Friday, May 12, 2017

Batman/Superman: Game Over (comics)

Writers: Greg Pak, Paul Levtiz
Artists: Jae Lee, Brett Booth, RB Silva, Kenneth Rocafort, Phillip Tan
Collects: Batman/Superman #5-9, Batman/Superman Annual #1, Worlds Finest #20-21

After I read and enjoyed volume one of the New 52 Batman/Superman title, I'd hoped that would extend to the second. Unfortunately, Game Over is not quite as strong as Cross World for a variety of reasons. Part of that is down to some uneven stories. The rest is art clash.

Plotwise, there are three arcs over the course of this volume and they range from okay to good, without anything really standing out. The first is the one the volume takes its name after. Toymaster has a new augmented reality video game which can, without his knowledge, take control of actual people and heroes, thanks to meddling by Mongul. Since it's just a video game, the players decide to fight heroes. Sadly true to life, as plenty of people get their rocks off playing evil pricks in video games, when given the option. The second takes place over the entire annual and is something of a sequel, involving Battleworld, Monguls son and a tournament for right of succession. The last is a crossover with Worlds Finest, where the titular duo finally meet the multiverse lost castaways from Earth 2. Can family get much more extended than "from an alternate universe"?

The first is just okay. There's an interesting plot to be made with the idea of an alien like Mongul using the bloodthirsty nature of "gamers" to his advantage and attempting to turn them into something he can use. "Gamers" are assholes, or at least a good portion of them are. Twenty plus years playing them and exposing myself to online communities did a lot to clue me in to that. But it's undermined a bit by feeling too much like a generic action story in the visual terms. There are no HUDs, no indicators that might resemble anything you see or link to a game. The only out of place thing is chibi versions of the players hovering around like they're goddamned Mr. Mxyplkt; not exactly a common sight. At best, it's like some weird AR game.

The voices feel off, too, which is probably why it's a bad idea to try too hard to imitate the voice of any particular group. Maybe it would have felt more authentic if the players were incredibly toxic and blindingly racist. Five minutes playing any multiplayer game with randos would tell you that's how "gamers" really sound.

I might like the annual the best. It's a done-in-one, using the oversized special for one story involving Battleworld, making it a bit of a follow-up to the first arc. It may just be that it has the first whiff of Jae Lee art in the volume. I'm not sure. But it was fun enough watching the two families battle in a gladiator tournament, helping Monguls son keep his throne.

Rounding out the volume is a crossover with Worlds Finest, where Huntress (Helena Wayne) and Power Girl - castoffs from Earth 2, dumped into the main universe in that comics first issue - meet the main universe counterparts of their father and cousin, respectively. It was an inevitable encounter, one Pak and Levitz mine for all the awkward comparisons and strained bonding you would expect. I feel like I might have pulled more from it, were I familiar with what Paul Levitz had been doing in Worlds Finest - I assume the antagonist and area the group ends up in was set up in previous issues of that book - but it holds together well just on the emotional weight of the meeting and their continued sadness over being cut off from home. It ends on an interesting look at what I assume are at-the-time recent developments in the Earth 2 comic proper; I'd always meant to read more of that, but to date have not managed to pick up the second volume.

So, all well and good on the story end, but nothing too spectacular. It might have been elevated with top shelf art, but unfortunately that's not exactly a given with this book. You saw the number under "artists", right? Five of them, not including Scott McDaniel, who did breakdowns for an issue late in the volume. I like the work of most of them.

One problem. They're not Jae Lee. Or, more accurately, some of them don't really gel with Jae Lee.

Maybe I just got the wrong idea, but I kind of assumed this book, at the start, was going to be more of a Jae Lee project, with him doing the bulk of the art. If you're using that guy, you'd want to have him doing as much as possible, right? Even if it leaves the book just kind of doing it's own thing. I mean, its nothing new. Remember the pre-Flashpoint Superman/Batman title? A good book, half the time, and mostly divorced from whatever else is going on in the universe. So there's precedent. But instead we kind of end up with fill-in guest arcs and while at least one story was tailored for that - I can't really picture Game Over being done by Jae Lee, even if there wasn't much done artistically with it as is - it's not really what I wanted.

But you know, that's fine too, because that's an artist for an arc. There's a clear breaking point. It's iffier when you're alternating artists with Jae Lee in one story or arc. Jae Lees work is distinct. No one else looks like him. I liked the annual a lot, but when art duties switched to Kenneth Rocafort - an artist I like a lot - for part two, it stood out. It's even worse when Batman/Superman alternates chapters with Worlds Finest, because RB Silvas artwork - which is also pretty good on its own - may be the furthest removed from Lees style, leaving zero visual consistency between issues. It leaves the First Contact arc feeling like patchwork, artistically. I feel like Lee should have either done the entire annual or the entire crossover, but not both.

The end result is a volume that feels uneven. Nothing inside is what I'd consider outright bad, but the Game Over arc is forgettable and the art feels like it whips all over the place. The book hasn't gone back to the events of the first volume yet either, aside from the title characters having an occasional inkling that they'd forgotten something during First Contact, so if that's what you're looking for, you're not going to find it here. I'd go so far as to say you can probably give this volume a pass if you want. Next volume seems like it might be more substantial anyway.

My Opinion: Skip It


  1. Toymaster sounds like an updated version of X-Men villain Arcade (who I unequivocally hate). So there's really no attempt to thematize contemporary issues in video games -- like Gamergate, which would have been reaching critical mass at about the time these comics were published? That's really lame.

  2. I've always liked the idea of Arcade - a villain totally into game show style death traps - but I don't think I've ever come across a story with him yet that was all that great. This version of Toymaster isn't really cut from the same cloth. He's a genius kid with his own company who dabbles in different entertainment and wanted to make what appears to be a VR game where you control and fight against heroes. The trouble starts when Mongul meddled without his knowledge.

    No, there's really no parallel with Gamergate at all. It's more, Mongul realizes there's a portion of humans who are always strategizing, thinking about the best ways to attack things, giving into bloodthirst, even if virtually, and attempted to utilize them. It's nothing special and misses several opportunities, but it's otherwise sort of inoffensive as far as comic book plots go. I get the feeling Jae Lee needed time to get more artwork in and that's why the story was thought up.

    Gamergate probably did blow up right around when this arc was published, but if that's the case, it's sort of excusable. Scripts and the like are generally planned and put in months ahead of time, from what I understand. So if the timeline matches up that's likely the reason it wasn't done there. It's a bit strange nothing has been tried with it since then. But then, it seems like a tough prospect to try and wedge in a story about nerd culture and their blatant fear/ hatred of women. At least in a superhero setting.