Thursday, January 29, 2009

Seventeen thoughts about Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite

See this?

This is Superman/Batman: The Search For Kryptonite, a pretty terrible collection of six pretty terrible issues of the pretty terrible ongoing series Superman/Batman.

The men responsible are writers Michael Green, a TV writer who wrote the shitty Batman Confidential story arc that was collected into Batman: Lovers & Madmen; Mike Johnson, who’s given equal billing on the cover, but a “with” rather than an “and” in the credits inside; pencil artist Shane Davis, who drew Mystery In Space and has done fill-in work on most of DC’s big titles; and inker Matt Banning.

The pretty terrible-ness of the story isn’t all 100% their fault, however, although they should certainly receive much of the blame. Some of it is also the fault of Jeph Loeb, who created the title as a modern day World’s Finest, and set its bunch-of-crazy-random-shit-happens-for-no-reason-and-without-consequence tone and the dueling narrators unknowingly thinking cute, complimentary or contrary thoughts technique, both of which Green and or with Johnson follow here. And, of course, a great deal of the blame seems to belong to Eddie Berganza, who not only put all these guys together and approved the story, but seemed to adopt the hands-off, whatever the creator wants approach to editing that anyone who writes for DC from outside the comics media seems to get (Except, for some strange reason, Jodi Picoult). Berganza, by the way, doesn’t get credited as the editor within this collection’s credits, so I just wanted to bring his name up here.

Now, there are a lot of problems with the book, many of them little and inconsequential, some of them simple matters of personal taste and aesthetics, but it suffers from a big, overriding problem that seems inexplicably common among DCU super-comics, and that’s the tension between the two potential audiences.

When this particular title launched, it was a more-or-less “important” book to the DCU; this is where the years-long Lex Luthor-as-president-of-the-U.S. reached its ultimate climax (even if I still can’t tell you what exactly happened in it) and this is where the current version of Supergirl was first introduced.

Since then, Superman/Batman has gradually moved towards a sort of quasi-continuity—not quite its own thing, a la the All-Star or Johnny DC lines or (the defunct) Elseworlds imprints, but not exactly bothered with trying to match up with DCU continuity in general either.

Which is where the tension comes in. Green (and or with Johnson) makes some noticeable deviations from DC continuity, contradicting things DC readers thought they knew and what other creators might have been doing in other DCU titles concurrently, which, you know, in and of itself isn’t a bad thing—maybe this is a book for people who aren’t steeped in the monthly goings on of the DC Universe, but for newcomers. Except it’s not; Green adheres pretty close to those goings on (Chris Kent exists, Lana Lang is running Lex Corp, Luthor is on a prison planet in space, etc.).

So the result is another of those half-assed projects that neither appeals to regular DCU readers, who might get turned off by how wrong characters and events are, nor appeals to newcomers, who might naturally be a little curious as to what the hell an Amanda Waller is or wonder about the leggy magicians assistant or the chimpanzee dressed like Sherlock Holmes in a bar.

That is the problem with the book in the broadest sense, but, as I said, there are a lot of little things about it that stuck out and poked me here and there as I tried to make my way through it. Here then, in convenient list format, are 17 thoughts I had about the book, most of them about elements that I thought were bad, but a few of them about things I liked...

1.) I don’t really like Shane Davis. Well, his art anyway; he may be a pretty wonderful person. I suppose this might be due to the fact that when I think of the stories I’ve seen him illustrate, they all tend to be pretty bad ones, (a fill-in chapter of “The Lightning Saga” here, Final Crisis: Rage of The Red Lanterns there, et cetera), but having now spent about 150 pages with his artwork, I think it is in fact his style that I don’t care for.

His character design and figure work seems to be of the descended from Jim Lee variety, and in many places his work resembles that of Ed Benes, particularly in the sexy, sexy mouths everyone has, the inappropriate crinkly eyes, and the faces full of randomly placed little lines. His layouts aren’t necessarily hard to read, but they’re not a joy to read either; his pages just kind of strike me as lifeless.

There is the hint of a weird energy lurking under his artwork though, and I could see his style eventually blossoming into something more unique and fun to read, but, for now, it really looks like the work of a guy who hasn’t quite divorced himself from his influences, all of which seem to be other comic book artists.

2.) I think they should have probably just gone for it and called this thing The Quest For Kryptonite. The story is about Superman one day catching a face full of green Kryptonite shrapnel, and realizing that there’s just way too much of the stuff laying around, he should really get his friend Batman to help him round up all of the Kryptonite on earth so it will never hurt him again. It’s actually a kinda neat idea for a story (although the impact of it is certainly muted by the fact that even though Superman does get rid of all the kryptonite on Earth that he knows about by story’s end, we’ve since seen plenty of stories in which characters have kryptonite since). “Search” doesn’t really capture the spirit of the story the way “quest” does, and the latter is both alliterative and suggestive of the subtitle of on of the Superman movies.

3.) This volume includes an introduction. I love introductions, and think all of these collections-of-comics sorts of graphic novels should have them. What makes these six comic books worth re-publishing bound, with a spine? Make the case in writing, someone! And the more famous and/or respectable the someone, the better.

This introduction is written by Jonathan Nolan, co-writer of The Dark Knight. It’s not a bad introduction really; like, the things Nolan writes are all kinda cool, they just seem inaccurate applied to this specific work.

For example, “Artist Shane Davis could give you a concussion with that pencil of his. I recommend borrowing a car to read the sequence where Superamn gets punted through a corn—elevator you’re going to need the seatbelt.”

No, he couldn’t, and no, you won’t.

4.) Superman wears a new belt for the duration of this arc. The story opens with Superman and Batman talking on a Gotham rooftop, and both of them look slightly off. Superman’s chest symbol doesn’t look like it’s part of the shirt he wears, but is upraised, like the one in the last Superman movie. Batman has the oval around a funny-shaped bat-symbol on his chest, but it’s not a yellow oval, but white. His belt buckle has the Huntress symbol on it.

But it turns out, these aren’t really Superman and Batman! They’re actors, playing them in a World’s Finest movie. But, a few pages later, when we see a full body shot of the real Superman, its apparent that he’s wearing the wrong belt too.

Rather than the plain yellow oval belt buckle Superman usually wears to help hold his panties up, he’s wearing one with a yellow S-shield symbol buckle, not unlike the one Brandon Routh’s Superman wore in Superman Returns.

This drove me nuts. I mean, I guess it’s fine for Superman to wear a different belt every once in a while. Maybe Batman bought him a belt for Christmas and he wants to wear it when teaming up with him to show Batman he appreciates it, but it’s so…odd to see a detail like that changed. It usually requires a multi-part storyline to justify even the smallest aesthetic change in either of these guys’ costumes.

And it went on for six issues. At no point did anyone seem to notice. It boggles my mind.

Superman also parts his hair on the left in this story too, instead of on the right. I actually didn’t notice that until flipping through it again just now. But that’s weird to me too.

5.) I can’t tell which Flash this is in the book. I can’t remember if this story came out while Wally West was missing and super-aged Bart Allen was temporarily The Flash, and Green’s portrayal doesn’t offer any clues. He’s portrayed as something of an amateur and easily distracted, which seems Bart-like, but he picks up a “JLA Emergency brodacast” from Batman and asks for an “authorization code,” and Bart wouldn’t be in the JLA. This Flash also eats junk food the replenish calories the way Wally used to when he first became the Flash. Oh nevermind, it was Wally, Superman calls him Wally at the end of the next scene, after he’s left the book.

6.) Wait, Smallville is DCU continuity now? There’s a scene where Superman is talking to Batman about his desire to rid the world of kryptonite, and over the course of two panels he explains, “There used to be a ton of it where I grew up…in Smallville. Gave me endless grief. Seemed like we had a freak a week for a while there. Enough of it turns people into the worst, most monstrous version of themselves.”

The last half of this is spoken over a panel showing a chunk of green kryptonite, with five heads of characters I don’t recognize floating in front of it. One seems to have fire for hair, another has a goatee made of icicles.

While I’ve never watched Smallville, I understand that kryptonite mutating people was a recurring event on the show, and “freak of the week” was a derisive term fans used to describe these shows. In the DCU, kryptonite’s never been shown to mutate people, the only thing it does is gradually give them radiation poisoning. Presumably, those heads are people from the show.

Odd. Smallville, by the way, is one of the shows Green wrote for.

7.) I do like the various costumes Davis designs for the stars. Superman has to wear a lead-lined containment suit to protect him from the effects of the kryptonite that he and Batman are gathering up to store in a Yucca Mountain-like repository of Batman’s. It’s actually kinda neat looking. Davis also puts Batman in a couple of funny costumes, including, in the second issue, a SCUBA Batman costume with underwater Bat-shaped underwater propulsion set of wings. Davis also designs a space-faring Bat-plane that’s kinda cool.

8.) Firestorm II helping Superman out of a desire to get recommended for Justice League missions is stupid. I don’t have anything to add here; Batman narrates about the motivations of some of the other superheroes helping them, and Firestorm’s is that he’s trying to kiss Superman’s ass to get asked along for Justice League missions or something. (Why does Firestorm retrieve kryptonite to bring back to the Watchtower anyway? Why doesn’t he just transmute it?)

9.) I like the teenage good guy Toyman, who appears in this story a couple of times And I don’t much care for what Geoff Johns did with him, claiming he was just a robot “toy” that the original Toyman made so well that neither Batman nor Superman could figure out he wasn’t a human being. But that’s a different story.

10.) Aquaman II showing up to be a prick and pick a fight is pretty stupid, too. Aquaman II, the one from Sword of Atlantis, shows up with King Shark, Aquagirl and some random Atlanteans to do the Namor/Aquaman I thing about surface dwellers and respecting the water and shit, which is pretty wildly out of character for this new Aquaman, whom only met Superman once (In “Back In Action” and, as far as I recall, had never met Batman before this).

11.) Green invents a new type of kryptonite—silver. The effect on Suprman? It makes him act like he’s high. Seriously.

12.) When Zatanna tells Batman to “Ssik Ym Ttub,” why does he respond, “Is that a spell or a promi--”? I wondered if it was a spell too, but I’m not sure how that could be a promise. A request? A command? An offer? A suggestion? Sure, but a promise? That sounds a little…randy coming from Batman, doesn’t it?

13.) Batman says “crap” at one point, too. That doesn’t sound very Batman-like. I could see him saying “blast” or “blazes,” “damn” or “Hh,” maybe even “@#$%,” but “crap”….?

14.) Last Line is soooo lame. That’s the name of the kryptonite-powered, imported from a ‘90s Image book team of government operatives assembled by Amanda Waller to take out Superman if the need should arise. I…I don’t even want to think about these guys anymore. Just imagine a random comic that only lasted like four issues that you might find in a discount back issue bin, and then imagine that lame-ass team—including a really big guy, a sexy warrior lady, a mysterious masked guy, etc.—all have costumes and weapons that glow neon green.

I suppose Green might be attempting some commentary here, that the classic, immortal DC heroes endure against these newfangled teams, but the comment is pretty garbled—they prevailed against these sorts of superheroes a good 15 years ago. And that’s what Kingdom Come was about already.

15.) The entire fifth issue is pretty lame. After Superman and Batman defeat Last Line, Waller calls out her secret weapon—a human mutated with Doomsday DNA and then outfitted with kryptonite spikes. Basically, he looks like Doomsday, only with Predator dreads, a glowing green danger sign on his forehead, and instead of the bone spikes the real Doomsday had sticking out of him, this one has kryptonite crystal spikes sticking out of him. Despite having lost his armor in the fight, Superman somehow manages to fight this thing off form the better part of an issue without dying. Their fight does destroy every single house in Smallville except the Kent farm though.

16.) Actually, there were two parts of that issue I liked. In an attempt to slow the Kryptonite Doomsday down, Batman empties the Batplane’s ordnance into him, to no effect. “Damn. I really liked this model,” he thinks/narrates, as he prepares to eject and ram the plane into Doomsday, “Highest top speed yet. Good thing I’m rich.”

Okay, that’s not bad. It probably helped that I read this between reading Final Crisis #6 and #7, two comics in which The Magnificent Super-Bat boasted about his superpower of wealth. I find the idea extremely amusing. People always talk about Batman’s determination to sharpen his mind and body to perfection as his superpower, but, when you get right down to it, he wouldn’t have had the luxury to do even that—let alone buy all those wonderful toys—if it weren’t for his riches.

This issue ends with Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent having dinner with Ma and Pa Kent. I always like the idea of other heroes hanging out with the Kents in domestic situations.

17.) Lana Lang is the greatest villain of them all. Okay, so after Batman and Superman take down Waller’s kryptonite squad, they see that the weapons have all been supplied by Lex Corp, and they decide to go have a talk with Lex Corp’s current CEO. That would be Lana Lang, Superman’s one-time girlfriend, one-time best friend, and one of the first, longest and most faithful allies he’s ever had.

Superman’s all like, “Hey Lana, so you’ve been making kryptonite weapons to murder me with here at Lex Corp. Would you mind cutting that shit out for me, buddy?”

And she’s all like, “Sorry dude, but my responsibility is to make money for my company, and what makes money is weapons specifically designed to murder you. You understand though, right?”

So he’s like, “Hey lady, I can take them from you if you wanna be a hardass about it, I am Superman.”

And she’s like, “Actually, we have all these storage facilities strategically placed all over the world and if I push this button they will explode and fill Earth’s atmosphere with microscopic kryptonite particles that will last forever and you will then be exiled to space forever and so will your cousins, your dog and that abused Kryptonian child you recently adopted.”

So, what we have here is Superman’s best friend threatening to kill him, his family, his kid and his dog or, at the very least, exile them from planet Earth.

He doesn’t believe she’ll go through with it, but then she does. Why doesn’t Superman, who can tell when people are lying with his super-senses and can move as fast as The Flash not know she’s planning on pushing the button and not make any attempt to stop her? Probably the same reason he didn’t call any superheroes for help while he was being beaten to death by the Doomsday hybrid last issue, even though this story is full of examples of him calling in other superheroes to help him out.

So Superman tells Lana off and flies away, and they find a way to scrub earth’s atmosphere of the kryptonite particles anyway in the space of like two pages, but man, that’s some pretty cold-hearted shit Lana pulled. Lex has never even pushed that button, and one assumes he’s the one who came up with the plan.

There’s a panel of Lana looking sad, and two bubbles of dialogue in a special, Bizarro-like font telling her, “Why so sad, Lana Love?! You did perfect,” so it’s safe to assume that she had a good reason for being totally evil to her pal Superman, but whatever it is, it’s not explained here.

And those are my seventeen thoughts about The Search For Kryptonite. Now let’s never speak of this book again.


Matt D said...

And then Lana is immediately fired from LexCorp. Oops.

SallyP said...

Done and done.

Unknown said...

And yet the follow-up arc to this one, the "Lil' Leaguers" two-parter, was just about perfect.

Siskoid said...

Some books are so stupid that they cycle back into awesome.

So really, this isn't STUPID ENOUGH.

Or actually, I'd say it's stupid in all the wrong ways.

Jeroth said...

It's weird, after reading your thoughts, I can no longer explain why I like this story arc. And yet, like it I do.

I guess there really is no accounting for taste.

Unknown said...

Wow, yikes. Definitely sounds like it's a "future Smallville" story more than anything else.

Ya know, I actually read that entire post, and the thing that stood out the most? That you said Superman is as fast as The Flash. Come on, who are you kidding there? :P

Seriously, though. Superluminal. When has Supes done that? Psssh. :D

Bob Hodges said...

Maybe Lana pushing the button is Green's commentary on how dickish Supes and his supporting cast were to each other back in the day? I'd like a return to those days myself.

Caleb said...

And yet the follow-up arc to this one, the "Lil' Leaguers" two-parter, was just about perfect.

I am kinda interested in checking that one out.

Ya know, I actually read that entire post, and the thing that stood out the most? That you said Superman is as fast as The Flash

Oh, I think the Flash(es) are faster than Superman personally, but have they ever actually finished one of their races? It seems like it always ends in either a tie, or supervillains bust it up somehow.

Unknown said...

I am kinda interested in checking that one out.

I really think you'd love it, based on the reviews of yours that I've read. It's got the feel of the old JLU cartoon - there are several laugh-out-loud moments, and an unusually emotional ending.