Retro Review: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

“Public Enemies”
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Ed McGuiness, Dexter Vine and Tim Sale
Color Artists: Dave Stewart and Mark Chiarello
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Review by Bryant Lucas

Alright Dark Knight News junkies, as I’m sure you know, we won’t be getting any new comics for the foreseeable future, but fear not citizens, Dark Knight News has you covered! Moving forward, we will be cracking open our collective vaults and digging out some oldies-but-goldies from DC’s catalog. So, grab your copy of American Idiot, breakout those low-rise boot-cut jeans, and get ready to travel back to the early 2000s, as we reassess the first volume of Superman/Batman: “Public Enemies.”

Summary

The year is 2003, DC hasn’t had a proper Crisis in almost a decade, and Batman and Superman haven’t featured as a two-man team in a title since World’s Finest Comics ended in 1986. Currently, Lex Luthor is President of the United States. Yes, you read that correctly.

The volume opens with Superman scrapping with the cyborg, Metallo. After escaping Metropolis, the man with the kryptonite heart makes his way to Gotham to recover his original body from a graveyard. Both Batman and Superman confront him, and upon doing so, Superman is shot with a kryptonite bullet. The two heroes retreat to the Batcave where Alfred performs surgery on Superman. Then the World’s Finest Team is visited by a version of Superman from the future (who looks suspiciously like the Superman from Kingdom Come). This future Superman tries to murder our heroes; however, he disappears before he can accomplish his mission. Nevertheless, he leaves a warning that unless Superman and Batman change the future, then everyone will die except Superman.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, President Luthor is being briefed about a large kryptonite asteroid that is on course for Earth.

After the disappearance of the future Superman, the World’s Finest are met with troubling news: Lex Luthor has announced on TV the imminent arrival of the kryptonite asteroid and thereby places a billion-dollar bounty for Superman’s capture – dead or alive. It’s this announcement that drives the narrative of this arc; an arc that leads to the inevitable clash between the World’s Finest and the President of the United States.

Quaint Innovation

For those of you who have followed my writing for Dark Knight News, you’ll know that I’m reviewing the current Batman/Superman title. Hence when I learned that DC was suspending its monthly titles due to the current apocalypse, I thought it might be fun to revisit the granddaddy of the Batman/Superman concept.

As I mentioned earlier, Batman and Superman hadn’t co-starred in a title since World’s Finest Comics, which started as a title featuring DC’s two most popular characters but eventually turned into an anthology team-up title by the time it ended In 1986. During the early days of World’s Finest ComicsBatman and Superman were treated as buddies essentially. Silver Age Batman and Superman never fought each other; therefore, one of the major changes that Loeb brought to this title’s concept was a sense of tension between these long-time friends and allies. This tension is captured best in Loeb’s most prominent innovation – the dual narration.

While it might seem quaint now, Loeb’s idea was radical at the time. Each hero has an internal narration signified by a different colored captions. This narrative technique allowed him to use Batman and Superman as foils throughout the story, playing off their differences to create tension and conflict within the narrative. Essentially, Loeb established a trope that both Greg Pak and Joshua Williamson used in each of their tenures on Batman/Superman. 

More-Muscles McGuinness

I’m not going to lie, it took me a minute to adjust to Ed McGuiness’ work, but after a few pages, I’ve decided that it works well. Part of my initial problem was the artist’s love of muscles. Seriously, McGuinness draws muscles on top of muscles. It’s a little jarring at first. While everyone is not only distinctly ripped, they are also extremely stylized, which makes this book quite charming. McGuinness’ pencils are wonderfully cartoony. He’s unlike anyone else in the comics industry; his work is delightfully unmistakable.

Another aspect of McGuinness’ work that’s particularly noteworthy is his panelling; he’s a master of page layouts. His action sequences often vary from the traditional square or rectangle panels to more creative layouts, which add to the dynamic nature of this title. Also, McGuinness tends to use mirrored paneling to reinforce Loeb’s foiling of Superman and Batman. Again, this is a technique that was recycled by Jae Lee during the New 52 incarnation of this title.

Conclusion

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is a fun walk down memory lane. It’s a hallmark piece for a period in DC’s history that was quite exceptional. Jeph Loeb tells a compelling tale that not only features both Batman and Superman, but also a large swathe of DC’s second and third-tier characters. McGuinness’ art is fun and bombastic, as muscles ripple through every exquisite panel.

Final Verdict: This book is a blast and well-worth revisiting.

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