Rival comic companies Marvel and DC don’t hate each other half as much as fans would have you believe. The competition to rule the comic world has been greatly exaggerated by readers who picked their favorite camp long ago and are unwilling to allow the two giants to coexist.
The companies, themselves, however, seem to inspire one another to be better. Like two friends playing Street Fighter, they just like to keep one-upping each other until both decide that neither one is better and they are going to rock some co-op FPS because with such mad gaming skills, their combined power would be nothing short of amazing.
And that’s exactly what happened one magical December 20 years ago in Batman & Captain America. Taking place as part of DC’s Elseworlds series which exists outside of DC’s regular comic timeline, John Byrne took DC’s greatest hero and teamed him up with Marvel’s greatest, resulting in this brilliant slice of retro nostalgia.
The book is set in 1945 with Batman and Robin tracking down the Joker and trying to figure out just who the Clown Prince of Crime has been working for. It’s a fun trip back to a time before the Caped Crusader was a dark, brooding loner and instead gives us a more upbeat “Adam West” style Batman. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like my Batman as dark and brooding as anyone, but there has NEVER been anything wrong with a more colorful adventure. Having him more cheery also helps move the story along quickly, and since we only get a total of 62 pages to resolve whatever conflict is going on, we need every second we can get.
After the initial setup, we shift to Cap and Bucky receiving orders to return to America and that is where the ball really starts to roll. The entire story from that point on takes place in Gotham, with Captain America meeting most of The Bat’s supporting cast and even replying to a call from the legendary Commissioner Gordon alongside Robin.
It’s fun to see Batman and Bucky taking out thugs while Cap and Robin do the sleuthing, and does a great job reinforcing the parallels between Cap and Batman. There’s even the obligatory fight scene between the two titular heroes in which neither can land a blow because they are both that damn good at everything. It really is a shame we will likely never see anything like this on the big screen, or even the small one. Forget Justice League or the Avengers, this is the pairing I’d pay some serious money to see.
While Steve and Bruce seem to be jumping right into BFF status, Bucky and Robin are having a more difficult time meshing. Well, its mostly Bucky, who seems to resent that Robin is totally biting his style (despite Robin appearing in comics a full year before Bucky did), and spends a lot of the book letting everyone know he thinks he and Cap are the better heroes. Classic Bucky.
There is a great scene which feels straight out of a 1960’s Batman episode in which Bucky is completely dumbfounded as to how Batman managed to survive an impossible to escape trap, even though he was there when it happened. And, just like the Batman of that era, the Dark Knight gives some ridiculously convenient explanation as to what happened. It’s things like this, those little nods and references, that make this book such a solid read.
John Byrne does such a great job throughout the entire thing, and while some may say it’s DESPITE the cheesy dialogue and corny story, I say it’s BECAUSE OF IT. It’s one of those rare gems that came out of comicdom’s Decade of Disaster when the stars aligned just right and both Marvel and DC put aside their friendly rivalry for the greater good- a one time sensory overload where two American Icons met to save the world.