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 #32 carried the New 52 closer to its conclusion and brought readers nearer to the due date for Rebirth. Writer Peter J. Tomasi’s transitional Super League saga, titled The Final Days of Superman, passed the halfway point with last Wednesday’s installment. T. Kyle King offers his thoughts as ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reviewer.
Omen of Death sees the Last Son of Krypton united with Batman and Wonder Woman in pursuit of the solar-flaring pseudo-Superman as the plot threads of The Final Days of Superman begin to intertwine.
Paired with penciller Doug Mahnke, Tomasi brings the heroes to China, but does he bring readers the hope of meaningful closure?
After a WayneTech satellite detects the energy signature of Superman’s solar flare in the Shanxi Province of China, the Man of Steel sets out for the Loess Plateau, accompanied by Batman and Wonder Woman. The three Justice Leaguers expect to find the glowing golden duplicate who escaped from A.R.G.U.S. Instead, they face the Great Ten, a team of Chinese superheroes.
Following a fierce battle in which the competing squads of metahumans earn each other’s respect, the Great Ten takes the visiting trio to Dr. Omen’s laboratory. They learn there that the solar flare energy they detected belonged to the shadowy figure in suspended animation upon whom Dr. Omen has been experimenting. When Dr. Omen releases her solar-powered champion, the Great Ten leaves to pursue him and the Justice Leaguers return to their quest. Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Lois Lane receives an unexpected visitor.
Batman/Superman #32 is visually a strong issue. Despite the challenges of unfamiliar characters and uncommon locales, Omen of Death is appealing in appearance. Much of the credit for this goes to colorist Wil Quintana, who gives the imagery a palpable energy with his bold palette, yet who includes such subtle touches as giving the dying Superman’s blue eyes a green glow. Letterer Rob Leigh likewise provides individuality to a host of guest heroes by giving distinct scripts to particular characters’ word balloons.
Mahnke’s handiwork does not seem up to his usual high standards, though it is tough to tell whether his pencils were rushed by the regimented schedule of the Super League storyline’s publication or diminished by the inconsistency of having four different inkers contributing to this issue. In addition, after the last chapter’s outrageous objectification of Wonder Woman, the opening shot down the front of Diana’s costume was ill-considered. Even with these shortcomings, however, the overall impact of the imagery of Batman/Superman #32 is arresting.
After too many cooks spoiled the broth while making a hash of Truth, Tomasi continues to do an effective job of penning a tale that must meet multiple needs. The character lineup of each installment must match up with the series in which each chapter appears, the Super League arc must tie up the loose ends of the New 52, and the story must set the stage for what will emerge from Rebirth, all while delivering an intriguing and cohesive adventure in which, incidentally, Superman is going to die.
It’s a tall order, and there is no way to author every part of it perfectly, but Tomasi does it probably as well as it is possible to do it. Characters enter and exit the scene for reasons that mostly make sense in context, even if some plot points produce a few furrowed brows. For instance, the leap from the end of Superman/Wonder Woman #28 to the beginning of Batman/Superman #32 is left largely unexplained — like how Solar Flare Superman was able to escape A.R.G.U.S. without being tracked or followed from the time of his departure — and a passing reference to being attacked in New York by “four Zodiac robots” didn’t appear to square with what seemed in earlier issues to be very much flesh and blood antagonists.
Nevertheless, Tomasi generally manages to maintain his balance while walking the fine line his story requires. As a Superman fan who believes the Action Ace belongs with Lois Lane, I was not fond of the previous chapter’s rekindling of Kal-El’s romance with Wonder Woman, but the power couple has its shippers, so Tomasi must be mindful of that segment of the audience, as well. There’s simply no way to make every comics fan happy, but Tomasi does the best he can to give each segment of his readership its due.
One of the ways the writer maintains this delicate balance is through such dialogue as the opening exchange among Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The Dark Knight plays the straight man with as lighthearted an air as Bruce Wayne is capable of adopting, setting up punch lines for Princess Diana (“Did Batman just use the word ‘happy’?”) and Clark Kent (“We’re more than friends, Bruce… We’re super-friends.”) Sure, it’s corny, but the situation calls for corniness, so it works.
The words Tomasi puts in his characters’ mouths sometimes come across as a tad more forced in dramatic showdowns between snarling antagonists, as Batman/Superman #32 exhibits. Superman stares down the Great Ten with a declaration that the Justice Leaguers will “leave when we’re good and ready!” Wonder Woman backs him up by declaring, “We don’t like ultimatums!” While I’m comfortable with the corny, I’m less tolerant of the cheesy.
Tomasi’s scripting is better when he walks it back from the precipice of campiness. Diana’s droll retort to a seven-member super-squad that, like a numerically challenged college football conference, introduces itself as the Great Ten (“I believe you need to brush up on your math skills”) is subtler yet better. Indeed, Tomasi’s best note in this issue also is his most understated, when Superman gives his word to the August General in Iron and the Chinese superhero leader states simply, “Then that is good enough for me.”
Perhaps the strongest point to Batman/Superman #32 is the story within the story. While the primary plot proceeds, the DC Universe that is to be bubbles just beneath the surface, and we are given only tantalizing glimpses because we are meeting the newcomers in medias res. The necessity of keeping The Final Days of Superman in the foreground allows Tomasi to show us (without telling us too much about) the understudies lurking in the background as they prepare to step out of the chorus and into the spotlight.
Dr. Omen’s enigmatic champion floats silently in the shadows as his creator offers the most cursory explanation before setting him free, but we can see the octagonal “S” on his chest, sending shivers of suspicion up the spines of the audience as we speculate whether this is or is not Gene Luen Yang’s Super-Man, and if he is the harbinger of a more diverse lineup in superhero comics, both on the masthead and among the protagonists.
The presence of the Great Ten serves to further this broader purpose. The Justice Leaguers are leaping confidently into the breach, flying into Chinese airspace in stealth mode, when the trio is incapacitated, and the Batplane in short order thereafter is brought down, by the Middle Kingdom’s metahuman protectors. For the numerous fans unfamiliar with the team’s creation by Grant Morrison a decade ago, the August General’s dramatic opening line provides an impressive introduction: “The Great Ten welcome you to China… Now get out.”
Perhaps because the Chinese heroes’ power sets include the Accomplished Perfect Physician’s vocal distortions and the Yeti’s legendary hirsute monster strength (a la Banshee and Sasquatch), this group of metahumans is reminiscent of Marvel’s mutants. These similarities cause the Great Ten’s appearance in Batman/Superman #32 to recall the introduction of Alpha Flight in Chris Claremont’s and John Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men #120-121. Those issues, of course, served as a springboard for a solid superhero team based outside the United States, much as the Great Ten once starred in their own series, so Omen of Death may serve as an omen of diversity instead.
Tomasi ends this issue with a cliffhanger, shifting the focus back to Lois and Metropolis in time for Action Comics #52, which bodes well for future installments. More importantly, though, Batman/Superman #32 is good sign for what awaits us on the other side of Rebirth.
Let us know what you thought of the latest Super League story and ComiConverse with us in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
The latest Super League story was an improvement on the previous issue and a positive sign for the future.