In the 1990s Marvel and DC released a string of crossover books, and of course the disappointing DC vs. Marvel mini-series where fans voted who would win the rather pathetic and all too brief battles.
Most of the crossover books were unforgettable crap to make a quick buck. Silver Surfer and Superman, Silver Surfer and Green Lantern, Batman and Spider-Man etc - but amidst the pile of teaming up every popular character with another obvious popular character (the covers alone are enough to sell to teenagers hungry for superhero stories) was a book that stood out from the others.
Batman and Captain America was published in 1996, written and drawn by John Byrne, a timely WWII tale that could only work in comics. Instead of Batman and Cap from the 1990s Byrne wisely placed them in a story as they were in the World War II era. Batman is broad-shouldered and smiling, and a little shorter than we know him to be today.
Captain America is brave and bold and super-athletic. Robin and Bucky appear along with their elders, as do the villains Joker and Red Skull. The characters all have a great look to them, John Byrne is one of those talented artists (along with George Perez) who can draw pretty much any character and make them look good.
The book is a light-hearted golden age style book, that is great fun to read. A tale set in the dawn of the superheros, when people needed hope and vitality, rather than cold-hearted cynicism, endless revisionism and in-your-face ‘realism’ (whatever that is). The book is a true love letter to the golden age of comics, and it still is great fun to read today, with better dialogue than typical comics of the 1940s.
One of my favourite panels has a close up of Batman punching a verbose Red Skull square on the jaw:
I love Batman’s response to Red Skull's self-important jibber-jabber about taking over this or bombing that, Batman simply responds with “I think not” and then punches old Skull face square on the jaw. It’s so visceral and just a perfect response to a self-important blowhard that only Batman could really pull of.
I love how post 70s Batman, elements of Judge Dredd and Dirty Harry crept into the psyche of Batman. The one liners and "man of few words" routine Batman is known for these days really came into its own in that era.
Another great action scene has Red Skull and the Joker falling out of a plane to their doom while the infamous real life ‘Fat Boy' bomb plummets in the background. John Byrne is one of those few artists, like George Perez who can mix various contrasting characters together on a page, and have it work. No matter who John Byrne is drawing, from Superman to the Red Skull, the Joker or Batman, they always look timeless and iconic.
John Byrne has a real knack for using characters in their element. We all love Captain America, but there is no denying that he works best in the World War II era, and in the modern day he is a little silly, though I still love him as the man out of time / leader of the Avengers, and sort of unofficial leader of all the Marvel Universe whenever there is a major crisis or bad plot that needs retconning.
Unlike crossovers that acknowledge the characters as being from different worlds/universes, Batman and Captain America is set in one fictional world. At the end of the story Captain America plummets to his frozen doom, only to awaken decades later to a Batman who seems to be the same age, but is in fact Dick Grayson/Robin who has now taken over the role of the caped crusader and even has his own blonde haired Robin at his side, named ‘Bruce’.
Despite most of the DC and Marvel crossover books in the 90s being vapid, shallow and pointless, I still bought the majority of them and devoured them greedily as only a teenager drunk on superheroes could.
I’m pleased to say that re-reading Batman and Captain America is a joy, and the quality is more in line with the 70/80s crossovers, such as Superman vs. Spider-Man and Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk. Like that book, you can pick up Cap and the Bat any day of the week and enjoy the superhero genre using the conventions it inherited and innovated upon. Fantastic people having larger than life adventures, thrills, excitement, melodrama and of course Batman punching crime in the face and looking damn stylish even with that god awful grin on his face.
Itching for in depth Batman articles or even just frivolous lists of popularity? Head on over to my blog dear readers for more square jawed opinions and unashamed love for the Batman mythos!
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