Best of Batman & Superman: The Man of Steel #3

***Batman and Superman are friends. It’s an unlikely friendship, and one that can put them at odds. But ultimately, it’s a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the horizon, we’re going to hear a lot about these two fighting. “Best of Batman & Superman” will show us the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the moments that showed us why Superman and Batman are better friends than enemies.***

The Man of Steel #3 (1986)TITLE: The Man of Steel #3
AUTHOR/PENCILLER: John Byrne
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $0.75
PUBLISHED: November 1986

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The year was 1986, and it was a time for reboots, revamps, and retcons. Crisis on Infinite Earths had recently wrapped up, effectively given the entire DC Universe a clean slate. The heroes and icons we knew and loved could now be tweaked, and perhaps simplified for a new generation of fans. This era opened the door for stories like Batman: Year One, George Perez’s classic take on Wonder Woman’s origin, and even Justice League International.

And then there’s The Man of Steel, John Byrne’s revamping of Superman’s origin story. This six-issue miniseries reestablished Kal-El as the sole survivor of the planet Krypton, and redefined his relationships with core characters like Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, and various other characters with the initials L.L.

It also gave us the first meeting between the post-Crisis Superman and Batman, in what I believe is one of the best Superman/Batman stories ever told.

We open the issue in Gotham City, as Batman hunts down leads on our villain, Magpie. That’s right folks, the first meeting of post-Crisis Superman and Batman wasn’t over, say, The Joker, Lex Luthor, or Brainiac. Instead, we had Magpie, a villain obsessed with shiny objects. In essence, she’s the evil equivalent of a two-year-old who wants shiny toys.

The Man of Steel #3, Batman and SupermanThe Dark Knight soon finds himself interrupted by Superman, who grabs his Batrope and attempts to take him to police headquarters. Remember, at this early point in his career Batman is considered a criminal outlaw. Batman escapes, and tells Superman he’s been preparing for an encounter with him. And here’s where suspension of disbelief comes in really handy…

Apparently, in preparation for Superman, Batman created a force field around himself, which can detect “super dense biological material,” i.e. Superman. If the force field is penetrated, a signal goes out that detonates a bomb and kills an innocent person. Naturally, the Man of Steel is shocked. With his undivided attention, Batman tells him Magpie’s story, and they end up going off to find her. But Superman insists they aren’t done.

Did you ever play pretend with the other kids on the playground, and somebody would shout: “You can’t touch me! I’ve got a force field!” This feels like the superhero comic book equivalent of that. If Byrne hadn’t stuck the landing so well with this idea, it would be laughable. Particularly by modern standards. But as we’ll see, the pay off is worth it.

Our heroes quickly dispose of Magpie’s goons, and when she releases an acid-like gas into the air, Superman inhales it all before blowing it out into space. When he returns, she has escaped. When they find her again, Superman rips her gimmicky headpiece off, only to see her break down in tears.

The Man of Steel #3, John Byrne

It’s here that Superman begins to learn about a different kind of criminal. Magpie is certainly a villain. But she’s also a victim, driven to the point of insanity by mental illness combined with a penchant for crime. She isn’t like the criminals Superman is used to facing. As such, he learns a valuable lesson about the different facets of criminality.

“Yes…I feel sorry for her, Superman,” Batman says.” But I feel more sorry for her victims.”

Superman comes to respect the need for someone like Batman in Gotham, but there’s still the matter of the bomb. The Dark Knight promptly removes a small explosive from his belt, revealing the “innocent” he placed in jeopardy was him all along. Because Superman would be able to tell if he were lying, Batman says this was the only way he could stop the Man of Steel.

While there’s a definite corn ball factor to the force field element, the ending makes it worthwhile. It perfectly illustrates Batman’s willingness to bend the rules to accomplish his goals, while at the same time adhering to the set of principles that set him aside from the criminals he fights. I’m reminded of a line from the Gotham Knight DVD Warner Bros. put out in 2008: “Im willing to put my life on the line to do what I have to. But it has to be mine, no one else’s.”

The Man of Steel #3, closing panels, John ByrneIn the end, our heroes come to share a mutual respect for each other, and the methods they use to do their respective jobs. See, isn’t that nice? No fighting. No giant Bat-Robots. No Batman spitting in Superman’s face (I’m still mad at you for that Snyder & Capullo). None of that crap. Just two heroes with differences, who come to appreciate those differences and in time actually become friends.

What’s even more interesting about this issue is its placement within the six-issue Man of Steel story. Remember, the idea here was to reintroduce Superman for the modern era. Issue #1 established up his backstory with the Kents and the genesis of Superman. Issue #2 set up his status quo with Lois Lane and The Daily Planet. And here, we’re already bringing in Batman. We haven’t even met Lex Luthor yet! You can easily call this a case of Over-Baturation. But I’d like to give Byrne the benefit of the doubt here. Much like DC did with the New 52, they had to do some world-building in the early months of the post-Crisis DCU. The dynamic between Batman and Superman is obviously very important, regardless of what continuity you’re in. I like to think this issue is a testament to that, rather than Byrne shoving Batman into a Superman story to bolster readership.

The Man of Steel #1, John Byrne, 1986While rather dated by its dialogue, The Man of Steel #3 is still a vital piece of the storied history between these two icons of pop culture. And it didn’t have to resort to cheap thrills. Or worse, awful condescending dialogue from Superman like: “So, what can you do?”

Incidentally, John Byrne wasn’t done with Superman and Batman after this issue. He wrote and drew the 12-issue Superman/Batman: Generations, and its two sequels. While I can’t speak for the sequels, the original is definitely worth a read.

For more “Best of Batman & Superman,” check out our looks at Superman #165 and Batman: Gotham Knights #27

Image 1 from comicbookresources.com. Images 2 and 3 from fanboy.com. Image 4 from dvsgaming.com. 

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Best of Batman & Superman: Superman #165

***Batman and Superman are friends. It’s an unlikely friendship, and one that can put them at odds. But ultimately, it’s a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the horizon, we’re going to hear a lot about these two fighting. “Best of Batman & Superman” will show us the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the moments that showed us why Superman and Batman are better friends than enemies.***

Superman #165, 2000TITLE: Superman #165
AUTHOR: Jeph Loeb
PENCILLER: Joe Madureira. Cover by Ed McGuinness.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $2.25
RELEASED: December 2000

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Don’tcha hate it when your arch rival becomes President of the United States? Man, that sucks…

We all knew tough times were ahead for Superman after the 2000 presidential election. In one of their wildest stunts, which actually stuck for a few years, DC Comics opted to make Lex Luthor the President of the United States. Naturally, this was a huge blow for the Man of Steel. When he’s written well, Superman is essentially a man of the people. So what does a man of the people do when the people make a potentially catastrophic choice?

For Superman, the answer was turning to those he trusted. Not just his wife, but his friends, colleagues and confidants in the Justice League of America. Superman #123 takes place in the aftermath of Lex’s election, and sees Superman visit with each member of the League. As it’s the holiday season, he gives each one a small gift. This issue is drawn by a number of artists, each of whom pencils a particular encounter. But naturally, we’re focusing on the Superman’s time with Batman, which is drawn by Joe Madureira. The scene is only three pages long. But it’s an interesting glimpse into how the Superman/Batman dynamic works.

Superman #165, Batman, Joe MadurieraClark and Bruce had disagreed about how to handle Luthor running for president. Batman had some even more bad blood than usual with Luthor due to his involvement in the events of the recent No Man’s Land storyline. When it looked like things were turning in Luthor’s favor, Bruce wanted to dig up dirt to use against Lex, whose reputation was squeaky clean in the eyes of the public. But Superman questioned the ethical nature of such a move, and insisted they trust American voters to do the right thing.

Obviously, they didn’t.

The tension between the two is obvious when we open the issue. Batman’s cartoony scowl aside, while all the other meetings started with friendly dialogue, this one begins with silence.

Bats then asks: “Wasn’t it you who said we have to put our faith in the America people to do the right thing?”

Swallowing his pride a bit, Clark then gives Bruce a small magnifying glass (Get it? He’s a detective.), with the words: “This…is from Lois.”

Batman replies with a thank you. Then we get the line that truly makes this exchange special: “When the time is right, we’ll take Luthor down.”

Superman #165, BatmanIn the final panel, after Batman has left, Superman repeats quietly to himself: “When the time is right…”

This may seem fairly small and insignificant. But to me it illustrates the compromise that makes the partnership between these two men work. It’s that balance of optimism and cynicism. Batman wasn’t wrong to be wary the country potentially choosing Luthor. But Superman’s ethical argument wasn’t wrong either. Superheroes shouldn’t necessarily have to stoop to playing dirty. Especially when it comes to politics, which quite frankly, is dirty enough already.

Still, Luthor won, and Superman had to eat crow. But in the end, Bats still trusts Superman enough to work with him in defeating this enemy. And Superman trusts him too, despite their differences.

Clark takes Bruce’s words to heart as the issues ends on the next page (pencilled by Ed McGuinness), as we see Superman and Lois Lane beginning a brief vacation in the Bottle City of Kandor. Tough times are indeed near. But after spending so much time with his confidants, Superman chooses to take some quality time with his closest confidant of all.

Both our heroes look pretty jacked up here, which isn’t really my cup of tea. But as a style choice, it’s fine. The only thing I don’t appreciate here is the aforementioned scowl on Batman’s face, which stays with him the whole issue. That’s not to say he has to get sentimental, or even look particularly happy. But Superman’s expression changes in the scene. So why can’t Batman’s?

On it’s own, this scene stands up just fine. But it’s even better when you consider taking Luthor down is exactly what our heroes do a few years later in another Jeph Loeb story, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. One might consider this scene a nice little prelude to that story. Luther may have gotten himself elected. But in the end, justice came calling.

For more “Best of Batman & Superman,” check out our look at Gotham Knights #27.

Images from author’s collection.

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Best of Batman & Superman: Gotham Knights #27

***Batman and Superman are friends. It’s an unlikely friendship, and one that can put them at odds. But ultimately, it’s a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the horizon, we’re going to hear a lot about these two fighting. “Best of Batman & Superman” will show us the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the moments that showed us why Superman and Batman are better friends than enemies.***

Batman: Gotham Knights #27 (2002)TITLE: Batman: Gotham Knights #27
AUTHOR: Devin Grayson
PENCILLER: Roger Robinson. Cover by Brian Bolland.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $2.50
RELEASED: March 20, 2002

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Gotham Knights was a third-string Batman title that ran for 75 issues between 2000 and 2006. But the stories it presented were often far from third-string. You won’t find a better example than issue #27, which brought Batman and Superman together under less-than-ideal circumstances.

This issue was part of the Bruce Wayne: Fugitive crossover, which saw Bruce become the prime suspect in the murder of his girlfriend, Vesper Fairchild. Vesper, a journalist, had discovered that Bruce Wayne was Batman, and was debating whether to expose his secret when she was murdered in Wayne Manor. The evidence pointed to Bruce as the culprit. Readers were even left to question whether he had actually done the deed. Believing his Bruce Wayne identity had become a liability, Batman opted to leave him behind, and become The Dark Knight full time. This didn’t sit well with his surrogate family, and even culminated in confrontation with Nightwing. But Batman’s mind was unchanged. Bruce Wayne was gone.

Enter Superman.

Batman: Gotham Knights #27, image 2According to Greg Rucka, one of the writers behind the Fugitive storyline at large, the idea behind the crossover was to get Bruce to see just how far into the darkness he had gone. Recent events such as the Earthquake that destroyed much of Gotham (see No Man’s Land), the shooting and retirement of Jim Gordon (see Officer Down), and now the death of Vesper Fairchild, had made him more emotionally reclusive than ever. At this point, there was no room for happiness in Bruce’s world. He’d become almost unreachable.

Part of what makes the Batman/Superman friendship work is the balance in ideals. When they’re portrayed best (in my opinion), here’s an inherent bleakness and cynicism to the Dark Knight Detective that’s balanced by the compassion and optimism of the Man of Steel. You’ll rarely find that on display more prominently than in this issue, as Clark reaches out to Bruce to try and pull him back from the abyss.

We get a nice illustration of that balance pretty early here, as Superman has to physically stop Batman from pummeling a street crook. He also reveals a handful of bullets, indicating he’s been watching Batman’s back for a bit.

Then it gets good. Clark tells Bruce that he knows he didn’t murder Vesper. That’s a fantastic illustration of the trust that exists between the two of them. Yes, Superman is an optimist (or at least he was at that point). But even he couldn’t ignore the evidence, which pointed to Bruce as the killer. But he still knew Bruce well enough to understand he couldn’t have done it. That’s so perfect. In contrast, if this story were done now, I get the impression our heroes would have spent most of the issue hitting each other.

Batman: Gotham Knights #27, image 3Without the question of guilt, Clark asks Bruce why he isn’t trying to clear his name or protect his real identity. After some action, Batman responds: “This is my ‘real identity.'”

Superman accepts that response, but gives him a nice little monologue before he leaves.

“It is your true nature to cover up your grief and hide any shame or fear you might feel behind your mask. And it’s in your true nature to refuse help, and to work through your own doubts. So having offered my assistance and expressed my concern, I can leave now, saying what I always say before I go: I’m here if you need me and I trust you…Bruce.”

BOOM. That. Right there. A little too talky and psychoanalytical for an actual conversation? Maybe. But I don’t care. That’s friendship right there, ladies and gentlemen. Clark didn’t push Bruce to go one way or the other. He simply offered his concern and opinion, then said “I’m here if you need me.” There were no punches thrown, no arguments or scathing remarks. As much as any book has ever done, this issue made the friendship between Clark and Bruce seem real.

Batman: Gotham Knights #27, Batman, Superman, Roger RobinsonOur artistic team does a nice job of making Superman look out of place in Gotham, as he should. Penciller Roger Robinson, inker John Floyd, and colorist Gloria Vasquez make sure his bright red colors stand out among the blacks, deep blues and darker violets. Robinson gives our heroes a dynamic look for this relatively quiet issue. But given how iconic they both are, it works.

It’s also worth noting that this issue’s “B story” sees Alfred debate whether or not to read Bruce’s private journal. Considering what we’re getting from our heroes in this issue, it’s obviously dwarfed by comparison. But the art looks damn fine.

Even in a medium famous for its BAMs, SMACKs, and KAPOWs, a fight isn’t always the answer. Sometimes you just need to put the characters together, and they almost write themselves. But I guess that’s not a good recipe for an action blockbuster to start your cinematic universe.

Images 1 and 3 courtesy of Roger Robinson’s Facebook. Image 2 from author’s collection.

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