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Superman & Batman: Generations: An Imaginary Tale. By John Byrne. New York: DC Comics, 1999. 192p. $14.95. ISBN 1-56389-605-2.

Superman & Batman: Generations


Adults, teens, older kids; superhero violence

NOTE: This book collects issues #1-4 of Generations.

Spanning 1929 to 2919, this epic book tells the tale of Superman and Batman, from their first meeting in 1929 to their "summit" in the far future. The book actually starts in 1939 with their first formal meeting as the two heroes at the Metropolis World's Fair, battling a nasty robot controlled by the Ultra-Humanite. By 1949 they're colleagues helping one another in the struggle against the Joker and Lex Luthor. Both are married--Superman to Lois Lane, and Batman to a woman whose identity is never revealed. Both also have children, though when Lois was menaced by Luthor, she was exposed to gold Krytonite, which removes the unborn child's powers and makes Superman resolve to keep his hero identity a secret from the child (Joel). In 1959 the two heroes have to deal with the Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk, while Lois discovers that her second child, Kara, has inherited her father's powers to some degree; she gives the girl a special amulet that suppresses the powers. In 1969, having found out that his dad is Superman, Joel is killed in Vietnam; Bruce Wayne talks to the ghost of Alfred while Dick Grayson, as Batman, is trying to capture "Joker, Jr."; and Lois is diagnosed with cancer. In 1979 Kara and Bruce's son Bruce Jr. are scheduled for marriage even as they fight baddies side-by-side; Clark (who isn't aging much) is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Planet; Lois is trying to stay alive long enough to witness the marriage; old Bruce Wayne confronts Ra's al Ghul and enters the Lazarus Pit with him; and a mysterious adversary plots the destruction of everything Superman holds dear. In 1989, Superman is witnessed murdering Lex Luthor and voluntarily enters the Phantom Zone. In 1999, Batman (Bruce Jr.) confronts who he thinks is Ra's al Ghul but who turns out to be Bruce Wayne, rendered immortal by the Lazarus Pit; Bruce turns Ra's's old organization (now doing good deeds instead of bad) over to his son and resumes the mantle of Batman; he then frees Superman, who ends up leaving Earth. Flash forward to 2919, where Bruce locates Kal; they reminisce about their first meeting in 1929, and together with Lana Lang (don't ask), the three old friends face the future together.

This effort underscores the creative bankruptcy inherent in old superheroes, especially these two. There is nothing left to say about them, so periodically writers reach back and fiddle with their history, as if somehow this makes them seem fresher. How the hell many times can this ground be covered before it gives way and we all get dumped into a bottomless pit? (Answer: it's already happened. Just check out JLA: New World Order.)

If Byrne had dared to examine issues that provided genuine complexities rather than contrived ones, maybe this story would have been better. For example, Kara's eight or nine when she discovers she can float. Her mom gives her an amulet to suppress this ability and tells her never to take it off. Now, can you imagine a child of that age who WOULDN'T take off the amulet and show her floating to her friends--and, more importantly, her brother? Now that would have been an interesting plot twist! Imagine the jealousy, the fights, the anger! But no, no, it takes an assumption of superhuman obedience on the part of Kara and a surreptitious visit by Lex Luthor to inform Joel of who his father is. Or, how about a renewed effort by Superman to find a cure for Lois's cancer? Lois tells Kara that he found cures for other races but not for humans. So this means he should stop trying now? Why isn't he devoting every spare moment to curing Lois? Because such a search doesn't fit into Byrne's plot. (And if his microscopic vision was good enough to recreate a serum from a few leftover drops in a vial, why can't he delicately burn out her cancerous cells? She's still alive for the wedding, so why did she even have to get cancer in the first place? etc. etc.) Admittedly, some of the contrivances are attempts to recreate the feel of comics from the various eras covered, but that excuse isn't adequate for most of the contrivances.

I don't know whether Byrne's long years in the superhero industry have rendered him incapable of (or indifferent to) moving in realistic directions, or whether The Powers That Be at DC have forbidden them. Given the superior quality of his Next Men, I hope the latter; but given the existence of DC titles like Astro City, which at least make an effort to treat heroes more realistically, I'm starting to wonder. Anyway, if there's anyone left in the world who needs another Batman/Superman title, this one is as good as any. The best that can be said about it is that it's harmless.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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