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In a sense I bought this book by mistake. I was looking for anything illustrated by Shane Davis after being so impressed by his work in Superman Earth One. An Amazon search brought me to another book in this series ( The Search for Kryptonite ) , and I never even noticed that book one had a different illustrator. I did take the time to read SWST's review here on dooyoo though, so I was fairly confident that this would be a worthwhile purchase.
Superman/ Batman Public enemies brings us a new crime fighting duo. Pairing Superman and Batman really could have gone either way in my opinion, but they have really made this combination work in this series, and in a way these two combined have a completeness neither one has their own. Apart from being superheroes, Superman and Batman have little in common. Superman's powers were a gift, a part of his birthright, something he never had to work or struggle to achieve. He is often called the big blue boy scout, and this description is fairly accurate - he is the golden boy - all good completely lacking in a dark side. There never seems to be any question of the fact that his powers must be used for good. He is a superior being and apparently has superior morals as well. He is driven by pure good - which can be hard to relate to for us lesser mortals.
Batman on the other hand has wealth as his birthright, but he has trained and worked for his powers ( of course all those gadgets don't hurt). He is driven by vengeance though - a darkly human emotion I'm sure most of us can relate to on some level. Batman is tormented, but out of this the good rises through. In this team, Superman is the conscience, while Batman the hard cold voice of reality. The two balance each other out very well. In addition to Batman and Superman though, Public enemies will bring a number of other heroes from the DC lineup. Captain Atom plays a reasonable part. Green Lantern, Major Force, Power Girl, Hawkman, Captain Marvel ( yes he is D.C.) and a few others make a brief appearance. We also get a a small group that I would like to see more of together: Superboy, Supergirl, Batgirl, Robin, Nightwing, and even Krypto. As if this were not enough, there are two Supermen as well. This may sound as if the story will jumbled up by two many characters, but their appearances are brief and it works well.
I don't like to go too deeply into the storyline as I hate spoilers, so I will just try to give a very general idea of the setting. This book is narrated in the first person, but from two perspectives with Superman's thoughts in a gold box and Batman's in blue. The book opens with flash backs from their childhood, showing vastly different backgrounds. The contrasts are shown in such a way that the childhood of each hero gives you a real glimpse of the man they will become.
The first scene with our heroes grown is a battle between Superman and Metallo, which leaves Superman seriously injured. While recovering from his battle, Superman and Batman get a strange visitor. The next battle is between Superman and Superman - but who is this man of steel who claims to have come from the future - and what exactly does his warning mean?
Meanwhile Lex Luther is the president of the USA ( and here I thought George Bush was a bit scary). A giant asteroid made entirely of Kryptonite is on it's way towards earth, with the probable outcome being the extinction of all life on the planet. Rather than working together, Lex sees this as his chance for revenge on Superman, declaring him an outlaw and sending other superheroes to arrest him. So not only does the pair have to outwit Lex Luther, they must fight against many of their own as well - all while the clock is ticking for the planet earth.
This was bought for my son, age 7. He really enjoyed the appearances from the other superheroes and the overall story was action packed enough to keep his interest all the way through. He especially liked Captain Atom, and enjoyed the appearance of Metallo as well. I will note though, this book is intended for a much older audience and it is very violent, tense at times and appears to have at least one death, in addition to showing a scene from Bruce Wayne's childhood with the young Bruce kneeling before his murdered parents in pools of blood.
As an a adult, I would never have started reading comic books again if not for my son. And no matter how much one tries to make it sound more adult with titles like "graphic novel" this is still to me, very much a comic book. I think you have to suspend maturity a bit to truly enjoy a comic book. Of course the whole premise of Superheroes is ridiculous - but it is fun. I enjoyed this book very much and think it would be enjoyed by most adults who enjoy this genre. This sets the scene for a new team, and we have already started to pick up more books in this series. For the most part, these are a lovely way for my son and I to spend time together at bed time - but I will caution that some books in this series are less appropriate for very young readers, as I will make more clear in my next review.
Finally as this is a graphic novel, no review would be complete without mention of the art work. While I do prefer the work of Shane Davis, I must admit, the artwork in this book is of a very high standard, and worthy of the more grown up term of graphic novel as opposed to the more typical comic book art. In particular, I love his depiction of Krypto. I only wish we got to see a bit more of him. For those who are not up on Superman and the DC Universe, Krypto is Superman's dog. This is printed on a good quality gloss paper which really brings out the best in it's illustrations as well.
I have read 3 books in this series so far, with a fourth on it's way. Of the three, " The Search for Kryptonite" remains my favourite, as it in fact my favourite of all the graphic novel/ comic books I have read so far. But I still think this has very easily earned a 5 star rating and would happily recommend it to Superman or Batman fans regardless of their age. I am delighted by the fact that these books have made reading such a joy for my son, and I do think more use of graphic novels and comics could go a long way in encouraging boys to become readers. True it isn't great literature - but I believe by reading these books now, my son will build the skills that will allow him to read anything he likes as an adult. An avid comic book reader is still a reader regardless of your opinion of comics - and in an area where illiteracy is rampant - the fact that these books have made son really want to read makes them well worth the purchase price in my opinion. This is quite reasonably priced at £7.69 new, with used copies often going as low as £5.
Finally I have to add a thank you to SWST for his excellent review of this book, which was a major deciding factor in my decision to purchase this.
Superman and Batman have had a chequered history. Originally portrayed in the comics as best friends, Frank Miller took them down a darker path, making them bitter opponents in The Dark Knight Returns. In Public Enemies, writer Jeph Loeb takes them down the middle route, casting them as respectful, but uneasy allies. It's a mantle which suits them both well.
The plot sees Superman and Batman declared public enemies by President Lex Luthor, prompting a whole range of superheroes and villains hunt them and claim the $1 billion dollar bounty on their head. In the meantime, a meteor made of Kryptonite is on a deadly collision course with Earth.
Public Enemies isn't the most original tale in the Batman/Superman canon. The threat of a kryptonite meteor has been done many times, as has the idea of pitting two of DC's leading heroes against the rest of the DC universe. Yet Public Enemies still proves an interesting read, and one of the better titles of recent years.
The reason for this is Jeph Loeb's superb writing. Loeb has written some outstanding Superman and Batman titles, so was the obvious choice for a cross-over effort. He brings a more subtle element to the writing, which helps to initially grab, and then sustain interest. Whilst the basic storyline might be relatively simple, he introduces enough new elements and twists to make the story worthwhile.
It's also immediately obvious that Loeb knows the two main characters and their history. He brings together all the key elements of their characters and refuses to compromise on them for the convenience of the story. Superman and Batman are two very different heroes with completely different outlooks. This is something which is not always captured, but Loeb exploits it superbly, showing how the individual approaches are more effective in some circumstances than others. At the same time, Loeb cleverly uses a split narrative. So, within a single panel of artwork, we get Batman's viewpoint on the situation, then Superman's slightly different take on the same events. It's an interesting approach, and one which works well.
This is a great title whichever of the two heroes you supposedly prefer. Both are given the chance to show their strengths and their weaknesses. The trouble with previous cross-over titles is that one of the heroes always takes the lead and dominates the story; if you're not a fan of that character, it can be annoying that your favourite has to take a back seat. Here, Loeb carefully crafts the tale to give both equal billing. Their relationship is exactly how it should be - grudgingly respect of each other's ability, tempered by disapproval of their methods and a little wariness. This is the first Superman/Batman crossover title where I've actually liked Superman as much as Batman - and that's credit to Loeb's characterisation.
Loeb also deserves credit for bringing in a whole host of other DC characters. Firstly, this helps set the story in a wider context, showing the far-reaching impact of the events in turning former friends into enemies. The other advantage is that it gives minor characters (those not strong enough to support their own title) the chance to feature in a good storyline. The plethora of characters might initially be a little confusing to some, but Loeb generally handles their introduction well. He brings them in gradually for the benefit of newcomers, without annoying old hands by providing too much back-story.
If a lot of care and attention has been paid to the characterisation and storyline, the same can also be said of the artwork. Ed McGuinness has a proven track record and doesn't disappoint. Complementing the tone of the story, McGuinness portrays Superman and Batman in different, but appropriate ways, which accentuates their different outlook and approach. For example, Superman is usually featured in lighter colours, whilst Batman often remains in the shadows. Colour and light are used effectively throughout to create an excellent atmosphere and the panels always retain a very clear, professional look. The artwork is imaginative without ever being silly, excessive or overboard (which some recent Batman titles have suffered from). Loeb and McGuinness clearly understand each other and see the characters in the same way, giving the whole book a consistent look and feel.
This is definitely one of the better Batman/Superman titles of recent years. If you've not read Batman/Superman comics before (or if you haven't read any for a while) you might experience some initial confusion at once-familiar characters. Arch-criminal Lex Luthor is now President of the USA, for example (don't worry; he's still a bad guy!) To understand the title fully, you might want to go off and briefly read up on what has happened in the DC Universe over the past 5-10 years, but it's not critical, and you'll easily be able to follow the plot if you choose not to.
I've read a number of these Superman/Batman titles recently (collected from the comics) and, with one or two exceptions, finally feel that the characters have the team-up tales they deserve. Public Enemies perfectly captures what the relationship between these two should be like - a wary and uneasy alliance. An excellent graphic novel: well written, well drawn and well worth reading.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness
Available new from £12.99 or second hand from around £4
© Copyright SWSt 2008