Superman/Batman is one consistently stupid book. Like its spiritual predecessor, World’s Finest, it teams up DC’s heaviest hitters month after month, and in true Silver Age fashion, there is a bit of an “anything goes” approach, where wild ideas abound but logic is often the first thing to go out the window. It’s a title that began with President Lex Luthor putting a million-dollar bounty on Superman’s head because a Kryptonite asteroid was going to collide with Earth, and became even more idiotic with each successive story. The idea that Superman’s nemesis Metallo had possibly been the real murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne was raised early on in the series, but never resolved. There have been heartfelt but confusing tributes to the Silver Age, Alan Moore, and, for some reason, various Marvel comics (Luthor as Wolverine? Atomic Skull as Ghost Rider?). The book features a supremely annoying house style of writing where the two leads narrate in hilariously homoerotic tandem, constantly commenting on what the other must be thinking right now. In defiance of all odds, it somehow became even stupider when Jeph Loeb wrapped up his 25-issue arc.
However, I submit to you that, despite all these flaws, Superman/Batman is the most consistently accessible and yes, entertaining, mainstream book featuring these two leads a lot of the time. This comes with a couple of qualifiers—neither Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns can be writing Supes or Bats in another title at the time, which makes for pretty short windows. Also, the art is a huge component of the book’s debatable success. Ed McGuinness or Carlos Pacheco can make Loeb’s foolishness a lot more palatable, for instance, and Rags Morales or Rafael Albuquerque will make the proceedings run a lot more smoothly than, say, Whilce Portacio or Shane Davis. While the storylines are often modern glosses on Silver Age tropes—our heroes get shrunk, or their powers goes crazy, or they meet adorable l’il kid versions of themselves—they are usually fun, dumb adventures that only last a few issues at most. It’s also the most self-contained of the mainstream DCU books—this title does not pause to acknowledge Crises, whether Infinite or Final, nobody’s Battling For The Cowl, and there’s nary a New Krypton to be found in the cosmos.
Take this week’s issue #60, for instance. Current writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson deliver the first of a two-parter called Mash-up that finds Superman and Batman suddenly inhabiting a city called Gothamopolis, where familiar old faces are strangely mixed and matched. For instance, our two confused leads almost immediately run into the Justice Titans, a team made up out of amalgamated JLA and Teen Titans members. Among these weirdos are Night Lantern, Donna Wonder, Star Canary, Flash (‘cause he’s in both teams, get it?), Hawk-Beast, and Aqua-Borg. That’s right, Aqua-Borg. There’s an obligatory misunderstanding and fight scene, but they all eventually put aside their differences and go to the Justice Tower to solve the mystery, where we learn that they’ve been saving the silliest JT member for last; Terranado, a mash-up of Red Tornado and Terra (whose alter ego is Terra Mark V, which is actually kind of clever).
Soon, they’re all off to S.T.A.R.kham Labs (I know, right? Seriously!), where they fight Doomstroke, who it turns out is working for evil genius…Lex Joker. Well, why not, I guess. To be continued.
This is a very silly issue of a very silly book, and yet, it was probably my favourite comic of last week. I honestly don’t want to think too hard about what that means for the state of the industry right now, but there it is. It had the two best superheroes ever confronting a weird mystery, it had a couple of cool fights, and a cliffhanger ending that made we want to learn just what the hell is going on. It also had striking artwork by Francis Manapul (Legion of Super-Heroes), who is trying out a cool new style—very brushy and angular—that is lushly coloured here by Brian Buccellato. Manapul is the artist on the new Adventure Comics title debuting in August, which I am now officially a lot more excited about. For more goodness, check out Manapul's official website. You'll be glad you did.
This may all sound like I’m damning this book with the faintest of praise, but it’s sincere—this comic provided a kind of diverting entertainment you don’t see much of nowadays. You don’t have to know what’s going on in a zillion other books, there isn’t any disturbingly adult content that has no business in a superhero title, and there was something new and ridiculous to capture your attention on practically every page. This, by design or otherwise, seems to be the unofficial mission statement of Superman/Batman. As mission statements—or superhero team-up comics, really—go, you could do worse.