Fiziko reviewed Superman/Batman #1 when it came out; I’m handling the rest of the story arc, in two parts. While the comic features some of the darkness and pseudo-realistic characterization of contemporary comics, this is really the Silver Age again, with the Superman Family, the Batman Family, and a Surprise TwistTM wherein….. Uh, spoilers ahead.
Title: Superman/Batman #2-5
Author: Jeph Loeb
Illustrator(s): Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines.
Original Publication Date: Nov. 2003-Feb. 2004.
Cover Price: US: 2/95 Can: $4.50 (per issue)
A warning comes from the future; the End is Near! And, sure enough, a fragment of Krypton is en route, threatening to wipe out the earth. President Lex Luthor (damn those butterfly ballots*) puts a billion-dollar bounty on the Man of Steel, claiming he is responsible. Luthor says intelligence-gathering has the proof, too, but it must be temporarily concealed for reasons of national security (Yeah, I know it’s far-fetched that people would just accept this trustingly, but it’s a comic book). When the metahuman population turns against Supes, he turns to Batman for assistance.
One would think that, a billion dollars notwithstanding, no sane person in the DC universe would go up against these two. But no….
I found certain vague parallels with real-world events amusing, and there’s a certain gee-whiz charm watching these guys cut their way through the assembled metahuman population of the world like so many second-rate monsters in a videogame.** The series captures the fascination superhero comics have for kids, the juvenile power fantasies, while adding a kind of human dimension to the characterization.
The problem, of course, is that it would be that easy for Superman, especially with the Batman helping him out. You have an athletic genius who carries a personal arsenal teaming up with a guy who has a ridiculous number of super-powers. It’s impressive how they use these abilities, but the series just as frequently fudges over how, say, Batman avoids being reduced to bat-dust on a few occasions, and we’re left wondering how anyone or anything manages to challenge Clark in his regular series.
I recognize that every “event” story must take into account the complexity of the DC Universe, and its significant metahuman population. Unfortunately, too much of this story requires previous knowledge of the current version of reality in DC. The mythos of Batman and Superman are well-established, but we also really need to know Cir-El*** and Gorilla Grodd and umpteen other characters to follow portions of the story.
“They laughed at Columbus.” Okay, okay. Maybe Lex is just quoting Gershwin colloquially. I still find it unlikely he would. When two minutes with a relevant history text or two seconds with a browser will verify that, yup, educated Europeans knew the world was round in 1492, the genius, egoistical president isn’t going to repeat this most-common of historical myths.
–Uh…. ‘Shredder, “Pet Peeve” is not actually a category in our reviews.
Originality: 3/6 The hunted hero, scorned by the society which he has sworn to uphold, has appeared countless times before; having the Man of Steel in this role is somewhat original. Everything else seems very familiar. We get an uncertain portent from the future and divided loyalties among super-friends. As has become DC custom for apocalyptic-ish stories, Captain Marvel picks the wrong side. The wisdom of Solomon is severely flawed.
Artwork: 5/6 McGuiness and Vines make good use of the form; the battle scenes are a bit confused, but I don’t know what else you do with hand-to-hand battles involving hordes of metahumans. Spectacle forms a key element of this genre, and the storyline ensures that something spectacular, if not dramatically compelling, occurs every few pages.
Story: 3/6 Having tipped by hand regarding story elsewhere, I want to address….
The return of the Battle-Armor Luthor.
I liked “Business Class Luthor.” The characterization made more sense than his earlier outlaw mad-scientist identity. Recently, we’ve had the apotheosis of Corporate Criminal Lex, with his election as corrupt President in DC’s DC. Now, in the midst of a storyline which relies heavily on his presidential power, they have Lex donning the old green and purple SF suit as the cliffhanger to #5.
Even for a Superman/Batman comic book, “President Battlebot” makes for a bizarre image. Luthor has, however, been receiving injections to improve his condition, and this may have affected his judgment. As for what Loeb may have been thinking, well, that’s harder to grasp. Either the Luthor of yore will return, or they’ll use this plot to reset post-Crisis status quo, by having his super-villainy cost him the presidency, and the injection damage eliminate his criminal liability, thus permitting him to return as the evil but publically respectable head of Lexcorp.
Characterization: 4/6 The ongoing narrations by the principals give a sense of depth. It’s not great, but it’s better than many mainstream superhero comics.
Other characters are wasted. The Super-family and Bat-family arrive in #5, making a cover appearance and several dramatic entrances (I liked Krypto’s), but none of it amounts to much of anything.
Emotional response: 3/6 The series proves pretty formulaic, though some of the key confrontations provide entertainment.
Flow 2/6 This is very choppy in places, with explanations and motivations often unclear. I’m also wondering if we’re going to find out how #4’s “castling” maneuver was possible. And did Batman and Superman just happen to have alternate costumes handy for their appearance in #5? Did Supes do super-speed tailoring? We don’t need to see everything, and I know some explanations are forthcoming, but these issues present more conundrums than #6 can possibly clear up.
In total, Superman/Batman #2-5 receives a score of 24/42.
The current storyline ends with #6, due out in March.
*Thanks to Scott Slemmons for that.
**Remember, there are a LOT of metahumans DC way. This permits them to leave out certain heavy hitters. Wonder Woman, for example, asks that her old JSA colleagues stay out of the fray, lest they cause World War III, while the Flash and others are conspicuous by their absence. Still, that leaves a sizable mob of heroes trying to take them down and an even larger mob of villains out for the rewards.
***Cir-El is the current pretender to the Supergirl title. An image and some information may be found here, at the bottom of the page.