T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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In Truth, Clark Kent’s secret identity was revealed and Kal-El lost most of his Kryptonian powers. In Justice, Superman began fighting back against the shadowy conspiracy uniting the villains from DC Comics’ four monthly series starring the Man of Steel. ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, looks at the story arc’s latest installment, Batman/Superman #26.
Greg Pak’s Team Work sees the Man of Tomorrow joining forces with Batgirl, Grayson, and the Red Hood in preparation for a showdown with Vandal Savage. In a story that began fitting the pieces of the puzzle together, the Metropolis Marvel got by with a little help from his friends.
At a nuclear decommissioning site in Siberia, Superman and his teammates reveal themselves to the innocent Russians who have been forced to extract the uranium from the missiles by Vandal Savage’s threat to slaughter them. Batgirl works to figure out Savage’s teleportation device, Red Hood assesses the weaponry with which they may defend against Savage’s impending assault, and Grayson assists the workers with establishing new identities.
The heroes soon find themselves under attack from the Shadow Monsters who have been set to defend the seemingly deserted patch of ice. Aided by the new Jim Gordon Batman, whom Superman has called in from Gotham City, they are able to defeat the strange site’s supernatural security force. Underneath the ice, they discover some of the massive sources of energy Savage has been collecting in the frozen wasteland.
By and large, the 21st-century update of World’s Finest Comics hasn’t been on my radar screen since Lex Luthor was president and Jeph Loeb was on the masthead. I’ve picked up the last three or four issues in order to keep track of all the events of Truth and Justice, but I haven’t bothered reviewing them before. All I would’ve had to say about Batman/Superman #25 was: “I loved Batgirl, but I disliked this Superman for the same reasons I’ve disliked the Supermen of Action Comics, Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman.”
In Team Work, though, Pak has his Man of Steel make significant progress. No, I’m not just referring to the overarching storyline, although the plot developments of the last few pages are significant steps forward in tying everything together through the disclosure of this simple fact: Vandal Savage has been stockpiling energy sources. This revelation provides the unifying theme connecting HORDR’s power-absorbing Quarmers, Wrath’s anger-fueled Black Mass, the humanoid black holes who have been ingesting meta-humans with significant internal energy sources, and the WayneTech artificial sun stolen by Savage himself.
As gratifying as it was to see the superheroes start to sketch the outlines of the big picture linking the bad guys from all four books, though, the most pleasant development of Batman/Superman #26 was the overdue re-emergence of a recognizable Man of Steel. Admittedly, what has become by now the familiar dour and distant Clark Kent showed up for a handful of panels in the middle of the issue to give curt answers in response to Red Hood’s observation that the Action Ace no longer smiled and to Batgirl’s amusement at Superman’s apparent joke about teleporting Vandal Savage into a block of cement.
Those, however, were regrettable exceptions in an issue in which the real Man of Steel at long last reasserted himself as the rule. Superman shows up in Siberia, acts strictly in self-defense when the frightened captives open fire on him, and says simply: “We’re here to help.” Returning the gun he has grabbed from a Russian’s hand, the Metropolis Marvel reassures them, “We’re not going to let him hurt anyone here.” When one of the missiles falls over, Clark catches it, saving all of the humans’ lives, and asks the Russians for help while thinking, “He thinks I’m joking. So I just smile… even though every muscle in my back’s on fire and my right shoulder’s about to pop out of its socket…”
Even the title of the tale represents a huge step forward: Truth turned Superman into a loner who spurned everyone who ever cared about him, but Team Work provides what it promises. “I might have been able to handle this all by myself”, Clark thinks after asking Batman for help. “But the stakes are too high for ‘might.’” It is because of this attitude that Superman is able to stand in the snow, still bleeding from a gunshot that grazed his arm, and downplay the significance of his loss of invulnerability because “we’re all going to work together” against Vandal Savage.
This is the straightforward Superman who trusts others, and who deserves their trust in return. When Grayson expresses concern at his colleagues’ wanton destruction of the Shadow Monsters, Batgirl explains, “It’s fine. They’re non-sentient.” “How do you know?” Grayson wonders. Barbara directs Dick to look at Clark, saying: “He’d never do that if they weren’t.”
This underscores the contrast with the brutal Superman of recent vintage that earlier was highlighted by Red Hood’s overt invocation of the neck-snapping protagonist of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. “You can’t save them all, Kent”, he says in purposeful inversion of the cinematic Jor-El’s uplifting line, “unless we give up the idea of taking Vandal alive.” For the first time in far too long, the Man of Tomorrow’s response is to affirm with certainty that this is not Superman’s way.
An artistic team comprised of Vicente Cifuentes, Cliff Richards, Beth Sotelo, and Ardian Syaf combines to provide the pencils, inks, and colors for the story. For the most part, their collective efforts are effective; although the parka-clad characters often appear bulky to the point of being blocky, and while Grayson’s and Kent’s facial features are not always readily distinguishable from one another’s, the look of the book makes good use of Siberia’s open spaces and hazy horizons. Shifts between panels are accompanied by changes in “camera angles” that accentuate the course of Pak’s story.
The graphic artwork is at its best when focusing on the young boy who is stuck in Siberia with his parents. The child’s facial expressions are by far the most nuanced in the issue, and his scenes with Superman are among the most illuminating sequences appearing in Truth or Justice. When he learns the Man of Steel’s powers have been reduced, the kid loses little of his exuberance at the hero’s presence; after Superman looks down at him, smiles, tousles his hair, and says, “Hey”, the boy promptly stomps on his foot and asks, “Did that hurt?” Kent plays along, allowing the youth to jab a fork into his shoulder repeatedly while inquiring whether the Kryptonian experienced any pain. Without wincing, even as the utensil draws blood, Superman admits only that he felt it “a little.”
The boy is the focal point of the heroes’ sometimes heated disagreements over tactics, as Jason Todd punctuates his advocacy of killing Savage by stressing that it may be necessary in order to save the child. When attempting unsuccessfully to persuade the silent Kent of the prudence of premeditated murder, the Hood observes: “I know you’re still trying to be Superman. But you’re not really, are you?”
The Man of Steel doesn’t respond, but this issue answers the question by showing instead of by telling. In Team Work, he really is Superman, in part because he’s finally trying to live up to that label. Jim Gordon knows it, which is why Batman grudgingly lends his assistance. Barbara Gordon certainly knows it, which is why Batgirl trusts him utterly. The boy knows it most clearly of all, which is why, when he is asked what new name he will choose, he does not hesitate before saying, “Clark. I’m gonna be Clark.”
In Batman/Superman #26, Greg Pak has given us a trustworthy, team-oriented Superman who defends the helpless while maintaining moral boundaries and inspires young children to want to be like him. In the wake of Truth, it cannot be overstated just how much of a breath of fresh air that return represents. Although Grayson advises the boy not to choose a new name “that relates in any way to anyone you know now”, the likelihood is that his parents will choose to let Clark be Clark. That would only be right, since Team Work works precisely because its author has opted to let Superman be Superman.
Do you like the way the Truth plotlines are coming together in Vandal Savage’s master plan?
Which Batman mainstay were you most pleased to see working with Superman in this issue?
We invite you to ComiConverse with your fellow fans by offering your thoughts in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
In a team-oriented issue, Greg Pak moved the story forward and showed a more genuine Superman.