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Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are the Big Three at DC Comics, if not for comics in general.  When Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 back in 1938, an entirely new genre was born: the superhero comic.  Soon after, Batman appeared in 1939 and bridged the popular pulp tales of old with this new medium of fiction, and Wonder Woman’s debut in 1941 brought the influence of the heroes of myth full circle; as Diana’s origin is deeply rooted in the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses, so are superheroes the modern equivalent of those timeless legends.  The S-shield, the black bat on a yellow oval field, and the stylized W-eagle emblem are some of the most recognized logos in modern society, and with good reason: they symbolize three of the most popular characters of the past century, and represent comic books as a whole.

It’s a wonder, then, that it took so long for two of these characters to meet on the big screen, let alone all three of them, but that’s not the point today.  Today, we look at Trinitywhich details the first team up between the three heroes.

Published in 2003, the book is written and illustrated by Matt Wagner, creator of Mage (about a guy who has a magic baseball bat that is also Excalibur and holy crap how have I not ever read this?!) and writer of two Batman stories that range from good (Batman and the Monster Men) to awesome (Batman and the Mad Monk).  It has recently been collected and re-released in a deluxe edition, so it’s a perfect time to pick it up before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (or “Bevis”) is released on March 25th.

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Right from the beginning it’s obvious that, if nothing else, Wagner has a great handle on Superman.  His Clark Kent is mawkish and charmingly self-effacing, his Superman a hulking symbol of strength and hope.

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It was a wise choice to introduce Superman first: Batman may be the more popular hero (at least today), but Superman was the first, the prototypcial super powered man who would pave the way for countless imitators and countless more contemporaries.

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Wagner’s greatest strength is his handling of the characters and their interactions with each other, and it really helps carry the book even when it gets into shaky narrative waters.  Superman isn’t necessarily perfect or a stiff, but he’s that great beacon of goodness he’s supposed to be while still maintaining the human characteristics reflective of his humble upbringing.

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I’m pretty sure this is a throwback to the Electric Superman’s powers, but I may be wrong.

Batman is appropriately broody and kind of a grouch, but still shows signs of humanity and even good humor at various points throughout the book.  This is a Batman early in his career, before Dick Grayson ever donned the Robin costume, so he’s still working out the vigilante angle and how to operate side by side with guys like Superman.

Wonder Woman is strong and assertive, a newcomer to man’s world who has her own ideas about how justice should be served.  She sees Superman as an equal, given his great strength and noble motives, but sees Batman as, at best, a nuisance.  It’s kind of hilarious.

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Besides getting the Big Three’s personalities mostly right, this book is remarkably funny.  Other than one or two bits of dialogue, it’s actually pretty light-hearted in tone, evoking the pure joy of old-school adventures that aren’t burdened by angst and brooding.

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Yes, Bizarro calls Ra’s Al Ghul “Racer Cool.”  Tell me that doesn’t make you laugh, and that it’s not what you’re going to start calling him.

As far as the plot goes, well… it’s kind of all over the place.  Summed up as best I can: Ra’s breaks Bizarro out of his Antarctic prison so the clone can help him steal a bunch of nuclear missiles, one of which Ra’s will detonate when 95% of the satellites orbiting Earth are “within five cubic miles of each other.”  Basic Bond-villain nonsense, sure, but it kind of snowballs from there and almost collapses under its own weight.

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As a citizen of Texas I take no offense to this.

There are at least three separate climaxes that occur, giving the last third of the story in particular an uneven stop/start feel that makes for fairly difficult reading.  Once Ra’s gets info about Themyscira from Artemis, who has been “posing” as Diana with him, it feels like a completely new story that could have supported its own miniseries just as well.

It does make way for Bizarro pulling a nuclear warhead water-skiff, though, so it's not all bad.
It does make way for Bizarro pulling a nuclear warhead water-skiff, though, so it’s not all bad.

Aside from the narrative bloat, the only other problem I had was with the depiction of Ra’s in a few scenes.  For the most part he’s spot-on, but he makes a few comments that strongly suggest he would rape Diana that felt completely out of place.  Whether that’s consistent with the character at all is another discussion entirely, but for a book like this that has the “gee whiz” nostalgic innocence of the Silver Age, lines like that are pretty egregious.

Visually, the book looks great, and that’s its greatest strength.  The character models are great, and the locations have personalities of their own.  Metropolis has that bright, futuristic feel, Themyscira is lush with vegetation, and thanks to Dave Stewart’s colors Gotham looks like it was ripped directly from the background cels used for Batman: The Animated Series.

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Dig that blimp.

Wagner, who pulled double-duty as writer and penciler, has a few moments of absolute brilliance, balancing fluid action with a great understanding of each of the three title characters.

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It may not be the best story ever written featuring these three, but for a nice standalone introduction I’ve seen far worse.

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Bonus material: Other than a cover gallery and a short sketchbook of character designs, not an awful lot, but it is an attractive collection.

Overall: In the long run, the story may be forgettable, but it’s enjoyable while it lasts.  Despite a few questionable lines and a plot that almost becomes too much, seeing Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman working together in their early days is a treat.  Wagner’s writing is solid, the visuals are fantastic, and as bloated as it gets the story is always fun, so pick this up for a good read as you prepare for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

SCORE: 7.5/10