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Batman/Superman #8

(DC Comics; US: May 2014)

Although the Dynamic Duo will always be Batman and Robin, it is through the juxtaposition of Batman and Superman that some of superhero comics’ best stories were born. From the classic World’s Finest tales, featuring a grinning pair partaking in a game of baseball (or, on occasion, tennis) to Frank Miller’s dour, now drained of edge showdown at the end of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman and Superman, together, have defined most of the elements of classic comicbook storytelling for over 70 years.


The latest ongoing team-up book for the two, Batman/Superman, helmed by Greg Pak, continues this tradition, albeit in a much smaller universe. Ever since DC’s New 52 initiative, there’s been a definite contraction in the size and scope of the DCU. The timescale has been compressed, origins have changed, and characters, many characters, have disappeared or been waiting in the wings for their inevitable reintroduction.


I consider that move unfortunate, even after several years of developments. Unlike the New 52’s imitation of Marvel’s sleekness and modernity, DC’s strength had always been its bulkiness, its clumsiness, and its sheer charm and range that are packaged in an overlapping history filled with multiple Earths and successor heroes. Despite this shrinking of DC’s sandbox, Batman/Superman #8 by Pak and artist Jae Lee still embraces the texture, breadth, and versatility of a seemingly pre-New 52 universe.


This issue is actually a team-up within a team-up book, layering Huntress and Power Girl’s relationship on top of Batman and Superman’s. It’s the first installment in a story arc that already seems highly promising. Partly this is due to Pak’s storytelling, which is sharp, playful, and strikes that ooey-gooey balance between the maturity and levity. It’s paced well and, thankfully, doesn’t spell everything out for the reader. You get the dynamics and Pak trusts you to pick up the pieces as you go.
However, Jae Lee’s work is exceptional, which seems to be faint praise considering the sheer splendor and vibe of his art. While most DC books seem to be settling into a bland, inoffensive “house style,” Lee shatters the mold, bringing echoes of early oeuvre Tim Burton meets Dave McKean. It is dark whimsy, something sinister shadowing a familiar face, which seems totally out of place in a title featuring two of DC’s biggest properties in the cross-pollinated media field that is modern superhero comics.


But it isn’t.


And it’s great.


Something about Batman/Superman feels like a time capsule. Although it features two of the most widely known superheroes out there, it doesn’t have the feel of a tent pole book. DC doesn’t seem to be hinging anything on the success, or failure, of this book. And that lack of control, that willingness to allow a creative team to carve out their own niche, is what contributes to this series’, and this issue’s, success.


It reminds me of the time around another 52, but this time, near the conclusion of that weekly series, a time when a series of stellar runs were underway (Geoff Johns’ on Green Lantern, Grant Morrison on Batman, to name a few). Those runs relied on the rich tapestry that was the DC Universe’s history. That attention to its unwieldiness, the urge to toy with, tamper, but, almost, always respect, what had come before gave those books a certain flair altogether unique that made them books published by DC Comics.


Pak and Lee are just getting started. While the story crosses over with, not wholly coincidentally, World’s Finest #20, I’m ready to line up for another helping of the duo’s work. And another. And another. They’re a team-up DC needs more of.

Rating:

Rocketed to Chicago as a young adult from a doomed suburb, James now writes for truth, justice and the conspicuous consumption of comic books. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Jacobin, The New Humanism, Salon, Bookslut, and elsewhere. He blogs, occasionally, at Graphically Apparent.


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