DC Comics’ New 52 continuity has provided fertile ground for comic creators looking to reimagine the origins of DC’s heroes and their first encounters with each other. When it comes to the publisher’s two flagship characters, it’s writer Greg Pak’s turn to bring Batman and Superman together yet again for the first time. In “Batman Superman” #1, it’s an introduction done with a little bit of style courtesy of artist Jae Lee and colorist June Chung.
While Lee’s attractive cover is impressive enough, it’s the splash page where he first truly leaves his mark on this debut issue. With a beautiful Anton Furst-inspired rendering of the Gotham skyline, it’s a page that’s also perfectly colored by Chung with the expected grey and muted tones. Several other pages are nicely laid out, among them a two-page spread that brings home Pak’s comparisons between the two characters. It’s a comparison where Pak reminds readers that, in The New 52, both characters are again orphaned (the passing of Clark’s adoptive parents in current continuity has been revealed elsewhere), which yields an interesting dynamic regarding two very different characters who had suffered very similar losses.
Pak uses the tried-and-true trick of a dual narrative throughout the issue, but does so to great effect, showing readers each character’s appraisal of a situation that might not be immediately apparent. Where Clark Kent sees a boy being bullied needing help, for example, Bruce Wayne sees a boy learning self-reliance. Pak cleverly reveals Batman’s own self-awareness that, even as he attempts to save a potential murder victim in Metropolis, he appears as a monster to the would-be victim’s child who’s more accustomed to Metropolis’ brighter, maskless and more personable savior. And the opposing monologues give readers an insightful look as to just how each character is sizing the other up as they square off.
Given the situation for the two heroes’ initial meeting in costume, Pak makes it perfectly plausible that Superman’s first assumption upon meeting Batman was that he wasn’t a hero at all, but instead a criminal. A lot has been said about the formulaic approach of hero fighting hero fighting due to some misunderstanding before coming together; Pak uses this ploy but gives the two a legitimate reason to face off, avoiding any kind of the usual contrived scenario and taking full advantage of the new canvas that The New 52 has presented.
The story is straightforward enough; even as one of Batman’s arch-foes acts somewhat out of character, it’s pretty clear that something strange is afoot. When another villain makes his appearance, though, the story changes course with some odd developments. The Batman featured in the latter part of the story is deliberately altered, and while it’s an interesting twist and easy enough to guess the nature of, it complicates the story of this first encounter. While the unexpected isn’t necessarily a bad thing to make a story more interesting, it’s nearly as puzzling here as it is surprising.
And while twenty-five story pages in this thirty-two page comic is a nice bonus (even with the $3.99 price tag), it’s unfortunate that Lee only drew eighteen of them. While closer artist Ben Oliver aptly wraps up the issue with a style that’s not too much of a departure from Lee’s, it’s another unexpected surprise, but not necessarily the good kind to fans of Lee who expected to see him illustrate the entire issue.
The last time these two characters met for the first time was shortly after John Byrne’s reboot of Superman over twenty five years ago. While this might not be an encounter that needed to be retold, it has been a generation since that last time, and Pak and Lee make it different and exciting enough to be worthwhile.