Sunday, 16 August 2009

Whatever Happened To...?

It's not often I get excited about mainstream comics these days, but a pair of releases from DC had me pre-ordering away earlier in the summer. I couldn't even wait for the Titan editions so probably overpaid horribly to import these:

Batman & Superman

The Gaiman Batman story has come out of some Grant Morrison headline-seeking nonsense about Bruce Wayne being "dead", but fortunately it's not linked to that at all. It's sort of a generic last Batman story apart from the point is clearly Batman will never need one. More accurately, Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader? is about Batman the cultural phenomenon rather than Batman's death.

It's an affecting piece of work, very metaphysical but with a genuine emotional core. It's also got lots of references to Batman's entire history, but all weaved in so that you don't need to get them for it to make sense.

The supporting stories in the graphic novel are in a similar vein, but alas fairly inconsequential. The Riddler Secret Origin is a love letter to Adam West-style adventures. The Batman Black & White strip is a one joke affair (and a rather sorry joke at that). Only Poison Ivy's Secret Origin is up to Gaiman's usual standard, and it's probably no coincidence that this also the only story in the entire volume that's actually about a character rather than an icon.

Of course, everything but the title Batman strip is old, and absolutely everything in the Superman volume is from the 80s. That's not a problem though as Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow contains the entirety of Alan Moore's landmark work on the character. It was during the period when he was reshaping comics into his own image, and as you'd expect the content is still amazingly good.

The title story provides a proper conclusion for Silver Age Superman's adventures, and actually finishes them in a way pretty reminiscient of the conclusion of Watchmen. Even non-Superman lovers like myself have to admit this is one of hell of a strip.

The supporting features are just as good. A Swamp Thing / Superman crossover that really packs a punch, followed by the sublime For The Man Who Has Everything, which sees Supes plunged into a Better Than Life style situation where Krypton wasn't destroyed, so he grew up as Kal-El and married an actress. Dave Gibbons art too. Wonderful.

I'd read all these stories before as part of a previous Moore collection, but that also included his work on lesser strips such as Green Lantern and Vigilante which diluted the impact somewhat. Here at last it's possible to see with absolute certainty that Moore's version of Superman is the greatest ever.

Such a shame really that both Gaiman and Moore are now only really part time comic writers. Gaiman has bigger fish to fry and Moore prefers the obscurity of writing pretty much exclusively (and mostly prose) for Top Shelf, where he has the 100% creative freedom his talent has always demanded.

Comics needs more writers of this quality.

No comments: