Say what you will, there is something classic about teaming up Superman and Batman. Complementary in characters and strengths, stories with both heroes can do things and go places that are quite different from the individual titles. A case can even be made, that it is when the characters become like each other — when Batman goes to outer space to fight aliens, for instance — that quality dips drastically. In difference is strength.
DC has been well aware of this for decades, naturally. The old World’s Finest comic was in publication for decades and had an entirely different dynamic from the various team titles, Justice League of America and so forth. The current incarnation, more simply titled Superman/Batman, often suffers from many of the modern comic book ailments like decompression and the four or six-issue straitjacket dictated by the need to republish in trade paper. Another persistent flaw is a weakness in the endings — why does a great start frequently tail off into mild disappointment? A kick-ass ending should be as essential as spandex. I wonder if this does not stem from how the story is sold to the editorial staff; are the writers hoping that a great ending will just appear as they go along? (When will they learn that this happens about as often as a new roof spontaneously generating from the rafters of your house? You want a roof, you have to plan it, support it with the proper framing, and pay for it.)
However, hope springs eternal, and the start of a new arc in S/B is always an occasion for excitement and pleasurable anticipation. #57 is a fine example of the strengths of the title. All the nonsense happening in the main Superman and Batman titles is rightly ignored. Superman is just that tad too godlike for his own good, and gets into deep trouble — oh, I do hope that monster that is about to eat him is a dust mite, I really do. Batman comes to the rescue and in spite of all his personality issues is too smart not to call upon allies as needed — the reason it is always great to see Robin with him is that somebody needs to be there making the comments that we would be making. (Surely somebody has already done an analysis of how often Batman’s persona is actually contradicted by his actions.) Plot and action move along briskly without much visible padding. There is a cunning doubling-down of the crisis, everything becoming much more urgent on the second-to-last page. Whatever their failures, the creators have rarely missed the cliff hanger that ensures return readers.
In other words, the core problem in this arc seems to be situational — the heroes are in a situation of peril. This is actually less revelatory than when the core problem is rooted in character, as in the previous S/B arc (which I reviewed here — in which Superman’s powers were accidentally transferred to Batman). Ideally everything happens to reveal and develop character, which means that all the problems should be rooted in the characters themselves. Would Hamlet end the same way, if Prince Hamlet were not the hero of the play? Of course not — substitute in Jabba the Hutt and see what happens.
However, a situational problem can also be highly useful, and is in many ways easier to manipulate. That old glamor steals over me. This time they will indeed marshal plot to reveal Superman’s and Batman’s character, grinding it all up to a climax and a kick-ass ending. Mysteriously, there is more than one issue of S/B this month, so I don’t have long to wait. If it is worthwhile I will report back.