Written by Greg Pak, drawn by Jae Lee and Ben Oliver
DC Comics, $3.99
Rated T, for readers 12 and up
It’s been nearly two years since DC Comics canceled their Superman/Batman team-up title (along with the rest of their line, in order to introduce the new “New 52″ universe), but this week the publisher is returning to one of their oldest and more successful formulas: Putting their two biggest stars in the same book.
In this latest incarnation of a World’s Finest-style book, Batman has regained top-billing from his slightly older, much more powerful partner (and during Superman’s 75th anniversary, and the month of his latest movie’s release, no less!), but otherwise the comic book seems fairly similar to the canceled Superman/Batman, with the two leads taking turns narrating their shared story—sometimes panel by panel—and some pains being taken to define the two characters through more or less constant comparing and contrasting.
What is a little different this time around is that because this book is part of the New 52-iverse, it is—at least in its initial story arc—concerning itself with the very first meeting of the Dark Knight and The Man of Steel (Yes, I realize Justice League #2 seemed to do the same thing, but it looks like some comic book science might come into play here).
So in this first issue, young Clark Kent, reporter for the Metropolis Daily Star, travels to Gotham City looking for young Bruce Wayne, who is wearing his pre-Batman Batman: Year One disguise to prowl the streets. Apparently, there has been a string of murders of Wayne Enterprises employees in Metropolis, and Kent is investigating. Wayne naturally blows off Kent, but travels to Metropolis to investigate for himself, as Batman.
There, he discovers Catwoman, some robots, a mysterious new villain and Superman, who is at this point still wearing the jeans and t shirt costume of his early New 52 days. As the heroes have never met, they immediately assume the other is the villain, and fight. Then something weird happens, and it seems as if a second, future or alternate Batman appears for the cliffhanger ending.
Perhaps more interesting than the team starring in the book is the team creating it. First, there’s writer Greg Pak, a long-time Marvel writer making his DC debut penning the publisher’s flagship characters. An second, there’s Jae Lee, the highly-stylized artist who has drawn some well-regarded comics for Marvel and just recently finished a stint on one of DC’s controversial Watchmen spin-offs.
If the script is thus far fairly standard superhero writing, Lee’s artwork elevates the proceedings into something lush, elegant and highly idiosyncratic (or, one might say, weird). His figures are all always posed as if posing, each having a highly dramatic—but never inappropriately so—energy to them. There’s also a light, painterly look about them, helped along by June Chung’s colors, and Lee’s design work is almost worth the price of admission alone: His Gotham City is all twisted and black, as if made of some sort of inky coral, from the skyline right down to the downright sinister-looking park bench we first see Bruce Wayne sprawled upon.
In terms of lay-outs, Lee overuses splash pages, but he also provides a couple of almost Byzantine pages that recall the work of Batwoman‘s J.H. Williams III. In fact, if Lee can keep this up for very long, there’s a good chance that when people talk about “the good looking Bat book,” you might have to ask them to clarify which good-looking Bat book, instead of immediately assuming they’re talking about Batwoman.
Sadly, there’s already evidence that Lee’s not going to be able to keep this up for very long. This first issue is 26 pages long, and of those Lee draws only the first 19, with artist Ben Oliver (colored by Daniel Brown) finishing up the book. Oliver’s art is nice, and not too dissimilar to Lee’s—it’s even colored so as to to suggest painting rather than traditional comics coloring or slick, photorealism—but Lee’s work is so stylized that it’s a pretty clear, jarring break, and not a good portent for the title’s future, if its greatest attribute is already struggling.