Does anyone have “Batman Superman” issue 16 on their pull list? Is there anyone that’s been reading this title? If you’re like me and love Superman, you probably hope for stories that will truly showcase the Man of Steel. Greg Pak has done a serviceable job at delivering stories that are respectful to the Superman spirit, while also never letting Batman fall out of the spotlight. His first story arc with Jae Lee was incredible and just was what you’d expect from a series featuring the two biggest names in comic books. However, some time after the first run something happened. It may just be my upper crust tastes (I’m not that stuck-up) but the writing seemed to grow more standard and seemed like just about any other comic book you pick up. Yes, you’re reading it, but more so out of obligation. You love the characters, but you’re not quite fond of the direction. Nothing to write home to Smallville about! With today’s release of “Batman Superman” #16, I was eager to sit down with it as the previous few issues have been really good. But “Batman Superman” #16 is something else. It’s the book you didn’t see coming!
The story opens up to a happier time in Metropolis. After going through hell in the Superman: Doomed event where Brainiac unleashed madness on the world, things are finally starting to brighten up. People see that “the world is changing” and Lois Lane writes, never being a starry-eyed optimist when it comes to the human condition, that “maybe we’re just ready to cheer again.” Life is great and Superman, Supergirl, and Steel are up to their normal heroics. And by normal I mean that the three of them are flying with a whole pod of large orcas, returning them to their home. Superman, hearing the orcas natural sounds, registers it as joy and grows happy that everything is in its right place. Immediately we are shocked by our first horrific, gruesome, and tragic image by Ardian Syaf (the new penciller on the series). This is also the first moment we realize that Greg Pak is beginning a story more poignant than anything he’s told before within The New 52. The pod of orcas are killed (possibly mutilated, burned, and all sorts of something shocking perpetrated on them). Superman gives a massive clap to send the shockwave away from the civilians on the boat, while having no time to fully assess the situation. He is then a millisecond to late to save Steel, Krypto, and Supergirl from being attacked by whatever killed the orcas. Superman, unable to comprehend the violence, rushes Krypto (with a crushed trachea), Steel (with four broken ribs and a punctured lung) and Supergirl out of danger. The only certainty they have is that whatever hit them moved too fast for Superman! Elsewhere, a children’s entertainer dressed as Superman, is killed in a hospital by what appears to be the same thing that hit Superman’s friends.
Superman and Batman begins their investigation. Batman (drawn a little like Ben Affleck) immediately notices something is off with Superman. He likes that Superman is “all business” but it worries him. Back at The Batcave, they deduce that the person they’re looking for isn’t Lex Luthor, Hector Hammond (apparently he’s now more of a Superman villain than Green Lantern’s), and Cyborg Superman. Batman rationalizes that it can’t be any of the usual suspects because they don’t hate Superman enough. Whoever slapped around his friends and killed a “completely helpless civilian just because he was wearing an S” is trying to send the Man of Steel a message. Unsure of the message he’s trying to send, the only person he could compare the phantom to is… The Joker! More startling is that Batman figures that Superman’s Joker is even more dangerous and unpredictable!
Greg Pak has started a story arc, with nods to Robin’s death, Barbara Gordon being shot, and the now-classic Snyder/Capullo “Death of the Family” event. In “Superman’s Joker” he begins a new story that feels like it should have been the event DC Comics gave to Superman instead of “Doomed.” It’s an excellent issue that I am desperately hoping has a good arc with a satisfying payoff. DC Comics have teased this storyline a few months ago and now we have it in our hands. Pak and Syaf’s “Batman Superman” could very well be the Superman story all of us fans deserve!
“Batman Superman” #16 gets five out of five stars!