In “Batman/Superman” #3, Greg Pak, Jae Lee and Yildiray Cinar, the Earth-0 and Earth-2 versions of Batman and Superman continue to have psychologically powerful, recurrent confrontations with their alternate universe selves, and the tension of their current situation is amplified further by Kaiyo the Trickster’s machinations and the foretelling of the coming of Darkseid.
Pak begins “Batman/Superman” #3 by picking up after the excellent cliffhanger at the end of the last issue, launching directly into Kaiyo’s first-person narration. Pak pulls of an unusual voice for her, giving her a casual tone but the sly mind of a master puppeteer. This casual/epic balance is also there in rest of the plot. Fun lines like, “So when I grow up, I’ll be a jerk?” are balanced by moments such as Kaiyo’s prophecy-like warning of “All those you love will die!” on the final page.
In the middle of the current-day progression of action, Pak throws in a flashback sequence to happier times. It’s an homage to a similar childhood friendship scene from “Superman/Batman” by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Yildiray Cinar handles the art for the flashback scene, and his artwork is a good match for the content. It’s reminiscent of retro children’s book illustration, with its thick outlines and sunny country cheer. The flashback is enjoyably, tooth-achingly sweet, and its innocence and joy is a contrast to the conflict and mistrust between the Earth-2 and Earth-0 Supermen and Batmen in the present day.
Cinar’s work is also very different from Lee’s artwork, which is simultaneously stark and sensuous, and minimalist and lush. In “Batman/Superman,” #3, Lee is far more interested in outlines, texture, the drama of strong black silhouettes and the creation of atmosphere than in rendering background details. It’s a deliberate choice, not laziness or lack of time, but Lee’s ominous, surreal style may not be to every reader’s taste. His art decides the tone of the story more than Pak’s dialogue or plot do. In the hands of another artist, the same events in “Batman/Superman” would feel less serious, less ominous and less stately.
The way Lee draws, every page promises a mystery or an event of mythic scale. His shading balances very fine, loose cross-hatching with large swaths of deep black ink. His line eliminates all background “noise,” reducing a scene to its most notable presences, tracing and lingering on details only for the edges of buildings, faces, bodies or the trajectory of Wonder Woman’s lasso.
Lee gives Wonder Woman a lithe and waif-thin body, in some panels draped like a sculpture of steel wire pulled across the sky in flight. It reinforces Pak’s take on her personality — like an arrow, resolute, dangerous, unbending and fierce. His style also suits Batman’s darkness, but it works the least well for Superman’s costume and personality.
Every panel has figures placed just so in space. The Earth-2 and Earth-0 Batmen and Supermen are eerie as they echo each other in panels. The reader must slow down at times to distinguish the two Batmen or the two Supermen from each other, but that too seems intentional, something meant to increase and echo the characters’ and readers’ feelings of disorientation and foreboding.
While Lee’s action scenes don’t lack for energy or grace, they also feel just a little posed, the action slightly frozen. The lack of background details makes the reader feel suspended in space or in a dream, and the payoff is in wonder and not in suspense. Chung’s sunlit palette of blues and pinks lightens the mood but also reinforces the feeling of being removed from earthly concerns.
Lee’s artwork will determine much of the overall impression that “Batman/Superman” #3 leaves in the reader’s mind, but the entire creative team deserves a lot of credit for taking risks and creating an unpredictable and distinctive look at two of the DCU’s most important superheroes.