The Good: Engaging story, Interesting narrative technique, Good characters
The Bad: Stunningly simple resolution, Much of the artwork, Unclear of the audience
The Basics: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies starts the team-up series off awkwardly as Batman and Superman must combat the forces of President Lex Luthor.
Lately, I’ve been getting my graphic novels out of order from the library. As a result, I actually read the second volume in the Superman/Batman series, Superman/Batman: Supergirl (reviewed here!) before reading Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, which is volume 1. It is a testament to Volume 2 that I was intrigued enough by the elements alluded to in the second volume that I felt the desire to go back and check out Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Prior to reading the second book, I had absolutely no interest in the Superman/Batman crossover book.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies tells the story of the end of the presidency of Lex Luthor and it foreshadows some much better stories to come, ironically, not with Superman or Batman. In fact, one of the real thrills for me was how Captain Atom was used in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and it sets him up for his work in one of my favorites, Justice League: Generation Lost (Volume 1 is reviewed here!). Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is, at its worst, an ambitious start to the team-up stories and while my recommendation is a little weaker than for many other graphic novels, that is mostly the result of the artwork.
When an asteroid composed of Kryptonite enters Earth’s field of detection, President Lex Luthor declares a state of emergency. Despite clues that point to Metallo being the man who murdered Thomas Wayne, Batman sticks by Superman’s side as Luthor declares that Superman is a menace and that the asteroid is headed to Earth because of Superman’s presence there. In an attempt to thwart Luthor and expose him for the corrupt individual he is, Superman and Batman attempt to storm the White House. Unfortunately, they are stopped by a small force of super villains like Solomon Grundy, Mongul, and the Silver Banshee. When Batman realizes they are not acting like they usually do, the pair discovers the real threat.
After stopping the final villain, the heroes are attacked by other heroes. Starting with Captain Marvel and Hawkman, Luthor uses superheroes who are loyal to him to lay a trap for Superman and Batman. Ensnaring other heroes, like Steel and Nightwing, Luthor finally reveals the depths of his machinations and with the world hanging in the balance, Superman and Batman must end his presidency once and for all.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is a sufficiently big story to warrant the team-up and the narrative technique throughout the book has Superman and Batman sharing their inner thoughts in a way that is compelling and sometimes humorous. Sometimes, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies reads like a therapy session between two of the biggest heroes in the DC Universe and that is, at the least, entertaining.
When Superman/Batman: Public Enemies truly devotes itself to focusing on the supplemental characters, the graphic novel works as well. When Lex Luthor explains his thoughts, plan and motive it actually makes a reasonable amount of sense. And the inner monolog of Captain Atom makes him seem astonishingly human, which is tough for the character to pull off.
Unfortunately, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is not without its faults. First, it doesn’t seem to know what audience it is going for. The solution to the problem is somewhat ridiculous and any adult will ask “when did a 13 year-old find time to build this thing?!” And asides about Starfire and Power Girl’s breasts seem out of place in a book that tries to take a mature view of civic duty from Superman’s perspective.
Moreover, the huge superhero team-up in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies feels oddly gratuitous. The strange collection of virtually every major hero like Steel and Hawkman feels like the whole point of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is to shove almost everyone possible into the book.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies also suffers from frequently poor artwork. The characters too-fequently look like animated characters as opposed to fully detailed individuals. Power Girl, for example, who is most often characterized as angry in her appearance looks downright wholesome and doe-eyed in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is an ambitious start and ultimately, more than any of the other issues with it, I found myself wishing it had been drawn to be taken seriously.
For other works where Lex Luthor is a significant character, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Black Ring, Part 1
Justice League: The Injustice League
For other graphic novel reviews, be sure to check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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