My fascination with a multiverse hasn’t been to the forefront in a while. However, in going back over my coverage of the Multiversity Guidebook, I was really fond of Earth-38. That Earth is based entirely on the series of Elseworlds series Superman & Batman: Generations.
The premise of the series is that Superman and Batman debuted in 1939 and aged in real time. Many of their adventures would mirror the stories as they were published. Of course, the fact that the characters and their supporting casts aged meant that some stories wouldn’t be the same.
As an aside, I recall John Byrne saying in an interview that his previous crossover comic, Batman & Captain America happened in this same universe. Of course, this means that there is a version of Captain America running around in this world somewhere around the second issue.
Writers/Artist/Letterer: John Byrne
Colorist: Trish Mulvihill
It’s 1939 at the Metropolis World’s Fair. Bruce Wayne is landing his special plane in the middle of the fair to impress a young lady. When police confront him, he attempts to pay his way out of it. Then he is interrupted by a giant robot named Electrox bursting out of a pavilion. The rampaging robot is controlled by the Ultra-Humanite.
Unable to change into the Bat-Man, he and Julie attempt to run away. When Julie falls, Ultra attempts to step on her with Electrox. She has been saved by Superman. Superman crushes the robot into a ball, and tosses it into the harbor. He leaps away as Julie aks Bruce Wayne why he can’t be more like Superman.
That night, the Bat-Man sneaks into the closed pavilion. He’s looking for clues to Electrox’s rampage, which seems to have been controlled. He takes to the shadows to avoid being noticed by Lois Lane and Clark Kent. They bribed the guard. When Lois finds a clue, the Bat-Man emerges and snatches the clue away. When Clark tries to stop him, he strikes him in the back of the neck. Clark, being Superman, fakes being hurt. Of course, as he gets away, the Bat-Man notes that Clark Kent’s neck was like a steel girder.
The next morning finds Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent each starting their days. As Bruce Wayne and Julie walk away from a poster of the Flying Graysons, Clark and Lois note that Gotham City’s two most famous men are both at the world’s fair. Despite laughing about the thought of the two being the same person, Clark begins to formulate a theory.
Bruce Wayne is able to get Julie to leave him to look at the boring automobile exhibit. Clark and Lois see Bruce immediately begin to slip away. Lois follows Bruce to the exhibit that Electrox was a part, despite it being closed after the attack. Inside, they both see Ultra’s henchmen, led by Ell, looking for any more clues that they might have left behind. One of them spots Lois. Unable to change into the Bat-Man, Bruce Wayne attacks, hoping not to be recognized. Unfortunately, Ell hits him with a “neuro-stunner” to knock him out. He then knocks out Lois to take back to Ultra for questioning. Ell orders the others to dump Wayne’s body in the river. Fortunately, a young Dick Grayson surprises the henchmen and delivers a beating that sends them running. Bruce Wayne thanks the young man for his help.
That night, the Bat-Man apprehends one of Ultra’s men and dangles him from the top of the world’s fair Hyperglobe. When the thug won’t tell him where to find Ultra-Humanite, the Bat-Man lets him fall. Superman catches him and leaps back up to the the top of the Hyperglobe. When Superman threatens to drop him again, he agrees to talk. The pair of heroes find Ultra’s hideout and rescue Lois Lane. Unfortunately, he and a couple of henchmen escape in a rocket made from the fair’s Pyramax obelisk. To compound matters, he’s rigged the Hyperglobe to explode. Superman tosses it into the escaping rocket, destroying them both.
Lois assures Superman that despite being roughed up, she’s all right. A red wig flutters down with the debris from the explosion. Superman remembers one of Ultra’s henchman named Ell, which makes him ponder something from his past as they all walk away.
In 1949, the Joker has captured a pregnant Lois Lane. When Superman leaps through the skylight to rescue Lois, Joker opens a safe containing lab-created Kryptonite. Despite acting like he’s weakened by the Kryptonite, Superman grabs it from the Joker once he gets too close. Unfortunately, Lex Luthor shoots Superman from behind, apparently killing him. Luthor then removes a mask on the fallen hero to reveal that he’s really Batman in disguise.
In a flashback, Batman and Alfred discuss Robin leaving to go to college. Robin shows up in costume, having cancelled his cab so Batman and Robin can answer the Bat-Signal together one last time. Commissioner Tony Gordon, son of Jim Gordon, briefs them on a man resembling the Joker robbing the Gotham Metallurgical Institute. Joker had been thought dead in a nuclear blast.
The duo investigates and finds something on the list of missing materials and fly immediately to Metropolis. Superman meets their jet mid-air and tells them that the Joker and Lex Luthor kidnapped Lois Kent. We then jump ahead to Superman witnessing Luthor direct Joker to return the Kryptonite to its container. Robin stops Superman from going in after Batman’s deception failed. He has another plan.
The Joker tells Lois how Luthor freed him from a Soviet Labor Camp after they found him in a Nazi prison. Luthor tells Lois that he needed a very special yellow mineral stolen in Gotham City. Superman slowly flies down, offering himself for Lois’ freedom. Luthor moves a lead shield in place so Superman and Lois’ unborn child will come to “no further harm.” He gloats that he doesn’t plan to kill Superman, but render him incapable of stopping him ever again.
As Luthor goes to remove Gold Kryptonite from its special vault, Superman uses his heat vision to render the lead vault to a sealed massive lump encasing the Kryptonite. However, this was the real Superman, as the second was actually Robin in disguise. The Joker tries to escape with Lois hostage, but bumps into Batman, not dead after all. Luthor breaks out the Green Kryptonite and drags the unconscious Joker to a getaway rocket. Batman prevents it from launching with a batarang, but he and Robin cannot open the locked door. Since Superman is also weakened, Batman opts to flee the building as quickly as possible since Luthor has rigged it to explode.
Superman and Batman explain to Lois that the bullet thought to have killed Batman was melted by Superman’s heat vision, and Batman “stopped” his heart with a Tibetan method. Lois is puzzled why the baby didn’t react when Joker pulled out the Green Kryptonite. Superman realizes to his horror that she must’ve been exposed to the Gold Kryptonite before they arrived. Later, the four of them discuss Lois and Clark’s son being born human. They decide to keep from him that his father is secretly Superman, so he won’t know of how his father failed him before he was born.
One Year Later, Alfred is disturbed from his beekeeping, by Bruce Wayne’s new wife. She needs to see Bruce when he returns from the city to tell him that she’s pregnant.
Normally, I split these reviews up into story and art sections. With this comic, that’s not really possible. John Byrne had been at this business of making comics long enough that his art and story work together almost flawlessly. In the first story, he captures Batman and Superman’s original costumes perfectly, and it’s admirable that Bruce is referred to as “the Bat-Man.” Superman’s ability to convince a criminal that he’s going to drop him to his death is spot on, given how he behaved in his early appearances. The presence of Lois smoking is not only appropriate for the time, but part of a significant plot point later on.
Ultra-Humanite was Superman’s first real nemesis, so his presence here is very appropriate. However, Byrne begins to weave in Lex Luthor as an initial henchman with intentions of advancement. The next time we see Luthor, it is with enough of a criminal empire to rescue the Joker with an army. There is also a clue to where Byrne is taking the story when Luthor goes to escape in his rocket. I know that I tend to give a lot of spoilers in these reviews, but I’m keeping one spoiler safe for you to find out yourself in this series.
At the beginning, I mentioned that Byrne once said that this series exists in the same universe as his Batman / Captain America crossover. The mention of the Joker apparently dying in a nuclear explosion, but surviving in a Nazi prison camp for six months is a reference to that. This is a classic case of referencing something that fans of that special would recognize, but it’s not essential for the story at hand. Marvel Studios is very good at this in most of their films. When it’s done especially well, readers will go scrambling to read the back issues to get in on the reference.
Byrne is using the tropes of the 1950s in the second story, and they’re as unbelievable in a modern context here as they are when reading a comic from this era. However, he does make use of a lot of exposition here. Given enough space, I think Byrne would have shown, and not told, but the format he chose worked against him. Overall, it makes sense in that weird comic book type of logic.
Finally, there was always discussion over who Bruce Wayne married. According to the FAQ section on his web site, Byrne intentionally left it blank because Bruce never had a “Lois Lane” type of character. He chose Julie Madison at the beginning and supposes that she is the most likely candidate. His own choice would be Kathy Kane, but she didn’t fit the rules that he devised for this series. She debuted in 1956.
Julie Madison debuted in 1939 and last appeared in 1948, when she broke off her engagement to Bruce Wayne. Of course, in this world, it’s possible that she and Bruce got past this bump in the road, most likely due to Bruce realizing that he didn’t want to be alone after Dick went to college and Clark and Lois had a son. I like that. The only other candidate is Vicky Vale, who debuted in 1948, but has red hair, which Mrs. Wayne in this series does not.
If you’re looking to own this issue, it shouldn’t cost you too much. If you want to read the entire series, then I would recommend getting the collected TPB. Of course, Volume One (ISBN 1563896052) and Two (ISBN 1840237112). It’s not necessary to read the stories in order of the date that they happened in the story. The volumes tell stories over a span of time, and each story exists on its own. Of course, the second one answers some questions the first one leaves unanswered. Volume three isn’t necessary to enjoy the series, and I personally find it superfluous.
Final Rating: 8.5 (out of 10)