Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

There's a trailer out for DC's new animated feature, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. It doesn't look like anything particularly special.

Which is a shame, because the original book, by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, contains what I take to be the single best distillation of the DC universe's bedrock characters. And it's all done in a spare, two-page prologue.

The prologue begins with a young Clark Kent playing baseball in a field in Smallville. Clark hits a ball way out over a fence by the road. He goes to retrieve it and sees a fancy car parked on the side of the road with a flat tire. A tall, thin gentleman--Alfred Pennyworth, as it turns out--is changing the flat. And sitting sullenly in the back of the car is young Bruce Wayne.

Bruce and Clark eye one another for a moment before going their separate ways. Clark head back to baseball; Bruce turns back to his plotting. In thought bubbles, Clark says, "I still wonder if we should've asked him to play. If it would've made a difference."

And Bruce's thought in reply is, "Sometimes, I wish they had asked me to play. But, by then, my life had changed. I had no time for games."

This is a masterpiece in 8 panels--8 panels!--and it lays out everything you ever need know about Superman and Batman. From here, it's a straight line to Book IV of Dark Knight Returns. It's comics writing at its very, very best, though I'm not sure it'll translate particularly well to film, even animation.

The side question in all of this is why DC has committed itself to direct-to-video animation for its properties. I realize they've had mostly bad experiences with live action, but this strikes me as a failure of management, not material. There's no foundational reason why DC can't build its own film universe the way Marvel has. And I suspect there's more than enough room at the multiplex for both.

No comments: