Review: Superman/Batman: Night and Day hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Probably I won't be following this title as closely after Superman/Batman: Night and Day. The next two trades not only switch from the much-loved hardcover-with-no-jacket format to paperback, but both are distinctly out of continuity, a far cry from when Superman/Batman set the issues of the day with Public Enemies and Supergirl. In retrospect, I might not even have been so quick to pick up Night and Day except for the loose Blackest Night crossover included here, and indeed it's so loose that I don't imagine it would attract more than the most ardent continuity wonk.

Be that as it may, Night and Day contains a handful of one- and two-issue stories that are pretty good, especially those written by the book's latest semi-regular writing team Michael Green and Mike Johnson. Whether by coincidence or by design, most of the stories take place in dreams, illusions, or false realities -- that is, there's a way in which Night and Day focuses on the mental partnership between Superman and Batman, rather than the physical villain-hitting partnership (though there's that in this book, too). "Night and day" could to an extent not so much refer to the differences between the two heroes here so much as the barrier between what's real and unreal in these collected adventures.

[Contains spoilers]

The first and likely the best story in this volume is Green and Johnson's two-part "Gothamopolis." Superman and Batman find themselves in a world where the Justice League and the New Teen Titans are combined not unlike the combined DC/Marvel universes in the Amalgam Age of Comics. This is creative and different, and demonstrates the writers good knowledge of the characters; the implications of Batman (Bruce Wayne, I should say) meeting an amalgam Dick Grayson and Hal Jordan -- one whom he trusts very much, and one whom he has trouble trusting -- is especially brilliant.

Not only does the story riff on the well-known Teen Titans: The Judas Contract story, but it also includes an appearance by an especially classic Justice League villain. I appreciated that Johnson and Green went back to the well rather than creating a new and potentially forgettable foe. As an added bonus, the art for "Gothamopolis" is by DC Comics's rising star Francis Manapul; given all of that, you can see why I still give Night and Day a nod -- even though the story takes place in an indeterminate time before Final Crisis and will more than likely never be referenced again.

The biggest surprises in the book, however, come in Green and Johnson's titular story "Night and Day" (issue #63) both their final issue of Superman/Batman and one that serves to wrap up a couple dangling plotlines from their run. The story opens in a dystopian world where Batman is one of the few able to fight Gorilla Grodd's all-consuming mind-control -- and, the writers reveal, it was Grodd way back in issue #49 that caused Lana Lang to make Earth uninhabitable for Superman, and has finally succeeded.

"Night and Day" doesn't cover much new ground as far as Superman/Batman team-ups go (the returning Superman, again, inspires the downtrodden as a symbol of hope), but the Grodd revelation is a welcome one. Green and Johnson's The Search for Kryptonite was a near perfect Superman/Batman story, and the only out-of-place detail was Lana's errant behavior, which was potentially to be explored in the Superman titles before plans changed; that this is finally explained is a nice gift for continuing readers.

Even more interesting, however, is that the reader finds at the end of "Night and Day" that the entire Grodd scenario is just a computer simulation designed by Batman for training purposes. Given "Night and Day"'s ties to Search for Kryptonite, and the fact that it's Green and Johnson's last issue, is this to suggest all of Green and Johnson's Superman/Batman run was just a simulation? (Only Batman, I'd say, would have a computer simulation of a "Gothamopolis" adventure that itself takes place in a dream world.) Superman/Batman has been so little reflected in the ongoing DC Universe that it hardly matters, but it's an unique touch -- first they explain the inconsistencies, then they suggest it was all imaginary anyway -- and an interesting way to go out.

Night and Day closes with a two-part Blackest Night tie-in that's also a follow-up to Scott Kolins's Solomon Grundy miniseries. I enjoy Kolins's art and I liked the madcap monster madness of Grundy, but I wouldn't venture this story, "Night of the Cure," has much more to offer. Kolins does well with Bizarro and Man-Bat standing in for Superman and Batman, but he doesn't go as far as to team them in any way like Superman and Batman, nor does he really continue the story of Grundy who, as a Black Lantern, isn't quite the same person as in the miniseries. The S.H.A.D.E.'s Frankenstein also appears, and personally I could read Frankenstein fighting monsters all day, but there's not much else to recommend this either as a Grundy or Blackest Night story; I didn't feel it added to either one.

Rounding out the book are a one-shot Robin/Supergirl team-up by Green and Johnson with art by Blue Beetle's Rafael Albuquerque, and a Halloween story by Peter Johnson (of the Supernatural TV series) and Matt Cherniss, including art by Brian Stelfreeze and Kelley Jones. The first is the more chilling of the two scary stories, as Robin and Supergirl's supposed first team-up exposes them to horror after horror in Arkham Asylum; the second is another more mundane "dream" story, but Jones's few pages with the Joker are especially affecting.

[Contains full covers. Printed on glossy paper.]

As I mentioned, with Superman/Batman switching creative teams entirely over the next two volumes, I may not purchase them so quickly. Superman/Batman is becoming something like Batman Confidential in telling one-off stories that spotlight more the writer and artist that the story itself; that's OK sometimes, but it's not the kind of book I'd pick up regularly. Michael Green and Mike Johnson did a bang-up job on Superman/Batman; I'll repeat that their Search for Kryptonite was near perfection, and maybe the real draw of Night and Day is just to support these writers' finish. With their departure, however, there's part of me that thinks it might just be time for DC to wrap Superman/Batman up, rather than keep it going into what I see as ultimately irrelevance.
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

5 comments:

  1. I can't say I agree that DC should wrap this series up. Especially in fear of the series becoming irrelevant. Part of why I like Superman/Batman is because it's NOT necessarily beholden to DC continuity. Sure, most of the time it's in continuity, but not so much so that people are throwing out references to stories going on at a given time. Hell, the old Worlds Finest series wasn't relevant to anything; just fun in an insane "what are they doing here" way that really didn't need to reference Batmans villain of the week.

    Sometimes I think there's too much emphasis on a series being "relevant" and less on whether it's any good. A series can be relevant and still be a pile of crap; and I certainly think there's room for the inverse. I think there's a place for series that don't strap themselves into current continuity and just tell stories. In fact, I think it's kind of necessary; sometimes I just want a break from the ongoing "saga" of the DC Universe and to just read, say, a Batman story set at some time that's fun. Batman Confidential's served that purpose, for me. I've enjoyed more than a couple collections from it.

    So I personally think that's not the right way to go; there SHOULD be series like Superman/Batman, Batman Confidential and Brave and the Bold. I like my continuity, but I kind of hate the notion that everything must be beholden to it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, I agree that there should be some fun books which are not necessarily bound by continuity. At the same time there should be some quality of the series....IMHO since Jeph Loeb left, I have yet to see a consistent standard creative team, though the leaving team of Green/Johnson does come to mind. The only reason I thought SEARCH FOR KRYPTONITE was silly was that somehow it seemed as if the whole of Krypton shattered and all debris came to earth and earth only as if attracted to Superman, interesting concept no? Loeb stated so in PUBLIC ENEMIES, but nobody has actually come out & addressed the issue....if DOOMSDAY came to earth looking for Superman why can't something else from Krypton do the same...sentient kryptonite? I miss SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL...
    IMHO if Superman/Batman needs to be cancelled it would be for quality....I loved 3 of Loeb's 4 arcs (somehow I disliked SUPERGIRL),and Verheiden's run was boring so was TORMENT...and I HATE the format of HCs without dustjackets WTF DC you're already charging 20$....

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was really unimpressed by the Search for Kryptonite story because of two main pieces of off characterization - Lana Lang and more offensively Amanda Waller. With a bit of editorial coordination they could have done an early plant of General Sam Lane instead of using Waller as a meglomaniacal Superman hater.

    I am a bit intrigued by the upcoming event revisiting in this book. iFanboy gave a huge recommendation to the recent re-examination of Batman's death by Winick.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Personally I love the format of the Superman/Batman hardcovers without dustjackets. In fact, I'd prefer if all hardcovers would switch to that format, since the dustjackets don't serve any purpose that I can see.

    I agree that it's not a big deal whether a series is in continuity or not, especially one like this. We already have multiple books for Batman and Superman, so I just want to see good stories, not necessarily anything that ties into the current state of the characters or the DC universe. However, the quality of the stories might be a bigger issue. I loved Green/Johnson run, but everything after has been pretty subpar until the recent "Worship" story which was solid and had some great art by Jerry Ordway. I still wouldn't want this series to get cancelled though, since I can just pick up the stories I'm interested in and ignore the rest. Wish they'd continue on with hardcovers though...

    ReplyDelete
  5. One thing in your review at the end struck me as something we, as collection-waiters, may be affecting.

    If things like Superman/Batman and Batman Confidential are an out for DC to showcase writers and artists, are we hurting those artists and writers' chances by waiting for the collections? If DC test runs a writer to see if s/he can come up with rivitting stories that sell issues in other titles by using Superman/Batman as an out-of-continuity, lore-be-damned sort of way then wouldn't the sale of that issue reflect that artist or writer's chances of getting to run a main-line comic?

    It's 2AM Idle Thoughts, but it's still something your review made me wonder. Especially because I loved Search for Kryptonite (and want to see more of nerdy Japanese Teenager Toyman).

    ReplyDelete