At one time, comic books were for children. The stories were simple, the books were cheap and you could pick them up at a corner shop or new agent. I honestly believe comic books are one of the very best ways to promote literacy and the decline in comic books has been matched by a decline in literacy. Comic books for children have all but disappeared, as editors gave into public outcry for more suitable content for children ( which also made it boring) and prices began to rise high enough to price children out of the market. Publishers then turned to a new market - adults. Whether as a means of reliving our own childhood, something to share with our own children or pure and simple escapism, more and more adults are reading and collecting comics. Of course comic book sounds a bit too juvenile for us - it is like saying we still play with toys - so someone came up with the euphemism - graphic novel - but it is still a comic book to me.
My son has outgrown picture books, but he still loves the visual experience of an illustrated medium, so he has completely taken to comics. As a home educator, I happy enough to see him reading for pleasure, regardless of the source. I feel that children who devote a lot of time to reading for the pure enjoyment of it are highly unlikely to have any difficulties with literacy, and I do know my son's reading ability has improved trough this medium. But as a parent, I am just happy that we can still have story time before bed, when he chooses one of his books for me to read out loud. I love sharing books with my sons, and I've actually found myself really enjoying the escapism of a world with superheroes as well. So when a new "graphic novel" arrived, I was very happy to sit down and read it with my son - but I do wish I had read this one myself first!
Torment is part of a series of books that feature a partnership between Superman and Batman. I have not read these in correct order, being influenced more by the best bargains I can find on used copies, but I understand this is book 5 which combines : Superman / Batman comic book issues 37-42. I do not feel order is particularly important with these books, we haven't had any major problems skipping back and forth a bit, but the first issue really does help set the scene for the others, as it shows a well developed friendship between Batman and Superman. This book has significantly less interaction between the two, and Batman definitely has the lead role in this book. Normally that is something I would like - of the two I tend to prefer Batman, but I did find this book just a bit odd.
It is obvious that the authors and illustrators are attempting to create an aura of confusion. They convey madness, chaos and disorder very well through the illustrations, but it does leave the reader a bit confused as well. It seems Superman has lost his mind. In many parts my poor simple mind was vastly overworked, trying to figure out exactly where Superman really was - how much was dream and how much was real. At least I wasn't the only one confused, my 7 year old son had trouble working out what was going on as well. I'd have felt really bad if a 7 year old had to explain it to me!
Meanwhile, Batman is after the Croc. the Croc makes an excellent super villain and my son quite liked this part - but the Croc is small fish in this battle. A scarecrow silhouette early on in the novel lets us know at least one of the villains we will be seeing but the most serious opponent is Darkseid. Batman won't be left on his own in this though. He'll have a rather different ally in this battle, a very beautiful woman named Selena.
This is the section which makes it obvious this book was in fact intended for adults. Batman is rescued and healed by the beautiful Selena - but apparently his Batsuit was in the way. A drawn up knee prevents us from seeing too much, but Batman is as bare as the day he was born. Selena meanwhile is dressed - at least for the moment - but there is a nude scene with her as well.
I felt rather uncomfortable reading this to my son. It was one of those situations where I wasn't sure if I should quit reading and draw attention to uncomfortable parts or keep going and hope it didn't get worse. I'm afraid we were both a bit embarrassed and my son has never asked me to read this book again. He does read these on his own though, and since he has already seen the scenes - I don't see any good in taking it away- and perhaps it is best not to make too much fuss. In all honesty though, you do see less than in many movies after 9pm. Something always covers the most critical areas, and this does not ever actually depict sex in any way - but it is the closest I have ever seen a comic book come.
Aside from this it was a pretty good book. I could have done without the more "graphic" scenes, but the storyline is good enough, although a bit confusing at times. Overall the art work is decent, but even my son noticed it isn't quite as good as the other books in this series. While the artist simply does not have the same talent in drawing the male face, he does quite fairly well with Selena,and really shines through with some of the villains. This book really does have some brilliant bad guys, and my son loved the fight segments and the more intense artwork. My son did comment on some of the villains being "cool", but he said something was missing in the drawings. He wasn't able to define what - but I have found some artists can bring a character to life, but these are missing that spark.
I have not rated this down because of the adult content - but I do wish a brief comment were made on Amazon in regard to this for parents. I'm well aware that adults are the target audience, but I am sure many children still enjoy Superman and Batman comics, so a bit of warning would be nice.
I have taken one star off for the confusion in a couple of parts, and also because of the artwork, especially in regards to human faces. They just appear flat, and lifeless in my opinion. I would have accepted this in a comic book when I was a child, in fact I think the illustration would have suited those well enough. But as the price has jumped with "graphic novels" , so has the level of artwork for most of them, and I expect a rich visual experience from a graphic novel now. If I just wanted the story, I would buy a paperback. A graphic novel really does need to superior graphics to justify the prices, and this one falls short. I very nearly gave this 3 stars, but a few good frames with the villains changed my mind.
I am not really certain about an appropriate age level for this. This is strong violence, but that is to be expected. Parents will have to decide for themselves if nudity and an adulterous theme are enough to prevent them buying this for their child. I can only say I would not have bought it, if I had been aware of the content, but my son is very young. If he were 12 or 13 this wouldn't bother me, but it just is not the type of book I would chose for a bedtime story!
The price on this is reasonable at £7.47 new, and I was able to pick up a copy with a slightly damaged back cover for only £3.00 from Amazon. It isn't an awful book - if you don't mind the nudity and get a good price - go ahead and pick one up - but I would really only recommend this book if you are collecting the whole series - it isn't quite as good as the others - so if you are just starting out I would really recommend you choose "Public Enemies" or my all time favourite "The Search for Kryptonite" first.
Variable. That's the word which springs to mind when thinking about Batman/Superman: Torment. Story? Variable. Artwork? Variable. Characters? Variable. Overall effect? A mediocre tale that could have been so much better.
When Torment gets it right, it's an enjoyable and immersive tale. It's never going to be one of the greatest stories ever told, but it certainly shows quite a bit of promise. This serves to make it all the more disappointing when that potential is never fully realised.
The story sets up an interesting plot where Superman starts to lose his mind and ends up under the control of his enemy Darkseid. The grim, driven Batman, meanwhile, falls in love with Darkseid's daughter-in-law, Bekka and starts to lose focus on his lifelong war on crime. Can he put aside his new-found obsession in time to save The Man of Steel?
A feature of these Superman-Batman tales has been how the relative treatment of the two heroes has varied according to the writers. If the writer is a regular on the Batman comics, he is the dominant character and vice versa. Since the two heroes are very different, this can affect how much you enjoy the tale.
This is very definitely a Batman tale. Both the artist and author are regular contributors to Batman titles and it shows. Aside from a few key moments, Superman barely features. If you're a Superman fan, you'll find this a most unsatisfactory tale.
One of the saddest losses in this title is the "dual narrative" technique which has worked so well in previous titles in the series. This saw the same events portrayed from the perspective of both Superman and Batman (who, of course, have very different outlooks on life). It gave an interesting insight into the minds of the two heroes and highlighted people can perceive the same events very differently. Since Superman features so little in Torment, everything is seen from the perspective of Batman the narrative fails to offer any new insights into his character.
The early panels are promising. Superman is losing his mind, whilst Batman is trying to track down Killer Croc, but the story you expect to come from this never emerges. Instead events take a wild swing as they leave Earth and head for Darkseid's domain. I was rather concerned about this. Batman always works best in the "real world" and is less suited to "space adventures" featuring aliens and monsters. Torment, however, bucks this trend. This plot development is well handled and feels natural, with Batman slotting into this environment far better than previously.
The real problem comes from the characterisation of Batman. From being the dark, gritty avenger, he suddenly falls head over heels in love with the mysterious Bekka, and starts acting like a giddy teenager. Since we all know the Dark Knight is pretty much impervious to the charms of women, this is very out of character and not well handled. Since these tales are quite short, there is insufficient time to develop this aspect properly. Batman's fall for Bekka is very sudden. Whilst the reasons for this are explained to a degree later in the story, it's never satisfactorily explored and always feels like a convenient plot device. Similarly, the resolution of Bruce Wayne's internal conflict (his desire to be happy vs. Batman's need for vengeance) never meshes together or has the emotional impact that it should.
The need to wrap everything up in six relatively short parts means that bigger issues remain untapped and the potential of the title is limited. It's a shame, because Torment offers a lot of exciting ideas and you can't help but feel that in the hands of a better author - a Jim Lee or an Alan Grant - this would be a much more intense, far stronger story.
The constraints of the format particularly come across in a very abrupt and massively disappointing ending. One minute Superman and Batman are on Darkseid's exploding ship, the next they are back on earth with only a quick dialogue box saying "we managed to escape before the explosion..." This is the comic book equivalent of "and they all went home and had their tea." A brief epilogue attempts to rescue things by adding in another layer of emotional depth (and presumably set up a future tale), but the damage is already done.
The artwork is very strange. It ranges from the very good to the really quite poor. The two key bad guys - Darkseid and Desaad are well drawn, whilst the alien landscapes and battleships provide convincing backdrops for the action. Some of the other characters fare less well. Batman is well drawn in some panels, less so in others. Some images stress the grim, gritty side is played up, whilst in others, the drawings are almost perfunctory as if the artist couldn't really be bothered. Bekka, meanwhile, suffers from the all-too-common fate afflicting female characters: all skimpy costume and impossibly shapely physique, although she is generally well drawn and pleasing to the eye (sorry, Mrs SWSt!)
Once again, though, it's Superman who comes off worst. The panels which feature him are awful. It's very clear that the artist has very little experience of drawing Supes and even less interest in learning. On his rare appearance, he looks like he was drawn by an artistically gifted child, rather than a professional comic book artist. It's a good job he features so infrequently, because whenever he does, the quality of the art plummets significantly.
If you're not a Batman or Superman fan, you're probably scratching your head by now, wondering what on earth I am going on about and who all these characters are. That's another issue with the book (and indeed, this series): it expects you to have quite an in-depth familiarity with the DC Universe. If you don't, you won't get a great deal out of any of the titles in the Superman-Batman series.
Torment offers little new for Batman fans and nothing at all for Superman's. It's not a dead loss, but there is nothing to make it stand out from the crowd of similarly themed Batman tales. Mediocre. The word was almost made for this book. Mediocre and variable.
Titan Books 2008
© Copyright SWSt 2009