Monday, December 30, 2013

An Obscure World's Finest Story


Mythology. The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross (Pantheon, 2003)
"The Trust."
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.

16 comments:

Matt Celis said...

Not a big Ross fan to start with, although I appreciate his respectful approach and classic treatment of the heroes, but I really hate those HUGE chest symbols. That "S" is just an eyesore. The bat is just way too big. Plus it should be in a yellow oval and Batman's cowl and cape are supposed to be BLUE!

But thank goodness he isn't subscribing to the modern "Batman and Superman are enemies" approach and understands they are the best buddies of the super hero set.

MattComix said...

I think if you're going to go with the no-oval approach the huge bat works for Batman. A little less so with Superman so I have to agree with you there. The top edges of the shield are starting to creep into his armpits. Really it never needs to be bigger than the Byrne S or smaller than the Reeve one IMO. But I like so much else about Ross's Superman I'm inclined to forgive it.

Count me in times a thousand for Superman and Batman being allies and friends. This is part of why even though I had a mostly favorable review of MOS (albeit with some major issues) I am absolutely dreading this upcoming sequel.

I can understand having some friction upon first meeting but this is something that should be very quickly gotten over because the whole conflict after a point makes both characters look completely stupid. It makes Superman look too dumb to use the full range of the powers he has. It makes Batman look incapable of prying his head out of his grimdark ass for the two seconds it would take for him to realize he and Superman are on the same side. So much for being the "Worlds Greatest Detective."

I think it would be nothing short of a miracle if a modern live action production could capture and respect the relationship between the two characters any where near as well as this little short story does.

Doug said...

Reservations about the new film? How about the rumor I saw today - Denzel Washington as Green Lantern in MOS II?

Doug

Garett said...

Wonderful! I forgot about this story tucked in the back of Mythology. I like Ross's action storytelling and page layouts here. He uses angled panels to good effect.

I like the big bat and "S".

Doug said...

Agreed about the big logos. As these stories are about larger-than-life characters, may as well go all out!

Doug

Matt Celis said...

Denzel as GL sounds like a joke to me. It would be good if WB got someone that good for the part, but given the casting choice for WW I can only assue they are smoking crack.

MattComix said...

Long as they don't have him losing a planet to a bomb painted yellow I would be totally fine with Stewart as the movieverse GL.

david_b said...

Denzel is a good choice. I didn't think he'd be doing super-hero roles..

Makes me still think Eddie Murphy would have been an awesome choice for Green Hornet back in the Tim Burton-Batman franchise days.

Edo Bosnar said...

I think Denzel Washington would make a pretty good John Stewart GL; however, and despite the fact that he still looks good, isn't he getting a bit old to play a superhero?

As for the Supes/Bats story, thanks for another thorough review Karen and Doug. Seems like it is indeed a good story, but man, that art. Sorry, I'm still not sold on Ross...

Karen said...

I have my reservations about where they seem to be going with this second Man of Steel film, or Superman vs. Batman -whatever they wind up calling it. As MattComix said, if they spend the whole film fighting each other, they're the biggest idiots ever. But I am assuming they start out on opposite sides of the fence and eventually (mid-picture?) join forces.

I don't really want to see too many other DC characters pop up unless the intent is really to turn this into a Justice League film. Denzel Washington is a fine actor, but does seem a bit old for John Stewart. I could see them going with Stewart over Jordan though, as otherwise the Justice League could be exceedingly devoid of diversity. Including Stewart means they don't have to change the ethnicity of an existing character, and we don't have to have fans freaking out over an African American Flash, for example.

Mostly I am just concerned about Batman. I'd like to get an on-screen Batman who isn't a psychopathic, screaming jerk, but a cool cat who is mysterious and always a step ahead of everyone else.

Matt Celis said...

Don't know how you'd have Batman and Superman fight for more than a second. Superman immobilizes Batman 4,000 different ways before Batman can move. Fight over. Unless we're playing Supermoron to make Batman seem cool and edgy. Remember Superman is smarter than Batman, or was until the late '80s when it was decided that anyone that nice has to be equally stupid or incompetent.

Teresa said...

I love the panel where Batman asks "You ok?"
It looks like they are two cops that just had a close call. Batman has a concerned, but relaxed "another day on the force" look.
They are equals as partners and friends. They have seen a lot go down over the years. There isn't any foolish "grim -n- gritty" baggage between them.

There have been stories that came and went about government owned kryptonite. Superman gave the government Kryptonite or they kept some on their own. Depends on which continuity.

Doug: "some new readers might think this is some sort of Elseworlds story!"

That is so sad.

Fred W. Hill said...

Nice story and great art, and Batman comes off as dedicated, smart and humane, rather than the Milleresque arrogant "goddamned Bat" jerk.
Regarding the black vs. blue parts of Batman's costume, as with Spider-Man, just based on what I've seen of the earliest stories it seems it was originally black with blue highlights but gradually became all blue instead. The black makes much more sense, particalarly from a "creature of the night" aspect, but blue is more appeal to the kids friendly. All that aside, the thing that really gets me (as an adult) about typical superhero costumes is that the guys must all have an extra power to hold it in when they gotta go. One more reason for superheroes to abstain from drinking a lot of beer before suiting up for action!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Karen - I hope the producers of the upcoming Superman/Batman movie take a good look at material like this issue. Some conflict is good, after all they both have differing crimefighting styles, but ultimately they're both on the same side. The movie should highlight that.

As for Ross's non-traditional emblems and colours, well I actually kinda like it. It's different from your typical renditions of both men but it's still Superman and Batman.


-Mike 'what about a Flash movie?' from Trinidad & Tobago.


Matt Celis said...

I kinda wish DC/WB would take another cue from Marvel and USE OTHER CHARACTERS. Enough already with Batman and Superman... how about Aquaman, Flash, the Atom, Black Lightning, Metamorpho, even Firestorm or Vixen? Metal Men? Doom Patrol? How about a New Teen Titans movie or series of movies (Judas Contract could be a sequel if you introduce Terra in the latter part of a prior film)?

Karen said...

Matt, I was saying the same thing the other day about DC and their animated features. It's all Superman/Batman or occasionally Justice League. How about some variety? I recall a few years ago, when they were just getting their DC Animated features up and running, Paul Levitz was at the San Diego Comic Con and he outlined some of the features they'd be making, and he named things like the Judas Contract and the Great Darkness Saga, amongst others. Quite a few that he named were older, beloved stories. But it seems like the animated features are concentrating on newer material. I read that the next one will be based on the New 52 Justice League. Really? Are there more people clamoring for that than a Legion story or Teen Titans or heck, anybody but New 52 characters?

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