Thursday, September 17, 2009

Enemies & Allies by Kevin J. Anderson

This book is about a first meeting between Batman and Superman set in the 1950's. It appears to be heavily influenced on the first Superman movie and Batman Begins though not part of either continuity. It reads very much like a comic book (silver age) even though it is not in graphical format, which personally I find to be an accomplishment for the writer since it is hard to maintain the feeling of one medium when changed to another. I like Batman a lot more than I do Superman and this book reinforces that, because the author writes a much better Batman than Superman. Superman came off as arrogant and somewhat self serving. This is in part, but only in part, because Superman calls himself a hero. I dislike when a person or character calls themselves a hero (or a villain for that matter). In my opinion, hero is a title that should be given to you by others not one that you bestow upon yourself.

The antagonist of this book is Lex Luthor, technically Soviet Russia as well, but mostly Lex. LexLuthor is pretty two dimensional in this book. The book goes a bit too far in trying to show that Luthor is evil, for example, it makes a mention of Luthor wearing a jacket lined with baby seal fur. Doing so did nothing to add to the story except to show that Luthor is evil, not just ambitious and ruthless. The other actions taken by Luthor, clearly portrayed him to be 'evil' and were already over the top in some cases.

There are two reasons I did not enjoy this book as much as I might have otherwise, though I did think it was an enjoyable book. The first being Lex Luthor was an idiot. Luthor is supposed to be a genius but he does quite a few very stupid things in this book and portrayed a level of arrogance that it's hard he believe he made it to adulthood, much less created and is running one of the biggest corporations in the world. I'd expect teen geniuses to be impulsive and rash but he's a full grown man who really should have learned by his age patience and planning. Here's an example from the book. He creates a death ray using technology stolen from Bruce Wayne's company. He plans to use this death ray to destroy a couple of nuclear missiles he convinced a general of the Soviet Union to launch, so he can look like a savior and so that both sides would up their building of weapons. Here are the stupid parts: He waited to the very last possible moment to use the ray on the nuclear missiles, did not build a prototype version of the death ray, did not test the ray on anything prior to using it, and he had absolutely no backup plan.

The second reason is because I was unable to suspend my disbelief. Reading fiction, pretty much any fiction, requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief, superhero fiction more than most; since they tend to do things like ignore conservation of energy. You have to accept thing like Superman's abilities, even though they clearly break physical laws. Superman lifts a large boat out of the water and flies with it (which is actually something I think should be included since it is something he does in the comics). There is no way that the boat could maintain its structural integrity, since it was not designed to be lifted from a point the size of a human hand (does it one handed, uses the other hand to wave at people). Usually I have no trouble ignoring things that are impossible, so long as they are consistent and are done well. For some reason though I was not really able to do so while reading this book. It's not just the big things, many little things, that generally I wouldn't consciously register kept distracting me. Things like knockout gas/tranquilizers/chloroform instantly knocking out people even though it does not do so in real life or how Superman typed up a story for his newspaper in a blur (that is beyond 1950's typewriter's mechanical limits. Try to type too fast and the long-handled keys would get jammed up. Even normal fast, much less superhumanly fast, typists had this problem when they picked up speed. A solution to this problem came out in the 1970's with the usage of type-balls but the story is set in the 1950's). The story did try to avoid anachronisms, with varying degrees of success (usage of cathode-ray tube technology and reel to reel tapes).

I particularly liked the book's explanation as to why Superman does not spend all his time stopping wars and bringing aid to people. He needs to learn to be human and have a life to himself. That for all of his powers and abilities there are many things that he cannot do and some things that though he can do, he should not. For Batman, I liked that Batman realized that he was going after street toughs and ignoring the, often much worse, white collar criminals.

A few lines I found rather annoying, in this continuity Jonathan Kent was dead but he had given Clark Kent some supposed nuggets of wisdom. I disliked pretty much every single one. For example: "A man's actions say everything about him that anyone needs to know." I dislike it because it is the stuff you do not know about the person that is going to cause you trouble and is what you really need to know. Another example: "Son, I hope I've raised you to admire our core values. America's not perfect, far from it, but even with our faults, this is the best darned country in the world. Don't ever stop believing in truth, justice, and the American way." I agree with believing in truth and justice, it's the American way that bothers me. I dislike blind patriotism, I do not think the USA is the best country in the world, and there are a lot of things wrong with the American way. I'd go into detail but I'd end up writing far too much (things like more of it's citizens imprisoned then any other country, one of only three countries in the world that still legally have children be given the death penalty, consumes too much, pollutes too much, too much blood on it's hands, too little education, etc.).

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