TITLE: Batman/Superman: Cross World
AUTHOR: Greg Pak
PENCILLERS: Jae Lee, Ben Oliver, Yildiray Cinar, Paulo Siqueira
COLLECTS: Batman/Superman #1-4, Justice League #23.1
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
RELEASE DATE: April 30, 2014
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
This book did not need to be as complicated as they made it. As a DC Comics fan, what I was looking for in Batman/Superman: Cross World was a simple “When Clark Met Bruce” story. In the New 52 canon, the Superman/Batman dynamic isn’t nearly as frosty as it could be in the old continuity. The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are downright chummy these days. They not only talk superheroics, but Bruce is giving Clark relationship advice. Their friendship seems to be much more personal than it was in the pre-New 52 universe.
This begs the question: How do two people who are so different get to be so close? That sounds like a heck of a question to answer in the first arc of a new Batman/Superman series. And ultimately, that question does get answered. Unfortunately, Greg Pak, Jae Lee and their cohorts answered it for the WRONG SUPERMAN AND BATMAN!!!!
Set some time before “five years ago” (i.e. Justice League: Origin), a young Batman butts heads with a jeans and t-shirt-wearing Superman. But moments later, they’re transported to Earth 2 by Kaiyo, a trickster from Apokolips who takes it upon herself to “borrow” our heroes. Our heroes soon come into contact with their Earth 2 counterparts, none of whom have any idea about Kaiyo’s connection to Darkseid, or how she may impact their future.
The decision to bring this book’s first story to Earth 2 is a curious one, especially when you consider that with the Superman/Batman movie coming up in 2016, this would ideally be a book Warner Bros. and DC could point new fans to, so they can get a preemptive taste of the standard Superman/Batman chemistry. But this book is NOT friendly to new readers at all. The first few pages do give us a nice look at Bruce and Clark’s respective outlooks, as they watch a boy getting beat up by his classmates, but from there we move into a convoluted story involving an alternate universe, featuring alternate and older versions of characters we’re already familiar with, and ties into Justice League: Origin. Superman and Batman DO end up teaming up at the end, but ultimately we learn more about the Clark and Bruce of Earth 2 than we do about the characters we read about in the ongoing books every month. Thus, Cross World fails to be an adequate jumping-on point for both new readers, and fans who want to learn more about the Superman and Batman of the New 52.
But even if one is of the mindset that Greg Pak isn’t obligated to be inviting to new readers, this book still has a crippling drawback: Jae Lee.
I say that with with the utmost respect, because Jae Lee is a star, and I typically enjoy his work (most recently, Before Watchmen: Ozymandias). But the God-honest truth is that he’s terribly miscast as the artist for a Superman/Batman story. He’s perfectly suited for Batman, but he’s a fish out of water with Superman.
As we see in our opening scene, Lee and colorist June Chung present a very dreary and shadowy Gotham City, complete with bare tree branches that almost give it a Tim Burton-esque feel. In contrast, his Smallville and Metropolis renderings have lovely colored skies, but are frustratingly shadowy and dark beyond that.
For instance, there’s a page where “regular” Superman meets the Jonathan and Martha Kent of Earth 2. As our Clark lost his adopted parents in a car crash, this is a very emotional moment for him. And Pak gives us some decent dialogue to go with this emotional moment. The problem? Aside from Chung’s skies, the entire page takes place in total darkness. How much more powerful would this moment have been if we’d been able to see Clark’s eyes as he looks up and sees his mother’s face again? How much more meaningful would that embrace in the last panel have looked if the friggin’ lights had been on?
Clark and Ma Kent aren’t the only victims of the Jae Lee blackout, either. When Batman and Earth 2 Catwoman duke it out in the Batcave, their shrouded in near total darkness. When Earth 2 Superman bursts on to the scene to interrupt his counterpart’s initial meeting with his parents, his face is completely cloaked in shadow, save for his glowing red eyes. Throw in the fact that everyone’s skin is needlessly pale, and this simply becomes a case of a book that caters to its artist’s needs, as opposed to an artist catering to the story’s needs. Yanick Paquette takes the pencil during a flashback in issue #3, and it’s such a breath of fresh air because we can finally see things. Faces, colors, and settings that effect the mood and tone of what we’re seeing. But of course, then we’re plunged back into semi-darkness.
What’s more, Cross World sees the debut of the Mangubots (pictured on the cover), i.e. giant robots developed by Waynetech to do…something. They have a role on Earth 2 that’s never fleshed out. On “regular” Earth, we see Batman use them against Superman in issue #1. Why Batman, a silent avenger of the night, would have giant, structure crumbling robots at his beckon call is beyond me. There goes his whole Dark Knight modus operandi right out the window. Batman and giant robots don’t go together. Please don’t make me say it again.
I’ll never say Jae Lee’s art isn’t great on its own merits, but the decision to put him on this book comes off ill-conceived, and not thought out. That’s consistent with a lot of DC’s decisions over the last few years. Sadly, they’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with Jae Lee and Batman/Superman to this day.
In addition to our main story (which lasts four issues), Cross World also contains Justice League #23.1, which was part of DC’s month of villain spotlights. We get some cool info on Darkseid, and how he became who and what he is. We also learn about his connection to Kaiyo, and how she has lured him from world to world on an endless path of destruction. This naturally sets us up for Cross World, and Justice League: Origin. Paulo Siqueira also seems very comfortable in a sci-fi setting, and the issue is actually one of the better Villains Month stories I’ve read.
Another Villains Month inclusion in this book is Batman/Superman #3.1, which Brett Booth drops in for. The issue focuses on Doomsday, who has no bearing on anything else in the book…but what the hell? I’m not the world’s biggest Brett Booth fan, but he draws a pretty good Doomsday. Not as good as Tony Daniel’s on the cover, but still pretty good. In the issue, a young Supergirl’s father tells her some sort of prophecy in which Doomsday defeats the “Last Knight of the House of El.” It’s essentially The Death of Superman, only not really…I guess. The most intriguing aspect of the issue involves young Kara Zor El talking to a projection of General Zod from the Phantom Zone, whom she has apparently been in contact with for some time. I like the notion that Zod is haunting the House of El, and a vulnerable young girl no less. It makes him that much more slimey and evil.
The Darkseid and Doomsday spotlights indicate Greg Pak is obviously capable of telling good stories in the DC Universe. So how he ended up giving us this convoluted mess as the kick off to a Batman/Superman series is beyond me. All we needed was the equivalent of a basic turkey sandwich, and this creative team gave us some bizarre tofurky casserole from some crazy lady’s Pinterest account.
Front page image from comicbookmovie.com. Image 1 from cosmicteams.com. Image 2 from dreamwidth.org. Image 3 from gregpak.com.
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