Crisis on Infinite Mikes - Superman & Batman: Generations

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by Mike Maillaro and Mike Weaver

Superman & Batman: Generations

Featured: Earth 38

Written by: John Byrne
Art by: John Byrne
Lettered by: John Bryne
Colored by: Trish Mulvihill
Published by: DC

Maillaro: While I was starting to prepare the template for this column, something awesome occurred to me.  This world’s “ID Number” is 38.   Superman’s first issue came out in 1938, so that can’t possibly be a coincidence.  I love little details like that.

Okay, so what is Generations exactly?  Long story short, Superman & Batman: Generations is John Byrne’s love letter to superhero comics, ranging from Superman’s debut in 1938 until Generations come out in 1999.  Each of the four issues in this series features two stories, set ten years apart.   The first story is set in 1939 at the World’s Fair.  All the characters age in real time as the series progresses, and we watch how Superman and Batman’s lives and legacies have changed over the decades.  

What is really cool to me is that each story basically has the tone of comics and the world at the time.  Real world events are tied throughout, including the Vietnam War, which has a major impact on superheroes, especially Superman’s son, Joel.  Joel's entire story is just tragic.  Before he's born, Lex Luthor exposed him to Gold Kryptonite which made him a normal human.  Superman and Lois decide to try to give him a normal life, afraid it would traumatize him to be the human son of Superman.  But Luthor manipulates Joel throughout his entire life.  Joel is believed to have died in Vietnam, but later comes back under Luthor's control to kill everyone close to Superman, believing that Superman had lied to him his entire life.   

And oddly enough, this is our second “Crisis” column where Richard Nixon shows up.  

Weaver: Richard Nixon, keystone of the DC Universes.  

There is a lot of attention to detail with how the world worked at the various time points.  Lois and her cigarettes, for instance, in the 30’s.  “Packed with nutritional value!”  Of course, by the 60’s, we saw the other side of that as Lois is dying of cancer.

Kind of tying this to the Spider-Man we reviewed in Open Mike Night last week (Death of Gwen Stacy from 1973), 1979 features basically a wholesale slaughter of the most important people in both hero’s lives, in keeping with the edgy comics that brought us out of the Silver Age.  And of course an implication of sex, which was only then starting to be able to be dealt with within the comics code structure.

So I’m not sure.  Mrs. Bruce Wayne is nearly always obscured from vision, and intentionally so, but was I missing any clear hints on who it was? Because I still don’t know.

Maillaro: I think it’s supposed to be Julie Madison (who appeared in the first issue) or Kathy Kane, but I’m not sure.  There has been a lot written about it over the years, but Byrne has been amusing silent about it.  I think the only thing we know for sure that it’s not Talia and it’s not Catwoman (as they mention Catwoman’s retirement at some point in Generations 2 long after Mrs Wayne would have passed away, IIRC).

Weaver: Byrne only talks about stuff that has no bearing on him personally.  And then he doesn’t stop.

But, my feelings about John Byrne as a person notwithstanding, he’s really at the top of his game with writing here.  I have to say, maybe it’s because it’s when I was growing up and getting into comics, but 1979 is by far my favorite of the segments of the story.  The Joel reveal, the Luthor rampage, it’s all really great.  It also has that meshing of some Silver Age elements sticking around, like the spaceship black hole moment.  The 60’s was also pretty good, with the Vietnam War taking a very important place not just for Joel, but also for Bruce Jr.

Maillaro: One thing I really love about this book is that it never talks down to the readers.  As you read it, a lot is left for the readers to fill in the blanks themselves.  We see Kara Kent as a child floating over the ground...ten years later, we see Supergirl.  Byrne doesn’t hammer the reader over the head with this.  Events have happened in the time between issues and he trusts the reader to be able to follow.

Another thing that was interesting to me was that in a lot of ways, Superman’s life was much darker than Batman.  In fact, Batman is kind of bright and cheery throughout this book.  I especially love the way he ends up taking Ra’s criminal organization and turning it into a force for good.  And then putting his son in charge, so he can throw a costume on and play Batman again.

Weaver: In pretty much every way.  Superman’s entire family gets slaughtered in front of him, and his son turns on him and is responsible for killing most of them.  But I wouldn’t say it’s all sunshine and roses for Bruce Wayne...after all, Dick Grayson’s death was pretty vicious (and again an example of events happening in between issues, with the Joker Jr plot brought in during the middle of it).  And Bruce Junior, of course, sees his wife slain immediately after he marries her.  The way Bruce took over Ra’s group was great, I agree, but in some ways, I wonder if he essentially set Junior up to fail, since he says most of the people in the organization think that they’re just establishing a front.  Sooner or later, that’s going to fall apart.

Maillaro: Poor Dick Grayson.  The way the Joker tricked and slaughtered him gave me nightmares the first time I read this book.  

Weaver: I actually really like the last panel of that.  “He didn’t kill Batman, he killed Robin.”  With the cape over Dick’s head so they can’t see he isn’t blonde like the current (at the time) Robin.  It’s a nice tribute to Dick’s defining role in addition to being a way to keep up the mystique of the Batman.

Maillaro: I also liked that there were quite a few standalone stories scattered throughout.  I loved the Batmite-Myxptylk story.  That definitely felt like a story you would have read in the early silver age.  

And Luthor’s many alias through, which were all misspellings of his name.  There is one small thing that bugged me though.  The end with the big Lana reveal seems so out of place, since Lana isn’t mentioned anywhere in the course of the book.  It was a nice way to sort of give the whole thing a happy ending, but it did seem out of no where.

Weaver: You get a brief glimpse of Lana immediately...and I do mean immediately...before the reveal in the 1929 flashback, but yeah, she felt pretty shoehorned into it in order to make more of a happily ever after.  Luthor’s silver agey aliases are great, especially the inevitable Scooby Doo moments of discovering he’s really the haunted amusement park, you know.

What I wonder after reading this is: At what point is the Multiversity crossover tying in?  This story takes place over 990 years.  That’s a lot of room, and you’d think only one of those points in time should be branched off from.

Maillaro: The image they showed in the Guidebook didn’t make it any clearer, since it showed Knightwing all grown up….but he was only a baby when Supergirl and Joel both died, so that doesn’t quite make sense.  Also Superman is wearing his 30’s costume, so the image seems to be a bunch of different eras, not representative of exactly WHEN in Generations we are.

Also, Generations 2 and 3 added a lot more heroes and legacies into the mix (Generations 1 is basically all Superman and Batman, though we do randomly see Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, and Kyle Rayner).  

Weaver: Obviously, in a universe with cosmic treadmills and such, time is just a number, but I still would rather it be a specific moment of the universe and not just “the universe in general.”  I think that would do a big disservice to the whole concept of it.  Which I’m sure John Byrne will complain about if it happens, but in this case, he’d be right.

Speaking of random appearances by other heroes, it was kind of neat to see how the core heroes of the world were in this.  You definitely see Barry Allen Flash along with Alan Scott Green Lantern in one shot, and it seems like Wonder Woman is just as immortal as Superman.  I’m pretty sure Hal Jordan was never Green Lantern in this reality, but I’m not positive.  When Kyle shows up, Superman is surprised it isn’t Alan (since he spent 10 years in the Phantom Zone).

Maillaro: Hal actually becomes GL LATER according to Generations 3 (I think it was 3).  The later volumes kind of spell out the other heroes a lot more.  

Weaver: I’ve never read the later volumes because I think the story is so good in these first four issues.  I didn’t feel like I wanted anything more added to it, because I felt like it might in some ways ruin the story by overexplaining.  This is just a kneejerk reaction, one has warned me against them.

Maillaro: For the most part, they are fine, just not quite as unique as Generations 1.  I do give Byrne credit for staying out of his own way with the future volumes.  So much of Generations 2 is about the other heroes.  And Generations 3 keeps jumping further and further into the future (with a real fun story set in the Old West that tells the Kents history).

BUT, they really aren’t necessary.  But they don’t feel like cheap cash grabs either, so that’s cool at least.  It just felt like Byrne still had a lot to say about his Generations universe.

Weaver: So, scores from me...I love this story.  I don’t necessarily like the Ultra Humanite reveal (mostly because it’s a character I’m not real familiar with...the only such character in the whole series), but I’ll give that a pass.  I say 5 for the writing, but I think the art doesn’t look as good as I’d like it to.  I give Byrne credit for a lot of interesting super costume variations, but all in all, it’s going to be a 3.5 from me.

Maillaro: I thought the Ultra-Humanite was an odd choice too.  He is the main villain in New Frontier too, if I remember correctly.  

I think the problem with the art is that Byrne spends so much time and effort to get the tone of the stories right, but the art is basically just Byrne.  It would have been nice if the art was stylized a little more like the comics of the time they are representing.  I actually thought the art was fine throughout, just didn’t quite match up to the sheer quality of the writing.   5 for the wrting, 4 for the art. I did love the covers though.

Weaver: Make no mistake, a 3.5 is still above average.  I thought it was fine, but...just not quite to the next level.

What do you want for next week?  Pick your poison, as I’ve picked all of them so far.

Maillaro: Well...we’ve had a pair of about we go for handsome Jack Kennedy next time?

Weaver: New Frontier?  I’ve always meant to read it.

Maillaro: I haven’t read it in years.  I honestly don’t remember it at all!

Weaver: Putting Nixon aside for Kennedy makes me want to say that we won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore (a quote Nixon gave after losing the election to Kennedy).  I’m all for it.  See you then.

Maillaro:  YEY!  I get to correct you on a history fact.  That’s not accurate.  That was his concession speech after losing the gubernatorial race to Pat Brown!

Weaver: Huh.  You learn something new every day.  But we still won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.

Final Scores


Maillaro – Story

Weaver – Story

Maillaro – Art

Weaver – Art

Superman & Batman: Generations