Overview: In Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #18, the secret origin of Batman and Superman’s first team-up is revealed.
Title: Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #18
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Travis Moore
Colorist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Steve Wands
Cover Price: $3.99/$4.99
Release Date: August 15, 2023
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
Years ago, a cruise ship in Gotham City harbor was robbed of $6 million. Commissioner James Gordon and Harvey Bullock suspect it’s the work of the Riddler (Edward Nygma), judging by the weird clue left behind. A few hours later, in Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen sees the news report, noting that the riddle is written in some strange alien language. Superman, in disguise as Clark Kent, sees the language that’s puzzling Jimmy and is surprised to see that it’s Kryptonian.
Shortly after, Superman pays a visit to Gordon in his office, who, without looking, assumes it’s Batman. Jim tells the hero that he’s getting sloppy, as this time, Gordon can hear the cape billowing in the wind. In a nod to the original Superman (1978) film tagline, Gordon says in disbelief, “I don’t believe a man could fly…”
It’s a delightful opener to Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #18, one that thrusts readers into an enticing mystery while simultaneously teasing the first meeting between Superman and Batman, as well as referencing the first time Superman graced the silver screen. Artist Travis Moore clearly models his Superman design after Christopher Reeves’ iconic appearance, and Colorist Tamra Bonvillain adds just the right lightness to Superman’s blue to capture that screen look perfectly. While cute, this reference works on a whole other level. Not only will this issue deliver the first meeting between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel (as promised on the cover), but the 1978 film reference harkens back to the first time many long-time comic fans may have seen Superman in action. It’s a reference that tugs at nostalgia in just the right way, cleverly playing on the idea of “first meetings” both for the world’s finest and for fans.
Superman tells Commissioner Gordon that he saw the riddle and asks if Gordon could provide more information about the criminal who left it. Jim tells Superman that Riddler is a thief with extreme narcissism, that his compulsion means he leaves riddles of his crimes. When Jim reluctantly says that the Riddler may have won this time, Superman reveals that he can read the Kryptonian message, but he can’t decipher the answer. When he asks about Batman, Gordon mentions that Batman contacts the GCPD, not the other way around, suggesting that this is before the days of the Batsignal.
Superman uses his super-hearing, locating Batman nearby. The Big Blue greets the Caped Crusader with, “Eavesdrop much?” After a muted welcome, Batman asks Superman to translate the riddle. The answer, he quickly deduces, is nothing. This leads Batman to believe that Riddler’s clue is related to the “ghosting of Gotham,” a phenomenon in which seven citizens in the last two weeks have vanished right before eyewitnesses eyes. These people just fade into thin air, into nothing.
As the two talk, Batman grapples from building to building with Superman flying by his side. It’s a great, almost standoffish, introduction of Batman to Superman, as the Caped Crusader is focusing on two things at once. He’s not fully giving Superman his full attention, eyes constantly searching and scanning the city, yet his brilliant detective mind is working and putting clues together just in listening to the Man of Steel talk. It’s a subtle and excellent setup by Writer Mark Waid, telling Superman everything he needs to know about this dark, gruff, and cold guardian of Gotham.
The art in this sequence is also excellent. Batman’s design draws inspiration from his Golden Age appearance, featuring the black Bat-symbol over a gray suit with lighter blue cape and cowl.
Before the two can finish their conversation, a crime ensnares Batman’s full attention. Atop the Gotham Diamond Exchange, a villain by the name of Spellbinder commands two security guards to walk off the roof. Superman saves the guards while Batman ropes up Spellbinder, who tells the Caped Crusader that he’ll never catch Spellbinder’s partner.
In a getaway car, Magpie speeds away with her henchmen and a bag full of jewels. Superman comes up from underneath the car, taking it out of commission. Batman arrives on scene to land a few punches. When Superman compliments the Dark Knight on his teamwork, Batman says, “Don’t get used to it. I prefer to work alone.”
The two get back to patrol, and Superman makes his case for why the two should work together. If Riddler is working alongside a Kryptonian, Batman is no match, though Superman does admit he’s not prone to trusting people who mask their identities. What follows is fun banter wherein Batman uses Superman’s “Midwestern accent” and Superman sightings to more or less deduce where he’s from and what his day job is.
Elsewhere, Riddler is on the floor, undergoing some sort of breakdown, as a mysterious voice taunts him. Clearly, he is a pawn in all of this.
When Batman arrives back at Wayne Manor, he tells Alfred Pennyworth that he’s come up with no leads on Riddler. Suddenly, Alfred fades away, becoming victim number 8 of the “ghosting of Gotham.” While on paper the disappearance of Alfred would be the attention-grabbing moment in this scene, Moore’s inspirations from Golden Age Batman comics proves a little distracting here. Bruce Wayne is wearing a olive green sweater vest, and cast against the backdrop of Wayne Manor’s old-fashioned library, it sucks all of the attention in each panel. Simply put, Alfred’s blip out of existence is overshadowed by Bruce’s old-timey fashion.
Elsewhere in Gotham, Clark Kent reports into the Daily Planet from a cafe, as he’s “following a lead” on the disappearances in Gotham. His editor, Perry White, tells Clark that it’s his lucky day, as Wayne is giving an exclusive interview to the Daily Planet and asked for Clark by name.
Clark shows up at Wayne Manor, and once safely inside, Bruce cuts right to the chase. He knows Clark is Superman. With the help of Waynetech satellites, he’s been mapping Superman’s flight pattern and noticed that many begin or end at the Daily Planet or a specific apartment complex where Daily Planet writer, Clark Kent, resides. When a dismissive Clark is about to leave, Bruce reveals his hand, inviting Clark down to the Batcave.
The wildest part of this issue resides in this sequence and the previous one, wherein Alfred disappears. While it may not distract some comic readers, the creative team delivers a strange blend of old styles and classic comic imagery with modern technology. What results is a surreal clash of new and old, of olive green sweater vests and cellphones, of muted, retro libraries and laptops.
In the Batcave, Superman asks why Batman revealed his identity. Bruce tells Superman that, sooner or later, the Man of Steel’s curiosity will get the better of him, and he’ll use his X-ray vision to figure it out anyway. Before the two can chat, Superman’s super-hearing picks up a police band. The Riddler has left another clue.
At Gotham Memorial Park, Kryptonian language is scribbled on the wall. Batman and Superman walk through the clues, deducing that Riddler is located at an abandoned shipyard on Port Street.
Riddler begs to leave. The trap is set, and there is no more use for him. Before the voice can taunt Riddler further, Superman and Batman bust in. When Superman interrogates Riddler, a mysterious hand nabs Batman from behind, vanishing the Caped Crusader.
Suddenly an arm flies out of nowhere, and Superman is sent flying out of the ship. It’s Jax-Ur, a lesser-known Kryptonian trapped in the Phantom Zone. He’s escaped, damning Batman to the Phantom Zone while he runs free.
The reveal of Jax-Ur is delightful! It’s been a while since this villain has reared his head, as General Zod is the usual Kryptonian go-to. Despite Jax-Ur being yet another Kryptonian villain, the fact that it’s someone different and not Zod feels oddly refreshing. That said, there are plenty of questions left on the table, and hopefully the creative team will be able to answer them in the next couple of issues. Chiefly among them is, why such an elaborate plot? Why did Jax-Ur use Riddler to coax Batman and Superman into working together if he only wanted freedom? What about the other vanished people? Are there 8 more Kryptonians and/or former Phantom Zone prisoners running around? Is there a hidden big bad behind all of this, making Jax-Ur merely a puppet? Again, why Riddler?
At the risk of making my head spin, I’ll stop there and eagerly await the next issue.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.