Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: The Original Switcheroo

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: World’s Finest Comics #77
AUTHOR: Edmond Hamilton
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, Stan Kaye (Inker)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
RELEASED: 1955

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

A few years back I spotlighted a story called “Super/Bat,” in which Batman gains Superman’s powers and the Man of Steel winds up powerless. It’s one of the more obvious stories you can do with these two heroes. But “Super/Bat” was hardly the first time it happened. For that, you’ve got to go back to 1955.

“The Super Bat-Man” is an oddity for this space, as it’s not what I would call a great work. At times it’s hardly even good. But it’s got a winning premise, and there’s some nice creativity on display here. It’s an intriguing “What if…?” story if nothing else.

Once again we’re with Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan as the evil Professor Pender’s “de-charging ray” robs Superman of his powers. And of course, he’s got a “super-charging ray” that grants someone super powers for a day. Within five pages, Batman is converting the Batmobile into a Supermobile, and turning the Batcave into the Supercave. Silly? Sure. Obvious? Probably. But why the hell not? Also, the guy can’t fly anymore! He’s gonna need a car.

As one might expect from a ’50s comic, this super-powered switcheroo becomes the fodder for campy comedy. Batman may be a martial arts master and the world’s greatest detective, but he apparently doesn’t know his own super strength. Complete with Robin under his arm, his landing in the Batcave shakes not only the cave, but all of Wayne Manor. He also breaks some household stuff. Again, silly and obvious.

There’s also an awkward panel in which Swan seemingly wasn’t sure whether he was drawing a Wayne Manor or a Batcave interior. We wind up with a bizarre backdrop that’s half of each (shown above).

What I appreciate more than anything about this story is the psychological effect it has on both characters. Because of their new situation, they now have to play by different rules, and have completely different mindsets. We see them do things they’d previously never have to do. Case in point: Superman technically has to lie by omission. To stop a pair of goons stealing a fur truck (Just go with it…), he bluffs by simply standing in the middle of the road. The crooks obviously think Superman can “wreck our truck — and maybe ourselves too!” But of course, Superman isn’t wrecking anything in his current state. It’s a clever, if not a little underhanded, way of getting Superman out of a bad situation.

Incidentally, I’m fascinated by how some of these stories treat Lois Lane. She’s portrayed as cunning and clever, which she should be. But Batman, and more notably Superman, either underestimate her or flat out treat her like an idiot. After Superman busts the fur bandits, Lois quite naturally asks him why he’s driving a car. His brilliant response (shown above)? “Just an — er — idea of mine! I’ll explain later! Bye Lois!” Yeah, because that could have worked.

Moving on to Batman, he uses his new powers as an opportunity to build on his image as an agent of terror by going to the next level with his bat iconography! Well…sort of. He uses two big pieces of metal to put out a gigantic fire. But of course, they just happen to be blue and shaped like Batarangs. So if it looks like a bat and flies like a bat…

So how does Superman get his powers back? Comic book science at it’s finest, folks. It turns out Pender’s de-charging ray sprayed fine Kryptonite dust on to Superman’s costume. So a quick costume change, and we’ve got our Man of Steel back. A hastily thrown together solution. But hey, they’ve only got 12 pages. They did what they could with what they had. And for what it’s worth, fine Kryptonite dust isn’t the worst route to take under the circumstances. It’s easy to explain and easy to do away with. Just fine for a short story like this.

I do, however, have to call BS on something Batman says on the final page. Once the day has been saved, he tells Superman he’s not sorry to lose his powers, as “being a Super-Batman is too much for me!” Nope. Not a chance he says that. Even Silver Age boy scout Batman would recognize how much good he could do with Superman’s abilities. He’d understand the need to let them go, but would quietly wish he could stay super.

The story ends on a really bizarre note, even by ’50s standards. Lois “deduces” that the entire power switcheroo was a hoax, and that our heroes simply switched costumes. No matter how you slice it, that just doesn’t make sense. If Superman and Batman switch costumes, that means Bruce Wayne is walking around without his mask on, and his double-life is over. Or is she saying that Clark was switching back and forth between the Superman costume and the Batsuit? If so…why? Why would he do that? What purpose would that serve?

Lois may be cunning and clever, but even she doesn’t get them all right…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: Comic Book Medical Science

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: World’s Finest #75
AUTHOR: Bill Finger
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, Stan Kaye (Inker)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
RELEASED: 1955

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The more I read these old comics, the more obvious it becomes just how much Batman and Superman comics have changed. Specifically, how they’ve matured, and what segment of the audience they’re reaching for.

Case in point, the modern Batman/Superman series is written for teens and adults. But in 1955, World’s Finest #75 was clearly written for children.

In the modern era, our heroes are searching for traitors among them in Who Are the Secret Six? Or in more recent issues, getting introspective as they take on a bunch of cybernetic supervillains. The wacky, fun adventures are usually still there. But their sensibility skews older. World’s Finest #75, on the other hand, is at its core a pretty basic story about friendship and insecurity that kids can still relate to more than half a century later…

Written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, our story sees the Caped Crusader break his leg in a fight with the treacherous “Purple Mask Mob.” With his partner on the sidelines, Robin needs a new cohort to help him catch the bad guys. But soon, Batman finds himself asking whether Robin prefers being partnered with the Man of Steel.

Robin is the oft-unsung hero of these early Superman/Batman stories. (Though he did get a date with Lois Lane that one time.) Going even as far back as the early covers for World’s Finest, Robin is right there with them. Heck, he’s often between them! And while the story is more about Batman than anything else, it all revolves around Robin. As a reader and someone who loves these characters, that’s gratifying to see.

The Purple Mask gang. Batman gets his leg broken not by the Joker, the Penguin, or the Riddler, but the god damn Purple Mask Gang. *face palm* I can’t imagine why they were never adapted into one of the movies.

One thing it will help to know coming into this story: It’s dripping with Silver Age camp. You’ll find no better example than Batman sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a cast on his leg, dressed in full superhero garb. There’s bad hokeyness, and then there’s good hokeyness. For yours truly, Batman’s wheelchair attire falls directly into the latter category. I can just picture him being so pathetically despondent after getting hurt that he refuses to take his costume off.

In the spirit of Silver Age camp, this story straddles an odd line between playing up Batman’s importance to the trio, and making him look like an oblivious buffoon. Come to think of it, Superman and Robin don’t come out looking too shiny either…

Our altered Dynamic Duo (Super Duo?) spent much of the story following the trail of the ever-elusive Purple Mask Mob. Meanwhile, the incapacitated-yet-still-costumed Batman continually asks them to bring back “trophies” from their various outings. Because apparently a T-Rex and a giant penny aren’t enough for the Batcave.

Then toward the end of the issue, as Superman and Robin are bamboozled as to the location of the gang’s hideout, Batman reveals some debris left on the so-called trophies have allowed to deduce the Purple Mask Mob’s location. In Superman’s own words, “How do you like that, Robin? He solves our case for us…at home, in a wheelchair!”

Pretty good, right? Finger and Swan shine a spotlight on what makes Batman different from other superheroes: His wits. But on the other end of the spectrum, while Batman can use tiny bits of hair and clay to locate a gang of crooks, he apparently can’t tell whether his leg is or isn’t broken.

That’s right, kids! Batman’s just fine! See, the “break” happened when Batman got some dust thrown in his face and fell out the window. (It happens.) The dust was apparently poisonous, and Superman and Robin needed to keep him out of action for a few days so his body can safely process the…poison? Wait, what? That’s not just comic book science, that’s comic book medical science!

It does, however, beg the question of why they couldn’t just tell Batman that he, you know, breathed in poison. Not to mention the question of how the world’s greatest detective couldn’t tell that his own leg wasn’t really broken.

So why, amidst all this silliness, do I consider this to be one of Batman and Superman’s finest tales? It all comes down to Batman’s insecurities, and Bill Finger knowing his audience.

Batman worrying about whether he’s being replaced by Superman is a story plucked straight from an elementary school playground. Think back: What happened when your best friend suddenly had a new buddy? You inevitably started to wonder if he/she liked this new person more than you, and if your friendship was being usurped.

Is it still a silly story by modern standards? Of course it is. But remember, these stories were written for kids back then. Like it or not, Bill Finger was smart enough to know this was something his readers could relate to.

It also plays into something I’ve always felt about this trio: Robin’s got the best gig in the world. Remember, Robin was originally created as a point-of-view character for young readers who wanted to fantasize about running around beating up bad guys with Batman. With World’s Finest, Robin got to do that, plus pal around with Superman! What kid wouldn’t want that?

Of course, we know what’s coming at the end. The once again bipedal Batman asks Robin if he’d rather be teaming with Superman, and the Boy Wonder affirms that, “We’ll always be a team!”

It’s such a weird story. Yet it’s so simple, kid friendly, and easy to access. It’s enough to make you wonder if major publishers like DC should get in touch with their roots a little more. In the ’70s, and especially the ’80s and ’90s, mainstream superhero comics matured to try and keep up with an aging audience. At one point, DC used the tag line, “DC Comics aren’t just for kids!”

Okay. Fair enough. But lets never forget: DC Comics was ultimately created for kids. The so-called “dark age” of comics is over, folks. We don’t have to make everything for the little ones, but let’s try a little harder to remember where we came from…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

 


Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: The Cruise of a Lifetime

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: Superman #76
AUTHOR: Edmond Hamilton
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, John Fischetti (Inker). Cover by Win Mortimer.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
RELEASED: 1952

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

Published in 1952, Superman #76 is generally considered to be the first “proper” meeting of Batman and Superman. Granted, they’d been appearing on comic book covers together since the 40s. They’d also appeared together with the Justice Society in the pages of All-Star Comics. Batman and Robin had also made guest appearances on The Adventures of Superman radio show. But often, when historians are asked, “When did Batman and Superman meet in the comics?”, they point to this issue.

Put on your writer/editor hat for a moment: You want to have Superman and Batman, the two biggest and most popular superheroes in the world, meet for the “first time.” Where and how does it happen? In Metropolis? Gotham City? During a battle against Lex Luthor? The Joker? How did they discover one another’s identities? Did Superman use his x-ray vision? Did Batman brilliantly deduce that Clark Kent is Superman? There are a litany of possibilities. So what did they go with…?

Superman and Batman met on a cruise ship.

That’s right, folks. They met and even discovered one another’s identities aboard a goddamn cruise ship. What’s more, in it’s own little way, it worked. It was kind of a genius move, actually.

Written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Curt Swan, “The Mightiest Team in the World” kicks off with Batman and Robin doing something unthinkable by today’s standards: Taking a vacation. As Dick Grayson prepares to visit relatives upstate, Bruce Wayne is about to take “a real vacation, on a coastal cruise! I’ll just relax and forget crime for a change!”

Clearly pre-Silver Age heroes knew how to balance business and pleasure, as Clark Kent is about to vacation on the same cruise. And wouldn’t you know it, he winds up sharing a room with Bruce Wayne!

Then, via the magical serendipity of fiction, a jewel thief blows up a nearby tanker truck and uses the diversion to make off with a shipment of diamonds. Naturally, our heroes are keen to jump into action. Feigning fatigue, Bruce kills the lights, prompting both men to do their superhero quick-change.

But low and behold, the light from the flames shines through the window, revealing Bruce Wayne to be Batman and Clark Kent as Superman!

I used to balk at what, in hindsight, is a pretty historic moment. But I’ve found the more years go by, the more I soften on it. As a 30-something adult, I’ve actually come to appreciate it quite a bit.

One of the cardinal sins of a Superman/Batman story, for my money, is making one hero look superior to the other. These two men should stand on equal footing. If you can’t manage that, then you shouldn’t be writing the two characters together.

With this issue, the revelation is pure happenstance. We don’t have Superman peeking under Batman’s cowl with his x-ray vision. Batman doesn’t concoct some conniving scheme to discover Clark’s secret. It’s simply fate that they discover one another’s identities by accident in a moment of heroism. In that sense, it’s kind of perfect…

What’s more, they don’t spend a lot of time digesting it or brooding over it. They recognize they still have work to do, and they get to it.

Obviously our villain is meant to be the jewel thief, who has stowed away on the cruise ship. But I’d argue another character is perhaps inadvertently placed in an opposing role: Lois Lane. After seeing Superman and Batman on board the ship, Lois comes aboard looking for the story. Our heroes now have to keep her at bay while searching for the jewel thief.

After giving Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne a sea-sickness alibi, our heroes try pawning Batman off on Lois. The idea is that if Superman pretends to be jealous, “she’d be too occupied for amateur detective work!” But Lois is on to them. She pretends to actually be enamored with the Caped Crusader, which in turn actually does make the Man of Steel jealous.

Considering some of the stories we’d later get in books like Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, it’s not necessarily surprising to see them lean into a jealousy angle between Superman and Lois. But on the other hand, it’s nice to see Lois portrayed as a force to be reckoned with among the heroes. Batman may be the world’s greatest detective, but contrary to what Superman says here, Lois is hardly an amateur detective herself.

C’mon Superman. It’s not amateur detective work. It’s called investigative journalism.

One of the classic Superman/Batman tricks is having the two disguise as one another. Superman dresses as Batman, Batman dresses as Superman, etc. Tom King and Clay Mann put a nice spin on this trope in Batman not long ago. We see an early version of it here, as after our heroes inevitably catch the bad guy, Bruce Wayne masquerades as Clark Kent while standing next to Superman to throw Lois off the scent of Clark’s true identity.

She gets the last laugh, though. Lois does indeed get a date with a hero by the end of the issue: Robin. (“Isn’t he the cutest little chap?”) How’d they get in touch, as Dick is supposed to be upstate, and we’re long before the age of cell phones? Why, that’s not important…

“The Mightiest Team in the World” is filled to the brim with pre-Silver-Age charm. What’s more, it does right by its characters. Superman and Batman come out of it looking like the world’s finest heroes. Lois Lane stands out as a clever go-getter, and not simply a brainless damsel. Even Robin gets a date by the end. Truly a red letter issue for all parties.

A cruise ship. Who’da thunk it?

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: A New Era Begins

***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***

TITLE: Superman/Batman #1
AUTHOR: Jeph Loeb
ARTISTS: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines (Inker), Dave Stewart (Colorist), Richard Starkings (Letterer)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: $2.95
RELEASED: Fall 2003

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It’s hard to believe this issue is creeping up on 20 years of age. And yet, among Batman and Superman stories, it’s a timeless classic.

If I could bring one person back to work on Superman and Batman, seperate or together, it would be Jeph Loeb. He understood both characters, and cut to their core better than almost any of his peers. That’s why, in the early 2000s, DC tapped Loeb and his former Superman collaborator Ed McGuinness to work on an all new title featuring the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight: Superman/Batman.

Loeb would do more than 25 issues of Superman/Batman, roughly half of which were with McGuinness. Almost all of them were great. But the book’s inaugural issue, Superman/Batman #1, delivered pure magic. You’ll won’t find a better example of why these two characters are better working together than against each other.

The series is narrated by both characters simultaneously. Thus, we get duel perspectives on the events of the story. Loeb makes perfect use of this tool right out of the gate, as our heroes narrate their origins in alternating sequences (shown below).

Loeb, McGuinness, and the team start out with dueling sequences in which Superman and Batman narrate their origins. What’s brilliant about this is that it showcases not just the differences between these two characters, but their similarities. Yes, they have different methods and demeanors. But its this common ground that ultimately brings them together. These are two heroes born of tragedy, who used that tragedy to forge their identities for the betterment of mankind. That mutual desire to better the world serves as the foundation of every Superman/Batman story we’ve ever seen.

Our main antagonist for the issue (though not the story at large) is Metallo, a machine with the brain of John Corben, and a heart of pure Kryptonite. Coming out of the opening sequence we get a fight between he and Superman in Metropolis. We then jump to Gotham City Cemetery, where Batman is examining Corben’s grave.

Here we get a great little moment between our heroes. One of my favorites in the entire six-issue story. Superman talks about going through Corben’s files at S.T.A.R. Labs, and speculating about his actions of late. Batman asks, “Which one of us is the detective again?”

Superman replies with a line I absolutely love: “It’s called investigative journalism.”

I love this moment because it illustrates that while Superman isn’t the detective Batman is, he’s not just some brute with super powers. Writers like to emphasize that Batman is the brains of the team, while Superman is the braun. But the best writers are the ones who show us it’s not as simple as that. Superman is perfectly capable of putting on a detective hat, just as Batman can hold his own against some of Superman’s more powerful enemies.

We’re reminded of that moments later as Metallo attacks, shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. And of course, he falls directly into John Corben’s exhumed grave. After briefly incapacitating Metallo, Batman goes to work trying to extract the bullet. Loeb provides us with another great little moment as we get this little exchange…

Batman: “Do me a favor, Clark. Lose the sense of humor.”
Superman: “Do us both a favor, Bruce. Buy a sense of humor.”

We get a cliffhanger for next issue as Metallo then proceeds to dump a mountain of dirt on top of our heroes, burying them alive. Then to close the issue, we go to the Pentagon and President Lex Luthor. We’ve got a crisis on our hands, as an asteroid made of Kryptonite is headed for Earth. To complicate matters, President Luthor has recruited his own team of heroes…

Visually, the issue is gorgeous. Everything is bright, crisp, and clean. Ed McGuinness’ superhero figures are always jacked beyond belief. Practically every muscle in both Superman and Batman’s bodies are bulging for display. It’s not my favorite style choice. But it works for McGuinness in a cartoony, popcorn-flick sort of way.

Simply put, this issue has it all. Action. Drama. Beautiful art. Character exploration. Character origins. It’s appealing to fans, but 100% accessible even if you’ve never picked up a comic book before. What’s more, it’s the first chapter in one of the best Batman & Superman stories ever told.

Now that’s how you kick off a series.

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: “Super/Bat”

***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/Batman #55, 2008TITLE: Superman/Batman #53#56 (“Super/Bat”)
AUTHORS: Michael Green, Mike Johnson
PENCILLERS: Rags Morales
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $2.99 per issue
RELEASED: October 2008 – March 2009

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Batman with Superman’s powers. It’s a pretty simple concept. It’s not as though we haven’t seen stories where Batman gets super powers. And of course, Superman has lost his powers before. But while “Super/Bat” isn’t perfect, there’s some great character work on display here. Ultimately, that’s been the key to this story’s resiliency over the years. Granted, Rags Morales’ art doesn’t hurt.

After an encounter with Silver Banshee, Superman’s powers have mysteriously been transferred to Batman. But Bruce Wayne is a very different Superman than Clark Kent. Opting to forgo eating and sleeping, Batman devotes his existence to fighting injustice. On the other hand, Clark Kent can now be the average joe he’s always pretended to be. While positives do arise from this predicament, things are going to get ugly…

Superman/Batman #53, Rags Morales, Clark Kent, Bruce WayneGreen and Johnson kick off the story much like Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness started the series at large. We get a splash page split down the middle, with inner monologue from both Superman and Batman, essentially shining a light on their philosophical differences. From there we jump to a museum gathering, as Bruce Wayne is loaning antique armor and weapons to the collection. Rags Morales starts this scene a little too cartoony for my taste, particularly in the above image of Bruce Wayne. Still, Morales is charmingly old school in the way he draws certain characters, particularly Clark Kent. He’s got the classic suit and hat, as if he’s straight out of the ’40s. If you’re a fan of Morales and Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, there’s an aura of familiarity about this story that’s very welcoming. My only major complaint outside of this initial one is that he Morales gives Superman the “S” spit curl. I HATE the spit curl. There’s a difference between art being cartoony, and making Superman actually look like a cartoon character. The spit curl does the latter.

In issue #54, Zatanna is brought in as Clark is teaching Bruce how to use his powers. Later, Alfred and Robin (Tim Drake) find Bruce handing upside down next to some of the bats in the Batcave, meditating to focus his newly sharpened senses.

Superman/Batman #55, Rags Morales, Suoerman shotFrom there we go to a scene where Clark and Lois Lane ponder his next move. Lois eventually opens Clark’s shirt to find that even without powers, he’s still wearing his Superman uniform. Maybe that’s hokey, but I love it. There’s a pathetic quality about it that’s very fitting of a powerless Superman. But to her credit, Lois sticks by him. Even when Clark gets shot trying to stop a mugging in an alley, much like the one that resulted in the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents…

We also get a sequence where Batman brings down Bane by punching a hole through his stomach. A teary-eyed Dark Knight then floats over Earth teary-eyed over the fact that he can now save everyone. Batman is now a god, at least in his own mind.

And an increasingly violent god, at that. After the Justice League pulls Clark up to their satellite base and heal him with some magic courtesy of Zatanna, they wonder if Bruce’s new powers have effected his mind. Batman, who just happens to be waiting in the wing, then lays into Clark with a rant that hits home for both the characters and the readers.

“You don’t get it. For me it’s not hard at all. You’re always talking about not being human. About how your gifts are a curse. … Your powers aren’t a curse. They’re what I’ve always wanted. To never have to stop. To be everywhere, anytime. To save everyone. I never realized it until now. The responsibility you have. And all you want to be is normal?”

Superman/Batman #55, 2008, Rags Morales, rantThis idea that Superman should always be busy has been floated before. In a world full of so many hazards and dangers, why should an all-powerful superhero ever take a break? Personally, I don’t subscribe to that theory. I think this story refutes it as well as any ever has. One can’t always be so single-minded, even when saving lives. It leads to bad things down the road. Case in point, the very next sequence where Batman has become so detached from reason and humanity that he injures Catwoman, and severely debilitates Nightwing.

Knowing Batman has to be stopped, Alfred give Clark a modified Batsuit with the “S” symbol on it, While the Justice League take on Batman, Superman and Zatanna find Silver Banshee and learn the powers were switched by way of a magic brooch. It grants a person their heart’s desire, but does so at the expense of someone else. When exposed to the brooch, Batman was unknowingly given what he’s always wanted: The power to save everyone.

A short time later, Zatanna creates an illusion of Bruce’s parents that lures him in allows she and Superman to switch the powers back. In the final scene, Batman admits that the powers ultimately cost him his mind, and he credits Superman with thinking tactically the way he normally would. In the end, Clark admits part of him has always wanted a normal life, and Bruce admits he secretly misses the power…

Superman/Batman #56, Rags Morales, Batman, Clark KentI like to think Bruce’s mind wasn’t compromised when he had Clark’s powers. At least not to the point where he had no control over his decisions. It makes a certain amount of sense for Bruce to react the way he did, given all the awful things that have happened to him. His mission is for no one to go through what he did. So why wouldn’t he try to save everyone? That doesn’t make him a bad guy. It just makes him a guy who lost control.

“Super/Bat” is also a great illustration of why Superman is the role Clark Kent was born to play. We see here that while Batman is largely isolated, Superman is a likable guy who cares about his friends, and his friends reciprocate. Even Commissioner Gordon seems rather fond of him. He cares about people. He’s grounded, which ironically makes him deserving of the power of flight.

“Super/Bat” isn’t nearly as well known, or renowned, as The Search For Kryptonite or a lot of the others stuff to come out of that Superman/Batman title. But for my money, it’s one of the better stories starring this duo to come out in the last 10 years. From a character perspective, it’s certainly better than anything we’ve seen since the New 52 reboot.

For more “Best of Batman & Superman,” check out Gotham Knights #27, Superman #165, Man of Steel #3, and Action Comics #654

Image 1 from comic vine.com. Image 2 from batmanytb.com. Images 3 and 4 from comicnewbies.com. 

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

Best of Batman & Superman: Action Comics #654

***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.***

Action Comics #654TITLE: Action Comics #654
AUTHOR: Roger Stern
PENCILLER: Bob McLeod, Brett Breeding. Cover by Kerry Gamill.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL PRICE: $0.75
RELEASED: June 1990

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The Kryptonite ring. A weapon given to Batman by Superman in the event he were to ever be the victim of mind control. But it’s so much more than that, isn’t it? It’s a symbol of trust between the world’s finest heroes. It represents Superman’s faith in Batman, his understanding of his own power, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good. It also represents the necessary cynicism that makes Batman who he is. It gives him the responsibility of keeping Superman’s power in check, and guarding the Earth’s greatest guardian.

Over the years, many a creative team has made use of the Kryptonite ring. Perhaps the most notable was Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee in Batman: Hush. But it’s presence has been felt in stories like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (also by Loeb), Infinite Crisis, and Superman and the Legion of Superheroes. Chip Kidd and Alex Ross also did a short story based around the concept for Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross. It even survived the New 52 reboot. The concept has been resilient for so many years because it’s a good one. It makes sense.

Action Comics #654, 1990And it all began right here in Action Comics #654.

The story, “Dark Knight Over Metropolis,” was a crossover between SupermanThe Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics. So it ended up being the work of three different teams. But the story’s enduring legacy comes from its final two pages, so that’s what we’ll be looking at for the most part.

I wish I could say “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” was an amazing story. But in truth it’s mostly underwhelming. Things also get convoluted when subplots involving Integrant, Cat Grant, and the street-level hero Gangbuster are woven in. But here are the important details: At a murder scene in Gotham City, Batman discovers a mysterious radioactive ring among the victim’s possessions. Batman’s investigation leads him to Metropolis, where he teams up with Superman and learns the ring is made of Kryptonite and was created by Lex Luthor. Batman keeps his possession of the ring a secret from Superman, but turns it over to him when the case is closed.

It’s important to note that these are the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman and Batman. A few years after their first meeting in The Man of Steel #3, they’re still chilly toward one another. The story makes it clear they don’t always appreciate one another’s methods. But they know one another’s identities, and obviously have a kind of professional courtesy going.

Action Comics #864, Kryptonite ring sceneThe pivotal moment in the issue happens after Bruce Wayne and Alfred have returned to Gotham. They suddenly find themselves with an uninvited guest in the Batcave. Batman descends into the cave to find Superman waiting for him. Bob McLeod and Brett Breeding give us a striking shot of Superman standing amongst some of Batman’s trophies. From a writing standpoint, it’s an interesting power play to have Superman simply show up in the Batcave because he can. Obviously he means no harm, but it’s a nice reminder that he can catch Batman off guard when he wants to.

Superman says that while many think Batman is insane, he’s come to believe Batman is simply a sane man trying to bring justice to an insane world. He talks about living in fear that one day one of his enemies may gain control over him. If that were to ever happen, there’d be only one way of stopping him. With that, he pulls out a lead box with the Kryptonite inside.

The story ends with the line that makes the entire story: “I want the means to stop me to be in the hands of a man I can trust with my life.”

At only three pages, this is a pretty modest scene, considering what’s happening. But there’s something to be said for keeping things concise. Had they known they were making history with this scene, I’m sure they would have upped the ante a little bit.

“Dark Knight Over Metropolis” is an unremarkable story that pays off with one of the great gems in the history of the Superman/Batman partnership. For that reason alone, it’s worth a read. Thankfully, DC reprinted it a few years ago in a trade of the same name.

For more of “Best of Batman & Superman,” check out Gotham Knights #27 and Superman #165.

Image 1 from superman86to99.tumblr.com. Images 2 from asylums.insanejournal.com. 

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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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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Posted in Comic Books/Graphic Novels

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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