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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Batman/Superman #31, the second installment of writer Peter J. Tomasi’s Super League story arc spanning multiple titles, was released this week. As DC Comics prepares for Rebirth, Tomasi is taking the terminally ill Man of Steel through his final days, and his latest adventure pairs him with the Darknight Detective. ComiConverse’s Superman correspondent, T. Kyle King, has his review.
Dark Discovery, plotted and penned by Tomasi in collaboration with penciller Doug Mahnke, carries Clark Kent’s caped alter ego to Gotham City in search of Batman’s assistance. The superhero duo has an unexpected encounter with unfamiliar foes, though, in a story that sets the stage for sweeping changes to come.
Superman searches out Batman to deliver the news of his impending demise and seek the Caped Crusader’s help in locating Supergirl. The search points Kal-El toward National City, but, before the Action Ace can set out after his Kryptonian cousin, he and Batman are attacked by Mandarin-speaking creatures embodying the four pillars of the Chinese zodiac.
Batman and Superman defeat their attackers, but one of them wounds the Man of Tomorrow before teleporting away, and the rest take their own lives rather than submit to interrogation. In Metropolis, the parolee previously transformed into a fiery Superman duplicate finds himself alternating between glowing heroics and his more unsavory nature.
Batman/Superman #31, like Superman #51, serves as a tower with accompanying cables in the ongoing construction of the suspension bridge spanning the gap between Truth and Rebirth. As such, it offers intriguing clues about such forthcoming series as Gene Luen Yang’s New Super-Man, about a Shanghai youth, Kenji Kong, who acquires the Man of Steel’s abilities.
Dark Discovery clearly is helping to lay the groundwork for Yang’s anticipated title. In the background is the subplot about an otherwise unexceptional human being suddenly being given Superman’s powers. In the foreground are the pointedly Chinese yet otherwise unexplained assailants who appear out of nowhere and vanish into thin air, leaving the accompanying mystery only deepened.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, but Tomasi is not merely painting by the numbers to wrap up the New 52 and craft a de facto backdoor pilot for the latest quinquennial reboot. Freed from the burden of having to write the blackguard Superman from his Superman/Wonder Woman run during Truth, Tomasi is proving up to the task of sculpting a nuanced and respectable Last Son of Krypton.
Granted, this endeavor is not smooth sailing all the way, as there are bumps in the road. Superman, who largely is defined by his refusal to give up, should not say (as he does in Batman/Superman #31), “Look, if I thought there was a chance to fix this I’d take it, but there’s not…. I’ve resigned myself to what’s coming.” Even in the midst of such hiccups, though, there remains an essential core of nobility to Clark’s typical self-sacrifice, a hopeful glimmer shining through his uncharacteristic fatalism, born of the newfound sense of not having world enough or time.
This driven determination spurred by despair causes The Final Days of Superman to sound minor chords, in sharp contrast to the major triads of the similarly themed but unfailingly uplifting All-Star Superman, but, rather than being either dark or dour, Batman/Superman #31 is simply respectful of its somber subject. In this respect, Tomasi’s story is analogous to such Doctor Who episodes as Logopolis and The End of Time, which were not so much depressing as they were mindful of their role as the concluding adventures in which fans would bid farewell to popular Doctors.
The graphics team for Batman/Superman #31, consisting of Mahnke on pencils, Jaime Mendoza on inks, and Wil Quintana on colors, is similarly conscious of the tonal subtleties of Tomasi’s tale. From the issue’s initial image, the artwork juxtaposes the darkness with the light, showing a shadowy Superman flying through a billowing cloud illuminated by the flashing Bat-signal lighting up the perpetually gloomy skies of Gotham City.
This quality of the pictures persists throughout the issue. Batman battles in shadows, but the blackness is broken up by bursts of gunfire, crackling electrical surges, and the passing crimson blur of Superman’s cape. The Batcave is brightened by Damian Wayne’s menagerie of animals who remind Clark of the Kent family farm. Nighttime in New York City is given a pastel glow by the power unleashed when the Justice Leaguers clash with the Chinese zodiac. Even Kal-El’s irises radiate a green gleam.
The repartee between the titular titans of Batman/Superman #31 likewise highlights the heroes’ inherent dissimilarities while showing the strength of the bond between them. Alfred Pennyworth’s understated yet heartfelt farewell to the Man of Steel, followed by the contained yet explosive violence of the Darkknight Detective’s expression of anguish at his friend’s fate, makes for an extraordinarily well constructed comic book page, even though its ten images are broken up by just thirteen words and a single sound effect.
That, ultimately, is what makes Batman/Superman #31 work: Tomasi has scripted a subtle and sophisticated story, and his colleagues have given it the visuals to match. The mysteries are intriguing, the primary plot point is plausible, and the characters are portrayed credibly and respectfully. It is too early yet to determine how well Dark Discovery fits into the larger whole of the Super League story, but, standing on its own, this issue was effective and entertaining.
What did you think of Batman/Superman #31?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
This adventure captures the characters, sets the stage, and advances the plot in effective fashion.