A Batman/Superman team up may as well be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: it’s incredibly good at curbing hunger, tastes pretty damn good and it’s a quick fix in a pinch. It might not be the most complex of meals, but you know what you’re getting. Greg Pak set out to create Superman’s Joker in this volume and that’s a bold thing to attempt.
Batman/Superman Vol. 4: Siege (DC Comics)
This volume collects Batman/Superman #16-20 which focuses on building up Superman’s Joker. It wraps up with Batman/Superman Annual #2 which is almost like a bonus chapter to issues #16-20 and finally Batman/Superman: Futures End #1 which jumps five years into the New 52 future.
Why does this book matter?
The book opens with a man dressed in a Superman costume entertaining at a children’s hospital. He’s just trying to give them some smiles, but is killed by a mysterious blast not even Superman could see or Batman could track down. In fact, many of Superman’s closest friends are hit with a similar attack but are lucky to be vulnerable enough to not be killed. Superman is ticked off and from here the story shifts to Batman and Superman uncovering this mystery. That’s a doozy of a setup, and with it comes many surprises like Lobo and Lex Luthor from Earth 2 to name a couple.
This can’t end well.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Greg Pak does a really good job of grounding the story and then expanding it as the story progresses. By starting at the children’s hospital he makes this superpowered extravaganza human right from the start. Superman needs to stop this threat for personal reasons as a real loss takes place. The story may jump to the conclusion that Superman has his very own Joker a little too quickly (Batman confirms it, so it must be so) and it even has a full page spread harkening back to Batman: Endgame. Figuring Endgame is still fresh in Batman’s mind that’s easy enough to understand and from there they go on their quest.
Pak fills this book with a lot of surprises and misdirection as you should expect from a good detective yarn. Even when the story appears to be close to revealing the big bad “Superman Joker” there are surprises in store beyond that! I don’t want to give anything away, but midway through this book there’s a reveal that is very close to the events in Dark Knight III: The Master Race. The fact that Pak had a similar idea a year earlier either means Pak beat them to the punch with a great idea or DC figured two stories involving Kandor within a year was no big deal.
Artist Ardian Syaf does a good job throughout as well. His style reminds me of Jim Lee mets Rob Liefeld. Ink work tends to cast characters in shadow more so than other Superman books which gives this a darker tone. Splash pages look great and there are plenty of panels that are as high in detail as event series.
There are a lot of surprises in this book, from relatives of Superman we never knew existed to Batman showing just how damn close he is to Supes. Bottom line is this isn’t blind and simple action comic books but good character building. Plus the Batman/Superman friendship is tested and strengthened. I figure if a writer isn’t adding that element into a series called Batman/Superman they just aren’t trying.
Which is something we get in Batman/Superman Annual #2 as well. This story stands on its own, but also directly spins off the final issue of the main story arc here. Superman uses his supernova power early on which turns him into an average human for 24 hours. Being human forces Batman to do most of the work and it creates a dynamic between them that’s rare. That makes for a fun and surprise filled done in one adventure. The art in this issue, shared by Jonathan Glapion and Ardian Syaf, is well suited to the action oriented, ‘survive or die’ story too.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The heavy inks that sometimes cover eyes completely give a foreboding or depressing look to the heroes at times, yet the colors are vibrant! It works to set the somber and scary tone sometimes, but it’s a competing look that makes it hard to get a read on the emotional purpose of scenes throughout.
Futures End doesn’t quite feel like it fits in this book. It doesn’t have much to do with “Superman’s Joker” and serves to divide the two characters more than anything else. That doesn’t jive well with the main story much at all. It has a darker tone too due to Hi-Fi’s art and Batman gets a badass action sequence in a mech, but it lacks Superman which pretty much makes this entire issue lack the series’ purpose.
Dark yet bright.
The annual ends with a character dying and the from there the story picks up with Futures End and a completely different character waking in a hospital bed. Sure it’s a minor issue, but it’s a bit jarring and confusing. What happened!?
The question arises of this “Superman Joker” and if this character is properly established. The story here certainly shows how close he can come to ruining Superman’s life. Is the claim of this being his Joker even true? I’m not so sure. The sadistic nature of Joker isn’t quite there, nor is the chaotic nature, but in time it could develop into a foe for the ages. That’s a tall order to accomplish in one volume.
Is It Good?
This is a stirring collection that does well to establish a Superman villain that’ll be pulling strings for years to come. Batman and Superman’s relationship builds too and there are enough surprises to satisfy the diehard Superman/Batman fans.