With a Batman/Superman movie on the way, there’s no better time than now to start reading some of the older adventures that paired the Caped Crusader with the Man of Steel. While the upcoming film might focus more on the rivalry between these two icons, this trade paperback is devoted to their post-crisis, adversarial relationship coming to an end with classic tales from the late 80’s and early 90’s. But is it the collection we deserve or just the one we need right now?
Superman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis collects Action Comics Annual #1 (1987), Superman #44, Adventures of Superman #466-467, and Action Comics #653-654 in a softcover presentation with non-glossy paper. I must say, they would’ve sold a lot more of these TPBs had they used one of the covers actually from “Dark Knight Over Metropolis rather than the Action Annual’s cover. Also, it is a pity that Man of Steel #3 was not included as it is the first post-crisis meeting between Batman and Superman and would have suited this collection far better than Adventures of Superman #466.
Action Comics Annual #1
Written by John Byrne
Art by Art Adams & Dick Giordano
Surprisingly it took half a century for there to be an Action Comics Annual, but when it came it was quite the event as it marked only the 2nd post-crisis pairing of The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. The story opens with a buxom bayou princess in cut-offs and a Mr. Peanut t-shirt being chased by a mob of hillbillies through South Carolina swampland (that’s the first time in my life I have ever strung those words together in a sentence and it’ll probably be the last). Their stereotypical southern cries are all spelled out phonetically to make it apparent just how little “edjucashun” (actual spelling from the comic) everyone must have down there. After quite a chase, the curvaceous, young lady escapes and we fast forward to the Batman arriving in the little hick town. Apparently there have been a string of vampire-related murders in Gotham that are somehow connected to mysterious events occurring in the Palmetto State. These events are SO mysterious that Batman decides to call up Clark Kent and request that Kent tell his friend Superman to fly down and help with the situation (Yes, I was surprised that Batman hadn’t worked out the two men were one and the same as well). What follows is Batman & Superman vs. Vampires and it’s just as ridiculous as it sounds. You could even argue that Batman commits murder by the end of it, though that depends on whether or not “undead” folks count… they are quite self-aware. If you can appreciate the camp of it all then I think you’ll have a pretty fun time. Personally, I was quite bored with it and even found myself shouting “Do something!” to Superman when he flew over a city in distress and simply made mental notes of all the terrible things happening for about a page and a half before finally deciding to take action. There was a brief scene where Batman gets caught in quicksand and that was neat but overall I just didn’t find one single vampire to be reason enough for there to be a Batman/Superman team-up. The threat really wasn’t that big, but I’ll tell you what was: the hair, boobs, and butt of the vampire and the jawline of our heroes. Wowza!
The Adventures of Superman #466
“The Limits of Power”
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Dan Jurgens & “Sludd” Giordano
This issue really did not need to be included in this collection, but I think longtime Superman fans will appreciate it. Batman fans, however, will likely be bored to tears. I know I was. You see, there’s no Batman featured in this story whatsoever but the comic does serve as a distant (very distant) lead-in to the “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” storyline that is this graphic novel’s main attraction. I say it’s a distant lead-in, because the only significant element of this chapter is a 5 panel scene involving Intergang. Besides that brief moment the rest of the comic is concerned with a plot-line that’s essentially a rip off of Marvel’s Fantastic 4. We begin with a crashed space ship and the four surviving astronauts have all been exposed to radiation that’s endowed them with incredible powers. However, unlike the Fantastic 4, these characters are being killed by their new-found abilities and so they race back to Metropolis in search of help only to cause a bit of a stir and attract the attention of Superman. Interestingly, one of the astronauts is Hank Henshaw, who makes his 2nd appearance in the comics here and later goes on to become the Cyborg Superman. The dialogue is terribly unnatural and loaded with exposition and the story itself was too derivative for my tastes. On the other hand, I thought that the artwork was fantastic, it was a beautiful book to look at and I really liked the gradual transformations of each of the astronauts. But at the end of the day I came here for Batman/Superman stories and that’s just not what this is nor is it a very necessary tie-in for the main event. I would’ve rather seen some other team-up one-shot to fill time much like the Annual did.
Action Comics #653
“Love & Death”
Written by Roger Stern
Art Bob McLeod & Brett Breeding
Once again we don’t see any mention of Batman, but this time the story at hand is of far greater importance to the “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” 3-parter we all paid to see. The dialogue in this issue was much more natural and the series of events that took place were more enjoyable to see. A sizeable portion of the comic is devoted to Clark having a day off and he spends the time doing what he enjoys– flying and helping people. I loved that. It’s great to get past the doom and gloom we see in modern comics and actually watch Superman flying just because he loves to fly. He has a sense of adventure to him and all too often we see heroes who are being weighed down by all the responsibility but here we see Superman having fun and being perfectly capable of balancing his personal life with his heroic persona. It’s a great showcase of Superman doing heroic things both big and small like helping a girl get her kite out of a tree, thwarting a robbery, and towing a ship into harbor. Of course, there has to be struggle to make a story great so these lighthearted scenes are juxtaposed with the shadowy dealings of Intergang and a subplot about a jaded woman who was fired by Lex Luthor even though she absolutely proved that Clark Kent is Superman. These two narrative threads eventually weave together and begin the tapestry that is “Dark Knight Over Metropolis.”
Dark Knight Over Metropolis
Written by Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, & Roger Stern
Art by Jerry Ordway, Dennis Janke, Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert, Brett Breeding, & Bob McLeod
Coloring mistakes (nose, bow-tie)
With three recap pages and a finale that summarizes everything we already saw transpire from Lex Luthor’s former employee it becomes all the more apparent that the previous 2 issues in this collection were quite unnecessary. In fact, Dark Knight Over Metropolis reads much better without them as then we actually get to follow along with Batman as he unravels the mystery. You see, during a routine bust, Batman discovers a radioactive ring in the possession of one of Gotham’s homeless. Upon taking the strange jewelry back to the cave for analysis, the Dark Knight realizes that it is made from kryptonite. Sensing that there is something much bigger at play here, Batman heads to Metropolis to continue the investigation. It’s a great mystery, but as I said we the readers already know all of the answers. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing in a detective story, just look at every episode of “Columbo.” But unlike th eColumbo formula, this issue doesn’t ever concern itself with finding the perpetrators of the crime and actually summarizes what became of them via newspaper clippings instead of making it an integral part of the story. Instead, the kryptonite conspiracy becomes a subplot to the much larger battle against Intergang.
As we saw in the previous issue and in the recap pages of this story, Intergang’s former leader, Morgan Edge, has been captured and his trial is coming up very soon. This of course makes the current boss, Bruno Mannheim nervous and so we see him formulate a plot to abduct a key witness and brainwash them to recant their story. The witness in question is columnist Cat Grant, one of Clark’s friends. Knowing that Cat is in danger, the vigilante known as Gangbuster is hired as her bodyguard but even he is not enough to hold back a mob with the firepower of the New Gods. Even Slam Bradley shows up to lend a hand, but his appearance is never explained nor is he ever heard from again. Ultimately, this is a job for Superman… and Batman, who just so happens to be in town.
I love Intergang and actually think that they would make a phenomenal choice for the new Batman/Superman movie (A mob is a perfect threat for Batman, the New Gods tech makes them a formidable threat for Superman, and the ties to the New Gods would make a perfect setup for a Justice League movie featuring Darkseid) but they weren’t exactly portrayed at their most formidable. Every act they perform here is one of desperation and I felt that Superman or Batman alone could’ve handled this case effortlessly. The killers that Mannheim contracts, Blindspot, Chiller, and Shockwave were more comical than they were frightening and it made for a pretty unsatisfying final confrontation. However, while the threat itself is quite dull in this story the detective work on display and the interactions between Batman and Superman make up for it.
What makes this story shine is the characterization. The conversations that between Superman and Batman who are both suspicious of each other at this point in their careers and seeing them gradually warm up to each other and become comrades is quite enjoyable. Yes, it’s a shame that we don’t exactly see their individual strengths put to the test against some impossible force that only the two of them combined could hope to overcome, but there are plenty of other Superman/Batman stories like that out there. As far as illustrating the way their bond grew, I’d say that “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” was a success. It’s just not the best Batman/Superman story it could have been. And also, Lois Lane was criminally under-used not only in this story but every chapter in this collection.
The artwork throughout is quite good and I especially liked the way Batman was drawn to look more like shadow than man in some scenes. There are some really beautiful shots of Batman and Superman springing into action and even the quiet moments impressed with the attention to detail with the lighting coming through the blinds as Superman and Batman have a heart-to-heart. I did notice a number of coloring mistakes in the first chapter though, mostly dealing with Batman. In one scene his nose is flesh-colored and in another Bruce’s bow-tie changes from red to blue between panels. Overall though I’d say it was a great looking story and it has some really terrific covers, any of which would’ve made an amazing choice for this particular collection of stories.
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Value: Sale Price
It’s more worth it for Superman fans to pick this one up but you can probably track down the individual issues on eBay for cheaper than the $14.99 cover price of this TPB.
Essentially this collection is a build up to one of the most iconic Batman and Superman moments that has been used and re-used in comics and animated features ever since.