Set among the tensions of the Cold War arms race and the UFO scares of the late 1950s Kevin J. Anderson’s latest prose foray into the DC Universe, following his recent look at Superman’s home planet in Last Days of Krypton, puts yet another spin on the first meeting between the Man of Steel and Batman.
The book opens strongly with a great few paragraphs describing the appearance of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in Earth orbit; but within a few paragraphs it loses its focus. Instead of building and further establishing the historical setting, and its social and political landscape, Anderson throws in the names Metropolis and Gotham as early as the fourth paragraph. That sets the tone. Instead of this being a tale where the existence of Superman and Batman seems a natural extension of that culture, they instead feel shoe-horned in to the narrative. As a result the story never fits together. When he has the opportunity to use the existence of these heroes as springboards for change, or to drive the plot in interesting directions, Anderson takes a couple of steps down that path and then ignores it.
Anderson never really is clear how he wants to characterize his versions of the iconic characters. He has a better handle on Superman and his supporting cast, who dominate the book, rather than Batman. The handling of the Dark Knight is particularly clumsy. And yet Bruce Wayne has the best written character arc in the book, being the only one to experience any real change or growth.
This is where the book really shines. The superheroics stuff was pretty much by the numbers, the cold-war political maneuvering was nothing new, but Bruce Wayne’s battle to regain control of his company, and his need to balance the two sides of his life, was compelling.
Overall the book is a quick easy to read adventure featuring two instantly recognizable characters set in an “alternate” 1950s. The premise has promise, but somehow it fails to capitalize.
I’m not sure what audience it is aimed at. The diehard comics geek can easily pick apart the handling of the characters. The alternate history buff will be frustrated that interesting plot opportunities aren’t followed.
Having said that, it is a light and easy read that would be ideal for a plane ride (which is where I read my advance copy). But will the casual book buyer pick it up? I’m not sure.