I remain in a Superman frame of mind this column, having read the SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES hardcover (reprinting the first six issues of the title) and the three issues of the ongoing title which followed it. I'll get to reviewing them after my traditional wallow in nostalgia.
The first Superman/Batman comic book I ever owned was WORLD'S FINEST COMICS #103 (August, 1959). I'd read issues of their solo titles and of ACTION and DETECTIVE COMICS, but that was the first time I read their ongoing team-up title.
ATKINS (1959). The co-owner, with a man named Bork, of the Atkins and Bork Curio Shop in Gotham City. In August, 1959, with the aid of a map sold to them by a dying criminal, Atkins and Bork set out to recover four ancient objects once owned by an ancient sorcerer and possessed of miraculous powers - a green box containing a fire-breathing dragon; a "magic prism" which "distorts light and deflects energy"; a "sorcerer's glove" which possess the power to "dissolve inert matter"; and a "sorcerer's mantle" which possesses the power to render invisible anyone who wears it - with the apparent intention of using the objects' awesome powers for evil. Ultimately, Batman, Robin, and Superman defeat Atkins and Bork and recover the four objects, whereupon Superman hurls the objects into the air with such incredible velocity that the friction created by their passage through the atmosphere is certain to destroy them.
I have fond memories of this story. Finger kept the menaces coming fast and furious. Sprang and Moldoff drew a Superman who looked powerful even when he wasn't doing a darned thing...and the villains were bug-eyed and just demented enough to excite a young reader without damaging his tender psyche for life. I read that story until the comic was barely connected to its staples.
The issue also featured:
Peter Porkchops in "Tips For Summer Fun," a single-page public service message by Jack Schiff (writer) and Rube Grossman (pencils and inks);
Little Pete in "Three Ten Train," a single-page gag strip by Henry Boltinoff;
Tommy Tomorrow in "The Menace of the Metal Monster" by Jack Miller (writer) and Jim Mooney (artist);
Ollie in "Which Way is the Zoo," another single-page gag strip by Boltinoff;
"Leap For Life," a single-page text story; and,
Green Arrow in "Challenge of the Phantom Bandit" by Bob Haney (writer) and Lee Elias (artist).
I loved the way Lee Elias drew gangsters. They looked stylish and cheap at the same time.
Checking in with eBay, I found two recent sales of the issue. A very good copy went for $14.99 with one bidder while a fair copy went for $8 to one bidder.
Just for the heck of it, I also checked on recently-completed sales of Fleisher's BATMAN book. I found a copy from Great Britain in "excellent condition" that sold for approximately $18. Knowing how much I enjoyed and how much I still use my copy of this massive 1976 tome, I would consider the book a bargain at twice that price. The one bidder who won it is a lucky fan indeed.
Here come the reviews...
I had huge honking fun reading SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES (DC; $19.95), more fun than I've had reading any DC Universe comics in recent memory. Yeah, I don't think I'll ever understand why the editors and the fans like penciller Ed McGuiness' renditions of the Man of Steel and the Darknight Detective. Yeah, some of the story was over-the-top. Even so, by the time I put down this hardcover collection, I was grinning.
Let's look at the good and the bad as I saw them. This might take a while, so you should get comfortable.
The good: Twenty bucks for a hardcover reprinting of a highly entertaining story. Definitely worth it.
The good: My first reaction to "When Clark Met Bruce" was that it was just too cute and saccharine. Damned if it didn't stick in my head and grow on me.
The good: Writer Jeph Loeb absolutely nails Superman, Batman, their differences, their respect for one another, every individual piece of the mystery that is their friendship.
The bad: That McGuiness artwork. Superman looks like he's one thin wafer away from exploding. Many of the other characters look like they are in need of bowel movements. His storytelling is okay and sometimes exciting, but I just can't stand the way he draws the characters.
The good: Metallo's motivations. They are believable, so much so that I even felt a little sorry for him.
The bad: The notion that Metallo may have been the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents. When will DC stop screwing around with what had been a perfectly good origin?
Digression. That perfectly good origin goes like this. Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered, the pivotal event that shapes his life. He becomes Batman to protect innocents. He finds the killer of his parents and brings him to a kind of justice. He continues to be the Batman because he's a hero. Accept no other origins. If the world's greatest detective can't solve the Wayne murders, he's useless. Turn over his comic books to the detectives of C.S.I. or COLD CASE. End of digression.
The good: the final showdown between President Lex Luthor and the heroes is long overdue. Yeah, Luthor gets a little crazy along the way, but Loeb covers that with the suggestion that kryptonite could be affecting Lex's mind.
The so-so: While understanding that the time travel element is an integral part of the plot, it makes my head hurt. I'm not gonna think about it any longer.
The so-so: Superman and Batman take on dozens of villains who are trying to collect the bounty Luthor has put on Superman. The problem with this kind of metahuman gang-bang is that it makes the reader wonder why it takes entire issues and/or story arcs for the heroes to defeat these villains one-on-one.
The good: Luthor's team of super-heroes. Yes, even including my own Black Lightning. (I'll get to him in a moment.) When the reader knows the whole story, the configuration of the team makes wonderful sense.
The good: Loeb at least hints at Jefferson Pierce, also known as Black Lightning, having his reasons for taking a position on Lex Luthor's cabinet. He gets points for that while DC editorial gets nothing but scorn for not telling that story and, instead, screwing up the character at every other turn.
The bad: Luthor steals a kiss from Amanda Waller. Did someone remove her spine while I wasn't looking?
The good: The "children" of Superman and Batman breaking into the White House to rescue them.
The good: Superman and Batman rescuing them.
The good: The new Toyman.
The good: Loeb's handling of Captain Atom. When a super-hero can upstage Superman and Batman, the writer is really on top of his game. This story has me eager to dig out all the Loeb comics that I haven't gotten around to reading yet.
The bad: I didn't need to see Luthor on the last page of the story. Yeah, we all know he's gonna come back, but couldn't he be kept in comic-book limbo for a year? DC editors and writers have to master the whole absence/fondness concept.
The end score: SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES gets four-and-a-half out of five Tonys. I won't be nominating it for any awards, but I'll certainly recommend it to readers looking for a cracking good super-hero adventure.
TIME OUT FOR A QUESTION
I haven't even tried to keep up with DC Universe continuity. It seemed to change at the drop of the whim du jour. So I try to ignore it and enjoy the stories as best I can without always been up on this character or that. Usually, I can muddle through the stories. Occasionally, I get confused.
Case in point: Supergirl.
I know the Supergirl created in the Silver Age died in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and faded from memory as if she never existed at all. I know John Byrne created a protoplasmic Supergirl who could change shape at will. I know Peter David took that character and made her more human...and more interesting. One of these days I'm gonna have to read all those issues of Peter's SUPERGIRL that I've never gotten around to reading.
Here's where I get confused...
Another Supergirl showed up in the final issues of the Peter David SUPERGIRL's run. She was a ringer for the Silver Age version of the character. Those are more comic books I should really find the time to read.
So who's the dark-haired Supergirl in SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES? Another blonde-haired Supergirl, this one allegedly our Superman's cousin, lands on Earth in SUPERMAN/BATMAN #8. Just how many Supergirls are active in the current DCU?
If anyone can explain the Supergirl(s) situation to me in 300 words or less, I'd be ever so grateful. Because I have a feeling I'd just end up even more confused if I try to figure it out from the comics themselves.
Back to the reviews...
...starting with SUPERMAN/BATMAN #7, a done-in-one adventure teaming Superboy and Robin. Written by Loeb and drawn by Pat Lee, the tale sends the teens to Japan to recruit the new Toyman to work for the Batman on a regular basis. The "B" plot involves a secret Superboy is hesitant to share with Superman and the action involves a giant robot dog and a trio of giant robot warriors.
Once again, I was impressed by Loeb's handling of the heroes. The ones I'm familiar with seemed dead-on to me. The one I wasn't as familiar with - Superboy - interested me. His anguish over his secret was moving, his hesitation realistic, and his inability to reveal it to Superman very sad. Assuming the secret isn't dragged out too long, this could be a terrific sub-plot.
You know I like the new Toyman. I didn't even mind the giant robot guard dog. It fit its master's personality.
The concluding action sequence bothered me; it was contrived and something of a disservice to the now-mostly-human Metallo, who instigates it by stealing one of Toyman's robot warriors. Either Metallo is or isn't a major player. If he is, he demands more than this quick defeat. If he isn't, then Loeb needs to rule him out as a suspect in the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Pat Lee's artwork was interesting, but his somewhat off-model drawings of the heroes often looked posed and rather dull. These are super-hero comics, not fashion magazines.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN #7 picks up three Tonys. It's good enough to keep me reading the title, but a definite letdown after the first six issues.
The title gets back up to speed with SUPERMAN/BATMAN #8 and #9 ($2.95 each). "The Supergirl From Krypton" teams Loeb with artist Michael Turner, kicking off with the aftermath of Luthor's plot to use a kryptonite asteroid to ruin Superman. There's lots of stuff to love in these issues:
Turner's covers for the two issues are beautifully drawn and really catch the eye. More movie posters than pin-ups, they convey the tone of the stories wonderfully: the mystery of this Supergirl, Superman's joy, Batman's doubts. Nicely done.
Loeb and Turner tell one heck of a story. Loeb's script has lots of big-and-bold shots for Turner to draw, but there's still a lot of story in those panels.
I love the idea of Superman being under a kind of quarantine to protect him from any ill effects from the kryptonite fragments that did make their way to Earth. It's nice to know there's a new supply of this classic - forgive me - story element available for future tales. Let's hope the editors and writers use it sparingly and wisely.
The mystery of the new Supergirl intrigues me, especially the possible involvement of Darkseid's Female Furies and/or the Amazons of Paradise Island. On the other hand, this being the second time I've seen folk from Apokolips in Superman comics in as many months, my boredom threshold is approaching. It's gotten too easy for DC's super-heroes to kick their butts. Once again, I suggest a modicum of absence might be beneficial.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN #8 and #9 each pick up four-and-a-half Tonys. I think I now have a favorite Superman title.
SUPERMAN SUGGESTIONS WANTED
I'm going to attempt to stay current on the ongoing Superman titles I've reviewed over the past two columns. I'd also like to check out some other recent Superman collections, graphic novels, mini-series, and even Superman "Elseworlds" stories.
This is where you come in. I'd like your recommendations of the best Superman trades and the rest which have been published in the past twelve months.
Odds are most of them are already sitting in boxes somewhere in Casa Isabella. I'd like to take them out and read/review them for my entertainment and yours.
You don't have to give me the hard sell. Just e-mail me your suggestions with maybe a few lines of comment.
I'll take it from there.
Every Sunday, I post new questions on our TONY POLLS page and you get to cast your votes on them. Last week, the questions were about whether or not you buy some of the comics I've reviewed in my recent columns...and one about naming the new Isabella family van because my Sainted Wife Barbara, who hates the idea of naming the van, came up with two names she thinks are better than the ones I came up with and wants you to agree with her. You'll get the final results of those questions in Wednesday's TOT.
This week's questions are about the classic Universal Studios monsters and the Superman titles I've been reviewing. You can vote on them until sometime after midnight on Saturday by heading to the afore-mentioned TONY POLLS page:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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