This annual may be expensive, but it’s well worth reading, and I would even go as far as to say that it’s the best issue of Greg Pak’s take on this book so far.
The issue begins with Superman and Batman in the Fortress of Solitude, checking in on Mongul, who was sent to the Phantom Zone after he tried to conquer the Earth previously in this book (he tried to use a video-game, it was… weird). Batman chastises Superman for just sending Mongul there with no trial or whatever, but as the narration makes clear, he’s just doing that to wind his friend up. Throughout this run, Pak has written the central relationship very well, they are friends, yes, but they aren’t overly friendly, and that little bit of distrust is important. There’s a reason Batman keeps a Kryptonite ring around. Mongul continues to be important, as the real meat of the story begins when his War-World arrives on Earth, and his son, Jochi reveals himself to Superman, and because he and Batman defeated his dad, demands eye for an eye justice. Unless Supes and Bats bring themselves and 2 members of their ‘clans’ with them, Jochi will destroy Earth.
I really like how this Annual expands things out to include the entire Batman and Superman families, it makes it feel like a bigger deal, and a story worthy of the larger page-count. Superman brings in Supergirl and Steel to come with him, his girlfriend Wonder Woman wants to come, but Superman wants her to stay behind and protect the Earth in case anything goes wrong. Krypto tags along too, and apparently Superboy is dead? I dunno. The only person Batman brings along is Red Hood, because he’s the Bat-family member with the most experience with aliens (and from what I’ve seen of Red Hood & The Outsiders, that experience is mostly fuckin’), but Batgirl comes too, as she has been secretly listening into Batman, just like Batman was secretly listening to Superman. I’m not a huge fan of Barbara Gordon being Batgirl (or just Batgirls in general), but in this issue, Pak basically treats her like Oracle, so that works for me. I really liked the scene where Batman tells Batgirl and Jason that they might not come back from this, as they are all just humans going up against crazy aliens. We as fans know that nobody is actually going to die, but it was a strong moment, with Bruce remembering Jason’s death and Barbara’s crippling, as well as a brief, tragic glimpse of Damian.
So, everyone flies on up to War-World, but when they get there, not everything is as it seems. Jochi has been challenged for the leadership, which has led to an all-out tournament, and if he loses, then Earth will definitely be destroyed. Batgirl and Steel sneak off to try and disable the giant laser cannon they’ll use to do it, whilst Batman and Red Hood join forces with Jochi to help him win the tournament as ‘The Batman Clan’. Superman, Supergirl and Krypto also enter as the Superman Clan, and although the actual meat of the tournament is over all too quickly, it was a lot of fun, and not what I expected at all. Superman and Batman’s teams both reach the final, but that’s not quite the victory it appears, as the final as different rules. Whereas in the previous rounds you could win without killing your opponent (of course crucial for Batman and Superman’s sense of morality), in the final, only 1 team can survive. Our heroes have to fight each other to the death, and they have to make it convincing, because if the rest of War-World senses cheating, then they’ll kill them all, and Earth anyway.
They fight, and even though Bats whips out his Kryptonite, he hesitates, and the jig is up, Earth is about to be destroyed. Luckily, Batgirl and Steel are able to disable the laser cannon just in time, but in the process, that causes the entire planet to malfunction, and begin to fall towards Earth. All the heroes are able to escape, and Batman tries to help Jochi come with them, as the rest of War-World is trying to kill him too. Jochi refuses to come, and falls in with the rest of them. Just as War-World is about to impact the planet, Superman is able to suck it into the Phantom Zone, yep, the whole planet, which is pretty awesome. Superman and Batman commiserate over Jochi’s sacrifice, and whilst it’s a bit much to conflate a 1-issue character with Damian Wayne and Superboy dying, it did work.
The issue ends back in the Phantom Zone, with Mongul killing Jochi and regaining control of War-World, so it looks like the original will be back soon enough, let’s just hope his next plan is more like this and less like the initial arc.
This Annual was split into 3 different chapters, each with a different artist, and each of them brought something different to the table. Regular series artist Jae Lee drew act 1, and he delivered his usual high-quality here. Kenneth Rocafort handled act 2, and his style was much more suited to the action-heavy tournament scenes and Philip Tan, who I’m not normally a fan of, did act 3, and it felt like a good half-way point between Lee and Rocafort really. If you’ve been reading Pak’s run on this book, don’t miss this Annual, it’s worth the $6 for sure.