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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Cover date: March 2009
Writer: Len Wein
Penciller: Chris Batista
Inker: Mick Gray and Jack Jadson
Reviewed by: Michael Bailey
Superman and Batman go to the gravesite and find a giant hole in the ground and after some more investigating they confirm that whatever attacked them is the result of Ivo's experiments. The Composite Superman/Batman kidnaps Lois and Robin and holds them in chains while he performs acts of heroism as both Superman and Batman. The real Superman and Batman track down where Lois and Robin are being held and have to fight the Composite creature when it returns. Batman uses a psychology approach to "attack" the creature and eventually it rips itself apart because it cannot reconcile being both heroes.
Story - 4: All right, everyone. Get ready. If you're not sitting down already you should do so now.
This is something I haven't done in some time.
This is a positive review for a story appearing in SUPERMAN/BATMAN.
I know. I know. It's weird but if you stick with me and put your faith in my reviewing skills we will all get through this together.
In all honesty I went into this review without a lot of the baggage that I usually do because the annuals for this series are a different animal than those of the regular issues. Joe Kelly set a trend in the first two annuals that these are out and out re-imaginings of classic stories and when you take it from that viewpoint the continuity freak in me was able to sit down, have a nice piece of pie and move on with life. There is a difference when you are "told" that something is out there continuity wise and a series that is riding that line and playing fast and loose with it.
I will admit that I was predisposed to liking this issue because it was written by Len Wein. I admire Len. He is one of those writers that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and it doesn't matter if it is his DC work or his Marvel work I pretty much dig it. So I had to control myself. Gushing is never good in a review. It takes away a certain amount of credibility. Still, it's hard to not to have a good feeling about reading something by a writer that has produced so many good stories and I was not disappointed with this annual.
For one thing this story was funny or at least funny in a good way. It's not Joe Kelly humor, which is more about having characters do amusing things that are out of character, which can work at times. Wein's approach is more light hearted in nature and doesn't distract from the overall story. The scene where Superman confronts Batman worked well because you had that angsty, macho, let's act all big and bad but that was immediately defused by them realizing that something was wrong. The glue that held this story together was the friendship between Superman and Batman. It took a long time to get used to these guys getting along again but when it's done right it works and it was definitely done right in this annual.
The heart and soul of the story, though, is what the Composite Superman went through. This wasn't a simple, humorous update of the original concept. A guy didn't stand in front of a bunch of action figures and get super powers. This was a Frankenstein riff. It was a creature that wanted to be more than it was with all of the misunderstanding that comes with that. He wanted to be the hero. He wanted to be Superman and Batman but at the end of the day that is a responsibility that is too much for anyone to bear. This is what makes Superman and Batman such great characters. They have the courage of their convictions and they make the sacrifices necessary to serve the greater good and that is why the creature ended up ripping itself apart. It was the physical manifestation of its internal conflict. It was handled a little haphazardly but I was genuinely touched by the conclusion of this story.
So while the lighthearted nature of the first two acts clashed a bit atmospherically with the third act I was very satisfied with this annual. Len Wein proved that a writer from an earlier period can still come in and tell a darn good story without looking dated. I'm glad that another writer got the chance to re-imagine an older story in these annuals and I am even happier that the writer in question was Len Wein.
Art - 4: I'm a little torn on the art in this story. I like Batista's style and thought that he was perfect for the more light hearted aspects of the story. He also has a real dynamic sense of page layouts. This was evident on the splash page with Batman swinging into action as Firefly took aim. It was a nice piece of art and really conveyed the action that was going on. I also liked that Batman had a very Tim Burton look about him. The cowl design reminded me of the 1989 film as did the Batmobile and considering I always liked that version of Batman's ride that was kind of cool.
The only place the art fell a little short was the climax and this is nothing against Batista. It is actually all me because I had this weird thing going on in my head that I wanted the tone that Batista brought to the story until that last scene where Composite Superman tore himself apart. Then I wanted something dark...something tragic and it is not fair to an artist to expect him or her to change their style based on your whims.
So yeah, the one problem I had is something that is nobody's fault but my own and I admit that freely.
Good job, Chris.
Cover Art - 5: I have appreciated Bernie Wrightson's artwork for some time now. He is the master when it comes to moody, scary imagery. This cover is a good example of how his style can even translate into the super-hero genre. That is an awesome version of the Composite Superman and gave the reader the first hint that this was a very different version of the character.
I'd really love an action figure based on this design.
And maybe if I stand in front of it and all of the other figures on my bookshelf I'll get super powers.
Oh, a man can dream.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2009.