Review: Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just when I'd about given up, Michael Green and Michael Johnson return Superman/Batman to greatness with Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite.

I remember how excited I was when Superman/Batman premiered with Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness in 2003; anyone who's followed the book since then knows its gone steeply downhill. Mark Verheiden's Enemies Among Us was a fun a-continuity celebration of Silver Age comics, but after Alan Burnett's Torment--which had equally shaky continuity and no real relevance, without the tribute factor of Enemies--I began to think Superman/Batman might be relegated to the filler stories bin with Superman Confidential. But Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite changes all that.

Green and Johnson write a Superman/Batman tour de force, one that stretches from Arkham Asylum to the Fortress of Solitude, and from deep under the ocean to Dinosaur Island. He starts with a simple enough premise--Superman wants to get rid of all the kryptonite on Earth--but quickly, quickly complicates it. Batman's on board to help, but the two heroes find that nearly no one--from other heroes to the US government to some of Superman's closest friends--thinks it's a good idea. What follows is a riveting morally ambiguous story where everyone has a point and no one's quite right, and Green even manages to meaningfully tie the story to events in the Superman titles and Final Crisis.

What Green and Johnson accomplish here is a cogent deconstruction of the concept of kryptonite. It's an item much lampooned--consider, the most powerful man in the world, and he can be taken out by a little rock that near everyone has a piece of--and yet the writers offers a compelling reason why kryptonite is necessary, even essential, to Superman and the Superman legend. The writers also gets points for going over and above in his exploration of kryptonite--its prevalence; its many colors; how Smallville and other media use kryptonite; how kryptonite stands as a metaphor both for Superman's birth--Krypton--and his death; and more. Whether kryptonite will really be less prevalent after this story remains to be seen, but this could very well be the definitive Superman/kryptonite story.

I don't say this often, but I imagine The Search for Kryptonite is a story that might've read almost as well in single issues as it does in a collection. The secret is that Green and Johnson make almost every issue feel self-contained even under the rubric of Superman and Batman's kryptonite hunt; while these days sometimes writers make one-shot issues feel artificially wrapped, I felt like I was getting a full story in every chapter of this book. Consider the third chapter, for instance, in which Green and Johnson write a Batman/Zatanna team-up so lovingly you'd think you were reading Paul Dini's Detective Comics, and still it all comes together as a Superman/Batman story. There's great, great stuff in here.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Shane Davis's art in this volume. Davis offers clear, movie blockbuster-style art here that is a departure from some of the more cartoon-y styles we've seen in Superman/Batman, but works wonders nonetheless. His Rags Morales (or is that Brad Meltzer)-esque closeups on speak volumes, and his take on Doomsday late in the book is especially powerful. I've never really been one to buy comic book art, but there's a splash page of Superman and Batman taking no guff in a diner that I'd be proud to have on my wall. It doesn't surprise me a bit that we may see Davis again in some of DC Comics's high-profile Green Lantern crossovers coming soon.

[Contains full covers]

Truly, I believed Superman/Batman was done for, and I've never been so happy to be wrong. More reviews on the way; check back here soon!
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5 comments:

  1. I had heard that the series has been on an upswing as of late... I'll prolly pick this one up soon...

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  2. Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite is a great jumping on point; there's two more collections by this team coming up.

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  3. Thanks once again for the great reviews you keep posting here on your site.

    By the way, any thoughts on why there has been such a long delay on the softcover TPBs of Supes/Bats vol.4 and vol.5?

    Cheers,

    zinco

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  4. The long delay for Superman/Batman to go from hardcover to paperback? Just a shot in the dark, but consider how many other DC Comics collections are printed like Superman/Batman, in hardcover with no jacket and foil on the case? Nada.

    I wonder if they could redo the Superman/Batman trade dress, they wouldn't have done something else -- that is, cheaper to produce -- with it; whether that necessitates waiting longer between hardcover and paperback for the hardcover to tell more, I'm not sure.

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  5. Let me just say that I enjoyed this book, I really did, even the brief and odd clash with Aquaman. My one complaint, and it's kind of a big one, is something a friend and I had been debating about a day before I knew these comics existed.
    We were speculating on the amount of kryptonite on planet Earth and how, as mentioned above, everyone seems to be able to get their hands on this stuff. It seems rediculous, even with the meteor from Krypton smashing into Earth, that it would be so prevelant.
    I thought this book would be a long search, finding all the little bits and pieces, facing off with the Joker and obviously Luthor (who seemed strangely distant in the trade paperback) as Bats and Sups struggled to track down those little parts.
    Instead I discover that, apparently, the world seems to be about 25% kryptonite (okay I'm exagerrating but it did seem insane) and it comes not only in small slivers but giant boulder sized chunks. The question that kept running through my head was, "How did this much kryptonite get to Earth!?"
    If a planet so far away exploded the odds of even a small part of it hitting our planet would be incredibly slim. I know Superman describes whole mountains of the stuff back on his homeworld, but Earth would have to some kind on interstellar magnet to grab this much of the stuff.
    In the end like I say it was a good, fun book. I love the interplay between Batman and Superman, but that burning question just would not go away the whole time and sort of tainted the experience for me personall.

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