Even though my comics reading habits work out to about 80 percent DC, 20 percent Marvel, and a tiny percentage for a few other publishers (see? research), I do like to think I have a healthy awareness of this particular shortcoming. Another big shortcoming, of course, is my Grumpy Old Coot tendency to wish that everything was as good as it had been in any random year before this one.
I got on this kick thinking about the old Batman/Superman team-up books that were pretty much gone twenty years ago: World’s Finest Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and DC Comics Presents. Of the three, World’s Finest was my favorite, because it guaranteed Batman and Superman, the superheroic ideals. Next was The Brave and the Bold, which guaranteed Batman every issue, and that usually meant more suspenseful stories than the Superman team-ups of DCCP. The exception, and the one time I really paid attention to DC Comics Presents, was a three- or four-part saga in #s 26-29 (Oct. 1980-Jan. 1981), drawn by Jim Starlin, which introduced Mongul. The guest stars were Green Lantern, J’Onn J’Onzz, Supergirl, and the Spectre, and the highlight was Superman and Supergirl’s takedown of Warworld in #28. The kicker was, Supergirl was lost at the end of #28, and next up was the Spectre, so things didn’t look too good for her. Really fantastic cosmic stuff, which actually tested the heroes’ abilities, or so I seem to remember.
Anyway, the point is, Superman team-ups tended not to work because Superman was almost too powerful for his solo adventures. Today, since he’s less powerful, maybe a Superman team-up book would be fun, but most of the other heroes tend to revere Superman, and although I have not experienced it myself, constant adulation might get a little old, even if you are the one being adored.
Conversely, though, a new Batman team-up book might be fun precisely because all the other heroes would either be scared of him, or secretly thinking he’s a tool, or both. If visiting Superman is like going to see Santa at the mall, visiting Batman is like going to the dentist – and not the happy-happy dentist with the toy chest, but the one who works out of a trailer, thinks anaesthetic is for sissies, and would just as soon be left alone. A Batman team-up book would have to be done from the guest’s perspective, because issue after issue of Batman going from disapproval to grudging acceptance in 22 pages would definitely get old.
As for World’s Finest, it has come back, kind of, in the form of Superman/Batman, a title short on imagination but apparently beloved by focus groups. I’m not going to dwell on my least favorite part of S/B’s format (dueling first-person narration), so instead I will note that it has tended towards highlighting the differences between blasé, trusting Superman and practical, paranoid Batman. Every issue talks about how dissimilar they are and how they manage still to overcome it all to remain secretly close chums. Imagine the nightmare if “The Odd Couple” or the average buddy-cop movie had its protagonists talking constantly about their conflicted feelings toward the other. (“I admire Oscar, and would trust him with my life, but I do wish he would make his bed so I didn’t have to do it every day. Still, having lost his parents to crime, it is so hard for him to trust in a person’s basic goodness….”)
What does this have to do with the end of the year? Just that fond memories don’t mean that some old comics need revival, because their times may actually have passed. With regard to the Superman/Batman relationship, I also feel compelled to add the recurring caveat that It Could All Change After Infinite Crisis, which is another reason to be glad 2005 will soon be in the rear-view mirror.
If I don’t get a chance to say it before 11:59 EST tomorrow, have a safe and happy New Year’s!