Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Superman/Batman #79-80 review


Once upon a time DC's editors were safe in assuming that their readership turned over every five years. That's why the same storylines showed up again and again in the Golden and Silver Ages: Superboy gets a big brother, Lois gains super-powers, a new hero comes between Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman shrinks ...

That was then. At some point a lot of us who got hooked, stayed hooked. We're the lifers who refuse to go away. And while we may sometimes get on DC's nerves, with our elephantine memories and seen-it-all-before moans, they love us really. And, occasionally, they throw us a bone as a reward for supporting them down the decades.

Superman/Batman #79-80 represents a bone of the juiciest order, courtesy of writer Chris Roberson and his creative colleagues. It starts off with the Superman, Batman and Robin (the Toy Wonder) of Grant Morrison's DC One Million event taking on Epoch, the Lord of Time. He's in the 853rd century to steal items to further his plans, entailing illicit visits to the Batcave, JLA HQ and Fortress of Solitude. Using the technology of the ages he manages to immobilise Superman and Batman, and return to his old stomping grounds, 'around the beginning of the third millennium', where history says he'll rule Earth. Issue #79 ends with him arriving, only to be challenged by Superman, Batman and Robin ... the teen wonder.

Yes, Epoch's skipped past the 2011 versions of the heroes to an earlier time, when the trio teamed up every single month and, as #80 reminds us, two of them rudely ignored the third (click to enlarge).

'Er, I'm right here, Bruce ...'

After a brief tussle, Epoch imprisons his adversaries in a force field cube, the overwhelming Omega Barrier from which there is no escape.

Well, no escape unless you know as much about science as Superman and Batman. Before long they're using their knowledge of physics to break free from the time trap, and patronise a grateful Robin. And in the future, Superman's Fifth Dimensional abilities get him and Batman out of the time loop they've been stuck in. Soon they're able to apprehend Epoch, who's back with them after bouncing through time uncontrollably thanks to equipment damaged in the 20th century.

And it's here that an already enjoyable comic becomes a huge treat for longtime fans, as a spread by the talented Jesus Merino shows the Lord of Time humiliated by the heirs of Superman and Batman from throughout DC's publishing history. There's Damian Wayne and Superman Secundus; 31st-century Batman Brane Taylor and his Robin, Superwoman Elna (aka Laurel) Kent and Kent Shakespeare on the feast of Miracle Monday; and the 46th-century Unknown Superman and Batsman. That's six different continuities happily mingling over three scenes across two pages - current Batman future, pre-Crisis Batman future, pre-Crisis Legion of Super-Heroes future, post-Crisis Legion of Super-Heroes future, All-Star Superman future and the world of Elliot S Maggin's brilliant Superman novels. Yell if I missed any ...

And yes, that last line is a tough one to negotiate (try writing it!). Basically, the spread is full of future fun and I doubt that knowledge of these characters is necessary to get the point, which is an expansion of Grant Morrison's Batman #700 message that Batman is forever - wherever a villain ventures in DC's future, no matter the time, no matter the 'reality', the world's finest heroes will be there to challenge him.

And that's why Roberson's title for these two issues is 'Worlds' Finest'. As a longtime fan, he knows the history of Superman, Batman and, dang it, Robin team-ups, and he gets that enthusiasm across, not in an essay, but in a terrifically entertaining story. Work this good makes it obvious that he should be immediately unshackled from J Michael Straczynski's notebook over in the Superman title, and allowed to explore his own ideas. JMS had his chance on the book and, like his Superman, walked away. Let's give Roberson an opportunity to fly.

The spread mentioned above is typical of Jesus Merino's excellent work over these two issues. He captures the lush, glossy sci-fi world of the future, as envisioned in the DC One Million event. And he recreates the ultra-clean look of those final issues of World's Finest Comics before Crisis on Infinite Earths rewrote the Superman/Batman relationship for the worse. There's an energy to the pages that complements Roberson's witty, well-plotted, ideas-packed script, and it's an energy given extra crackle by the colours of Blond. John J Hill and Steve Wands, meanwhile, do a fine job in the lettering department. The covers are the work of Fiona Staples, and I love her grouping of DC One Million's Batman, Superman and Robin. Her DC Icons pairing of regular Superman and Batman suffers due to the fact that no one can make the new Batman costume look good, but kudos for trying something new in terms of composition. 

And one more thing - come on DC, please give this comic a proper masthead again. Superman and Batman's logos are part of their heritage and look great together, with or without the World's Finest tag that preceded their team-ups for 322 issues. Restore them to their proper place.

6 comments:

  1. I saw a review of this on another site and picked up both issues. They were a real treat, and have definitely opened my eyes to Roberson's work.

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  2. Me too. I wasn't going to read these issues, but comics creator and Friend of the Blog Dean Trippe recommended them - cheers Dean!

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  3. It's funny, as issues of S/B usually pile up five or six high before I get around to reading them. This time, I heard so many good things about these two issues that I moved them to the top of my reading stack.

    After reading these, I sure hope Roberson gets to stick around post-Grounded for a while. And bring Jesus Marino with him and I'd be one heckuva happy Superman fan.

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  4. Are you saying you do or don't like the Supes/Bats combo logo?

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  5. Don't - it's an ugly, mashed-together symbol. A comic should have a proper logo (masthead).

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  6. I know what you mean, Tom, I don't actually buy the book that often, it depends on the announced creators and/or story. I hear that Joe Kelly's L'il League story is worth a gander ...

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