The sort-of-same-old Superman teams up with the not-so-same-old Batman in Greg Pak and Ardian Syaf’s “Batman/Superman” #23, continuing their storyline featuring a definitively different World’s Finest dynamic. Pak seizes the opportunity to explore this budding relationship between two vastly changed heroes; Clark is still Clark, albeit one with a very small fraction of his former power, while Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, but Jim Gordon in a battle suit with a whole different approach to the mantle. Pak goes a little off track in this chapter, though, with a diverging new plot element that separates the two and takes page time away from their interactions, but it also gives Pak the chance to focus on some other character get-togethers.
Clark is clearly experiencing a great deal of self-doubt as his confidence dwindles, an emotional state that Pak communicates well through Clark’s narrative. All the while, though, his mental state doesn’t diminish his heroic stature one bit; Pak ensures that, while Clark might doubt himself, few others would, as he comes across as every bit the superhero that he is, even when he’s skulking about in an underground hideaway. This subterranean subplot isn’t all that exciting, though, and — while it’s nice that Pak establishes some continuity going back to Scott Snyder’s “Endgame” arc in “Batman” — it plays on the familiar motif of society’s rejects living beneath the society they’ve shunned. As Clark goes deeper underground and away from the streets, so does Pak’s story veer away from Clark and Gordon’s team-up.
While Gordon remains topside, though, Pak at least has him interface with some of Superman’s supporting cast, particularly Lois, and readers will be challenged trying to remember how many times those characters have crossed paths. It’s not some obligatory meetup, though, as Gordon and Lois compare notes on their experiences with an outed Clark, which are decidedly different and interesting in their comparison. Pak also throws in a somewhat tense exchange between Gordon and Perry White, whose own opinion of Clark has been badly poisoned.
Syaf gives the issue a pulpy feel, by way of Clark donning a barbarian-like outfit to move through Subterranea covertly. The costume design is nothing terribly original but works fine alongside the environment and strange creatures in this setting. Syaf uses vertical panels effectively to convey depth, and later smaller ones to provide the appropriately claustrophobic feel of an underground civilization. Similarly, colorist Beth Sotelo’s darker tones keep things shadowy without being too dark, while inker Vicente Cifuentes crisply delineates the lower depths so that the scene is clear and understandable. Above ground, the art is equally competent, and Syaf and Cifuentes depict Gordon’s new look nicely, keeping it faithful to his new neo-militaristic appearance developed by Greg Capullo over in “Batman.”
Pak caps off the issue with the appearance of a very familiar but unexpected guest star, which helps shore up the Subterranea storyline for next issue. “Batman/Superman” #23 is a bit slow in advancing the Clark Kent/Jim Gordon relationship, but it’s worthwhile mainly for Pak’s ability to put readers inside of Clark’s head.