19 July 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #10: Superman Batman: Public Enemies

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2003-04)

Borrowed from a friend
Read July 2009
Superman Batman: Public Enemies

Writes*: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Ed McGuinness
Inkers: Dexter Vines
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Richard Starkings
Prologue Art and Colors: Tim Sale with Mark Chiarello

DC Universe Timeline: Two Years Ago
Real World Timeline: Fall 2003

(Luthor's president, but hasn't yet served a full term, so this must be before 2004, as he was elected in 2000. In that case, the publication date of issue #1 of this series is as good as anything else. He doesn't seem to be gearing up for reelection, though, so perhaps it occurs even earlier? The last six years of DC continuity have to squeeze into two years, which seems a bit of a tight fit, especially when you consider that the events of 52 occupy an entire year of that by definition! No doubt DC will retcon it to being called 26 soon enough.)

Incidentally, last month was the one-year anniversary of Faster than a DC Bullet, a fact which went distressingly unnoticed by myself. I kicked off with Superman: Birthright, but a week after that, I reviewed Superman For All Seasons, one of the best Superman stories I have ever read. Three months after that came Batman: The Long Halloween, a very good Batman story. Both of these stories were penned by Jeph Loeb, so it makes sense that a storyline uniting the two would also be his work. After all, he has to have a good grasp of the characters.

And he does. His Superman is an optimistic, stand-up guy while his Batman is a brooding pessimist. The problem he runs into, though, is the need to continually set them up as perfect opposites of one another, especially via cute narration boxes where they're always thinking parallel but different thoughts. This results in both characters being somewhat uncharacteristically exaggerated-- his Superman is a little too much of a brute-force guy sometimes, and his Batman is pretty joyless.

Mostly I think I just quickly got aggravated by the alternating narration boxes, though; outside of these, his characterization is fine, and usually it's very good. I particularly liked the fact that Clark Kent got to show off his investigative journalism skills. Also excellent is the sequence where Superman has been shot by a kryptonite bullet, and Batman much take him back to safety (fortunately for them, the cave they are in connects to the Batcave). It showcases the strength of both men well: Batman's fantastic ability to think of his feet, where he blows a hole in a wall, shielding himself from the blast by standing on the other side of an ailing Superman, as well as Superman's sheer determination, as he continues to do what has to be done even though he's minutes from death.

Unfortunately, the characterization for the rest of the characters is not so great. Indeed, the characterization for other versions of the same characters is not so great; a future Superman comes back in time to stop a disaster from transpiring. Mostly this is an artificial attempt to heighten the jeopardy our characters are in, as it contributes very little to the story, but it's made worse by the fact that future-Superman is an idiot. For some reason, he thinks the best solution is to murder his previous self as well as Batman as soon as he shows up, which seems like it would cause more problems than it would solve, given the role they play in resolving the situation. Why not sit the two of them down and say, "You need to do x, but not y, as that will result in the destruction of the Earth"? It's a clumsy way to shoehorn a Superman/Superman fight and a Superman/Batman fight into the narrative. Also, why in a postapocalyptic future did Superman take the time to change his outfit to the Kingdom Come version? Nothing better to do after seeing the human race wiped out? Loeb's characterizations of the other supporting heroes is similarly clumsy; to make Superman and Batman look better, they're all written as brutes. Captain Atom is a particular offender in this regard; he feels nothing like the character I remember from Justice League Europe.

The biggest offender is this regard is Lex Luthor, which is surprising, as Loeb wrote an absolutely fantastic Luthor in Superman For All Seasons. This Luthor, however, is nothing more than a ranting maniac whose plan makes very little sense. He tells the world that Superman is responsible for the kryptonite asteroid heading towards the Earth, but never tells anyone why they should believe this. Fortunately for him, everyone just goes along with it. When he can't find Superman and Batman anywhere, he announces that they've been captured, causing a cadre of heroes to break into the White House to liberate them (because of course that's where you'd imprison two of the most dangerous men on the entire planet), so that when they show up, Luthor can ask them where Superman and Batman are. Um, hello? If Nightwing knew where Superman and Batman were, he wouldn't have fallen for your trick, would he? In the end of the story, Luthor abandons all signs of intelligence or reason, puts on a battlesuit, and starts beating up on people left, right, and center. Why? Who knows? The problem here is that Luthor keeps on doing things seemingly just because he's a villain. Why would he want an kryptonite asteroid to destroy the Earth? It doesn't help him in any conceivable way (he lives on the Earth after all); it's just something EVIL for him to do. I've always liked the idea of Lex Luthor as President of the United States (the election arc in Justice League Unlimited was fabulous), but I've never actually read any of the "President Lex" tales before. If this is the kind of terrible use that was made of that idea, I'm glad I haven't.

The other big logic problem here is in the resolution of the story-- it absolutely comes out of nowhere. All of a sudden Batman and Superman are talking about having to get to "the boy". He turns out to be the Toyman's son (the Toyboy? the Boytoy?), who has built a charmingly bizarre rocket that looks like Superman melded with Batman, which can blow up the asteroid by punching it real hard. When did they set this up while being chased by various supervillains and then Captain Atom's forces? And why does Power Girl need to distract the boy, aside from providing an opportunity for a joke about her prominent boobs? How did Superman and Batman escape from the custody of Captain Atom and Hawkman and steal their outfits when they were unconscious? It's a great moment when the two of them turn up in disguise, but as soon as you think about it, it makes no sense. (The narration box implies that Hawkman and Captain Marvel were distracted by the news that Luthor has captured Superman and Batman, which is really really dumb.) What the heck is even going on here?

Loeb's cartoony, exaggerated writing is perfectly complemented by Ed McGuinness's cartoony, exaggerated artwork. Except that McGuinness's artwork is cartoony and exaggerated in a good way. Superman and Batman look fantastic, and his rendition of all the other characters is spot-on as well. It's a clean look, and McGuinness rarely fails with even the most complex and crowded of battle scenes; we always know exactly what is happening. Looking at the pictures is probably the best part of this thing.

Apparently, Public Enemies has been chosen as the source material for one of the upcoming direct-to-DVD DC cartoons. I can see why-- it looks great here, and I imagine it'll look great in motion, too. But hopefully the vocal performances of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, and especially Clancy Brown can give the story a credibility and logic it utterly lacked in its original form. I've got two more Superman Batman trades by Loeb to read; they'd better be better than this.

* "Writes"? That's one of the dumbest things I've ever read.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.

18 July 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Star City, Part III: Green Arrow: Straight Shooter

Comic trade paperback, 136 pages
Published 2004 (contents: 2003)

Borrowed from the library
Read June 2009
Green Arrow: Straight Shooter

Writer: Judd Winick
Penciller: Phil Hester
Inker: Ande Parks
Colorist: Guy Major
Letterer: Sean Konot

This is Judd Winick's first contribution to Green Arrow, a series he would write for the rest of its run (minus a few interludes). There's some continuity from the first two volumes in that Phil Hester and Ande Parks continue on the art duties, but even without that, it would be a smooth transition-- Winick seems to get Oliver Queen, the man who wants to do the best he can, but still can't avoid who he is. I like how Winick melds some of Green Arrow's typical social justice concerns into a superhero format; the monsters he fights here are imported workers who have had substandard healthcare. Overall, it's a fun, successful story, aside from the very convenient appearance of Superman when Green Arrow gets in over his head at one point. I also really like the villain he introduces here, Constantine Drakon, though I'm already tired of seeing Connor Hawke get beat up to prove the situation is serious.