Adults, teens, older kids; superhero violence
NOTE: This book collects issues #1-4 of Generations.
Spanning 1929 to 2919, this epic book tells the tale of Superman
and Batman, from their first meeting in 1929 to their "summit"
in the far future. The book actually starts in 1939 with their
first formal meeting as the two heroes at the Metropolis World's
Fair, battling a nasty robot controlled by the Ultra-Humanite.
By 1949 they're colleagues helping one another in the struggle
against the Joker and Lex Luthor. Both are married--Superman
to Lois Lane, and Batman to a woman whose identity is never revealed.
Both also have children, though when Lois was menaced by Luthor,
she was exposed to gold Krytonite, which removes the unborn child's
powers and makes Superman resolve to keep his hero identity a
secret from the child (Joel). In 1959 the two heroes have to
deal with the Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk, while Lois discovers
that her second child, Kara, has inherited her father's powers
to some degree; she gives the girl a special amulet that suppresses
the powers. In 1969, having found out that his dad is Superman,
Joel is killed in Vietnam; Bruce Wayne talks to the ghost of
Alfred while Dick Grayson, as Batman, is trying to capture "Joker,
Jr."; and Lois is diagnosed with cancer. In 1979 Kara and
Bruce's son Bruce Jr. are scheduled for marriage even as they
fight baddies side-by-side; Clark (who isn't aging much) is the
editor-in-chief at the Daily Planet; Lois is trying to stay alive
long enough to witness the marriage; old Bruce Wayne confronts
Ra's al Ghul and enters the Lazarus Pit with him; and a mysterious
adversary plots the destruction of everything Superman holds
dear. In 1989, Superman is witnessed murdering Lex Luthor and
voluntarily enters the Phantom Zone. In 1999, Batman (Bruce Jr.)
confronts who he thinks is Ra's al Ghul but who turns out to
be Bruce Wayne, rendered immortal by the Lazarus Pit; Bruce turns
Ra's's old organization (now doing good deeds instead of bad)
over to his son and resumes the mantle of Batman; he then frees
Superman, who ends up leaving Earth. Flash forward to 2919, where
Bruce locates Kal; they reminisce about their first meeting in
1929, and together with Lana Lang (don't ask), the three old
friends face the future together.
This effort underscores the creative bankruptcy inherent in old
superheroes, especially these two. There is nothing left
to say about them, so periodically writers reach back and fiddle
with their history, as if somehow this makes them seem fresher.
How the hell many times can this ground be covered before it
gives way and we all get dumped into a bottomless pit? (Answer:
it's already happened. Just check out JLA:
New World Order.)
If Byrne had dared to examine issues that provided genuine
complexities rather than contrived ones, maybe this story would
have been better. For example, Kara's eight or nine when she
discovers she can float. Her mom gives her an amulet to suppress
this ability and tells her never to take it off. Now, can you
imagine a child of that age who WOULDN'T take off the amulet
and show her floating to her friends--and, more importantly,
her brother? Now that would have been an interesting plot twist!
Imagine the jealousy, the fights, the anger! But no, no, it takes
an assumption of superhuman obedience on the part of Kara and
a surreptitious visit by Lex Luthor to inform Joel of who his
father is. Or, how about a renewed effort by Superman to find
a cure for Lois's cancer? Lois tells Kara that he found cures
for other races but not for humans. So this means he should stop
trying now? Why isn't he devoting every spare moment to curing
Lois? Because such a search doesn't fit into Byrne's plot. (And
if his microscopic vision was good enough to recreate a serum
from a few leftover drops in a vial, why can't he delicately
burn out her cancerous cells? She's still alive for the wedding,
so why did she even have to get cancer in the first place? etc.
etc.) Admittedly, some of the contrivances are attempts to recreate
the feel of comics from the various eras covered, but that excuse
isn't adequate for most of the contrivances.
I don't know whether Byrne's long years in the superhero industry
have rendered him incapable of (or indifferent to) moving in
realistic directions, or whether The Powers That Be at DC have
forbidden them. Given the superior quality of his Next Men,
I hope the latter; but given the existence of DC titles like
Astro City, which at least make an effort to treat heroes
more realistically, I'm starting to wonder. Anyway, if there's
anyone left in the world who needs another Batman/Superman title,
this one is as good as any. The best that can be said about it
is that it's harmless.