not only when Ray revealed his superhero name, but also that Lemire makes mention of Atomica's betrayal of the Justice League in Forever Evil. (If only the alien villain here did not inexplicably look just like OMAC with no actual relation.)

The four-part "Second Chance" is the book's third story, following Pak's aforementioned "Doomed" crossover. Batman and Superman run afoul again of Kaiyo, the Apokoliptian "chaosbringer," who's herself trapped by long-time Superman foe Lord Satanus. Kaiyo wipes the heroes' memories, dropping a naked Superman and costumed Batman on the streets of Gotham; Superman doesn't know he's a superhero, whereas Batman can't figure why he's dressed as one. The twist is that each still has their "muscle memory," so to speak, so Batman's able to haphazardly defeat the Scarecrow while Superman saves Catwoman from rampaging robots.

Smartly Pak does not make Batman "light" here and Superman "dark," but rather his Superman mostly retains his moral code but, with a bare chest and strongman belt, gets a little rowdier than normal. But the amnesic Batman is Pak's triumph, a billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne who revels in his athletic abilities. This leads to overconfidence, Scarecrow kills some people on Batman's watch, and Bruce must eventually become again the Dark Knight, but in the meantime the gag of Batman rediscovering all his cool toys and abilities is a lot of fun. Further, Pak pairs Batman with a whip-smart Lois Lane to help solve his case and their banter is hilarious; the team-up leads not only to a tragic romance, but also the unlikely sight of Lois stepping out in a pre-Burnside Batgirl costume.

Pak's character work is strong enough even to overcome the story's lackluster first chapter. Superman and Batman, fresh from their team up with Power Girl and Huntress in Batman/Superman Vol. 2: Game Over, begin to remember their conflict with Kaiyo on Earth 2 in Vol. 1: Cross World and thereby re-conjure Kaiyo, who transports them back to Earth 2 with the offer that they can change one event. They arrive during the events of Earth 2 #1, as mentioned, and ultimately don't change anything (or what they do change seems to have little effect). It's essentially another Batman/Superman Earth 2 story, again involving Kaiyo, without much purpose and preceding another story that compares and contrasts Superman and Batman, and one might feel they'd seen it all before if not, again, for Pak's clever writing.

The "Doomed" issue included here was problematic even in reading "Doomed" itself, a side-trip story that foregoes Superman for Batman, Wonder Woman, and Steel, whose purpose seems mainly to involve Batman/Superman in the crossover. It's ultimately relevant, bringing back Xa-Du, the Phantom King from Grant Morrison's Action Comics run, but also setting up a confusing storyline with Mongul and the Phantom Zone criminal Non that gets mangled in "Doomed"'s chaotic conclusion. Further, Tom Derenick's art is too stereotypically comic book-y, lessening the issue's seriousness. The first "Second Chance" issue with art by Tom Raney has a similar problem; in later issues, Diogenes Neves follows Lee and does a good impression of Lee's art deco style, further bolstering "Second Chance"'s end.

Even as Batman/Superman Vol. 3: Second Chance turns out well in the conclusion, I still think the beginning of the book is a model for the way to go. Jeff Lemire isn't paralleling Superman and Batman so much as just telling a story with them (and the Atom). I very much appreciate that Greg Pak has preserved for so long the dual-thoughts approach of Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman, but we may have all we can take at this point. Something along the lines of the Triangle Titles' Dark Knight Over Metropolis, a good Batman-Superman team-up adventure, is what I think we need now.

[Includes original covers, variant cover gallery]
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2 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved that Lemire issue at the time. Was a very fun issue.

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  2. @Watsonian
    Yes, the best part of this book for me ! :)

    ReplyDelete