My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you’re among those who were distraught over Superman’s uncharacteristic behavior at the climax of the Man of Steel movie, this graphic novel isn’t for you. However, the author and illustrator do know how to build tension and keep it rolling. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they achieve this via a mountain of corpses. If you’re good with that, you’ll likely enjoy this work. If not, you may find it a tad dark and / or gratuitous in its violence.
With the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice filming for a summer of 2016 release date, many are wondering how a Batman versus Superman battle might occur (and how the Caped Crusader could credibly avoid being smashed to pulp 30 seconds into the movie.) This comic offers one possible approach—though it’s exceedingly unlikely to be the tack portrayed in the movie. (This book is ancillary to a video game, and wouldn’t necessarily be seen as core canon of the Justice League.)
This book consists of six parts. In part I, the Joker outwits Superman, tricking him into an act that is so horrendous that it will shake the Man of Steel’s core values. In part II, Superman takes a proactive stance against global conflict. In part III, the U.S. government supports a covert action designed to give them leverage against Superman, and to dissuade him from enforcing his previously announced ceasefire. Aquaman and his nautical army oppose Superman in the fourth part because the former is displeased with a dictator setting rules in the maritime domain—even if it is a largely benevolent dictator. In the penultimate part, Batman and Nightwing resist Superman’s attempt to clear out Arkham Asylum and to put the lunatics somewhere where they can’t keep breaking out and causing trouble (as the Joker caused for Superman.) In the final part Batman is exposed to a life-altering event (as Superman had been at the book’s beginning), but the bulk of this section is just picking teams for the epic game of superhero dodgeball that is presumably to unfold in later volumes.
What worked? The setup in which the Joker bests Superman is well-played. The Joker’s willingness to die for the ultimate prank, his perfect psychopathy, and his love of sowing the seeds of chaos make him the perfect man for the job. Harley Quinn gets a few laughs in this otherwise morose book. There’s a lot to think about in terms of the morality of a benevolent dictator. If a god-like creature, i.e. Superman, were to exist on Earth, what should he/she/it take on and what should he leave alone? That’s a question that’s at the core of this book. As in many good storylines, there’s a blurring of the lines between good and evil, a blurring which is essential to have a Batman versus Superman battle make sense.
What doesn’t work? We come into the middle of the Joker’s plot and are supposed to accept that he and Harley Quinn could pull off the phenomenally complex plan in a manner in which it seems easy. It involves hijacking a nuclear sub, successfully taking control of and reprogramming a nuclear weapon, and not only giving Superman a hallucination but controlling the nature of the hallucination. For these events to play out, the Joker needs more than his usual complete lack of moral compass; he needs access to far greater intellectual ability than he usually has to display. And that’s not the only point at which events seem a little too easy. (However, yes, I do realize we are talking about a world in which there are people who can fly under their own locomotion and make complex constructs out of thin air. I didn’t say it was a deal breaker. I’m just saying there were some opportunities for tension missed.)
There is also a death that should have a profound impact on Batman, but which he seems to shrug off pretty well after a couple of hours of bereavement—and possibly some behind-the-scenes Catwoman nookie. I assume the effects of said death will play out in later volumes, but it seemed gratuitous given its lack of effect within the volume. Unlike the death that fundamentally alters Superman’s course, Batman seems to remain unchanged. I’m presuming that the death wasn’t just to create an excuse to bring Selina Kyle (Catwoman) into the storyline, and addition of mixed outcomes. Kyle’s left-of-Marx preachiness will grate on the nerves of politically conservative readers. (Not that it should, regardless of one’s views, one should be able to accept that realistic character development will include individuals with extreme views—just as one sees such individuals in real life… or on Facebook. I’m just saying that, sadly, in our world people don’t want to hear opposing views unless they are being lampooned, and so some will stay away just to avoid hearing characters spouting views contrary to their own. I don’t know how we got there, but…)
I enjoyed this comic overall. Like most entries in its genre, it’s a quick read, and it’s better written than most.