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

A Batman: Night of the Monster Men Review – Hollow Monsters

Batman #7, 2016, cover, Yanick PaquetteTITLE: “Batman: Night of the Monster Men”
AUTHORS: Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV
PENCILLERS: Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald
COLLECTS: Batman #79Nightwing #78Detective Comics #941942
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
CUMULATIVE PRICE: $17.94
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE: March 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This “Night of the Monster Men” crossover boasts some extremely talented creators, stars Batman and some of his more popular allies, and is even inspired by one of the very first Batman stories. It also began a week after DC “killed” Tim Drake. So there was a lot of potential here for a creative, emotional, thrill ride.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Running through BatmanNightwing, and Detective Comics, this story sees Hugo Strange create giant monsters that attack the city. Much of Batman’s surrogate family gets wrapped up in the chaos. But despite all the innocent lives that hang in the balance, Strange’s entire plot is about Batman himself.

Batman #1, Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters, 1940, Bob Kane and Bill FingerAll this Hugo Strange/Monster Men stuff is inspired by a story from 1940’s Batman #1 entitled “Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters.” It’s a respectable early outing for the Dark Knight in which Strange creates a bunch of big ogres to terrorize the city. Matt Wagner took the same cue for his 2006 miniseries Batman and the Monster Men, which was exponentially better than this book.

“Night of the Monster Men” suffers from a variety of problems. Chief among them is a lack of emotional stakes. That’s an odd problem to have, considering what just happened with Tim, and how many of Batman’s surrogate family members are in this fight. Batman repeatedly emphasizes that no one else is dying. This gives the impression that we’re going to get an overprotective Batman, frantically trying to micromanage the efforts of his partners. This would be futile, of course. But it would have made sense. We also had the perfect cast for such a story, with Bruce having recently trusted Batwoman to train this new crop of young heroes. And of course, we’ve got his original partner, Dick Grayson. Hugo Strange’s motive also would have been more poignant.

Instead, we just get a story about Batman fighting monsters. Monsters created from cadavers, no less. We can’t even go the route of, “Don’t kill the monsters! They’re people!” Later, two of our heroes are turned into monsters, but they don’t mine this for much emotion either.

Granted, they’re cool looking monsters. “Night of the Monster Men” enlists Riley Rossmo and Andy MacDonald, both of whom excel on the fantasy/horror side of things. We also have they very capable Roge Antonio, who gives us a nice blend of horror and naturalism. Instead of going the ogre route, the story opts for a mix of mutant aberrations and giant kaiju type monsters. They’re fun, but they’d be more fun if they were more than mere physical threats to our heroes. There’s little or any substance to them, and what the final issue attempts to pass as such via Strange’s motivation doesn’t connect in a meaningful way. (That monster represented fear? But weren’t we supposed to be afraid of all of them?)

Detective Comics #942, monster two-page spread, 2016So instead of a coherent crossover that ties into and takes advantage of Batman’s fragile emotional state, what we essentially get is a bunch of fluff that they attempt to tie together at the end with some psych mumbo jumbo. It’s all so hollow.

“Night of the Monster Men” also suffers from being a little too long, and a little too crowded. The story struggles to give Spoiler and Orphan something to do in all of this. Like Booster Gold in his Justice League Unlimited episode, they’re mostly relegated to crowd control. There’s a cave sequence (not that cave) involving Spoiler, Orphan, and Harvey Bullock that largely feels like padding. If they’d cut that out, along with the ridiculous scene where our heroes use giant guns and harpoons on top of buildings (conveniently adored with the heroes’ insignias) to stop a monster, they’d probably have been able to trim this down from six issues to four. Five at most.

Nightwing #8 and Detective Comics #942 also make full use of the “Hugo Strange dressed as Batman” trope, as we learn that Strange himself wants to be Batman. A fine motive, though not necessary in this case. “Night of the Monster Men” would have worked fine as Strange’s attempt to spotlight Batman’s inadequacies and force him to hang up the cowl, in the process pouring salt in the wound left by Tim’s departure. Perhaps the urge to use the only piece of classic Batman/Hugo Strange imagery was too intense. Admittedly, at that point I was just happy we were finally getting a scene between two human beings, as opposed to hollow monster battles.

batman-clayface-suit-detective-comicsOn the upside, this story makes fine use of Clayface’s new status as one of Batman’s allies. He plays a practical role at first, spreading himself out to guide people out of the city. He also plays an integral role in the finale. But his highlight here, and one of the highlights in “Monster Men” as a whole, comes in Batman #8. As the Dark Knight is about to face one of the monsters head on, Clayface envelops him, effectively becoming a suit of armor. Does technically this fall under the banner of giant awful Batman robots/armor? Absolutely. But the execution is unique enough that it gets a pass from me.

“Batman and the Monster Men” offers good showings from the artists attached, and a bright spot here or there. But by and large, this was a turn off and a waste. Nightwing and Detective Comics were both on a solid course up to this point, and things were starting to look up for Batman. Hopefully we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming in short order.

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