There has been plenty of criticism of Superman/Batman, most of it deserved. The comic is where kitsch goes to die a long, agonizing death. Its inhabitants often act so baffling out of character that it’s hard to believe that their names aren’t misprints. Many of the issues play fast and loose with continuity.
The most cynical part of this book is right on the cover. Whoever conceived of this book took the two most lucrative characters in the DC universe and stuck them in a book without even a proper title. No ’The Adventures of.’ No, ’Duo.’ No ’League of.’ They just put a forward slash between the names, presumably so no one will think the book’s about a mutant hybrid. As grabs for reader’s money go, that falls somewhere between having the Birds of Prey go undercover as porn stars and just gripping readers by the ankles, holding them upside down and shaking them until their wallets fall out.
So what makes it the comic to watch? For one thing, the structure. For a book featuring two such high-profile characters it has been remarkably free of big, world-changing events and complicated crossovers. While all the Batsquad books struggle to arrange themselves along the Batman RIP timeline without ever directly telling anyone what’s going on, the Darkseid Club manages to make appearances even in Birds of Prey, and DCU braces for Final Crisis, Superman/Batman goes on its merry, bizarre way.
The book is also very tightly plotted. While sprawling storylines that last a year and a half and function as set-ups for the next years-long story can be very entertaining, they do leave characters or plot elements in limbo for years at a time. Superman/Batman delivers two-to-six issue stories that move quickly and end completely.
But that’s just standard stuff. What makes Superman/Batman special is the way describing its stories to non-comic-book-readers makes their eyes glaze over at the sheer lunacy of it all. Batman and Superman dressing up as Hawkman and Captain Marvel to mount an assault on the White House. Batman and Superman being raised as evil dictators until Wonder Woman makes Uncle Sam, who has been a crazy homeless person up until then, into a Green Lantern to fight them. Batman and Superman being repeatedly killed by talking gorillas and modern cowboys as they crawl through hundreds of different universes. Until they find the one where Batman sees Bruce Wayne’s parents being assaulted by the mugger who would kill them and, without hesitation, shoots the mugger in the head, thereby wiping himself out of existence.
Did I mention the time Superman got stoned on black kryptonite? Did I mention that the weird, chibi versions of the JLA that he saw while stoned were a different universe’s versions of the JLA who get pulled into this universe by Mxyzptlk?
Or if you’re not into chibis, how about the story in which Batman spends several issues naked and trying not to bone Bekka, the happily married love goddess?
The DC universe doesn’t lack for bizarre stories. It doesn’t even lack for deliberately bizarre stories. Ambush Bug, for example, is an extremely funny book that takes us on a tour of all the weirdnesses of the DCU for the past few years. Still, Ambush Bug winks at the audience, inviting us to share in the jokes. Jimmy Olsen’s recent adventures as Mr Action did the same.
Superman/Batman doesn’t wink. This is a book in which Batman can see Superman talking to tiny little versions of both of them and shout, “Careful, Superman. We don’t know what’s going on yet.” In another story, as the two crawl through dimensions, he grits out, “What . . . could we have done to deserve this?” I can’t type the kinds of things he says about Bekka The Busty Goddess of Love, but I’m surprised they’re not printed in purple ink. Most books will have characters toss out quips. If nothing else, they will remark on the insanity of the situation. Superman/Batman has its characters take each set-up seriously and address the absurdities of the plot as practical problems.
All superhero comics are silly when compared to any sort of reality, but Superman/Batman has the courage of its convictions. It goes all out in constructing strange worlds, premises and set-ups and it takes them at face-value. That gives it the kind of fantastic, nutzoid energy of the Kirby era.
Continuity and character will never be settled in comics. Over the next forty years Bruce Wayne will quit, die, find God, become the Spectre, be reborn, and find out that he is actually Oliver Queen’s son. (You know it’s true. It’s beginning to look like half the children in DC comics are Ollie’s bastards.) He will swing between being characterized as Miller’s Dark Knight, the batusi champion of the world, and perhaps even relapse to his original incarnation, in which he carried a gun and happily broke criminal’s necks before spending a quiet evening at home with his fiancee.
What keeps comics interesting isn’t continuity milestones so much as the style with which they are written. The over-the-top creativity and energy that goes into the Superman/Batman series is something that will be built on and referenced far more than any big event or fine point of continuity.