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Batman #36 (2016) review: Can Super Friends make amends?

Who should call first when a Super Friend gets engaged? And is there room for two power couples in the DC Universe?

Tom King
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Despite all the brouhaha surrounding the iconic (Batman lodging his spike-soled boot upside Superman’s jaw in The Dark Knight Returns), outlandish (Batman putting down key Justice League members like Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman before taking on a Joker-toxin infected Superman in Batman: Endgame)… and sometimes calamitous (Kryptonite spears and a couple dames named Martha in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) confrontations they’ve had over the years, Batman and Superman’s true connection lies not in their enmity but their long-standing friendship. (The first team-up of many between the World’s Finest came in 1952’s Superman #76.)

In Batman #37, the two’s friendship is reexamined when Superman and Lois Lane catch wind of the recent Bat and Cat engagement. Is there room for another power couple in the DC Universe?

One of my favorite facets of writer Tom King’s Batman run has been his unique method of flipping the usual Batman script, particularly his transformation of narrative beats oft-regarded as mundane and ordinary into ones that are magnetic. And vice-versa. Consider the “Rooftops” story arc (Batman #14), where a sequence of Batman and Catwoman teaming up to dispatch a slew of villains is not the issue’s focal point but merely serves as foreplay for Bat and Cat’s subsequent rooftop roll in the hay. Or “The Brave and the Mold” (Batman #23), where Batman and Swamp Thing converse in a way that’d make Frank from Donnie Darko proud during a Batmobile ride through Gotham. Or how in the middle of a supervillain gang war that threatens to tear Gotham apart, there’s an entire issue dedicated to a nine-course dinner at Bruce Wayne’s house.

In the first part of “Superfriends,” King once more inverts the same old song and dance. The very first page features Superman in mid-hover, faced with the “classic” dilemma of a speeding train and a set of ravaged train tracks plummeting into a rift in the earth. Normally a spectacle to inspire awe in us lowly mortals at Superman’s god-like capabilities, the predominant sentiment is instead whether or not Superman should call Batman to congratulate him on his engagement. A silly notion, considering Superman could just fly across the map in seconds, Ice Breathe on a couple clouds above Batman’s head in Gotham City to spell out the words, “Congrats on your engagement, Bat-bro” and go back to punching asteroids seconds later — but then again, that’s entirely the point of the issue.

“He’s the one [who’s] engaged,” Superman says, flying full-speed at the cab car, wrestling the locomotive to a stop before disaster strikes.

“Clark, just because he should call… doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call,” Lois replies, already gathering the railroad’s insurance information back at her Metropolis office desk. Lois isn’t just sitting around waiting to be rescued; Superman and Lois are a balanced team, as King explicates through this scene; equal partners who treat one another with love, dignity and respect. But what about those other two?

Right on cue, a full-page splash of Batman. As it should be, the shot is a dark mirror of Superman’s entrance, The Dark Knight upside down, fists balled in his outflung cape as he vaults through the Gotham cityscape.

“I don’t see why I need to call him,” he says.

“I thought he was your closest friend,” Catwoman says as she roundhouse kicks two hockey-masked thugs.

Superfriends. The World’s Finest. The Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. One’s diverting a speeding train from disaster and the other’s cleaning out a warehouse full of armed criminals — feats that we mere mortals could dare only dream of — and yet the biggest worry on either one’s mind, in all their super-stubbornness, is which one of them is being more socially dignified. And which one will actually listen to their fiancee/wife’s advice first. Two larger than life icons with very unremarkable problems — and it’s precisely this marriage of the remarkable and unremarkable that makes this issue so enjoyable. (Also, this isn’t the first time I’ve said this, but I’m on Team Batman. Superman, you should have called to congratulate.)

What’s not unremarkable in the least in this issue is the art, handled by Clay Mann (pencils, inks), Seth Mann (inks) and Jordie Bellaire (colors). Hell, just take one look at that downright majestic cover. My colleague David Brooke nailed it in the latest Judging by the Cover: “I really dig the composition… We get a golden glowing Daily Planet that conveys a rich heroic vibe, then a steady and strong Superman followed by Batman, slightly cast in shadow.” It’s a bold, epic cover worthy of the World’s Finest.

The Manns and Bellaire are able to evince this vibe and plenty more throughout the entire issue, from the aforementioned splash pages introducing the two heroes; to Superman and a radioactive villain crackling with energy crashing through rock pedestals and buttes in a copper-colored desert; to more intimate moments like Catwoman, true to her name, prowling around all cat-like on all fours before curling into Batman’s lap in the Bat-Cave.

Is It Good?

A strong issue wherein King skillfully weaves a deep analysis of friendship, fear of fraying that friendship and mutual respect with a conventional superhero team-up. Batman #36 is the first part of a story that fans of both characters should find charming, relatable and highly enjoyable.

Batman #36
Is it good?
King once more fuses the remarkable with the unremarkable and makes it work.
We haven't seen much yet, but it already looks like King has a solid grasp of Batman and Superman's rapport.
Solid art from start to finish, including a cover befitting of the World's Finest.
Feels a bit decompressed compared to recent issues, although the second installment of the story ac next month will determine whether that concern is valid.

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