Batman/Superman #21 Review

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Batman/Superman #21 kicks off a new direction for these two franchises. Is it a good direction? That is highly debatable. So far I have no been overly impressed with the new directions for the two franchises. Can Pak win me over with this issue? Let’ s hit this review and find out.

Words: Greg Pak
Pencils: Ardian Syaf
Inks: Vicente Cifuentes
Colors: Ulises Arreola

Story Rating: 3 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Superman brawling with multiple jacked up thugs with high tech armor and weapons. We get some gritty narration about how Superman he has lost his powers and it is a new age now. Superman kicks one of the thugs in the balls. (This isn’t your daddy’s Superman! This Superman gouges eyeballs and rips off testicles. By any means necessary in order to win the fight!) Superman takes down the thugs. He thinks how his knuckles are on fire. That his leg is on fire. He looks down and sees an energy sword stuck in his leg. Superman rips it out of his leg and calls the thugs “jackasses.” Superman thinks about how good this feels. Being able to cut loose and kick ass. (Yeah, bro! Kicking some ass is a blast!)

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Superman sees a cop just standing there. He watched the entire fight and did nothing. Superman says that he knows the officer and saw him stand up to his sergeant. We get an editors note to check out Action Comics #42 for more on this story. (Uhh, Action Comics #42? An issue that comes out a month from now? More brilliant planning by DC’s editorial staff.) The cop says he is just following orders. He doesn’t exactly know who the orders come from. Clark says that he thinks he knows.

We cut to Clark brushing past Lex Luthor’s security team and busting into Lex’s office. Lex talks about how he should have guess that Clark Kent was Superman. Lex says that the more he studied it the less it made sense. Superman can’t be Clark Kent. Clark is just a loser. Lex says that it is so disappointing to see Superman before him bloody and beaten. Superman says that he knows Lex is behind his secret identity being revealed. That Lex is behind everything. Superman slams his fist onto Lex’s desk.

Lex says that he can’t figure it all out just yet. That the thugs who have been attacking Superman are all using tech that originates from Gotham City. Superman thinks how Bruce Wayne will be able to help him figure this all out.

We jump forward in time to Gotham City and see Mecha Batman beating up Superman. Lex says that Superman is working for him. While Lex is talking to Mecha Batman, Superman grabs some of the alien tech from the thugs he was fighting and disappears. Lex turns around and is disappointed that Clark ran from the scene. Lex says that Clark was saving the security guards from the thugs and not breaking into the WayneTech building.

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We shift to Clark on a bus headed to Wayne Manor. We learn that Wayne Manor is now Arkham Manor. That Bruce let them turn it into an Asylum and then Bruce disappeared. (Huh, what? This makes no sense.) Superman enters the Batcave and is greeted by Alfred. Alfred says that he can help Superman run an analysis on the piece of tech he has with him. Superman then asks what happened to Bruce.  Alfred says that Superman deserves the truth. Alfred says that he always knew he was going to bury Bruce. Alfred asks Superman to let Bruce rest in peace. Alfred says that the darkness was for Bruce and not Superman.

We cut to Clark walking around Gotham. Superman thinks how before Alfred became a butler he was a trained actor. Clark wonders where Bruce is hiding. Clark thinks how Bruce knows everything. Clark wonders why Bruce isn’t calling him. Clark then calls Lois Lane. Lois says that Clark was in the news and that he must be in trouble. Lois defends her decision to release Clark’s secret identity. Lois says it has ruined her life, too. That she receives death threats. That Perry White may get fired. That Jimmy is out of a job. Metallo is taking care of the serious death threats and Lex Luthor sent over guards to the Daily Planet. (Wait, what the hell? Lois has purple eyes? When did that happen?)

Lois tells Clark that he is in trouble and for him to talk to her. Clark is silent. Lois responds that Clark was always good at keeping secrets. Lois hangs up on Clark. We see Clark walking to an auto store to buy some spray paint. He thinks how he is not built to live in darkness and suspicion. He belongs in the sun. (This is actually some nice writing.) Clark then pulls the cover off of the Batbike and proceeds to spray paint the black bike red and blue. (And just like that this scene is ruined. This is so cheesy.)

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The Batcomputer finishes the analysis on the mysterious tech. Superman hops onto the newly repainted red and blue Batbike and rides off. Superman thinks “Goodbye Bruce” as he leaves Arkham Manor. Superman then fires two missiles into the air that blow up the ground. (What the hell is going on? It looks like he blew up a car. Wait, is he in a junkyard? I can’t really tell what is going on.) A GCPD helicopter appears and Mecha Batman jumps out of it. Superman stands there and says “Hello Batman.” End of issue.

The Good: Batman/Superman #21 was a odd read. There were glimpses of some good writing in this issue. There were a couple of scenes where everything clicked. Unfortunately, those good moments were quickly drowned out by poor writing and questionable plot decisions. Having said that, I did enjoy a couple of scenes in this issue where Pak showed off his obvious talent. The strongest dialogue in this issue was in the scene between Alfred and Superman and the scene between Lois and Clark. Those were easily the two bright spots to Batman/Superman #21.

In those two scenes, Pak nailed the proper external voices for all three characters. The reader is pulled into both scene and actually becomes emotionally invested in the characters and the story. Pak was able to generate some enjoyable chemistry between Alfred and Clark as well as between Lois and Clark.

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I loved how Pak played up Alfred’s acting background. Alfred skillfully delivered his story to try and throw SUeprman off of Bruce’s trail. At the same time, Alfred’s words had so much truth to them. Despite lying to Superman, Alfred uses this moment to also point out the truth that Superman is not dark and gritty. That Superman is and always will be about the light. I loved how Pak was able to give double meaning to Alfred’s dialogue. It was a nice literary trick to have lies also give the truth. Pak also handled the thematic differences between Superman and Batman in a succinct and deft fashion.

The short scene between Lois and Clark left me wanting more. I love these two character together. The pairing of Superman and Wonder Woman always felt force and awkward. It was painfully obvious that the pairing was a New 52 editorial mandate rather than the genesis of an organic plot dreamed up by a writer. Therefore, the Superman/Wonder Woman pairing has been artificial and lifeless. Lois and Clark? That is a different story. I would love to see more of these two characters together. Pak generates excellent chemistry in short fashion during the phone call between the two characters. The tension and hurt feelings were palpable during this scene. This scene was the emotional high point for this issue.

Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes deliver some solid artwork. Syaf nailed the opening fight scene. The Lois and Clark scene was also well done.

The Bad: Unfortunately, the weaknesses to Batman/Superman #21 were so glaring that they overshadow the two good scenes that Pak delivered. The schizophrenic narration that Pak wrote over in Action Comics #41 finds its way into the pages of Batman/Superman #21. Once again, there is a glaring tonal shift in Superman’s narration in the first part of the issue and his narration in the middle to end of the issue. The narration begins like bad Frank Miller with a gritty and edgy tough guy style. Then it suddenly shifts into a much more positive and classic good guy style. It is so jarring that it pulls the reader out of the story.  This narration problem also confuses the reader as the this “new” Superman’s personality. Is he an edgy badass? Is he still a classic good guy? Who knows? Superman’s narration makes him seem

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This “new” Superman continues to be an unsteady character. The tonal problem with the narration certainly contributes to this problem. The unsteadiness of this character is further magnified by the inconsistent manner in which Clark deals with different characters and situations  Is he badass and gritty? Is he sensitive and emo? Is he bright and positive? Who knows? He is all of the above at this point! Superman is a guy who gets off on kicking dudes in the balls. Then Superman is portrayed as a sensitive emo character in the scene with Alfred and Lois. Then Superman is a cheesy good guy with a bit of naivete who paints the batbike in his bright primary colors. Superman has become DC’s version of Sybil. You never know what you are going to get.

While that type of surprise might be great when eating a box fool of Jelly Belly beans, it is not so great when trying to get a character over with a reader. It is important that characters be delivered in a  consistent manner so the reader understands what the writer is trying to sell. Any character, much less one rolling out a brand new persona, much be developed and sold to the reader in a consistent fashion. The reader must know the character’s core elements and what defines their basic personality. It is hard to reconcile the radically different ways Superman is written in just a single issue.

Pak performs absolutely zero character work on Mecha Batman. That character is a total dud. Mecha Batman is about as interesting and compelling of a character as the toaster in my kitchen is. This character is a complete swing and a miss with me. Pak does nothing to get the reader even remotely interested in this character. Mecha Batman proceeds through his scenes like a dull automaton. How DC’s editors ever though replacing their most compelling and best selling character with this generic cardboard cut out of a character was a good idea is utterly beyond me.

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Lex Luthor is boring. Pure and simple. How a writer can have the greatest Superman villain, a character who has incredible depth and complexity, and deliver such a dry and boring version is beyond me. But, that is what Pak does with Lex in this issue. There is zero chemistry between Lex and Superman. The scene between these two characters in Lex’s office felt stiff and bland. That is a huge problem. These two iconic antagonists should always generate incredible chemistry. 

Pak’s dialogue is uneven through out Batman/Superman #21. It flows from cheesy and unintentionally goofy in one scene to very strong and compelling in the next scene and then to stiff and generic. I am not sure if the problem with Pak’s dialogue stems from certain editorial mandates about how Pak is to handle Superman’s “new” character and the new Mecha Batman character. It is unusual for Pak to deliver such inconsistent dialogue. This is normally one of Pak’s greatest strengths.

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There were also several unintentionally funny moments in this issue. These goofy moments serve as speed bumps in the story that pull the reader out of the story in an unpleasant fashion. One example would be the scene with Superman and the police officer. That entire scene was hackneyed. The cop came across as a caricature. The reader ends up chuckling at the ham handed way the cop is portrayed.

Another example would be the scene where Superman walks to a hardware store to buy spray paint and then paints the black Batbike red and blue. That was such a goofy cheesy scene! And it came right on the heels of the incredibly strong scene between Lois and Clark. This is a perfect example of how Pak when from delivering a wonderfully written scene to a scene that came across as an unintentional joke.

We have more editorial issues with Batman/Superman #21 like we did with Action Comics #41. In Batman/Superman #21 during the scene with Superman and the police officer we get an Editor’s box that tells us to read Action Comics #42 for more information on what these two characters are discussing. I get referring a reader to a comic book that comes out the same week or from a prior week. But, telling the reader to check out an issue that will not be out for another month in order to understand what is going on in the scene is just silly. I continue to be unimpressed with DC’s editorial staff ever since the New 52 reboot.

The artwork had its weak moments. The final two pages were disorientating and completely confusing. I had no idea what was going on. This poorly laid out artwork in the final two pages hampered the exciting hook ending that Pak was going for in this issue. Also, I am unsure why Lois has purple eyes in this issue. Are we supposed to believe that Lois has Alexandria’s Genesis and is a mutant who has attained the status of a genetically perfect human being? I’m thinking someone just screwed up the colors.

Overall: Batman/Superman #21 was an uneven read at best. The few bright moments were overshadowed by the schizophrenic narration, inconsistent presentation of Superman’s character, some weak dialogue and unintentionally goofy moments. This new direction for Superman continues to be underwhelming. It also appears that DC has no real idea of where they want to go with this “new” Superman. And Mecha Batman? That is just a hot mess from start to finish. Batman/Superman #21 is not worth price of admission.