Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

(2004) Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines, DC Comics, US$19.95, hrdbk, 160pp, ISBN 1-401-20323-X

Presumably inkeeping with the cartoons it seems that the use of the World's Finest title has been retired, and so we have this, a collection of issues 1-6 of Superman/Batman and Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003. But it should be World's Finest. I'm just saying. Anyway... One of the sillier aspects of what I understand to be current DC continuity is the fact that Lex Luthor got to be president of the US. Given what the Americans have to put up with in real life, I can see how they would welcome this fictional improvement. But I never really bought it and it was always clear that this was a situation that would have to be dealt with, and that's what this collection does. Now the rest of this review is going to contain a lot of 'spoilers' but, given that this is a collection of already published and reviewed material, I'm going to put up with it. If you don't want to know, accept my apologies, and the knowledge that over all I think this is a very good book, and stop reading now.

I want to start with the biggest problem, which is the end - though I like the tagline. "Crisis? What Crisis?" Has this happened in current continuity yet? I don't know; I can't read everything, you know. Anyway, the end. So there's Luthor, brilliant, nearly the richest man in the world (Bruce Wayne is richer, so there), certainly the most powerful man in the world, and in a secret alliance with Darkseid and, after turning public opinion against our heroes, pitting them both against a stellar array of villains and fellow heroes (and, indirectly, an older alternate version of the Man of Steel), when they still get through to him, as it were, what is the final diabolical scheme of everyone's favourite evil genius? He shoots up with a meta-gene cocktail mixed with Bane's venom, and dons the old green and purple battle suit. That's it. This rich, powerful, well-connected (in inter-stellar terms), brilliant villain, who has had access to the most powerful office in the land for some time, including its scientific and military resources, hatches a plan to... well, basically, duke it out! How does that make sense? How is that climactic, exactly? Or do we have to wait for a crisis for the cum-shot? In other words, this is currently the most anti-climactic plotline for ages, and I've seen a few in my time. Main grumble over, now let's talk about the good things.

Well the artwork for a start. Comic book joy. Vivid, bold, cartoony, nice use of splash pages, and dual narrative mirroring. Similarly the writing, though I'm getting a bit tired of the "compare and contrast" school of writing World's.., ooops, Superman/Batman. Getting a bit lazy, I feel. Ploughing old furrows. Great colours, by the way, by Dave Stewart who was at the other end of the subtlety spectrum in Warren Ellis' and Colleen Doran's excellent Orbiter (review on-site). Loads of guest stars including Captain Atom, Power Girl, Green Lantern, Starfire, Black Lightning and Katana from the heroes and Mogul, Captain Cold, Metallo, Solomon Grundy, Super-Gorilla Grodd (or whatever they're calling him these days), Silver Banshee, Lady Shiva and Nightshade for the bad guys. There's more, much more, but I don't want to give everything away if you've not read it, but didn't mind the spoilers above, though here's a last one to warn of the dangers of over-cute writing. So this Superman from the future comes back to stop himself and Batman, and they're having a fight, as ya do, and older-Supes says to Batman, "You know what I got sick of, Bruce? You kicking the crap out of me with your toys. When you're nothing but a man. A man who got to stay alive only because I let you." Which appears to be a nice tip of the hat to the Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns future timeline. But if this Supes is from a continuum where his earlier self and Batman failed to stop the asteroid that wiped out life on Earth, before Miller's timeline could come into effect, then he never would have had Batman kicking the crap out of him. Unless we're meant to notice that, and he was talking about some other disaster...?

Tony Chester

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