Sunday, 14 September 2008

[42] Superman/Batman #51 Review

I've never been too interested in the team-up series Superman/Batman, but after reading a positive review of issue #51 on IGN Comics (and on the look out for more monthlies to read), I decided to pick it up.

It's the first of a two-issue arc called 'Lil' Leaguers', and it is one of the purest doses of fun I've read from a major series. The basic idea is that simpler, cuter versions of Bats, Supes and the Justice League are transported from their alternate dimension into the 'real world' by Mr Mxyzptlk.

What could be a horrific prospect for all stuck-up fanboys turns out to be a perky, fresh diversion. What's more, its quirky humour is grounded in satirical, meta-fictional aspects, revealing a great deal of intelligence behind the writing of Michael Green and Mike Johnson. Many of the best elements of the comic are when the gloomy, grave pretensions of the most recent DCU story arcs are contrasted with an admittedly 'cutesy', yet nonetheless entertaining take. Stand-out moments include the retellings of both Batman and Superman's respective origin stories and a quick-fire dialogue between the characters. The writing is great, and is perfectly-realised by Rafael Albuquerque. His designs for the lil ' heroes explode with personality and charm, and he makes special effort to render the 'real' heroes with a more accepted style. Seeing the marriage of two very distinct artistic traditions is a joy to look at. His composition, too, is impeccable, especially in the introductory pages and the origin stories.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that the primary idea behind this comic is that the current age of comics (filled to bursting with big events, paradigm shifts and continuity obsession) needs to reconnect with the more innocent, newcomer-friendly approach of the Silver Age (a concern expressed by Robert Kirkman, amongst others). The alternate-Batman is a brilliant pastiche of Frank Miller's Dark Knight, at one point declaring 'I'm the goshdarn Batman' (bringing full focus on the shallow use of language in determining content - a very topical concern in Miller's case). An interesting binary is set up between the 'real' world of the 'adult' heroes, and the 'alternate' world of the 'baby' heroes. This, too, works to interrogate the style and gospel of the DCU, reflecting back on the concept of a 'superhero' comic aspiring to realism. But equally, as seen in the alternate origin stories for the lil' leaguers, a cutesy, Teletubbies-ish approach, is simply absurd.

It is refreshing to read something that is so unabashedly entertaining. It is sad to read on many comments threads that people will pass it up because it is too 'kiddie-fied', as the parody is rich with relevant issues. As with any good parody, it teases the audience into looking at the genre in question with a critical eye (something lost on recent spoof movies, like the '...Movie' series). Hopefully, the next issue will cement this 'Lil' League' story into a noteworthy gem.

Superman/Batman #51 is out now. Thanks to The Nerdy Bird for some of the scans used.