Cover date: May 2008
"The Unexamined Life..."
Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciller: Scott Kolins
Inker: Scott Kolins
Reviewed by: Michael Bailey
Batman investigates the mysterious Socrates while Clark heads to Smallville to visit with his parents and ponder the loss of his powers. Bruce joins him and the two argue over Clark's condition. Bruce heads back to Gotham, where Robin updates him on the investigation. Batman appears to be ignoring his young ward but proves he isn't by asking what Robin thinks of Superman. Robin explains that it's not his powers that make him Superman but what he chooses to do with them.
Later Metallo trashes downtown Metropolis and Superman apparently stops him. From a distance the supposed Superman, really Bruce Wayne in a suit of armor is amazed to see how the citizens of Metropolis react to their hero. Clark, meanwhile, watched the whole incident on television and travels to Gotham. Batman continues his attempts to contact the mysterious Socrates while Clark trains as never before with the help of Robin. The end result is Clark adopting another identity called Supernova. His first outing doesn't go well, however, and he thinks of quitting altogether.
Bruce finally meets with Socrates, who very nearly enthralls the Dark Knight. As Bruce lies dying Superman arrives and confronts Socrates. Seeing Bruce near death is enough to shock the Man of Steel out of whatever was blocking him from using his powers. Socrates escapes but Batman is brought back to the land of the healthy and the two find a new respect for each other.
Story - 4: There are times when Joe Kelly writes Superman that I really dig what he's doing and there are other times when I think he's going somewhere but just have no interest whatsoever.
In the case of this Annual it was definitely the former, not the latter.
I will admit I didn't expect much. The first two scenes were a bit over written, especially the Batman end of it, but after that I was truly sucked in. True it did nothing to clear up any of the continuity questions some of us have had but in all honesty I didn't really care. This book had a strong emotional core and more than anything it was about Clark and Bruce discovering what makes the other tick, which made for a much better story in my opinion.
The heart of the piece centered on Superman and Batman having to step into each other's worlds for a bit. While Superman saw more of how Bruce works than the other way around it felt balanced just the same. I liked seeing Bruce's reaction to the hope that Superman gives to the people of Metropolis. Likewise it was interesting to see Clark have to not only train but face down a villain as Batman does. This took a retelling and updating of an earlier story and made it into a good, solid read.
The banter between Clark and Bruce was another highlight to this issue. The conversation the two had at the beginning of the issue set the tone for the story nicely and was entertaining as well. Actually all of the conversations the two had were well written and I liked how Kelly book ended the story with the two discussing the Justice League.
And then there was Robin. I liked how Joe Kelly used Robin in this story. Sure he could be broken down into a storytelling device to move things along but I think that Robin explaining to Batman why Superman is awesome and later his prodding of Superman to never give up were two of the better scenes from this issue.
All in all this was a solid book nearly from start to finish. I wasn't expecting much and came away surprised at not only how good it was but how much I liked it. This is definitely the best SUPERMAN/BATMAN story to come along in quite some time.
Almost makes me wish that Kelly could write the book full time, but I doubt there is any chance of that.
Art - 4: Kolins managed to capture the feeling of both characters and make Superman look good in a darker setting. He even made Robin look good, which is commendable. I like the Boy Wonder's original costume and it is hard to pull off artistically. Socrates was creepy and the whole tone of the piece was set by the art.
Moody art for a moody story. I only wish the regular series could be as good as this Annual.
Cover Art - 4: I actually like this cover. I really do. Batman and Robin look pretty good and the mummification of Superman is kind of cool.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2008.