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Friday with the World’s Finest

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday with the World’s Finest

Late again. I should have said the column day would be Saturday, I suppose, but then events would no doubt conspire to move it to Sunday. Oh well. At least I’m keeping to within twenty hours or so of my commitment.

I got a bunch of old stuff in the mail and then I went to the comics shop and cleaned out the accumulated pull-list items, so I’ve been reading all kinds of things lately. And yes, one of then was All-Star Superman, and yes, I enjoyed it, though there were things that bothered me. Didn’t enjoy it as much as Brian, didn’t dislike it as much as the other Greg.

What did strike me about it, though, probably wouldn’t have been as obvious had I not gotten Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 1 in the mail a few days before.I have been spending a lot of my week reading this book, and, you know, not only is Silver-Age Superman a big jerk, always punking his friends to “teach them a lesson” (Oh yeah, like you don’t ENJOY screwing with Lois and Jimmy’s heads, Super-jerk. I see you floating up there saying “Ha! Ha!” after your latest super-prank while down on the ground your weeping and horrified friends are thinking “(Choke!) Oh no!”) but it appears that All-Star Superman is a big jerk too. At least, that’s Lois’ first thought when Superman finally levels with her. He’s getting a big super-mean payback. Where’s Perry and Jimmy ready to pop out and laugh at me?

Am I the only one this sort of thing bothers? I imagine I probably am. That happens fairly often. But a return to mean-spirited Silver Age Superman would bother me, a lot. I don’t want a Superman that everybody admires and genuflects to because it’s assumed he’s “noble and good,” I want a Superman that actually is noble and good. The big guy’s mean streak was always a flaw in the original silver-age Superman stories and I think a large part of it was because editor Mort Weisinger, who was not a nice man at all, had a very large mean streak himself. He didn’t see anything wrong with screwing with your friend’s heads. He did it to his employees all the time. Of all the traditional Superman story riffs to honor and pay tribute to, super-meanness shouldn’t be one of them. We already have, that should be enough.

The reason this annoys me so is because I’ve been living with the fallout of Frank Miller’s mean-and-creepy Batman for some twenty years now, and, you know, enough’s enough. When I finally got around to reading Identity Crisis — I wasn’t going to support it with my money, but a chance showed up to pick it up used, cheap, and I was curious — you know, there were just as many flaws and annoying things about the story as everyone said, but I didn’t hate it as much as I’d expected to. Because amid all the plot holes and JLA members acting like selfish jackasses and lying to each other and so on and so forth, you know who showed up, out of nowhere?

MY Batman.

I loved that. I forgave Brad Meltzer quite a bit for doing that (though not everything.) Because I hardly ever get to see my Batman any more. I think the last time he showed up on a regular basis was when Mark Waid was writing JLA. Certainly you never see him in any of the actual regular Bat-books.

To elaborate: My Batman is the guy that showed up out of nowhere in the comics just as we were all realizing that Adam West was really just pulling our collective leg, back in 1969 or so. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams get most of the credit for him, though Frank Robbins and Irv Novick and Dick Giordano were in there too. He started his run in the Bat-titles in 1969, peaked somewhere in the mid-seventies — some say Archie Goodwin’s editorial run on Detective, especially “Night of the Stalker,” some say Englehart/Rogers (me, it depends what day you ask me which one I choose; after all, Englehart wrote them both so I think of them as the same) and hung in there all the way through Moench/Colan/Newton, at which point came the original Crisis and Frank Miller and Dark Knight and my guy got buried under a tidal wave of grim ‘n’ gritty.

My Batman is a guy who’s driven not by revenge — this is the mistake so many writers make and it really, really bugs me — but by compassion. Batman exists because Bruce Wayne swore that what happened to him will never happen to anyone else if he can be there to stop it. Period. He is trying to PREVENT grief, not CAUSE it. Everything, the physical training, the accumulation of knowledge, the Bat-accessories, they are all means to that end.

Yes, in order to achieve that end, he’ll fight dirty. He’ll scare the shit out of crooks and let them think he’s a psycho or a demon. But he’s not a thug; this is a Batman capable of friendship and even humor, he’ll share a quiet laugh with Robin or Alfred once in a while, or even Commissioner Gordon. And, more importantly, he won’t manipulate or alienate his close friends, and he’ll sacrifice it all in a second to save an innocent life.

That’s the Batman I was amazed and delighted to see in Identity Crisis, even if it was hardly more than a walk-on; and that’s the guy I miss seeing in the regular books, because God knows he hasn’t been THERE in, well, years. Considering the sales on the crappy, thug-pleasing All-Star Batman and Robin, as opposed to, say, Dark Detective, which apparently almost nobody liked but me, I am resigned to not seeing him for quite a while longer. I can console myself with the Dini/Timm animated series and Batman Begins, my guy is easily found there; but it really bothers me that he’s almost never in the comics any more.

It seems a shame that the two most famous heroes in comics, the World’s Finest, sell better than they have in the last two decades when they are shown as complete pricks. That seems wrong to me. Especially when it’s being marketed as the back-to-basics, return-to-greatness that the All-Star line is purported to be. You know what would be back to basics? Having Superman and Batman act like they’re really the good guys. That would please me. I have an ugly hunch those days are gone, but I’d love to be proved wrong.

See you next week. Hopefully really on Friday.

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