Saturday, May 23, 2015

Supes in the 90's and Bat's in the 40's.

Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite!: written by Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, and Dan Jurgens; illustrated by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Curt Swan, John Byrne, Bob McLeod, Brett Breeding, Art Thibert, Dennis Janke, Dave Hoover, Kerry Gammill, and Scott Hanna (1990/ Collected 1996): An entertaining, short story arc from the various Superman titles in 1990. Why they decided to go with a title that spells out 'KKK' in acrostic is a really good question, though. 

Coming four years after John Byrne and company had rebooted Superman into a less god-like version of himself, Krisis offers us a Superman who already seems as comfortable as an old shoe. And there's nothing wrong with that. The art is also solid, workmanlike, no-fuss stuff. The three writers give us a Superman who's as noble as ever, faced with a situation in which his powers have mysteriously vanished because of Red Kryptonite.

As there is no Red Kryptonite in the rebooted world of Superman post-1986, this offers an intellectual challenge for the Man of Steel. Not only does he need to find out why he's a normal human now, he also finds himself obligated to continue fighting super-villains by whatever means necessary. My only regret is that the writers didn't figure out how to bring back the Super-mobile, a toy from the late 1970's that was forced upon the Superman creators of the time as something that just had to appear in the comic books. See also the Spider-mobile. 

The supporting cast is likeably constructed here, from the tough Lois Lane to the mostly competent Jimmy Olsen and onwards to relatively new cast addition Professor Hamilton. The main villains of the piece are Lex Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk. Luthor is dying of Kryptonite exposure because he's been wearing a green K ring on his hand for several years to ward off Superman. Mr. Mxyzptlk has undergone an unfortunate redesign in the post-1986 Superman universe: the skinny, almost snake-like look wouldn't survive much longer, thank Rao. 

Along the way, we do get a terrific joke that brings Superman reboot co-architect John Byrne back to the Man of Steel after a two-year absence with a funny riff on alternate universes and Byrne's work on the Fantastic Four prior to his work on the Superman comics. Recommended.

Batman: The Dark Knight Archives Volume 2: written by Bill Finger; illustrated by Bob Kane, George Roussos, Fred Ray, Jerry Robinson, and others (1941/collected 1993): Bob Kane worked out a sweet legal deal in 1939 with what would become DC Comics. It got him sole credit in perpetuity as the creator of Batman. This also screwed over writer Bill Finger, who by all accounts came up with about 90% of Batman's recognizable features. 

Kane generally got full credit on art and story for Batman stories until the 1960's. It's not entirely clear whether he actually did anything other than supervise the stories included here from 1941 issues of Batman magazine. So it goes. 

The stories collected here are interesting in a historical sense -- this is not the hyper-competent Batman who has really only existed in comic books since Frank MIller's 1985-86 miniseries The Dark Knight Returns. Instead, he's more of a costumed adventurer with an incredible propensity for getting knocked unconscious by everyone he fights. 

Seriously, post-concussion syndrome should really be the Golden Age Batman's Kryptonite. That and Robin the Boy Wonder's ability to get taken hostage at inopportune moments. They're stories for kids (as, indeed, most stories about super-heroes should be), capably illustrated by Kane (?), Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, and others. 

Bill Finger's pulpy inventiveness was already in full swing by 1941. My favourite example here involves Batman fighting a professor who's been exposed to too much radium radiation. He may be a mad, highly radioactive scientist, but his heart was in the right place: he wanted to cure disease. The Joker makes three appearances in the course of the collection (which spans one year of comic books in 1941). Yes, he was already being over-used. But while he's kooky, he's also a homicidal criminal And, as always, something of a dick. Recommended.

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