While these ‘Why You Should Read’ segments I produce for the website during the always busy afternoons usually take the form of three or four paragraphs, describing, in a foreword-esque style, why I believe a particular graphic novel (usually a popular one) is worth reading. Still, even though I enjoy dabbling with superheroes in this fanboy-esque fashion, I feel like I rarely get to the root of why I find this storytelling medium so involving – instead, I’m going to try it a little differently. This time I’ll take one title across a number of arcs, then summarise why it holds together so well as a series.
So why Superman/Batman? Well, this series, once enormously popular in the hands of Jeph Loeb and an all-star array of artists, but now a damp squib where sales and impact are concerned, is one of the most entertaining monthly titles I read during the era in which I chucked insane amounts of money at comic books. Recently, I went back and reread the trades for the opening three stories of this series, defined as it is by the two DC icons’ dual narration, a fantastic idea that enabled Loeb to explore the friction and philosophical differences between the two characters.
Let’s go through each volume.
Volume 1: Public Enemies (Artist: Ed McGuinness)
As an asteroid heads towards Earth, Lex Luthor sticks a bounty on Superman’s head, leading the world’s superheroes and villains to team up in an effort to bring him down. The collected edition of Public Enemies also contains a wonderful short story illustrated by Tim Sale, depicting the first meeting between Superman and Batman – rarely has there been a better summary of the characters’ differences.
Volume 2: The Supergirl From Kypton (Artist: Michael Turner)
The late, great Michael Turner pencilled this absolutely stunning-looking arc, in which the new Supergirl is introduced to the DC Universe, who is abducted by Wonder Woman then again by Darkseid. The story escalates from there, as the two heroes are pitted against Darkseid, with Batman even strapping on some armour and giving the git a good kicking in highly illogical (but ruddy entertaining) fashion. It’s all quite absurd stuff, but like Public Enemies, uses the wider DC Universe to great effect and convincingly reintroduces the character of Supergirl to readers.
Volume 3: Absolute Power (Artist: Carlos Pacheco)
Absolute Power is a more experimental storyline for Loeb than the previous two arcs – here, Superman and Batman flit across multiple timelines, where they confront different versions of themselves, including one possible universe in which they’ve been raised as leaders of men governing an oppressive regime. This storyline packs far more interesting alternative timelines than that, however, as we’re even shown the ramifications of Batman murdering his parents’ killer, Joe Chill, before the villains behind it all are unveiled to the reader.
These three arcs represent the sort of variety and recognition of individual artists’ strengths that most modern comic books can’t afford to have. They’re also three of the most accessible storylines on the market involving either character – pick ’em up, etc.