Superman and Batman. It’s kind of a weird friendship, when you think about it. I mean, it makes more sense than the knock-down-drag-out of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but aside from their moms sharing a name, they’re very different people.
Batman #36 tackles that head on, presenting the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader as old friends who have grown a little distant recently. So distant, in fact, that they haven’t spoken since Batman proposed to Catwoman.
This is a very grounded set-up for a story about two dudes who regularly travel into space and do battle with gods. In fact, if you strip out some of the more fantastical specifics, most of the dialogue in this issue could be lifted directly from a slice-of-life comic. A slice-of-life comic about a crimefighting billionaire playboy and the last survivor of an extinct alien race, but still.
It’s an inversion of the trick Tom King pulled in The Vision, where he dropped a family of superpowered robots into normal suburban life. Batman #36 focuses on real-life situations which just happen to play out against a backdrop of fighting villains and stopping runaway trains. That trick might fall flat if not for the art of Clay Mann, who imbues every character with life. The expressions and movements of Clark, Lois, Bruce, Selena all feel believably human, which really helps to sell the drama and humor of the story.
Coming off the back of the high-stakes crime opera of “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” King has spent the past few issues of his Batman run focusing on smaller-scale human stories. The previous three-issue arc, “The Rules of Engagement,” told the familiar tale of a new fiancée meeting the ex-girlfriend -- except with Catwoman as the fiancée and Talia al Ghul as the ex.
Batman #36 keeps the cleverness that King is known for, and has displayed throughout this run. The whole issue is presented as a mirror, with the conversations between the two couples reflecting each other perfectly. As the issues goes on and the mirroring gets tighter and tighter, until both conversations co-exist on the same page. Every word balloon is an echo of the last. It’s the kind of formalism that that could become suffocating, but -- vitally -- the story goes for the heart just as much as the head.
The mirroring is used to show how in sync Batman and Superman’s thoughts are, how easy everything would be if they’d just communicate. It’s a deeply relatable situation. We’ve all got that one friend we haven’t talked to in a while, and are afraid we’ve left it too long to pick up the phone, right?
If you pick up Batman #36, prepare for it to tug hard on that particular heartstring. The issue is packed full of little moments that will provoke a smile, a sad sigh or even a laugh -- just like hanging out with an old friend.