Sunday, April 21, 2013
Book Review: ENEMIES AND ALLIES
IT BOOKS/HarperCollins – @ItBooks
AUTHOR: Kevin J. Anderson
COVER: Alex Ross
ISBN: 978-0-06-221380-8; paperback (December 4, 2012)
336pp, B&W, $15.99 U.S.
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster; Batman created by Bob Kane
Enemies & Allies is a 2009 hardcover novel starring Superman and Batman. Written by author Kevin J. Anderson (The Last Days of Krypton), the novel depicts the first encounter between Batman and Superman. In December 2012, It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, released a paperback edition of Enemies & Allies.
With a story seemingly inspired by DC Comics’ Elseworlds imprint, Enemies & Allies is set in the late 1950s. The Dark Knight of Gotham City and The Man of Steel of Metropolis, the two iconic heroes that have appeared in many DC Comics’ titles, join forces to save the world. A shadowy vigilante named Batman haunts the streets of Gotham, while the police hunt him. In Metropolis, Superman is a comforting presence, there to make the impossible rescues when first responders cannot.
High above both cities, however, the first human made satellite, Sputnik, the creation of the USSR, orbits the planet. This small metal sphere symbolizes the state of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Bruce Wayne (Batman’s secret identity) and his company, Wayne Enterprises, battle for military contracts to arm and supply the USA, competing with the military-industrial empire of Metropolis’ Lex Luthor and his LuthorCorp.
Meanwhile, at the Metropolis newspaper, the Daily Planet, reporters Clark Kent (Superman’s secret identity), Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen chase big stories. Lois Lane has discovered a sinister conspiracy involving Lex Luthor, and follows a trail of dead LuthorCorp employees. Clark and Jimmy race across country to investigate a rumored UFO crash, and Clark, who was born on another planet, is desperate to learn if this flying saucer means that he isn’t the lone alien visitor on this planet.
These separate missions lead to Batman and Superman crossing paths for the first time. This moment will change their lives, and maybe save the world.
Many people (including some comic book artists I’ve encountered) have described comic book writers as frustrated screenwriters and/or novelists. The prolific author Kevin J. Anderson, with his large bibliography, obviously isn’t frustrated, at least not the way some comic book creators are. Free of the need to write “literary” superheroes to prove himself, Anderson writes a damn good novel. Enemies & Allies is Superman and Batman as well written as the characters have ever been.
Anderson presents something of a fresh take on these beloved comic book characters. Enemies & Allies depicts a youthful Clark Kent, a thoughtful man, a good man, and a good friend to his coworkers. He shyly pines for Lois Lane, a sistah doing if for herself and letting absolutely no one stand in the way of her being the best she can be. Clark also learns to be a friend to the Daily Planet’s exuberant photographer, Jimmy Olsen, making him a partner rather than a sidekick or little brother. Anderson plays Superman as having a heart as big as the world, but the young hero struggles with how and when he should use his powers. How he can best help people or when he should let them help themselves is something to which he gives much thought.
Anderson doesn’t portray Bruce Wayne as merely a mask that Batman wears, although both as billionaire and as hero, both identities are on a mission; nor does Anderson portray Batman as grim and gritty. Rather, Batman is a brilliant, determined man – a Dark Knight for a gothic city weighed down by despair and corruption, but the hero is not a dark, obsessed man.
Anderson’s take on Lex Luthor is also interesting. Luthor may be the planet’s biggest brain, and he has an uncanny knack for adapting other people’s technological and scientific innovations for his purposes. On the other hand, he is so beset by vanity, greed, and envy that he is like an adversary out of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity or a comical knave envisioned by a great satirist.
Through these representations of classic characters – portrayals that are familiar, but offered from a fresh perspective, Anderson composes a novel that is a character drama wearing the accessories of pulp fiction. Enemies & Allies is full of weird sci-fi fun, cliffhangers galore, and the epic battles we expect from our superheroes and super-villains, but it is also simply a good book with winning characters. My highest recommendation is to demand “Encore!”
Enemies & Allies has that same spirit of joy and wonder that Richard Donner’s 1978 film, Superman: The Movie, has. Readers who liked that film will certainly enjoy Enemies & Allies.
Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux