Superman/Batman: Generations Omnibus (2021)
Reprints Superman/Batman: Generations #1-4, Superman/Batman: Generations 2 #1-4, Superman/Batman: Generations 3 #1-12
Written & Illustrated by John Byrne
Superman debuted in the pages of Action Comics #1 in the summer of 1938, with Batman following closely behind in Detective Comics #27 in the winter of 1939. In 1999, comics legend John Byrne decided to write and draw an Elseworlds series that asked what would the DC Universe look like if these characters and their supporting casts aged in real-time? Immediately, this opens a lot of new ideas and story avenues, and the first volume is one of my personal favorites in the Elseworlds series. It’s not the most incredible story ever told in the DC Multiverse, but it’s a very fun one.
The story begins in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair, where Bruce Wayne arrives with his fiance Julie Madison. A robot in one of the halls comes to life and begins terrorizing the fairgrounds, an act of the villainous Ultra-Humanite. Superman shows up to save the day. That night Lois Lane and Clark Kent show up to investigate for a story and meet Batman, who uses his detective skills. It also happens that the Flying Graysons are performing in one of the venues at the fair, foreshadowing Batman’s partner Robin. Lois and Wayne team-up to take down Ultra-Humanite’s lackeys, one of whom is Lex Luthor. Young Dick Grayson helps out, and Superman swoops in. Everything plays out like a classic story from that era, and it’s not until the series goes on that we start to see how drastically different this world is from the DCU we know.
In 1949, Lex Luthor and The Joker have teamed-up, kidnapped a pregnant Lois Lane. She’s married to Clark Kent, but her friendship with Superman is widely known. Batman, disguised as Superman, tries to save Lois but is taken out by the villains. We meet a twentysomething Robin in a flashback and learn that Jim Gordon died years earlier; his son is the new commissioner. Before the criminal duo is taken out, Lois is exposed to gold kryptonite, whose properties permanently nullify a Kryptonian’s power. She and Clark surmise that their unborn child will be born powerless, and therefore Clark will keep his superheroic identity a secret. It’s this incident that ripples through the remainder of the series.
By 1959, DC Comics had embraced a wacky, more science fiction-oriented storytelling style, so that’s what we get in that story. Batman is in his fifties and feeling a need to retire. Superman & Lois have two children by now, Joel & Kara. Joel is an average human child, while Kara shows signs she is developing powers. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne Jr. is training to be the next Robin while Dick Grayson returns to Gotham in his thirties. The main plot revolves around a bet between the mischievous Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite, which leads to bizarre transformations and loony obstacles for the heroes to overcome. In the 1969 story, we see that the Golden Age Green Lantern still holds that title while Barry Allen is now The Flash. Wonder Woman is there to complete the Justice Society. The heroes argue with Richard Nixon, who wants them to remove anti-war protestors outside the White House. Alfred has died, but his ghost communes with Bruce Wayne, while Dick Grayson is Batman hunting down the Joker’s Son.
This first mini-series concludes in 2919 with Superman aging at a prolonged rate among the stars while fighting injustice. Batman remains in a very interesting form, and the two are implied to keep their partnership going until the end of the universe it appears. Instead of moving forward, Generations 2 goes backward and works to fill in gaps, especially about other superheroes in this alternate reality. Using real-time debuts, we see Superman & Batman engaged in World War II both abroad and on the homefront. Wonder Woman makes her debut as well. Nine years later, we see Golden Age Green Lantern Alan Scott meet with Green Lantern Corps member Abin Sur who is confused about how this Earthling got his hands on a power ring. In this second series, we get glimpses at the legacies of Green Lantern, The Flash, and Wonder Woman interweaved with plot points from the first Generations story.
Generations 3 was my least favorite of the mini-series, with this story moving by century from the 20th onward. This series’s first issue begins in 1925, where Superboy of Smallville is visited by Saturn Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He knows her as this was when he had adventures with that team of futuristic superheroes during the time of his life. Her arrival coincides with an alien invasion that proves very confusing. General Sam Lane is in charge of the troops fighting these creatures, and his teenage daughter Lois tags along to scope out the action. She runs into Lana Lang and the two become time-tossed in the Time Bubble brought there by Saturn Girl. This first issue kicks off a mystery that involves an invasion of Earth moving backward through time. By remembering what they learn in each encounter, the families of Superman & Batman can eventually figure out how to stop the war at some point in the future.
Conceptually, this sounds pretty entertaining, but I think it gets way too overly complicated and loses the plot somewhere in the middle. Because we are only checking in every 100 years or so, there is so much implied back history that the dialogue becomes so exposition-heavy. Byrne wants to touch on all the imagined futures of the DCU and figure out how they would be affected by this aging in real-time concept. I was expecting a little more from the 23rd Century, which features Kamandi, a Kirby creation, one of those creators Byrne is regularly paying homages to. He does give Kirby a big nod by making the chief antagonist of the whole story Darkseid and giving lots of screentime to his acolytes like Desaad, Granny Goodness, and Virmin Vundabar. But I think the last chunk of the collection doesn’t live up to that opening four-issue story which maybe should have left this world be afterward.