Most excellent comics are a joy to reread, but Batman/Superman #16 is the rare comic whose very layout demands multiple reads. The result is one of the more visually innovative and fun books I’ve come across from Marvel or DC this year.
If you’d rather not have your experience spoiled, I’d recommend coming back to this review after reading the comic. It’s difficult to talk about what writer Gene Luen Yang, artists Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, and Sabine Rich, and letterer Saida Temofonte pull off here without venturing into some spoilers, though I’ll try to keep most aspects of the plot relatively opaque.
The issue is structured like a double feature at the movies, complete with panels that unspool like reels of film. On the top of each page is Superman’s story, on the bottom is Batman’s, and as Lang helpfully informs us at the beginning of the story: “You can either follow one story line to the end and then come back for the other—or follow both story lines simultaneously!” As you can imagine, the stories ultimately intersect—both in a plot-sense and literally on the page, as the film reels collide.
Most comics only engage in this level of formal and visual sophistication when a creative team is a few issues into their run. For Yang, Reis, Miki, and Temofonte to go this route in their first issue of Batman/Superman is a welcome sign for what’s to come on this book, which landed on my radar when Yang and Reis were announced as the new creative team in December.
Reis has drawn just about every character in the DC universe, though I know him best from the Blackest Night Green Lantern story he did with Geoff Johns. His linework here fits the general Golden Age vibe of the dual stories, which find Superman and Batman in familiar setups with key details being off. In Superman’s world, Martha Wayne survived the deadly encounter in Crime Alley, while in Batman’s world, Kal-El died before the ship carrying him from Krypton crash-landed on Earth. Colorist Sabine Rich ably ensures the stories feel visually coherent, even as their styles fit the mood of each character: Superman is all blue skies and sunlight, Batman is in a shadowy noir.
The best twist in either story—which DC revealed in its March solicitations—involves the first in-canon appearance of the Spider Lady, a villain from the 1940s Superman serials. I love how Yang’s deep dive into DC’s back-catalog produced this villain no one has seen in more than 70 years. His other nods to the Golden Age will delight fans of those stories — from Lex Luthor being a Mad Scientist-type to Lois Lane being resentful of Clark Kent’s put-on “coward’ persona. If the point of Infinite Frontier is to widen the canvas for more stories across the DC multiverse, this issue — surfing past the Golden Age and into the present — is a fantastic start.
As for Yang himself, what a debut! Few cartoonists have had the success he has had this past year with smash-hit books like Dragon Hoops and Superman Smashes the Klan, but I still was nervous that he would get the bandwidth to do something unique with Batman/Superman. The team-up book has always occupied a weird spot for DC, given that any important plot developments will always be saved for Superman and Batman’s solo books. Sometimes the book has a specific function within the publishing line, as when Joshua Williamson used it to set up the Batman Who Laughs in the run-up to Death Metal, but more often than not, it serves as a test case in how to tell engaging but ultimately disposable stories that don’t contradict other books.
As much as I enjoyed Yang’s Future State stories, those comics were constrained by the demands of a two-month event. With a clear runway now, it’s obvious that Yang, Reis, and co. have far more ambitious designs for this book. I’m not sure where they will take it next, but one thing that’s already clear is their stories will be anything but disposable.
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