Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Superman / Batman #76

This may not come as a surprise to you, but Bruce Wayne has died. In fact, he’s actually been that way for more than a year and recently made an entirely unsurprising return from the grave. Try to forget that last part, though, because the out-of-place continuity of Superman / Batman is just now beginning to deal with the fallout from Wayne’s doom.

Judd Winick may as well have dedicated this issue a memorial, because the story he’s delivered is basically a behind-closed-doors look at the Justice League’s intimate reactions to the (at the time) finality of Bruce’s heroic death in Final Crisis. In certain cases, it makes for a nice addendum, geared to more invasive-minded readers. We’re along for the ride as Superman delivers the news to Alfred, Tim and Dick. We see Doctor Mid-Nite examine the body, compare dental records and historic bone breaks, and determine it couldn’t be anyone else. We see the entire league struggle with the realization of such a loss, each member handling the grief in his or her own way. And, ultimately, we’re left with the sense that this would’ve made for a fine capitalization on the shock readers were certainly feeling themselves… nineteen months ago, when the event was still fresh in their minds.

The issue’s still somewhat worthwhile, if just for the historic perspective and the sometimes unexpected ways Bruce’s closest friends deal with his death. Nightwing’s initial disbelief takes the same shape as many readers: he won’t believe it until he sees the body. Wonder Woman hangs quietly around the fringes, afraid to say the wrong thing. Superman’s reaction is the most surprising. His quiet, spaced-out initial reaction to Bruce’s death is followed by a sharp turn into hostility toward Dick Grayson, of all people, none of which seems to be in-character for one of the DCU’s most balanced, rational personalities. Grief can have strange effects on a personality, and it’s somewhat humanizing to see Supes in this light. It doesn’t feel entirely right, but I’m not sure what would.

Artist Marco Rudy is difficult to get a handle on. In some pages, he bears more than a passing similarity to Tim Sale, himself a veteran with both characters in Superman: For All Seasons and Batman: The Long Halloween. Rudy’s style bears a bit more detail than his contemporary on these occasions, but his ultra-simplistic lighting effects and unusual panel structures had me thinking of Sale with some regularity. On other pages, though, Rudy’s work moves in the opposite direction, overloading the scene with jagged details and dozens of clunky, oddly shaped overlapping panels. Typically I’d credit this to the influence of two different inkers, taking turns with the artwork on every other page. These shifts in style are so fundamental, though, that I can’t imagine that’s the culprit. Rudy’s simply changing styles from page to page like a Tour De France rider shifts gears from incline to straightaway.

This “Batman’s dead” issue of Superman / Batman is a confusing creation. It’s mistimed, completely missing the caped crusader’s prolonged absence. It jumps all over the place, sailing from Clark’s outraged reaction to Dick’s decision to don the cape and cowl to his acceptance of the necessity within just a couple panels. It tries really hard to be a touching, tear-jerking remembrance, but ultimately feels hollow, insincere and borderline exploitative. It’s the wrong story at the wrong time, a chapter in both characters’ lives that doesn’t work for a variety of reasons. The tragically curious-minded will find something to dig into, but the rest of us would be better off giving it a flip through and walking away.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3.5

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