Review: Batman/Superman Vol. 6: Universe's Finest hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Of all the individual trades that tie into the Superman events "Savage Dawn" and "Final Days of Superman," Batman/Superman: Universe's Finest may be the one you will most, or least, want to pick up. Of the eight issues collected in this book -- including an annual -- only two are crossover issues reprinted elsewhere; the other six are "exclusive" to this book, including two issues and the annual that do actually just appear in the collection and were never released in monthly form.

But at the same time, in something of the style of Superman/Batman titles past, the three-part "Universe's Finest" and "Criss Cross" stories found here fall outside the mainstream ongoing DC Universe storyline, if not outside continuity entirely, and to that end one has to gauge on their own whether these are worth picking up versus other material. Given that what else is here is (the second and fifth) parts of Final Days of Superman, however, at least one thing in this book's favor is to enjoy two "average" team-ups in the lives of the New 52 Superman and Batman before, well, you know.

[Review contains spoilers]

I have certainly been the Superman/Batman and Batman/Superman series' target audience for a while. But for those who remember "Dark Knight Over Metropolis" and how it was a big deal for Superman and Batman to have their first major team-up some three years after Superman's post-Crisis on Infinite Earths series began, it's possible some aspect of specialness has been lost by Batman and Superman having a regular series together every month. Furthermore it was one thing when Jeph Loeb treated Superman/Batman like a summer blockbuster every issue, but by the time the team-up series becomes an anthology series of loose non-continuity stories by rotating teams, it's possible the bloom is off the rose.

For that reason I might ordinarily feel impatient with both Tom Taylor's and Frank Tieri's three-part stories here, except for our foreknowledge that these are some of the last times we'll see this Superman and Batman meet. Whether this New 52 Batman and this New 52 Superman's friendship is really all that big a deal versus the Kryptonite-sharing post-Crisis Superman and Batman, if we put ourselves in these characters' places then there's still the fact that they're friends and they like each other and one of them's about to face their "final days." This gives both stories a tinge of nostalgia that rewards their too-familiar elements.

To wit, while there's a cogent cosmic murder mystery at the center of Taylor's "Universe's Finest," we just literally saw Superman and Batman run afoul of Lobo in this title, and surely the "Superman wearing Batman's costume" feint has been done to death at this point; see also mistaking Daxamites for Kryptonians. Also the "Batman can't ask anyone for help" trope is rather worn out, though Taylor's "banana muffin" gag, while predictable, is cute. But there's nothing offensive about this story, Taylor gets neither character wrong, and given how much time Taylor has spent writing a Superman who's done truly terrible things, his Superman here is markedly kind and compassionate. And the "sunset" moment where Superman and Batman both drape their capes around the dying Daxamite's shoulders is beautiful and touching and it's a wonder no one's done that before that I can recall.

Frank Tieri's "Criss Cross" story holds perhaps a bit more cache because it's a "lost" Batman/Superman story that variably was never meant to be published or was meant to be published ahead of Rebirth and then cancelled. I'm glad DC did print all three chapters here, though it's not surprising -- even quite well-advised -- that DC withheld it from publication. There's an entire issue that's almost all villains bantering in a bar, which might be appealing under other circumstances but here makes for a light and underwhelming issue that would certainly disappoint as a monthly purchase. The story is fun enough as a mash up of Super- and Bat-villains, though in plot points and dialogue Tieri uses no lack of cliches. Further the villains Tieri does use are for the most part D-listers, and also that Tieri equates Bane on the Bat-side with Major Disaster, inexplicably, on the Super-side takes a lot of heft out of the story. Still the final scene of the New 52 Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne drinking a beer together is heartening knowing where this all ends up.

While neither story is earth-shattering, between the two I have to give Taylor's "Universe's Finest" the lead because it's an actual story. Tieri's "Criss Cross" reads like a "what if," the kind of story we might find in a Secret Files or wholly contained within one annual, not to mention that "Universe's Finest" simply excels between the two in dialogue and art.

The two Final Days of Superman issues collected here are by Peter Tomasi with Doug Mahnke, which is never a bad thing, and as disjointed as it is to read the issues laterally outside of Final Days, each issue does authentically include Superman teaming up with Batman such to adhere to the themes of this title. The first of the two crossover issues especially sees Superman visit Gotham to tell Batman about his terminal diagnosis and offers emotional moments between the heroes (and also Alfred); also Mahnke gets to draw Batman and Robin villain Tusk again. The second issue adds Wonder Woman to the mix, but treats the three as self-proclaimed "super-friends," and indeed even if it expands the scope of the title it's nice to see DC's New 52 Big Three together one more time before they lose a member. Clearly (and I think this upholds for Superman/Wonder Woman, too, Tomasi had an eye on which parts of the story would appear in which title.

For the Batman/Superman title to revert to the patterns of the past wouldn't be my first choice, and I'm glad this kind of one-off storytelling has been mainly reserved for this volume. I imagine some will be glad that Batman/Superman Vol. 6: Universe's Finest doesn't warrant a lot of double-dipping, but whether that's entirely for the best or not, I'm not sure. A foreshortened finale, of sorts, on the road to Rebirth.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman/Superman Vol. 6: Universe's Finest
Author Rating
3 (out of 5)
Collected Editions 2017 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

No comments:

Post a Comment