You know that things are going to end poorly in any comic universe, let alone anywhere near the Man of Steel, when a book begins in idyllic Smallville, Kansas. Jon Kent and Damian Wayne are jamming out to a crowd of four: Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Diana Prince, all lost in the perfect peace of the moment, reveling in a time when none of them wear cowls or capes, none of them need to focus on the evils of their world. Things do not end well. It seems that they never will again.
I’m going to get back to the rock concert at the end of this, so hang on to that for a moment. Superman and Wonder Woman have been trapped for a week inside Barbatos’ Matrix-esque human darkness battery, battling him in a pseudo-dream realm. Actually, to my eyes, it’s a mixture of a wall of souls from the Underworld and Lord Business’ tower in The LEGO Movie, but I digress. It appears quickly that most people in Metropolis and beyond have been turned into Rock Trolls or AAA batteries for Barbatos’ still unexplained doomsday device and Clark, ever the Boy Scout, races to Gotham to confront the seemingly all-powerful demon (?). A quick distraction from The Devastator introduces Superman to the true Dark Knights, all of them Batman down to the cellular level. As we’ve seen in the issues leading up to this, Dr. Fate rescues Superman, bringing him to the last place that is safe in the Multiverse: a bar run by an actual knight and a monkey.
Nightmaster and Bobo aside, this is a turning point for the series. Do the remaining heroes stand and fight or do they seek out the resonance points given to Mr. Terrific by the Plastic Man Egg?
Aside: Every time I get into the seriousness of this story, DC finds a way to pull me out into the ridiculous comic book world. I am 100% fine with the dark right now. I don’t need a talking monkey or a magic GPS vibrator egg.
Spoilery afterword: I mentioned that I would get back to the rock concert. As much as I am enamored by this event about 85% of the time, this felt like the most roundabout way to send a secret code I’ve ever seen, exacerbated by the fact that comics are not an aural medium. The band plays a song we are led to believe is some take on the old 1960s Batman theme. Bruce says “Carpe Diem” just before getting speared by Barbatos’ crusty fingernail and we forget about it until Clark brings it up again. “Carpe Diem” was the secret code. The three major heroes, when they truly needed help, would send a message using the initials of the other two, so, Bruce sends the message “C-D” for Clark and Diana. Except that’s not what he did. He apparently sent the message “D-C” through the notes played by the band. That’s the opposite of the correct message warning Clark to stay away.
Three things: 1) There’s no way Superman is ever, ever staying away from rescuing Batman. You might as well just not sent the message. 2) Does Superman have perfect pitch? Is that one of his super Kryptonian powers? How would he possibly know that the band was playing the notes “D” and “C” to start off their set? Where in his upbringing in rural Kansas would he have had the training needed to understand that? Does he even play an instrument? 3) THOSE AREN’T THE NOTES TO THAT SONG! The original “Batman” theme from the 1960s TV series (the “Na-na-na-na” part) are D#-D-C#, lather, rinse, repeat. At no point does the song go “D-C.” This one is going to stick with me for a while.
Superman is led by his ever-present desire to do what is right by his best friend and finds a way to convince himself he heard a message hidden in Barbatos’ Smallville nightmare. Out of all of the heroes present in the bar at the end of the multiverse, Clark is the only one who would be able to risk everything for Bruce. Everything hinges on him saving one of the trinity of heroes, while the rest work to stop the Dark Knights and whatever Barbatos’ sinister plan might be. As The Batman Who Laughs drinks a toast amidst the flames of the last safe haven, we see how that works out. Things do not end well. It seems they never will again.