Show, Don't Tell: Superman/Batman #75
(**WARNING!!! CONTAINS HUGE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN'T READ SUPERMAN/BATMAN#75!!!***)
On a last-second impulse during my weekly comic run last Wednesday, I bought Superman/Batman#75. In addition to a beautiful Frank Quitely cover, it featured one long story by Paul Levitz and Jerry Ordway followed by a series of smaller 2-page features.
The Levitz/Ordway piece involved Superman and Batman (Bruce Wayne) working with the Legion of Super Heroes to prevent an uber-powerful Kryptonite-irradiated Lex Luthor clone from killing Superman in the past.
The rest of the issued featured the following: Jill Thompson pin-ups of Catwoman and Lois Lane doing what they do best (B&E and raking muck, respectively). Steve Seagle attempting to write a Superman/ Batman story. Two kids role-playing as the World's Finest Team at a Comic Con. Superboy and Red Robin seeking advice from Supes and Bats (Dick Grayson) on a mutual issue. "Joker and Lex", a Brian Azzarello/Lee Bermejo story done in the style of Bill Watterson's "Calvin & Hobbes" strip. An Adam Hughes retrospective of Supergirl's and Barbara Gordon's histories. A point-by-point comparison between Krypto the Superdog and Ace the Bat-Hound. Future versions of Conner Kent and Damian Wayne getting together to pay tribute to their long-departed predecessors. A thirtysomething father and his young son reminiscing about their "adventures" playing "Superman and Batman".
As individual pieces, all of the issue's stories were well-crafted. It's how they came together that presented this issue's big problem.
The 2-page back-up stories had a common theme: How the heroic feats of the Superman/Batman team (Clark & Bruce) inspire heroes, villains, and ordinary people alike. Now contrast that theme with the events in the lead story.
How many heroic feats did the combined team of Clark and Bruce achieve in the lead story?
How many villains did they directly defeat together? None.
How many other people did they save together? None.
Even individually, Clark and Bruce barely did anything. All Superman did was get attacked and beaten up by the Luthor clone (mostly off-panel, no less) and then spent the rest of the story lying ill in the Batcave. For his part, the most significant thing Batman did in the whole story was break into a Lexcorp lab to obtain a sample, and he didn't even have to fight Lexcorp security. Other than that, the most action we saw from Batman was a few panels of him stitching his arm. All the heavy heroic lifting was done by the Legion, particularly Brainiac Five.
To his credit, Levitz at least provided perfectly logical reasons (considering the operating time-travel theory in this story) for sidelining Supes and Bats, instead of just doing it for the sake of "clever" schtick (I'm looking at you, Mr. Bendis). But the fact remains: Instead of a Superman/Batman story guest-starring the Legion, this was essentially a Legion story with cameos by Superman and Batman. Clark and Bruce were, in effect, guest-stars in their own book.
This may have even been fine in any other Superman/Batman issue as a change of pace. But for a special anniversary issue specifically dedicated to celebrating the heroic deeds of the Superman/Batman team, the least DC could have done was include, well, some heroic deeds of the Superman/Batman team.
In other words, DC spent the entire issue telling us how great the World's Finest Team was.
But they never showed us.