I do love Superman and monsters. It rarely fails to make me happy. In a nice diversion from the general gloom of the Truth sequence in the Superman books, writer Greg Pak gives us a nice side story in which the stakes are stacked, but the fun is foremost.
Ukur, the Beastmaster of Subterranea - I just love writing that - has retreated into his hidden realm after Superman and Jim-Gordon-Batman stop him stealing WayneTech's mini-sun. Ukur needs it as a power source for his people, but Gordon saw only a criminal, endangering Gotham. Superman, currently lacking most of his powers, goes after the Beastmaster, keeping a distance so he can go undetected and learn more. Superman insists Gordon stay on the surface, and despite his relative weakness, doesn't call in any of his super-friends. Is he mad?
Pak is trying hard here, and Superman is almost convincing, but basically it comes down to this being a comic named Batman/Superman. I miss the days when a writer could simply say 'the JLA is off on a case across the galaxy'.
Immediately after, follows my favourite moment from this issue - whether you consider his secret ID to be Clark or Superman, it's interesting to know he misses having one.
Superman meets a group of Gotham citizens down in the tunnels and, quite reasonably, assumes they're prisoners. Nope, they're immigrants - inmates who fell down the rabbithole after some prison collapse (a regular occurrence, apparently) and decided it's better to live free underground than in chains above. The bonus for people like stable chief Angie is that they get to smuggle their whole families down with them, and be protected by Ukur
Now, I could see a desperate inmate making the choice, but demanding their loved ones join 'em? And said loved ones agreeing? Gothamites are deeply weird.
That's not the oddest moment this month. This scene made me choke on my cuppa.
Worst. Perry. White. Ever.
Or is it? The Daily Planet editor has been hurt physically and emotionally, because of someone he cares for, but someone who put the rest of his 'family' - ordinary, non-powered people - at risk. Perry will calm down in time, but for now, his understandable anger is shocking. My more serious problem with this scene is that Pak is foregrounding a point readers have to refuse to think about in order to accept Clark as a responsible man. Instead, we'll have to forget about this exchange.
It's fascinating to see Gordon with Perry, though. I don't think versions of the characters have met since the Silver Age of World's Finest Comics. And the same goes for Lois and Gordon, who share a diner meal after her attempts to tail him prove a tad sad.
I like this scene a lot. For all the talk of Lois' betrayal, or Clark's weasel ways, she knows that there are no villains here, just people doing what they think is right.
(And would you want Metallo watching your back? OK, he's pretty sane this week, but still...)
Back underground, Clark is in trouble with the commander of the dead Subterannea warrior whose clothes he's been wearing. The good news is that his disguise holds. The bad is that he's about to be executed for presumed desertion. He's saved from that only by Urku calling his men to a summit to meet their new ally...
So yeah, I'm not spoiling that. Batman/Superman #23 is hugely entertaining, with Superman in Edgar Rice Burroughs territory, and Gordon in Superman's. The character moments for Superman, Lois and Perry made me think, with only Gordon sounding an off-note - his compassion has gone out the window. That's likely due to this millennium's tedious insistence that any Batman/Superman book has to continually contrast the leads.
And Gordon doesn't look like himself either. Ardian Syaf is a cracking superhero artist, but he ignores the fact that even in the post-2011 continuity, Jim Gordon has to be at least early forties. He looks 35, tops. And has no eyebrows. That's the only visual misstep, though; everyone looks great, especially Superman in his sci-if barbarian suit. Syaf's pages, inked by Vicente Cifuentes and coloured by Beth Sotelo, are a feast for the eyes. Sotelo is a new name to me, but I hope she gets lots more work at DC - the range of tones she chooses for any given scene is perfect, whether she's evoking Metropolis night or the perpetual twilight of the underworld. The final member of the core creative team. Rob Leigh, does a commendable job on the lettering, while editor Andrew Marino pulls everything together nicely.
Syaf, Cifuentes and colourist Ulises Areola's cover is decent, but I'm tired of the misery-laden covers. Far more eyecatching is the Bombshells variant by Des Taylor.
All in all, this is a good-looking book that reads well and leaves us with some food for thought. It uses the overarching Truth sequence to motivate unusual character insights and interactions which act as the icing on a great Boys Own adventure. It's just great work all round.