Batman and Superman: World’s Finest

December 23, 2008

If you mix this volume up with another one called, well, Superman and Batman: World’s Finest, I don’t blame you. That older one from the early 1990s just got a new deluxe release, making the reference “You know, that recent one” all the more unhelpful. And this one has as writer Karl Kesel, who was the penciller on the last volume (or the recent old volume), so you can see why I’m worried. I really like this one — dare I say it? — more. In fact, I want to name it my current “Whatever happened to this book?” book.

Yeea, whatever happened to this book, people? Nobody (not even DC) seems to remember it, and yet it has that old-school scope and angle that should pull any comic geek back into first love. The title recounts the first 10 years of the relationship between Batman and Superman in 10 chapters (duh!). Its idea is that simple, but Kesel manages to evoke an astonishing lot with it. Nothing is left to chance: his story is so well-framed that, as you push towards the end, you can see the pieces of Batman’s past, Superman’s past, and Kesel’s own plot fall together, one at a time. And you do go to sleep soundly after that.

According to Kesel, Batman and Superman’s first meeting was a tragic one, with a failure to work together resulting in a senseless death both felt guilty about. It led them to meet each other yearly to find meaning through it and to remind themselves “Never again”. Along the way, both learnt to look beyond their own noses, read others’ characters and intentions better, and strengthen each other’s beliefs.  In the tradition of the best revisionist writing, Kesel even convinces us how each must have been there at some of the other’s defining moments, giving us striking new twists to familiar old stories.

My only qualm with such brilliant work comes down to something as dorky as its timeline. I do want to think that Kesel is right when he considers himself, in his introduction, “pretty good at comic-character history”. But his story has the decade down as follows: after Year 1’s “Hello hello — oh no, did we cause that?”, the two heroes gave each other a brief tour of their own cities the next year. Then, in Year 3, we hear that Batman found a sidekick, a move Superman (mis?-) interpreted as a result of their successful team-up. In Year 5, Batman got Superman to be Batgirl’s external examiner for crime-fighting. Barely 2 years later, Robin 1/Dick Grayson had become Nightwing, Robin 2/Jason Todd was dead, and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon was crippled.

Now, did we miss something there? Or let’s try this from another angle: we first hear of a conspiracy to clone Superman in Year 4, but, by Year 7, the Man of Steel was already relating his whole trauma of having killed 3 Kryptonians, which led him to a destructive alternative life as Gangbuster. The next year, Lex Luthor died from cancer, but, from Superman lore, we know that he had simply moved his brain to a younger cloned body. In Year 9, Azrael famously replaced a spine-broken Batman, but, in Year 10, the Dark Knight was back in action as if he spent a year’s holiday at the Bahamas.

Speaking as one who has had physiotherapy for knee pain for over a year, I assume that one just doesn’t recover from a damaged back that quickly. So I don’t have Bruce Wayne’s physique, resources, or connections, and, if I had, I might be out there beating up everyone in Arkham Asylum again in no time too. But Batman went solo for only 2 years, Dick Grayson’s Robin lasted as long but much longer than Barbara’s Batgirl, and Jason went in and out only for a few months? And cloning technology in 4 years? Come on, help me out here!

I feel the length of my excruciating teenage and young adult years squashed into a mere few dozen months. Suddenly, I feel old because Batman and Superman seem to be doing more in a shorter span of time.  Don’t get me wrong: this book’s journey is thoroughly enjoyable even if it is puzzling when thoughts of real time invariably snap in. Year 6’s appearances of Bat-Mite and Mr Mxyzptlk take the cake in sheer rollicking fun, with the latter pointing out meta-textually: “And what, exactly, is this Boy Wonder’s relationship with Batman?” The imps get the best lines too in summing up the characters’ neuroses: calling them “twisted”, they laughed over how Robin only wanted to be seen as an adult, Lois as one of the boys, Batman as superhuman, and Superman as human.

Even the eventual suggestion that Bat-Mite might be imaginary, the result of Mr Mxyzptlk’s use of Overdog’s imagination, is an all-too-intelligent sleight of hand. And, ah, Year 9 — resembling that famous year in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman when Morpheus and Hob Gadling didn’t meet — is another superb moment! Kesel’s Batman went looking in vain for his friend during the reign of the Supermen while Superman went looking later for Batman when Azrael was standing in. Sheer genius stroke! And I can go on, but I don’t live on Keselian time…

Gweek gives each year a star — so that makes it 10. But let’s minus 1 for the imperfections, making this a 9.

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2 Responses to “Batman and Superman: World’s Finest”

  1. F Says:

    Gweek’s back! Yay! And how did you get the snow to fall?

  2. Gweek Says:

    There’s an option under appearance for snowfall: won’t last beyond 4th Jan though. Happy Christmas, F!


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