In honor of the upcoming release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC Comics News is proud to present Countdown To Batman V Superman; a look at the history of these 2 iconic legends right before they meet for the first time on the big screen. Editor-In-Chief Roy Ranous takes us back in time for a look at the John Byrne series Generations.
In continuing with the theme of the greatest Batman/ Superman stories ever told, we steer pretty far away from canon to remember a fantastic Elseworlds saga by recent Comic Book Hall of Fame inductee John Byrne (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hellboy, Danger Unlimited); a series that, while only published for a few years (1999-2004), spanned decades – nay, centuries of time: Superman/ Batman: Generations. What makes this story so important to the history of the World’s Finest?
It explores one way their relationships would evolve outside of the conventional passage of time, or “comic book time.” Superman’s Kryptonian DNA allows him to age very slowly in this Elseworlds tale, but Batman’s immortality comes at a price. As an old man he hunts down Ra’s al Ghul, who discovers a great power of the Lazarus Pit: if two people entered the Pit at once, one would perish while the other would survive with apparently permanent immortality and none of the accompanying madness.
Batman survived (of course) and became immortal. His aging reversed, but instead of returning to fight crime as Batman, he took over as the Head of the Demon and used Ra’s al Ghul’s vast resources and wealth to turn his organization into a powerful force for good in the world. Twenty years of this, but eventually he goes back to the cape and cowl and the reason he gave is “the simplest reason imaginable:”
There were three collected editions of this story. Each one skipped around time a bit differently, and each issue contained two stories ten years apart. Generations I and II consisted of 4 issues each, while Generations III was comprised of a whopping TWELVE issues. These stories have everything from time travel to space alien fights to even Hal Jordan being elected President of the United States!
Generations I began in the year 1939, with our heroes meeting for the first time at the Metropolis World’s Fair. Initially they are suspicious of each other, but overcome that suspicion to team up against the Ultra-Humanite. It ends in the year 2919, where Batman and Superman reminisce about their history together in Superman’s new Fortress of Solitude, based in an asteroid in a distant galaxy. They decide Earth is in good hands (the hands of their MANY direct descendants (Batman and Superman were horn dogs)), and leave the galaxy to protect the entire universe.
One of the things that makes this tale so enjoyable is the fact that even though all the art is done by one man, he manages to mirror the artistic styles of artists from the 30s, 40s, 50s, and so on, throughout the duration of the tale. Each story really feels like it came right out of the decade it represents.
Generations I has a number of different stories, but with one overarcing plot: Ultra-Humanite’s revenge against Superman. While light-hearted in the dialogue and artwork, the story itself is quite dark and serious. Ultra-Humanite bides his time over decades after his initial defeat and supposed death after Batman and Superman fought him together for the first time. As they grew older, they bore children and grandchildren, most of whom took up the mantles of the World’s Finest heroes and, in fact, inter-married to bring the Superman and Batman families together.
One of Superman’s children, Joel, was exposed to gold Kryptonite in utero, and born without Superman’s great powers. He resented his father for this, believing Lex Luthor’s lies that he was purposefully weakened in order to preserve Superman’s self-pride.
Holding these lies as truth drove Joel to sabotage his sister’s wedding to Bruce Wayne, Jr., and he killed her in a superpowered brawl. As is usually the case, Luthor’s deceit ended with Joel’s eventual demise, but the deaths of his children were punishment for Superman, which Luthor made clear when he revealed himself to be Ultra-Humanite in Luthor’s body.
The whole purpose of Elseworlds tales is to explore “What If?” scenarios, allowing writers and artists to flex their creative muscles and give us a story featuring our favorite characters that we have never seen before.
Batman v Superman shares some similarities with this particular story. While ultimately they became best friends, theirs was a rocky start. Suspicion and mistrust floated between Batman and Superman at first. They didn’t approve of each other; Superman did not like Batman’s methods (Batman threw a gangster off the roof of the Daily Planet while trying to learn the location of Ultra-Humanite’s base of operations, and Superman caught him before the interrogation could finish). Conversely, Batman felt that Superman’s boy scout image could prevent him from getting the information he needed to solve crimes. Kind of soft compared to the “If there’s even a one-percent chance that he’s against us, we have to take it as an absolute certainty” theme. But soft or not, they still started out at odds.
But, like in the film, they do unite under one cause — to prevent evil from prevailing. Whether it’s Ultra-Humanite or Doomsday, both heroes understood the need to put aside their differences in order to preserve the greater good.
The one thing common across all incarnations of Batman/ Superman stories is that they always start out at odds. Always. They’re far too different from each other to be friends from the get-go. Superman/ Batman: Generations explored just how far that friendship would go. Batman v Superman will explore what it will take for a battle-hardened, completely untrusting Dark Knight to accept the Man of Steel as an ally and close friend.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice premieres worldwide on March 25, 2016.
To find out more about this story, pick up the trade paperback here!