Whereas Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Lex Luthor: Man of Steel focused on the Superman/Lex Luthor conflict, Cornell’s story is far more internal, explicating the fears, hang-ups, delusions and self-aggrandizement — often knotted and contradictory — that make up the villain Lex Luthor. In part one of Snyder’s denouement, he’s no doubt purposefully stretched these concepts as far as they will go. After, I gave it a heavy side part. Positing Jim Gordon as Batman was no doubt a purposefully controversial choice on Snyder’s part. It’s been asked plenty of times why Bruce Wayne didn’t just work for good inside the law, but as Geri Powers convinces Gordon to be Batman in the first issues, we get a palpable sense of what’s been suggested before, that Bruce Wayne (and those who came after) didn’t choose Batman, but rather that Batman chose them — that Gordon is indeed the only choice for the job, jared leto joker costume pressed into service by some ineffable sense of this. As Batman Bruce Wayne’s public profile has grown in these books — even retroactively by way of Zero Year — Bruce has had to struggle with what he means, and meaning something in general, to his family, to the Joker, to Gotham.
Brett Cullen plays Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father and Arthur Fleck’s maybe father. Again, with Batman corporatized and Gordon taking on the cowl as a public symbol, we see Snyder stretching this balloon even past breaking, with the tension for the finale being how Bruce will subsume all of this when he inevitably takes back the cowl. According to police, 16 male and female passengers in ages ranging from 10 to 69 suffered mild injuries from inhaling the smoke and being attacked with the liquid. Within, Batman Bruce Wayne confronts how the Gotham police, their criminals, and even he himself as both Bruce and Batman failed a young African American teenager, who ends up dead. Batman and Robin caught up with the criminals, but Killer Croc threw the door which gave access to the sewer in Robin’s direction to cause a diversion. Artist Pete Woods, a favorite since his Robin days, gets much of the credit for the nuanced, often silent scenes of Black Ring, but Frank’s Superman is bar none, and the sequence where Lex realizes Clark’s secret identity is gripping. Loved Lex Luthor in Action Comics? Artist Pete Woods’s curvy, almost cartoonish lines suggest less serious superheroics, but Cornell’s Lex Luthor story here is deeply, deeply psychological.
The main story is not quite an anniversary tale (though a good ol’ Superman/Lex Luthor battle never hurts in a pinch). What the issues does is show a number of tragedies from Superman’s life, drawn by different artists — again, not the most hopeful anniversary fare, and especially not for the last Action Comics anniversary issue before the DC New 52 Relaunch, but we are treated to Dan Jurgens drawing once again the death of Superman, and Gary Frank drawing again the death of Pa Kent. As the show kicks off, things get awkward when singer Aled Jones appears with the belief that he was booked as the show’s musical act. Late Late Show’s James Corden. As far out as Snyder’s Batman has swung, it would be easy to dismiss the book as pure silliness; within these pages, Snyder has new Batman Jim Gordon almost literally jump over a shark. Even as Lex has hunted this mysterious power over the past two books, the conclusion is incongruously cosmic; after Lex has wheedled his way through the villains of the DC Universe, to blast Superman back and forth with power beams comes off pedestrian. We’ve seen Lex do this kind of thing before, but never has he had a robotic Lois Lane lookalike, essentially the voice of the reader, to ask him exactly what he’s doing.
I had the same objections to Gail Simone’s The Movement: a character like Batman is no more or less cognizant of the plight of “regular people” than the writer of the day makes him to be and that change is no more lasting than when the next writer decides otherwise (and this is a tide that has crested and ebbed before, no less with books like Batman: The Hill and Orpheus Rising, no longer referenced). Again, I don’t disagree, but it’s a point where writer and character overlap too much when I’d as soon be reading a story that more faithfully extends from the character’s own history; I tend to think five years down the road we’ll no more still be hearing about the Corner, the Narrows, and Little Cuba in the Bat-titles than we do now about the Hill. Indeed, Batman fails Peter by choosing to exude fear rather than understanding, but Bruce and Peter’s conflict is more nuanced; it’s not necessarily that Bruce would have ignored Peter so much as Bruce and Peter’s worlds are so different that Peter lacks the agency to enter Bruce’s world on Bruce’s world’s terms, speaking to a larger systemic failure that keeps Peter and Bruce from ever talking to one another.
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