Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Super-Powered Prose: Enemies & Allies by Kevin J. Anderson

Perhaps it was bad timing for me to read Enemies & Allies just a few days after finishing DC: The New Frontier. The New Frontier is a work of artistic genius while Enemies & Allies is a novel by Kevin J. Anderson. Let’s be honest: Mr. Anderson is not the best writer in the world. While not talentless, he has made a name for himself producing average-at-best, hack work at worst.

I read his previous Superman-related work Last Days of Krypton a few months back. While not a bad novel, it is basically just an average science fiction yarn. Nothing really superhero oriented about it other than the pedigree of the lead.

Enemies & Allies, on the other hand, tells the story of the first meeting between Superman and Batman. The novel draws comparisons with The New Frontier for one major reason: a shared time period. For whatever reason, Anderson set his novel in the late fifties as the space and arms races both heat up between the United States and the Soviets.

One of the first things I noticed is how this isn’t really a Batman novel at all. This is a Superman story, and Batman plays a supporting role. Lois Lane gets an equal page count to the Caped Crusader as does the story’s sole villian: Super-nemesis Lex Luthor. No room for any of a dozen Batman villains here. Not a one. Alfred does make a few brief appearances, but for the most part, Batman is treated as a cast member more for his business rivalry with Luthor than anything else.

The story basically revolves around Lex Luthor’s attempt to manipulate both the USA and the USSR in to helping him in his quest to bring down Superman. This plot takes the form of a secret Soviet gulag and specially designed flying saucers. If it all sounds a little silly, that’s probably because it is. The story isn’t really bad; for a writer as lackluster as Anderson, it’s actually pretty good. But you don’t come away from it with any feeling of satisfaction. It feels as empty as a mid-sixties issue of World’s Finest, without any of the fun. Part of me wonders if they thought they could follow up Tom DeHaven’s It’s Superman (which I will get around to reviewing soon) with any old writer and have just as good a book. They were very, very wrong.

One last gripe: whenever we had Superman chapters, we constantly see him referred to as Kal-El. Not only does it get rather old, it strikes me as false. While I think Superman might think of himself as Superman, usually his mind would go back to the identity he holds truest: Clark Kent. I really don’t think Kal-El would play in to his mind that much.

All in all, Enemies & Allies is an okay, if mechanical look at a first meeting between two iconic characters. It could be better, but I’m sure it could also be much much worse. In my generosity, I will say that’s enough to give this book a Mild Recommendation but only if you are a big fan of one or both the characters.

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