“A tale of loyalty and unlikely friendship featuring two of the most recognizable and popular superheroes on the planet, SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES pairs the Man of Steel with the Dark Knight. Lex Luthor, now president of the United States, accuses Superman of a horrible act against mankind and assembles a top-secret team of powerhouse heroes to bring Superman in dead or alive.”
Okay, so the giant meteor of Kryptonite and Lex Luthor as the villain screams Gene Hackman and the Superman movies of old; oh wait, the Superman movies of new, too. At its core, Public Enemies’ plot has been done a billion times before, but cliches aside, Loeb’s Public Enemies may be the best graphic novel to represent Batman and Superman’s relationship. Loeb poignantly expresses how the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight are polar opposites as heroes and as people, but they’re brothers in arms and in spirit. With Superman’s thoughts in yellow bubbles and Batman’s in blue, we see how the two view themselves and each other, side by side. It’s quite ingenious, actually.
I wish I could give the same glowing review for the art. Ed McGuinness’ art is blocky, two-dimensional and bright; Supes and Bats have muscle layered upon muscle. It reminds me of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold show, and the kind of art you see (forgive me, Mr. McGuinness), lunchboxes and action figures. It certainly screams “superhero” – but Brave and the Bold’swriting is campy and shallow, for the youngsters, and has none of the sophistication and wit in Loeb’s writing. Eventually I found it distracting, and did I mention the women? (What women?) For the two in the graphic novel the art does horrific things to Power Girl and Amanda Waller. Granted, Power Girl is the Lara Croft of the DC universe, but come on! Really? And I think Amanda Waller is kickass, but McGuinness makes her ugly. Boo. You can imagine a rant here, but for the sake of the post I’ll move on.
The hero who saves the world at the end is neither Superman nor Batman, and I truly appreciated that. Even though the two are perhaps the most well-known superheroes in the DC universe, this particular hero (who shall remain nameless in the interest of spoilers) also gets the limelight. On the same note it was nice to see Superboy, Matrix Supergirl, and Superdog get some attention, as this adventure mostly takes place in Metropolis; it was smart of Loeb to recognize Superman’s extended family, instead of keeping with A-listers. Something that the movie could have done too, but I digress.
Jeph Loeb’s stellar writing makes up for the disappointing art, which thankfully doesn’t repeat in the second volume. Public Enemies is a good ride for any Superman and Batman fan, as it delivers the high-powered action for a traditional superhero story, as well as the depth and complexity of the two greatest superheroes ever.