Review: Ultimatum, Superman/Batman: Enemies Among Us

As I believe I have mentioned in this blog once or twice, in my old age I’ve found myself becoming more than a little Bi. No, no, no, no! What I mean is: while in my youth I was a Marvel purist, I’ve developed quite a fondness for DC over the last few years. These days, I can swing either way. So, appropriately, here are reviews for trade paperbacks from both publishers that I recently finished. 

Ultimatum (Jeph Loeb/David Finch, Marvel, 2010, originally Ultimatum #1-5)

What a sad, ignoble end to one of the most noble creative ventures Marvel had launched since the early 80s. When I got back into comics again following separation and divorce in the early 00s, I discovered the “Ultimate” line that Marvel had launched, and it was a beautiful thing- They basically took their flagship characters and started a whole new Universe around them. One where powers were more limited, the world was more realistic, and decades of twisted storyline were erased, bringing the characters back to their essence. I wasn’t the only one who loved it, so much so that there was talk for a while of the Ultimate line replacing the “regular” Marvel Universe. Then sales for the “Ultimate” line of titles started falling toward the end of the decade, and Marvel decided, along with cancelling the series involved, to more or less destroy the whole damn world they were set in. And man does this series do that! Now, one could imagine an interesting, perhaps even revelatory, take on that. What you’ll get here, though, is just a ham-fisted bloodbath that seems keen on delivering shock, and totally uninterested in substance. As a result, all your favorite characters, and everything new and fresh that the Ultimate line delivered is lost, and nothing is gained. What a waste! I could go on about other defects of this series, but instead I’d like to point you to something more worth your time: read the first 6 Ultimate X-Men trade paperbacks, the first few Ultimate Spider-man ones, Ultimates Volume I and II and the Ultimate Galactus trilogy. This will remind you what a great thing they had going before they decided to take a dump all over it, and how disappointing it is that they couldn’t give it a more fitting swan song.           

Superman/Batman: Enemies Among US (Mark Verheiden/Ethan Van Sciver/Matthew Clark/Joe Benitez, DC, 2007, originally Superman/Batman #28-33)

I’m glad I was reading both of these at the same time, as this helped wash the bad taste of Ultimatum out of my mouth. I’ll go spoiler light and just note a few things that fancied my fancy about Enemies Among Us. Since Superman/Batman spent the first twenty-five some-odd issues on what was essentially one through storyline (collected in Public Enemies, Supergirl, Absolute Power & Vengeance), this volume had to be about something new. And it was! The storyline deals with aliens (and the irony that Earth’s greatest defender, Superman, is himself an alien), and in the process rolls out some of the great aliens of DC past and present. The entire story is also narrated by Alfred the Butler, Batman/Bruce Wayne’s ubiquitous manservant, which proves to be a nifty framing device. Beyond that, it’s just fun! Writer Mark Verheiden explains in the afterword how he deliberately sought to evoke the spontaneity and unselfconcious “anything goes” spirit of Silver Age DC. He succeeds beautifully in a way that nevertheless works with the more darkly nuanced storytelling of current comics. About my only complaint would be that having four artists in six issues does undermine the unity of your storytelling a little. But two of those four (Ethan Van Sciver and Joe Benitez) are excellent, one (Matthew Clark) is extraordinary, and the fourth, well, they only subject us to 8 pages of him. All in all, this trade paperback takes you on a ride I can heartily recommend.   

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