Batman/Superman #19. Greg Pak- Writer, Adrian Syaf- Penciller, Mark Morales, Jaime Mendoza, Don Ho, Vicente Cifuentes- Inkers, Ulises Arreola- Colorist.
So far, this story arc has presented Superman and Batman with a nearly impenetrable mystery of an unknown and seemingly unstoppable and unpredictable villain. Writer, Greg Pak has gone on record as stating this villain is Superman’s “Joker.” Then that must make Ra’s al Ghul Batman’s Luthor. I think this is right on target. Ra’s and Luthor are calculating and think they are the hero of their own stories, but the Joker is just out for chaos. Michael Cain as Alfred puts it best in The Dark Knight, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” So far the villain in Batman/Superman has been doing just that, but with this issue, we not only discover the villain’s identity, but also his motive. And he seems more like Zod than the Joker.
This issue opens with a brief history of Kandor and then the Super-Bat team of Superman, Batman and Supergirl are inserted into Kandor by Ray Palmer courtesy of the S.H.A.D.E. technology that he’s developed. They are trying to find Supergirl’s childhood friend, Tali, but on their way they are distracted by the House of El. They realize the villain is using this against them, but it doesn’t stop them for falling for it. They discover that the villain has misinformed the Kandorians to Superman’s actual actions and painted him as the villain of the piece. It’s a bit predictable, but it works for the most part. They soon discover that the real villain is Xa-Du, now calling himself The Phantom King. Go back and see Action Comics Vol. 2, #5 for more on this Kryptonian. As it turns out he’s just got a vendetta against the son of Jor-El, oh, Terrance Stamp, where are you when we need you?
We discover the villain. There is a nice sequence in the opening of the issue that gives us vignettes of Kandor that gives us context for Xa-Du and the Kandorians. The layout of the pages is nice, Syaf has done a good job with this. The set up for what comes next seems daunting, and engaging.
There’s a predictability to some of the back story. Xa-Du seems more like Zod than the Joker. I’m not certain how one could do a Joker for Superman. The Joker is unique in that he has no real motivation other than to challenge Batman in a psychotic way. Xa-Du has a raison d’etre, something that’s never become apparent for the Joker. Adrian Syaf’s art seems uneven. I’ve always felt he did Jim Lee better than Jim Lee, but this issue is a bit loose in terms of draftsmanship, although his design is as strong as usual. It might be the team of inkers, I’m not sure- Sandra Hope, where are you?
If you’re reading this storyline, you certainly don’t want to miss this. It sets up the next chapter, but is not all that exciting on its own. However, it does present enough interesting ideas that if you were to pick this up on a whim, you’d be drawn in to the situation and have a hard time not coming back next month.