With Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice already getting a heavy push through the hype machine two years before release, DC Comics has unsurprisingly decided to reissue the first half of Jeph Loeb’s beloved Superman/Batman run that first hit shelves a full decade ago. It’s easy to see why. Loeb was a master at both characters having penned the Bat-masterpiece The Long Halloween (which Chris Nolan frequently named dropped as the primary influence on his Dark Knight trilogy) and the deeply moving Superman For All Seasons. While both of those books delved deep into the psychology and lasting appeal of their iconic characters, his Superman/Batman run was more of a glorious romp. Fair enough, superhero team-up books aren’t generally known for being the artistic peak of the comic medium. They’re more about pure balls out entertainment and lifelong comic fan Loeb knows a thing or two about delivering that (see Batman: Hush). This book collects the first 13 issues of the series, comprised of two major arcs and a one off issue, and it feels like a buttery comic book movie blockbuster ready to go before cameras. Sadly, the chances of Zack Snyder turning these stories into a glorious blockbuster are about as lightly as him not using a dark color palate or slow motion action in the movie, but at least the stories are now available in a definitive edition.
The first six-issue arc in the book is by far the best. Titled Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, it’s a glorious action fiesta that pits the two iconic heroes against most of the DC universe. The story takes place during that weird period of DC history when Lex Luthor was the president of the United States. Luthor and his crop of scientists spot a gigantic Kryptonite meteor (leftover from the explosion of Krypton, natch) hurtling towards earth. Since Luthor hates that Superman guy, he puts a massive bounty on Supes’ head for anyone willing to bring the hero to the White House for questioning. Luckily, Batman just happens to be with Superman at the time and decides to help his old buddy out of a jam. They decide to head to Washington to figure out what’s what and have to fight a series of DC villains and heroes along the way.
It’s a simple story that Loeb crafts as an action packed blockbuster. Few writers in the comic book medium write with the same intense narrative drive of Loeb when he’s on his game. Like his Bat-masterpiece Hush, the action for Public Enemies kicks off immediately and doesn’t let up until the final issue. Each panel drives the story forward dramatically and every issue ends with an insane cliffhanger that somehow tops the last. Sure, it’s a bit loopy (Luthor’s kryptonite/venom cocktail pretty silly), but it’s also undeniably an incredibly exciting bit of superhero daring-do filled with just enough characterization, tragedy, and drama to feel like more than empty calories. The best aspect of the run (and this comic book series as a whole) is the way that Loeb frames the story through the dual narration of Batman and Superman. The text boxes are colour-coded for each character, but honestly, you’d never question who is speaking without that visual aid. Loeb understands the fundamental differences and similarities between DC’s two flagship characters with a depth and clarity that few other writers possess. It’s endlessly entertaining and enlightening to read how Loeb relates the two drastically different heroes varying perspectives in every situation flung their way. For fans of the characters, it’s like comic book crack. There’s no high quite like a great Batman/Superman crossover and you can never get enough.
Public Enemies might be the masterpiece of this trade paperback, but the other seven issues are hardly a waste of time. The single issue narrative plopped in the middle of the collection follows an adventure with Robin and Superboy that offers a similar compare-and-contrast study of their personalities. Neither sidekick is as compelling as their boss, so it’s not as rich of story, but it’s only a single issue, so it gets the job done. The second half of the book might be told once again from Supes and Bats’ perspectives, but it’s actually a backdoor Supergirl origin story from Loeb that reintroduced the character into DC continuity following her death in Crisis On Infinite Earths. A naked Kryptonian falls from the sky following the events of Public Enemies and Superman quickly works out that she is his cousin. From there, Superman becomes an oddly protective father with Batman desperately whispering in his ear about the potential danger. Wonder Woman shows up demanding that the girl head to Themyscira in an amusing twist and it all wraps up in a nasty brawl with Darkseid. Batman takes the role of a conscience in this story, and Loeb uses it as a means to explore Superman’s endlessly optimistic and trusting nature as a weakness. He also manages to revive Supergirl without a whiff of silliness, which is not at all easy for that character. Overall, the second arc is a slight step down from Public Enemies, yet still pure fun from a master comics conductor.
Superman/Batman Vol 1 is as gorgeously printed as we’ve come to expect from a trade paperback and though there aren’t any extras in this repackaging, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Aside from some sketches or Loeb writing yet another essay about loving these characters, there’s not really that much to say. Though this book offers big heaping piles of entertainment, it’s not exactly a deep bit of work. This is bright colorful fun, a collection of masterfully constructed action storytelling written with compassion and understanding for the central iconic characters. Sure, Loeb sprinkles in a little commentary about the perils of government control, but for the most part it’s a crossover romp that offers the same pleasures of Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie. That’s ultimately the appeal of the Superman/Batman relationship, the grittiness of Batman’s world and the mythology of Superman’s world meet in the pulpy middle. A great crossover between the two characters like this or Bruce Timm’s World’s Finest plays as light as a feather even with high drama. It would be nice to live in a world where we could all count on the blockbuster movie that will finally unite the characters on the big screen following a similar path. Sadly, it’s safe to say that with Zack “murderous sad sack Superman” Snyder in charge, that won’t be happening. Let’s just hope that the inevitable reboot comes soon.