Review: Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

I praised Peter Tomasi's Detective Comics story, in which new Batman Jim Gordon meets the Justice League, for its surprising lack of angst; the League knows Gordon, trusts him, and as long as he's wearing the Bat-costume du jour, they accept him as one of their own. This is in significant contrast to Greg Pak's Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts, which takes place sequentially beforehand, in which Gordon and the newly-depowered Superman spend almost the entire 200 pages sniping at and mistrusting one another.

This is wearying. I get it, and maybe Pak takes the right road by creating tension between the new Batman and altered Superman instead of their being fast friends right away. But it's a book where everyone's pretty unhappy, the art tends dark and somewhat one-note, and Aquaman guest-stars, for instance, as an out-of-control bruiser. As the start of Pak's final issues for this series, he has some nice moments when he calls back to the beginning of his run, but even the presence of some key Bat-family members can't brighten this book.

Of course, most significant about Truth Hurts is that it's the primary intersection of the Batman: Superheavy and Superman: Truth mega-storylines of the DC You era. If you like that kind of thing, Truth Hurts will be worth a look nonetheless, and there's certainly continuity notes aplenty here. The book weaves in and out of no less than Batman Vol. 8: Superheavy, Grayson Vol. 3: Nemesis, and Batgirl Vol. 2: Family Business, not to mention intersecting with Pak's Action Comics Vol. 8: Truth and Gene Luen Yang's Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth. That's heady to be sure, perhaps not for the faint of heart, and even as an informed reader I felt occasionally I'd missed something. Caveat emptor and all that, though I'd sooner encourage than discourage these kinds of inter-title and inter-franchise connections.

[Review contains spoilers]

I have enjoyed Greg Pak's work throughout the New 52 as the writer of Batman/Superman and Action Comics, and for instance his Action Comics Vol. 5: What Lies Beneath was a fun Silver Age-style Superman romp involving a subterranean city. But -- and maybe this is just personal preference -- I think the "Ukur, Beastlord of Subterranea" character works much better as a Superman adventure than a Superman/Batman adventure; I appreciate the internal continuity of Greg Pak's own "Pak-verse," but robot Batman Jim Gordon feels significantly out of place among the dragons. Again, the art is dark (especially in comparison to Aaron Kuder and company's bright work in Action), and so in all we have a story that's both drab and not especially relevant to half the title characters, and therefore fails to compel on many levels.

Pak's story gains a step in the second half when Superman goes up against Vandal Savage. Superman, Batgirl, Dick Grayson, and Red Hood face certain death defending a small town from Savage's forces, and the stakes are convincingly high and Savage's threat legitimately frightening. But the farther in one goes, main book artist Ardian Syaf falls away for replacements, and the book gets sloppy in the small details -- an odd tick of characters saying "Ha, ha!" across multiple pages, for instance.

The shadow of Bruce Wayne looms heavily in this book; one of Pak's strong points is that both Gordon and the new Superman are only human, versus the super-capable Batman Bruce Wayne, who's ironically only human himself. What's fascinating about this book is that Pak finds himself with a depowered Superman, whether his own choice or not, and Jim Gordon as Batman, which was definitely decided in another office, and manages to find commonality between the two and build a story about it. Furthermore Pak ties the first half of this back to one of his earliest scenes in Batman/Superman Vol. 1: Cross World; echoes a Batman/Superman annual later on with the Bat-family appearances; and gets Batman Bruce Wayne on the page by the end, too.

Though Truth Hurts is a complete story chapter to chapter, clearly events in other titles have an effect. There's a connective scene between Superman, Action Comics, and Batman/Superman, all cleverly guest-illustrated by Howard Porter to denote them as such. Lex Luthor confronts Clark Kent in the beginning of this book before their later conversation in Grayson, but Grayson appears here after that particular issue, so an issue-by-issue reading order would go from Batman/Superman to Grayson and back again; Superman's appearance in Batman Vol. 8: Superheavy equally seems to take place in between chapters of this book. And yet I'm still struggling to understand the nature of the Dawn Control threat, whom Superman begins hunting halfway through the book without it being fully clear to me how or when he came across them.

One last thing that bears mentioning that I've noticed between Action Comics Vol. 8 and Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts is that Greg Pak is funny. Between the antics of reluctant motorcycle salesmen in Action and when Vandal Savage fries the henchman who had the keys to Savage's own vehicle, there's a number of absurd "bits" in these books that Pak brings off well. Superhero team-ups should be joyful, and unfortunately this pièce de résistance of the DC You era doesn't win in that regard, but I give Pak credit for trying to pep things up where he can.

[Includes original and variant covers, Ardian Syaf pencils]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman/Superman Vol. 5: Truth Hurts
Author Rating
2.5 (out of 5)
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