Monday, December 30, 2013
An Obscure World's Finest Story
Mythology. The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross (Pantheon, 2003)
Chip Kidd-Alex Ross
Doug: Closing time, kids. Not only does today's review close out our month of special stories painted by Alex Ross, but this is our last review before our now-2nd annual vacation. If you're just dropping in today to check out this post, Karen and I will be taking a break from new posts during the month of January. In our place you'll find "classic" reviews from our library, as well as lively conversation generated by our readers. But that's for three days from now. Today we want to expose many of you to a nifty little story found at the very back of the luscious hardcover you see pictured above. Designer and text author Chip Kidd teamed with Ross to produce an 8-page story featuring Superman and Batman and Robin. What can you accomplish in only 8 pages, you might ask? Why wait?
Karen: I was excited when Doug brought up wanting to review this story in one of our "editors' meetings". I'd read it ages ago and enjoyed it but never thought about reviewing it here. I'm looking forward to this chance to revisit it.
Doug: It was a nice refresher -- I'd only vaguely recalled the story, and had to look it up to make sure I hadn't dreamt the whole thing!
Doug: I'll need our DC fans to help me out with this one -- has there ever been a contingency plan in the DCU for dealing with an out-of-his-mind Superman? I think we all know that in the Marvel Universe, through the years, there have been many a'plan to engage the Hulk when on a berserker rage. I have no idea if this is a new idea or not, but it's going to be cool. We open with Superman doing a right-angle smash through the center of the logo sculpture atop the Daily Planet building. The Batman is on that same roof, weighing his options. The media has already sent out the word that Superman is out-of-control; the military will soon be on the follow. Batman knows what he has to do -- it's something he and Superman had agreed to at a prior time.
Karen: I know there was a story (the title escapes me) a few years back where secret plans Batman had made for taking down everyone in the JLA were stolen and used against the heroes. Of course, Batman's team-mates were not too pleased that he had made these contingency plans, but that's the way Batman operates in DC nowadays. In this story, Batman and Superman are obviously still buddies and have made plans together in case something has happened to drive Superman out of control. I like that a lot better.
Doug: So a batarang shoots out from a pistol, and a line encircles the ankles of the Man of Steel. Now I know Batman's much stronger than your average guy, but given the speed at which Superman appears to be flying, I would think the Dark Knight's arms would be ripped from their sockets! But the Batman holds fast and gets one heckuva ride through the skies of Metropolis. He suddenly gets a transmission from Robin, who is monitoring the situation while doing research into the possibilities of Superman's madness. The Boy Wonder reports that he's isolated an unknown frequency coming from the Metropolis Observatory -- a transmission that seems alien in origin! Batman orders him to jam it -- Robin, now sweating it hard, says he needs more time! As Batman hears the plea of his ward, the centrifugal force from a direction change by Superman hurls his body against the side of a skyscraper.
Karen: Batman is one helluva tough guy, isn't he? But man, that's an exciting sequence! And the intensity of Batman's expression is terrific. I also liked seeing Robin, and in a very sensible role: providing tactical support.
Doug: In the notes that preface the story, Ross remarks that he and Chip Kidd had discussed that this entire sequence should give readers the notion that they are on a rollercoaster. I say -- success!
Doug: We flash back to a time many years prior, in the Batcave. Superman approaches his friend and confidant, holding a box. He tells the Batman that inside the box is a means to stop him, should any of his enemies ever gain control of such a Super Man and use him for a weapon. Batman opens the box, now obviously made of lead, to see a chunk of Kryptonite. Superman remarks that he wouldn't have asked Lois to do it -- for she could not. He knows that Batman, however, can. Cut back to the present, where the pellmell flight continues. Superman appears to try to shake the Batman off of him, turning at hard angles and flying near to the buildings. Robin breaks in with another transmission -- his efforts to scramble or block the alien signal have failed. And more... six stealth bombers are closing on the city. Batman knows that the time is now -- no looking back. As he draws the pistol from his utility belt, he thinks of an oath he took after the death of his parents: no guns. He thinks how ironic this is -- not even the Joker could make him resort to this action. But a friend could. He fires.
Karen: Kidd and Ross do an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension here -and the stakes: six stealth bombers -not fighters, bombers! Man, that seems like overkill. It's all up to Batman. The panel with Batman firing the gun, with his squinting eye just above the barrel, is perfect.
Doug: Superman flies directly into an office, far above the streets of the city. Of course, that means Batman is right behind him. Batman scrambles to his feet and rushes to his friend's side. He thinks that he has only 10 seconds to remove the projectile he'd fired -- a Kryptonite-tipped dart. He pulls it from Superman's shoulder and sheathes it in a lead-lined sleeve. He calls to Superman, who groggily reacts. As Superman begins to stir, Batman removes a red suctioned transmitter from behind Superman's ear. The work of Brainiac. Batman asks Superman, now sitting, if he's OK. Superman is weak from the ordeal, and from the Kryptonite that directly entered his bloodstream. Batman muses, "I often wonder, Clark: Do you now what you are? You are the original myth. The one we'll always believe. What would we ever do without you?"
Karen: Batman made sure his weapon was not too lethal. And of course, after saving his friend, the two go off to stop Brainiac (we only get one panel of that but you know they cleaned his clock).
Doug: I loved this short story the first time I read it ten years ago (wow -- hard to believe I've had this book that long), and it's not diminished at all. The plot and script are minimalist, and we're not really sure of the time in which it's set. But what I love is we have a Batman untainted by Frank Miller, Bane, the "Death of Bruce Wayne", or anything else. Dick Grayson is Robin. And Superman? Doomsday isn't even on the radar. So this is an untarnished corner of the DCU. Shoot -- given the way things are today, some new readers might think this is some sort of Elseworlds story! But what I cherish the most is the characterization -- in word and movement and deed. It's there.
Karen: I feel the same way. This is the Batman-Superman relationship I want to read about: one of deep mutual respect and friendship. Yes, they are very different, but essentially, their goals are the same. I miss this relationship.
Doug: Before we part, it should be clear to everyone that Karen and I are unapologetically in Alex Ross's corner. I received my copy of Mythology for Christmas the year it was published, and later in the spring was able to accompany a friend to a Ross gallery show in Chicago. I took along my copy of Mythology and Alex signed it to me, on the frontispiece. You can see that below.