Superman/Batman Annual #1
“Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One…”
Writer: Joe Kelly
Pencils: Ed McGuinness, Ryan Ottley, Sean Murphy & Carlo Barberi
Inks: Dexter Vines, Cliff Rathburn, Sean Murphy, Don Hillsman II, Bob Petrecca, Andy Owens & Rodney Ramos
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover artist: McGuinness & Vines
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$5.50 CAN
A reader posted a comment on my site recently, longing for the days of fun comics, in which super-heroes acted like heroes. I recommended a couple of new comics, noting that such comics haven’t disappeared altogether. I can now add another newly released comic to that short list of recommendations, and it’s Superman/Batman Annual #1. DC readers who love tightly scripted stories that maintain a strong sense of continuity won’t much care for this book, but there’s definitely an audience that will want to seek this comic out. It’s not a reader base one might expect to delve into a DC Universe book, given that this script will appeal to fans of a defunct Marvel title. Writer Joe Kelly really first turned heads in the industry with his madcap storytelling in Deadpool, and here, he provides something of an unofficial followup and a possible explanation of who he imagined that title character really was all along.
Earlier in the crimefighting careers of the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne coincidentally sign up for the same cruise, and due to an error in the bookings, the pair are forced to share a cabin. Unfortunately, one of them has been targeted for assassination. Not only is Deathstroke on board to do the job, but a spatial rift brings the heroes’ evil counterparts from another dimension — Ultraman and Owlman — into the mix, not to mention Deathstroke’s goofy doppelganger as well. All this and Lois Lane lands the scoop of the century… and forgets it?
It’s clear that by selecting the four pencils artists he did, editor Eddie Berganza was hoping to achieve some sense of consistency. Each has something of an exaggerated style that’s well suited to action-oriented, super-hero storytelling. I don’t think that sense of consistency is really attained, but perhaps it’s due to the fact that seven inkers worked on this issue as well. The emphasis is usually on comedy, and all of the artists deliver solid comedic expressions, especially once the second act gets underway. There’s a generally playful look to the action that’s enjoyable, but the latter action sequences aren’t at all clearly depicted.
When I was a kid, I was thoroughly enthralled by DC’s “dollar comics,” which were oversized comics with extra stories or longer stories, featuring a wide variety of characters. Superman Family and Batman Family were among the titles that were always offered in that format, as was World’s Finest Comics. Each of these titles were anthologies, but there was one issue of WF that really stood out because it featured one main story, in which writer Roy Thomas tried to rationalize all of the various “first encounters” between Superman and Batman into one cohesive yarn. World’s Finest #271 dazzled me with an amalgam of stories from the Golden Age to 1981. Joe Kelly’s Superman/Batman Annual is in keeping with that tradition, as well as the popular “imaginary” Superman stories of the Silver Age.
Continuity buffs needn’t worry about how this story fits into the history of the DC Universe as it stands now. This isn’t to be taken seriously. It’s a silly story about incarnations of Clark and Bruce with egos. It takes place in a world in which a billionaire travel client is told he has to share a bed with a reporter writing a puff piece on the cruise industry. Kelly’s script is ridiculous, and it’s meant to be enjoyed as a piece of satire and zany fun, nothing more.
Also ridiculous is the fact that Kelly uses a DC comic to return to a Marvel character that helped establish his reputation in the super-hero comics. It’s clear that Deathstroke’s other-dimensional counterpart in this story is meant to be the nigh-immortal and annoying Deadpool, and it makes perfect sense. Deathstroke is Slade Wilson. Deadpool is Wade Wilson. Both are mercenaries without equal, both enhanced in some way. One is a cold, calculating, professional killer. One is a wise-cracking, scene-stealing doofus. It’s a bonus for fans of the super-hero genre who’ve read some of Kelly’s earlier work, but newer readers needn’t know that stuff in order to enjoy the story and the juxtapositions of Wilsons. 6/10