Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Enemies & Allies by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. Anderson is best known for his work writing Star Wars novels. He's quite good at writing widescreen-style epics in prose, so it was disappointing that for his first crack at a novel re-imagining the 1st meeting between Batman and Superman in the 1950's, he chose a kitchen sink approach. In one sentence, a Batman: Year One Batman meets a Superman: The Animated Series Superman to thwart Lex Luthor's attempt at a faux alien invasion to profit on arms sales.

Anderson chose an unusual storytelling structure for this book. Batman and Superman don't interact much. Chapter headings feature each hero's respective logo, allowing for the reader to opt out of reading the novel in order and read it as two separate novellas that only overlap with the last 40 pages or so. The best scenes featured subplots involving our heroes secret identities: Batman/Bruce Wayne has to investigate corporate moles among the Wayne Industries board; Superman/Clark Kent is assigned to investigate Area 51 with Jimmy Olsen, as well as fill-in as an advice columnist for the Daily Planet's romance column. These characters come alive during these passages dwelling on their personal lives and then become cipher-like once they put their costumes. Their costumed antics lacked any spectacle, which is a shame, because the 1950's issues of World's Finest Comics were purely spectacle. You kind of wish Bat-Mite and Mxyzptlk showed up. Instead, we get the world's greatest detective and the man of steel..in an adventure that's too basic to be a page-turner.

I'm not saying those old comics from the 50s were perfect - the scripts, particularly anything written by Edmond Hamilton - always felt cranked out, with no empathy, but the concepts were fantastic. Giant robots, weird monsters, time travel, space creatures and saucermen from Planet X. Apart from invasion/mad scientist stories, every 3rd or 4th story in World's Finest would be about Batman or Superman acting out-of-character, gaining/losing extra powers or adopting disguises to get one over on the other. It was daft, purely created to appeal to young children, but very persuasive. If I hadn't brought a used copy of this novel for a song, I would've considered taking it back to trade it in to cover some of the cost of that spiffy-looking omnibus edition of World's Finest that DC put out..if I hadn't checked it out at the library for free..and if could just casually throw down the bucks for that volume..I need to save up.

So, on the one hand, I don't regret reading Enemies & Allies. I just wish Anderson had eschewed earnestness and embraced the fanciful. It was probably two years too soon for that. Grant Morrison's approach to both characters was just around the corner.

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