Review: Superman and Batman team up for the first time in Enemies & Allies

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Once upon a time, Superman and Batman were always depicted as best buddies, so chummy in all things that they bought each other birthday gifts and took time out from crimefighting to engage in questionable pursuits like playing cruel pranks on Lois Lane. (And, yes, there was such a story.)

But as Batman's characterization darkened in the aftermath of Frank Miller's graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, most accounts of their relationship grew darker as well, and they became the uneasiest of allies, regarding each other with a mutual suspicion that never quite became friends even as their effectiveness as a team forced them into a position of mutual respect.

Kevin J. Anderson's novel, Enemies & Allies (Morrow, $26.99), the latest version of the first team-up between Gotham's Guardian and the Metropolis Marvel, sets this now-familiar story, with all its familiar beats, against the backdrop of the stodgy, commie-baiting '50s.

It would be nice to report that he makes the absolute most of this setting, but the era doesn't figure into the narrative as much as it could have. Eleanor Roosevelt shows up to one of Bruce Wayne's parties. Senator Joseph McCarthy is used as a patsy by industrialist Lex Luthor. Cold war politics and fifties sci-fi complicate Kal-El's decision to go public. There's a conniving Russian general and a pretty damn good payoff to an early joke involving Bruce Wayne modeling his personal style on Ian Fleming's then-current James Bond novels.

But mostly, what you have here is the guy in the grey costume and the guy in the blue costume doing what they usually do against the guy with the bald head. It works, but not transcendently. Overall, it's not nearly as memorable as Anderson's prior DC Universe novel, The Last Days of Krypton, which did the impossible by managing to achieve suspense over the fate of a world readers knew to be doomed from page one.

Still, the narrative seems designed to set up sequels, so how about setting the next volume ten years later and pitting our heroes against some menace of the hippie era? That would be groovy!