Monday, May 26, 2014

Batman-Superman by Greg Pak Annual #1

I've read my share of World's Finest before and the real draw for doing so was the chance to see Superman and Batman join forces together and fight crime. After all, they're more at odds with each other than any other tandem I have encountered and yet it surprisingly works, most probably because, like any successful partnerships, they balance one another's strengths and weaknesses. My interest is always piqued whenever it has something to do with "BatSups" because I am not ashamed to say I ship them in so many different ways. So I was eager to get my hands on this New 52 title, particularly because of the artist credited, Jae Lee.

I have endured the ridiculous and wordy narrative of Before Watchmen: Ozymandias because Jae Lee's art makes it all worthwhile. And seeing his distinct style in a Batman-Superman comic had been so stimulating as I browsed through the pages. Granted, this issue is divided into three acts and Lee only draws the first one. But the first act has a very sleek panel layout and Lee made most of the mold he's been given, creating a certain chic smoothness in his illustrations of the characters. His art style can make even a masculine hero's every movement seem graceful and refined, and that is exactly how Superman and Batman looked like as they glided across the sky. Even when these hard-muscled superheroes fight, they fight pretty. That's the enchantment of Jae Lee's art.

As for the story, this issue is titled Arena and is actually a sequel that is better than the issue it followed. It starts off comfortably bizarre at first; the garden-variety alien life-form threatens to extinguish Earth if the world's two greatest heroes don't heed their demands. In this case, both Superman and Batman were asked to have a plus-one; a sparring partner, if you may, for a grand tournament in the skies. Superman picks Supergirl while Batman picks Red Hood and the two youngsters could readily be fast friends. This is actually the first time Kara and Jason Todd meet and I look forward to their next interactions. With only 39 pages, the challenge for this issue is to play out the small battles with a convincing gravity even with its limited length--most especially the final one with Team Superman and Team Batman on each side. Their fight serves as a distraction as two other accomplices try to dismantle the weapon that will supposedly obliterated the planet.

The great thing about Arena lies on its tiny, moving moments such as the strained way both Clark and Bruce try to keep things professional and yet each other's baggage manage to burden the other no less. Superman's empathy for Batman's personal losses is quite endearing to watch unfold, considering that I have always believed that Krypton's last son, in spite of his eternal optimism, can understand Batman's choices and state of mind more than we give him credit for. This is highlighted in the climactic scene where Batman fails to save someone as Superman looks on, recognizing that every death that his partner could not prevent has the ability to destroy him a little.


* Arena is an enjoyable ride with a simple yet elegant plot and an impressive breadth of art style within its 39 pages.

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