But the game, an MMORPG built around beating Batman, has a critical flaw — it’s real. Designed on technology engineered from prominent scientists’ work, the video game has the ability to create avatars that form real-life threats to the heroes players are trying to beat.
The first time Batman notices something’s amiss happens when Metal-Zero, a Superman foe, comes to Gotham City for no apparent reason. Though Batman acknowledges he’s no physical match for Superman who could break Metal-Zero down with a flurry of punches, he also knows his strengths lie in his tactical advantages.
After the fight, Superman shows up, and there’s some playful banter — Superman goes so far as to call it trolling. The conversation doesn’t last long, but it sets both on edge as competitive tensions rise.
Meanwhile, Okamura’s recruited several new players to take part in a raid style battle to take down Batman. Playing as a Nightwing avatar, the players begin to bend the rules, giving Nightwing the ability to fly. The fight breaks into Hiro’s headquarters, and the gamesmaster realizes he needs to pull the plug immediately.
With help from Okamura, Batman uses a failsafe to disable the program. And just as Bats aims to destroy the video game console, Mongul reveals himself along with his plan to crowd source superhero killing.
After several issues exploring the very first meeting between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent way back when, Greg Pak goes in an entirely new direction with a technological story steeped in modern-day colloquialisms and a critique — or parody — of today’s society. In a day and age when video games have trumped movies in revenue generated, terms like trolling and rage-quitting have found their way into the dictionary as a new generation takes to the Internet for interaction and community.
Bruce Wayne’s relationship to Clark Kent emulates a bit of the video game rivalry, and Kent even goes so far as to play up the competitiveness with some calculated condescension. Alone with his thoughts, Wayne knows Kent is his friend, but can’t dispel the ill will that harbors resentment. Tempers flare when Wayne hangs up on Kent, and Superman lets his emotions get to him.
The floating representations of the three other players with their chibi bodies goes so far as to recall the stereotype of the early-adolescent gamer screaming over Xbox Live microphones. Unable to see the game for what it really is, the players regress into childish and self-centered caricatures of themselves, unable to see the bigger picture.
That, as Mongul points out, is evidence of the “innate savageness of [this world’s] everyday people.”
Batman Superman #5 has plenty of plot points to provoke thought, but its execution leaves a lot to be desired. It’s great that Pak goes outside of the box, first by creating something more than a typical super-sized cage match where our heroes team up against a powerful foe. This time, Pak pits Superman and Batman against a villain using the power of people exhibiting their worst qualities coaxed out of them by competition and rivalry.
The problem with the issue is the lack of a grounded center which at this point has Batman as its sole anchor. But it’s not enough to support Superman’s immature dialogue and the trite motivations that seem a little out of character, especially when he resorts to trolling Batman for some kicks. It’s understandable, but one would imagine him going about it in way that doesn’t seem off-tone.
Brett Booth’s artwork — a very marked change from Jae Lee’s wispy style — looks much more conventional, which will be a jarring shift for fans of the first story arc who were hoping the status quo wouldn’t shift.Booth’s pencils have a Jim Lee/J. Scott Campbell aesthetic that looks great except for the fact that everyone has the same face. Once the action begins, it’s easy to overlook the flaws, and the landscape spreads provide for longer panels that pack plenty of punch which gives inker Norm Rapmund a lot to do. Rapmund excels — the amount of detail and fine lines are overlayed with a meticulous touch that shines when Andrew Dalhouse’s colors explode. The last few pages are a sight to behold with a luminous quality that contrasts with the rest of the book’s dark and muddy pages. Let’s hope the next issue takes place in daylight or with a ton of explosions.
The other hope is that Pak brings back some of the abstract notions he laced the first story arc with. Pak’s exploration in the first few issues had significant and deep undertones that really played up the differences and similarities between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman without being overtly heavy-handed. The inner monologues this issue seem a little forced and repetitive, and the back and forth that felt so inspired before feels formulaic now.
Judging by the stark shift from the abstract to the technical, one might assume DC editorial is forcing Pak’s hand. What changes may come, the characters are the important thing, and Batman Superman #5 seems to lose that. The title seems to be in a state of finding itself, and if the balance keeps changing without ever righting itself, readers might find themselves pulling the issue in want of sticking to the character’s individual titles.
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