JokerFish #03: Superpants And Batface

I was listening to Episode 205, in which Sean and Jim had a lengthy discussion (Raging Bullets? Lengthy? Never!) about the upcoming limited issue, company-wide, epic crossover crisis event – Last Action Of The Supermen In The New Krypton War. Superman-related discussions on Raging Bullets are always interesting to me because I don’t pick up any Super books.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. I’ve been picking up Power Girl and Adventure Comics which are in the Super Family, but you won’t find any Man, Girl or Action in my comics pile. Nothing against the Boy In Blue – it’s not that I don’t like him, it’s just that I don’t like him as much as I like all these other great books I’m picking up. Some readers are Bat-People, and some are Super-People – I’m a Bat-Guy. It might have something to do with growing up in the late 80s and 90s with the Batman movies and shows, just as growing up in the 70s and early 80s must have influenced a lot of Superman fans. Even if you like both, I think even Sean and Jim could tell you whether they’d ultimately root for Bruce or Clark in a fight (though I’d argue that in a Batman vs. Superman battle situation, the smart choice for an onlooker is “to run like hell”).

Even though I don’t pick up the main Super books and I don’t have a huge man-crush on Clark Kent, I’ve still read some great Super-centric stories. Kingdom Come is one of my all-time favorites, and that’s got a huge Superman focus in it. I was late to the All-Star Superman party, but it was a great book to read all in one go when I finally caught up. Superman: Secret Origins has been a great read. The young reader’s novelization of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace? It’s so awesome – I own it. I even liked (elements of) Superman Returns.

Anyway, listening to Sean and Jim talk Superman made me consider diving into one of the Superman books I have right here: The Adventures Of Nightwing And Flamebird. However, I’d already been thinking about reviewing some more 40s Batman. So I figured I’d compromise, and at the same time review an ongoing Superman-related book that I do actually pick up…


February – August 2008

Writers: Michael Green with Mike Johnson
Pencils: Shane Davis
Inks: Matt Banning
Colors: Alex Sinclair (#44-48) and Pete Pantazis (#49)
Letters: Rob Leigh

Sometime early last year I finally broke down and bought a book with “Superman” in the title. I liked it enough to go back and read all of the Superman/Batman books from #1 onwards. I’ve really liked this series. It’s been refreshing to get away from present DC continuity every so often… though Superman/Batman never really shows you a story that couldn’t have happened at some point in the past, so you can still slot them into the imaginary continuity in your mind (if you’re a continuity mark like me). Since #68, DC have been slotting the Superman/Batman stories into very specific times in past continuity. I thought this was a cool idea… though I haven’t read any Supes/Bats since they started doing this (granted, I haven’t read the original Our Worlds At War story that they’re referencing at the moment, which doesn’t help). The Search For Kryptonite collects together issues #44 to #49, and is one of the more memorable arcs in this series.

Writer, Michael Green: know who he is? He wrote for Heroes, and co-wrote a little movie coming out in 2011 about a certain guy who finds a certain decoder ring in the bottom of his box of Abin Sur Flakes. The guy who wrote this book + the guy who directed Goldeneye and Casino Royale = much enthusiasm on my part for that movie. Coincidentally, The Dark Knight co-writer Jonathan/Jonah Nolan writes a foreword in The Search For Kryptonite (in which he basically tells us that Superman and Batman are awesome, and so are the people who made this book).

All of this plays into the opening scene of the book, during which Superman and Batman observe the filming of a Superman/Batman movie within the DC Universe. This is possibly the best opening scene of any Supes/Bats story ever.

Because the film-within-a-comic is being created by civilians, they have no idea about the man behind Batman’s mask. Their stab at Batman turns him into a blond-haired child-abuse victim named Lance, whose sister – while protecting him – was beaten by their baseball bat-wielding mother. This leads him into a life of crime-fighting to honor his comatose sister. He also has a lab on the moon.

In Marvel’s hands, this scene would have literally featured Christian Bale and Brandon Routh. DC take a more parodic approach, resulting in a Val Kilmer-esque Batman and what can only be described as Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Superman Returns suit.

Noting the parallels and differences in our two heroes’ thought patterns is a central, ongoing theme in the Superman/Batman series. Here we get to see Clark trying desperately not to shout “TO THE MOOOOOOON!”, while Batman seethes at what he perceives to be cinematic excrement. The back and forth between their thoughts and dialogue is hilarious.

When Livewire turns up to extort the actor behind the fake cowl, Superman offers to clean up this second-tier villain on his own. One of Livewire’s electro attacks blows up the movie production’s kryptonite prop… which turns out to be real kryptonite, as we see when Superman ends up with a zillion shards of it in the side of his face. SUPERMAN IS STABBED IN THE EYE WITH KRYPTONITE.

Ol’ Bats takes care of Livewire, and Wally West is called in to speed Superman to his Fortress Of Solitude. After Alfred pulls the bits of green rock out of Superman’s face, Clark realizes that it’s a tad ridiculous that there’s so much kryptonite on Earth that even a film production can get their hands on some just for authenticity’s sake. He also mentions that there’s a store selling kryptonite engagement rings. I can honestly say, I would totally get that store to carve me a Green Lantern ring out of kryptonite. ‘Cause I’m nerdy like that.

When Clark – eyepatch and all – approaches Bruce, requesting for help to rid the entire world of kryptonite, we get to see Batman channeling his inner Frank Miller.

I like that Batman’s sarcastic remark is both cutting and sort of unnecessary. I don’t think I’d personally try to add insult to injury to the most dangerously strong man on the planet, but that’s why Batman is so awesome. He knows that Clark is too much of a Boy Scout to have any kind of reaction to it. Bruce just keeps piling it on, telling Supes to follow him and to “try to keep up.”

Anyway. The story is now set – Batman and Superman will travel the globe and throw all the kryptonite into the sun. The reason I like this story so much is that it feels like a plot hole that needed addressing. If I found out I was completely indestructible except for one single element that seemed to have no beneficial properties for the rest of Earth, well I would probably try and round it all up and pitch it into the sun too. Call up all those extra honorary JLA members – give them something to do. Plastic Man, Green Arrow… I’m sure they can use a shovel. They should have done this decades ago. And it’s not just the JLA who show up to help out. Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl, Firestorm, Booster Gold and Starfire all turn up to get into Superman’s good books by lending a hand. Even Toyman turns up to show off some nanobot spiders he’s made, but the World’s Finest are sure they don’t need such things. I’m sure this won’t come up again later in the story, right?

I’m sure people have noticed this before, but Toyman’s real name is Hiro Okamura, which sounds suspiciously close to Hiro Nakamura, the comic book-loving teleporter from Heroes. Hiro Okamura first appeared in Superman #177 in 2002, written by Jeph Loeb… who was an executive producer on Heroes. This Toyman debuted in 2002, and Heroes debuted in 2006. Hmm. Also, why do they keep calling him “Toyman“? Hiro is obviously still a kid. It’d be like Damien calling himself Batman – it just doesn’t seem right.

Onward. Clark and Bruce head undersea to pick up a huge chunk of kryptonite, where Superman is attacked by a giant, mutated anglerfish. Bruce tells Clark to “quit playing around”. I just love it when Bats is a dick to Superman. Aquaman turns up, probably to ask Superman why he just threw his anglerfish friend halfway across the ocean.

The only time I’ve read this incarnation of Aquaman was in an early issue of the latest Outsiders run. I don’t quite have a grasp on who he’s meant to be. The original Aquaman died, or became a weird octopus thing before he died, and then this Aquaman turned up, is also called Arthur, wears Aquaman’s clothes… but isn’t him?… *reads Wikipedia*… Oh okay, I see now. Complicated. I guess Joseph Curry and Cassandra Cain are out having a coffee somewhere with Ryan Choi.

Bats and Supes take off with the kryptonite, but not before Aquaman pointedly asks if they’d considered that perhaps not everyone wants Superman to be absolutely safe on Earth. Aquaman also shows off his inability to speak proper English.

The search continues as our duo find themselves in the Oblivion Bar, where all the magic-based DC characters apparently hang out when they’re not appearing in crossover events and issues of Brave And The Bold. Just in case you thought there weren’t going to be any more character cameos in this book, we now get a glimpse of The Phantom Stranger, Blue Devil, Ragman, The Creeper, Detective Chimp, and… that girl… in the green witch’s hat and Peter Pan shoes… *Googles*… Enchantress!

I have to say: Superman’s kryptonite-protection suit is pretty badass. Why doesn’t he just wear that all the time? Then he’d have no weaknesses! Well, except magic.

Speaking of which: a kryptonite-based magic charm blows up in Superman’s face and he wakes up on the JLA Watchtower as the world’s strongest stoner, able to leap a cereal bowl in a single munchie. Hallucinating and with half-lidded eyes, Superman heads off to Earth in search of brownies. Roy finds this hilarious, but Batman instantly understands the severity of the situation: in several hours, Superman will have completely rid the world of all snack foods.

Bruce, despite his usual “magic is just stuff we haven’t looked at close enough yet” routine, caves in and heads off with Zatanna to Dinosaur Island in search of the rest of the magic charm thingy.

While Batman glides around in a volcano with his shirt off, stoned Superman hangs out with Roy (a curious choice), playing what appears to be a Nintendo 64. In 2008? Seriously? The Wii had been out for two years at that point, guys! Don’t even get me started on the Gamecube. I’m sensing Michael Green is perhaps not really a gamer – not recently, at least. Roy mentions Superman losing his “last life” and beating the “high score”, which are two things gamers (and games) are no longer terribly concerned with. And how tiny is that TV? I mean, it’s big and all… but I’d kinda expect Bruce to pony up for a 90-inch flat screen or something. The JLA rec room obviously needs an upgrade. Where’s Toykid now?

Meanwhile, Batman finds the other half of the magic kryptonite, which shows him his innermost fantasies – things even he didn’t realise he wanted. This includes kissing Zatanna, and having a mother who looks like Hillary Clinton.

Stronger-willed than Superman, Batman resists his secret urges and takes the kryptonite back to the Watchtower to save Clark. Here, Bruce gets into an argument with Zatanna when he continues to deny the existence of magic. Who said Bruce Wayne had a high level of intelligence? He could totally shack up with Zatanna if he wanted, yet he doesn’t. Even Paul Dini has more sense than that.

Bruce and Clark continue their kryptonite search, which lead them to discover a secret underground goverment base in Kansas. The base is being run by – surprise, surprise – Amanda Waller. She has assembled a team of soldiers and armed them with various kryptonite-based technologies, specifically trained to take down Superman and Batman if they ever decided to go mad and take over the world. Apparently her and Aquaman have been reading too much of Mark Waid’s Irredeemable.

Turns out the leader of Waller’s team, Brannon, had a wife that was killed during the original Doomsday/Superman match-up years ago. That ties in nicely to the following punch-up between Superman and a genetically-altered American soldier full of kryptonite and Doomdsay DNA. While Green Doomsday and Superpants smash up Smallville, Batface convinces Brannon that it might be best to stop the battle before someone else gets hurt.

So, Batman flies a Batplane into Green Doomsday. Brannon, meanwhile, helicopters in the altered soldier’s parents, which triggers the monster’s memories of his humanity. This is apparently all it takes to stop a kryptonite-powered, Doomsday-spliced human.

Everyone sits down to a lovely dinner at the Kent farm, because apparently it’s the only building in Smallville that wasn’t obliterated during the battle. The other people in town think the Kents are just lucky. Mmhmm, that’s what it is…

Amanda Waller is eventually blackmailed into revealing where she got all her kryptonite weaponry from: LexCorp. Superman is surprised, for some reason. Why wouldn’t you check out Superman’s arch-enemy first? Wouldn’t that be the most obvious place to find kryptonite? Apparently not, as Lex Luthor is off-planet (on a prison planet with half the other DC baddies in Salvation Run). Apparently Lana Lang has run of the place for now, and I didn’t even know she worked there at all. Just goes to show what info I miss out on by not reading the Super books.

Superman asks if the weapons are Lana’s doing, to which she surprisingly admits they are. She explains that she has a corporation to run, and that the lives of a million families depend on her decisions. When Superman threatens to have Batman blow up her mainframes in their quest for the complete eradication of kryptonite, she responds with a threat of her own. Turns out LexCorp has kryptonite caches all over the world, and she can vaporize them all at the touch of a button. Superman, remembering that Lana has always been a good person and a trusted friend who he was once in love with, calls her bluff. She pushes the button.

Superman’s deepest fears are realized when the Earth is suddenly covered in airborne kryptonite dust, forcing him to retreat to the Watchtower. Luckily, Toykid turns up to save the day with those nanobot spiders we knew would never appear again in the story. Toykid tells the World’s Finest that he’ll use the spiders to clean up the kryptonite, but for a price – a date with Power Girl. Batman (kinda creepily) offers a decommissioned Power Girl robot that Toykid can use, and he agrees. The Justice League offer Hiro JLA membership and send over the real Power Girl instead. She’s the only one who calls him “Toyboy”.

Superman heads over to LexCorp so that he can stalk Lana Lang outside her giant windows, his eyes glowing red in the shadows. And also his emblem, for some reason.

He lets her know that this kind of nonsense is exactly the reason why he’s with Lois instead of her, making her cry. Nice one, Clark. An unseen voice tells her that she did just fine, though I have no idea who it’s meant to be. I’m wondering how this story thread continued in Superman or Action Comics. Or if it even did.

We come to the end of the book, with Superman announcing that even though he just spent six issues cleaning the world of kryptonite, he is going to keep one shard on Earth, to remind himself of his vulnerability and his (otherwise fake facade of) humanity. He decides to give this to Bruce, knowing that he’ll always be able to trust him. He obviously hasn’t read any Frank Miller.

The final splash page of the book is awesome, and too awesome for me to just spoil, so you’ll have to read it for yourself.

I kinda really liked this story arc. It was both serious and funny, complete, and felt like something that really could have been happening in the mainstream continuity. Some of the other arcs in this Superman/Batman series are fairly throwaway, with things like Superman and Batman being fused together, swapping their powers, and shrinking down to face microscopic civilizations. A lot of these are still great stories, but not exactly world or universe-changing.

The art in this book is right up my alley. Shane Davis’s pencils remind me of – and you’ll have to excuse my ignorance if you disagree – Jim Lee. The style is realistic without being overly so, and there’s not a weird anatomy shot or messy face in the whole book. Even his Power Girl looks great, and realistic too, which seems to be a hard thing for artists to pull off. He channels every character into their most modernly iconic forms, and this is all backed up by the inks and colors.

Creepy matchmaker Batman.

It’s strange – I think I appreciated this story more on my second read-through. It’s not one of my favorite stories ever, but it’s definitely one of my favorite story arcs in this Superman/Batman series, and there’s no clear missteps along the way. I’m pretty sure it was this story arc that got me into the entire series, and the fact that it got me to read the 40+ issues before this is a pretty strong compliment. If you’re into Superman, Batman, kryptonite, or just want to see Supes in a badass hazmat suit, this is the book for you!

Worth Picking Up To See: The final page. Also, JLA: Muppet Babies.

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