It’s been obvious for a few months that Chris Roberson knows how to write Superman. He’s been subtly, sharply, shifting the focus of Superman’s personality back to the heroic guy he’s always been, prior to J Michael Straczynski’s Grounded storyline. Now we see that he gets Batman too, as Bruce Wayne catches up with Superman in Utah, having been told by co-Batman Dick Grayson that Superman’s been acting more than a little off.
The Grounded walk is the framing sequence for this month’s story, a flashback to Superman and Batman’s first team-up.
‘What, another?’, you might well cry. Or as Batman puts it here, ‘You mean that business with Magpie? Or the time we were forced to share a room on the Varanian Princess?’ That Roberson immediately references ‘first meetings’ from the Golden Age and post-Crisis era shows he’s won’t trample on any reader’s preferred continuities. He’s not going so far as Grant Morrison with Batman, and saying that every story you’ve ever read happened, but he’s implying that they all may have.
Not that it matters whether you’ve read those Fifties or Eighties tales, the references are really just a fun wink establishing that he’s not rewriting canon. Or ‘canon’.
The encounter Superman brings up here – on a very slim pretext, tut – sees the young Clark and Bruce bumping into one another on their respective world travels, in Bhutran. There they must help a mutual friend fend off the hordes of Vandal Savage, who wants knowledge of one of the DC Universe’s most fabled places, Nando’s … sorry, Nanda Parbat. But the two young men have ideas as to how to stop him, ideas that will come to define their futures.
The friendly sparks that fly between Clark and Bruce make sense but they see that while they’re different in personality and philosophy, they can work together. I particularly like that neither is paranoid about sharing some of their secrets, so far from what many of us think of as civilisation.
Vandal Savage is unimpressive here, but that leaves the necessary room for him to surprise Bruce and Clark with his power in later stories, tales we’ve seen. Savage is the Maguffin that forces the future heroes to work together, and so far as a villain of the piece goes, he makes sense.
Back in the present, the chat between Superman and Batman is immensely satisfying, further burying the departed Straczynski’s presentation of Superman as a lecturing tosspot. I commend Roberson on keeping the ‘walk around America’ business to the bare minimum; officially, this comic is still doing Grounded, but really, it’s not. It’s an examination of personal heroes, of friendship, a reminder that when you’re down, helping others is one way to help yourself.
Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer handle the present day sequence, giving us a heroic Superman and Batman set against the Utah scenery. As with last issue’s Flash meeting, there’s no ambiguity about the heroes’ relationship – these two are friends. The suspicion felt in their earliest costumed meetings is well behind them, as the flashback hinted would one day be the case. Said flashback is in the hands of Travel Foreman and John Dell, who give us a perfectly mysterious Asia peopled with friendly (not-at-all) Tibetans. There are a couple of side-by-side panels that perfectly capture the core of Clark and Bruce – the eyes are superb- and a couple of cute, but relevant, homages to very famous covers.
Colourist Dave McCaig and letterer John J Hill apply their own arts to the issue, to fine effect, while John Cassaday, with colourist David Baron, supplies the marvellous cover.
There’s more I could say, telling you about clever bits of dialogue, nods to old comics or artwork highlights, but instead I’ll urge you to pick this issue up for a fantastic team-up between the world’s finest heroes. It was their first, you know.