Superman's Most Powerful Enemy Made Batman's Worst Villain a God - and He Still Sucked
Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Batman/Superman #22, on sale now from DC Comics.
In Batman/Superman #22 (by Gene Luen Yang and Paul Pelletier), Calendar Man is recruited by longstanding Superman villain Mr. Mxyzptlk, who reveals to him that their world is a story made up of panels and gives him the power to move across them. Calendar Man uses this newfound power in an effort to exact revenge against Batman, but he is ultimately as unsuccessful against the Dark Knight as ever.
The current volume of Batman/Superman is the latest in a long line of Batman and Superman team-up books, a tradition dating all the way back to World's Finest in the 1940s. This most recent entry that began in 2019 is an anthology title and has also served to spotlight villains who may not otherwise get a major story focus. Calendar Man is one such example; although he dates back to 1958, he has rarely been presented as anything more than a joke. The allure of this story is that by allying him with Mr. Mxyzptlk, someone who is a threat to even Superman, he might be able to become a serious threat.
Mxyzptlk is attracted to Calendar Man on account of his existing fascination with dates, and he reveals to Calendar Man the truth that all of their existence takes place within discrete boxes on a page. Calendar Man, currently assumed dead after an attack of Joker gas on Arkham, returns to the world and initially tries to recruit fellow villains who doubt his revelation until he uses it to incapacitate them.
His powers take the form of moving between panels and across time, allowing him to attack people in the future while they are unaware of his presence. He can also use this to move between locations if the next panel takes place in a different setting, something he uses to surprise attack Batman and Superman in the final act of the story. This proves unsuccessful despite his new power and he is quickly stopped by the heroes, leaving him in a hospital bed where Mr. Mxyzptlk removes the experience from his memory for his own sake.
Calendar Man, like a lot of Batman's older villains, has become something of a punchline within pop culture. This story is interesting because it reveals why the villain is unable to make use of this new, godlike power. The issue reveals that despite his eye for precision he isn't one to ask bigger questions about the world, not even stopping to consider the implications of all of time being laid out ahead of him by a creator. He never thinks bigger than hitting harder and faster.
The idea of a comics character who is aware of their true existence is nothing new; Grant Morrison and Chas Truog's seminal run on Animal Man in the 1980s famously explored the idea, as well as early She Hulk stories and modern day characters like Deadpool and Gwenpool. Although the novelty of this idea has largely worn off, becoming the same type of cliché it would typically be used to poke fun at, it is still interesting to see how different characters would respond to that revelation and how different creative teams choose to explore it. Sequential storytelling is a medium with a fascinating relationship to time and the best parts of this issue are when it is aware of that fact, using it to create moments that are only possible within the medium of comics.
Ultimately what this story reveals about Calendar Man is just why he remains unsuccessful despite his intellect; his single-minded obsessiveness. When provided this incredible power he is shown to only use it as he would any other weapon. This issue also subtly suggests just why the idea of self-awareness in comics is both so fascinating and so difficult to pull off in an interesting way.