REVIEW: SUPERMAN & BATMAN GENERATIONS
A few months back I was sitting around day dreaming about comics. I hit on the question has Batman ever led the League of Assassins? It must have happened at some point? Even if only in a Elseworlds comic. So I took to Twitter to find an answer. Naturally there was only one place to go, that was comics encyclopedia Mike Zapcic of AMC’s Comic Book Men. (@michaelzapcic). I got my answer of course it had happened in a very well told story called Superman & Batman Generations by John Byrne. Thanks Mike.
You know that site where you get to vote on what Lego sets get made? Well DC should have one for their next animated feature. If they did Generations would get my vote. The basic premise for this Elseworlds story is Batman and Superman actually having family ties to pass the mantle down to from generation to generation. Essentially and Bats/Supes family album of a story. The story goes from 1939 moving forward ten years at a time before the final instalment jumps to 2919. As well as using the ten year jumps as a story device Byrne also uses them to pay homage to the Batman and Superman comics of those eras.
The original release of this series was as a four issue mini which covers 980 years of story. It does well not to get bogged down in things such as origins and whys and whens. The jump forward in ten years will often start already in the thick of the action. Naturally the story starts in 1939. Both heroes are well established in Metropolis and Gotham respectively. In fact the opening story is Bruce and Clarks first meeting as well as Batman and Superman encountering for the first time. Oh the coincidence! Byrne plays up the innocence of comics in this era. There is lots of thought balloons containing the likes of “Could it be?” and “Hmmm I wonder…”
Of course the heroes end the tale as friends and the closing caption is ‘The beginning.’ So when we get to 1949 their friendship is established and they help each other, know each others villains and so on. They still don’t know each others alter ego. 1959 we get Bat mite and Mxyzptlk a nod to the more sci-fi elements of both comics of the era. Despite being as the subtitle suggest ‘An Imaginary Tale’ it does something comics rarely ever does and has the titular characters age. They get married, divorced, have offspring. The offspring become the heroes and the essence of the story is the Kent/Wayne family tree. As the family tree expands in the 1979 section the story does become more convoluted. I just saw this as a take on comics at the time. Obviously too between 1979-89 things get darker in tone. This is where the Bruce as head of The League occurs. This could after all just be a precursor to Grant Morrisons Batman Inc.
Being in the Elseworlds setting mean Byrne doesn’t hold back on continuity changes. Spoilers… Get ready to say goodbye to long time supporting stalwarts Alfred and Perry! There is also a good spin on the death of a Robin which is delivered with a visual homage. Between the 1969-89 stories John Byrne delivers possibly one of the most brutal villainous plots ever put to paper. You might be reaching for the tissues. Even with it being an alternate reality it still hits you pretty hard. Although predominantly a Superman story Byrne shows a good handle of Batman. In the 1939 story he portrays him as arrogant. But he does make a note this is a mask for his ‘real identity.’ Bruce’s arrogant wealthy businessman contrasts well with Supermans alter ego of working man Clark Kent.
As Superman doesn’t age like a regular human Byrne seems to have fun evolving Batman/Bruce through the years. He does a good interpretation of a Bill Finger Batman and later turns the cape and cowl from blue to black, evoking David Mazzucchelli. For me the final story in 2919 does feel a little tacked on. It spends most of its time retelling events that predate the start of this comic. It allows Byrne to write a Superboy tale. Which is interesting because when he relaunched The Man of Steel in the late eighties he done away with Superboy in Clarks youth. Maybe this is him having his cake and eating it? There is also an interesting take on Robin in this flash back. But for me this last chapter feels rushed. It would have been better having a stronger ending in the 1999 story.
As well as being a very enjoyable read what Byrne does really well is lay in the deep easter egg moments. The best being Clark and Lois first born being a boy named Joel. While Bruce gives his the unimaginative name of Bruce Junior! More unfortunate is that he is referred to as B.J. Poor kid no wonder he became the brooding Bat. In the 1949 section the phrase ‘Old chum’ makes an appearance. Obviously pre DC wanting to distance themselves from the Adam West era. Generations was originally released in 1999. Just as comics were finding their feet again after the market crash. I wonder how much the ideas put forward here effected future comics?
After all we get Dick Grayson as Batman with Bruce’s own flesh and blood as Robin. I also like how Batmans first wife and mother of Junior is never revealed. B.J’s blonde hair may point us in the direction Selina Kyle. All in all Generations is a good read. Although it didn’t cover the area I was most interesting in in great detail it didn’t put me off my enjoyment. I would recommend it for fans or either Batman and Superman and even fans of alternate realities in general.
About Ian Wells
Ian currently runs the THEBLOGOFCOMICSHOTTOPICS blog. Check him out on Twitter @IanWells87.
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Together Richard and Shawn formed the podcast The Language of Bromance and from there it has been nothing but fun. The duo laugh about things they go through, stories in the news and even getting serious discussing net neutrality along with other issues. Every so often their friendship turns to a bitter rivalry with their nerdiest creation the draft episodes. An original take on a best of or a top 10 list. The draft episodes are done like an NFL Draft 7 rounds where Richard and Shawn flip-flop picks on various topics.
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