Kevin J. Anderson,
Enemies & Allies
(HarperCollins, 2009)

Kevin J. Anderson's previous DC Comics novel, The Last Days of Krypton, was a timeless, tragic tale with action and adventure. It could have been millennia ago or it could have been yesterday -- the time didn't matter, as the themes it explored are eternally interesting.

In telling of the first meeting between Superman and Batman in Enemies & Allies, Anderson takes a drastically different approach by anchoring these characters into a very specific era of the 20th century: the 1950s. Eisenhower is president, McCarthyism is running rampant and the Soviet Union has just launched Sputnik and the Space Race. In Metropolis, a brightly clad Superman claims to be a strange visitor from another world; meanwhile, in Gotham City, there's a dark vigilante nicknamed "The Batman" who is enacting his own form of justice on the criminal underbelly of society.

Sounds interesting enough, right? Well, it is interesting ... enough. Sure, it's charming to read about Bruce Wayne rubbing elbows with Marilyn Monroe or raving about those "new" James Bond novels; however, that kind of superficial interest is all that emerges. Any time Anderson gets close to exploring something deeper, he backs off.

The most frustrating aspect of this book is that the deeper elements worth exploring are right there in the story! Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers and other classic allegorical sci-fi Red Scare movies, yet beyond Kal-El's musings we get no real exploration of Superman's effect on society at that time in history. It's like Anderson buys us a ticket to the cinema, lets us watch the opening credits, but then makes us leave before we see the actual movie.

Speaking of the movies, Enemies & Allies seems more like a movie pitch than an engaging initial encounter between two American myths. This book is pretty much a rewritten James Bond movie, complete with a villain and his own sinister, secret island. That would make it thematically appropriate that the villain, Lex Luthor, steals the spotlight, but this time it's from Superman AND Batman. Over the course of this novel, Luthor's plans and machinations are the most gripping and interesting. Perhaps his character seems much more intriguing because we get such a limited amount of insight into his motivations, but Lex Luthor is arguably the most interesting character in the entire book. There is some truth in that there must be an interesting villain in order to have an interesting hero -- the problem is that Luthor overshadows both of these heroes.

The biggest problem for Enemies & Allies is that it pales in comparison to another book: It's Superman! by Tom DeHaven. DeHaven successfully set the Superman mythos in a past era (two decades earlier), and told a spectacular story that truly explored the various aspects, influences and possibilities of Superman, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane and America (ever the unmentioned supporting character). In comparison, all that was missing in that book was Batman. Given the Dark Knight's popularity, one would think that would give Enemies & Allies an advantage but, sadly, Batman doesn't save the day this time. While there are enjoyable, fun moments in this book, there isn't enough substance in-between those moments. Enemies & Allies is an entertaining book, but not much more.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

25 July 2009

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