DC Comics brings the hammer down on Superman/Batman #87!
This issue marks the end of the Superman/Batman comic for DC as they have decided not to continue it for their run of “The New 52”. It doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of Superman and Batman working together (or if you’ve seen the last page of The New 52 Justice League #1 against each other). It just means we won’t be treated to an out of continuity stream of story-lines, both good and bad, that place Superman and Batman in various conditions that stretch from the outlandish to the mythical to the extraordinary.
Speaking of the good, our last chapters of Superman/Batman series were written by Joshua Hale Fialkov. Fialkov put our heroes in a contemporary setting that has them on the antagonistic side of their relationship. Each of our heroes are established in their careers but are still new enough in them as they are still susceptible to making mistakes. We saw this in issues #85 and #86 when Batman was thrown off kilter by a seemingly minor mistake of a serial number left on a piece of Wayne Industries tech used by Batman. An intrepid reporter for the Gotham Gazette named Remington unearthed this nugget and had his investigation exploited by the Gazettes’ Editor, Mayne. The investigation cost Remington his life and Mayne his soul and drew Superman into the fray as investigative reporter, Clark Kent, and eventually revealed the Joker as the nefarious master puppeteer of the entire affair.
Batman didn’t regain his composure until he rediscovered his detective chops and tied all the aforementioned together. Issues #86 ends as the Joker is about to put the kibosh on Kent with a giant mallet and the tables are turned on Superman as his identity is about to be blown when the mallet should be smashed to bits on impact.
This is where we open issue #87. Kent reprimands himself, “How did he get in here? How did I not notice? Am I that distracted?” He speaks of the Joker of course and as the hammer comes down Kent moves in the nick of time. Fialkov has Superman in a panic situation this time. Superman has to act and talk like Kent yet be as quick as Superman as he dares to not expose his identity. It’s a little funny to hear Kent call the Joker, “Mr. Joker” and privately motivate himself to rescue the now bomb rigged Daily Planet staff. An experienced and mature Superman would have had this all wrapped up in a nano second but Fialkov gives us a new angle where even the Man of Steel is caught with his cape down.
Fortunately, Kent’s bought himself enough time where a now back on his game Batman comes crashing to the rescue. The Joker isn’t exactly hitting on all cylinders either as the bullet fired by the Joker “tinks” off Kent’s forehead and ricochets into the Jokers shoulder. He wonders who is shooting at him as much as he credited Kent’s football prowess in escaping his hammer blows. We usually see the Joker as many steps ahead of the game as Batman but here Fialkov has him a bit of a neophyte also.
Still, the Joker isn’t at his endgame either as he takes advantage of a brief lull to handcuff himself to Kent and send the both of them tumbling out of a window. Its here we get a nice investigation into Superman’s vulnerability. “So this is it” he thinks to himself, knowing that his cracking into the pavement won’t produce a scratch. He sadly muses it’s his last day as Clark Kent and life will never be the same for anyone that knows and loves him. Fortunately for him Batman shows the love by sweeping to the rescue and disarming the bomb in “Supermanish” fashion. Batman provides the coup-de-grace to Superman’s existential crisis by completing Kent’s sentence where he anguishes about what its like to feel so “human”.
Kudos to Fialkov for letting us see a little sweat on the brow of Superman. A rare treat.
Unfortunately, Fialkov wasn’t able to explore the philosophical questions he posed in the previous issues. Gazette Editor Mayne had asked all the questions we all secretly ask ourselves such as what gives these superheroes the right to act as judge and jury. Who appointed them as Sheriff? What would the world be like without their baggage and the attendant misery of the over-sized evil that follows them? I guess we’ll we will have to wait for the “New 52” to answer these questions when DC reruns the clock 5 years in the issue of Justice League #1.
What we do get from Fialkov is an examination of the truth and a study of humanity. Its in the final exposition of this storyline where Mayne gets his comeuppance for manipulating both to his own end. Superman gets a hard lesson to the lengths of his abilities and he provides the coda to this whole adventure when he says, “Hiding the truth Mr. Mayne is sometimes a necessity. The problem is, you can never hide it from yourself”.
He is really talking about himself of course and Batman too. Each hero learns they have their limits. The trick is to stay true to yourself, know your boundaries and use the truth as a shield to protect the ones you seek to serve and not manipulate them to your own end. This lesson in humanity provides Superman with a road map as he strives to build a better future while Batman use it to stay within himself and put out the fires that face him on a daily basis.
I’m sad to see Superman/Batman go but I’m happy for the lesson in humanity as acted out by my favorite superheroes. Thanks to Joshua Hale Fialkov for these final chapters and I can’t wait to see what he sinks his teeth into next!
Reviewed by Dave Healey