Enemies & Allies

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

Published: 2009

Reviewed: 2009-08-10

Publisher: William Morrow

Sometimes a book just really disappoints you, because there was so
much potential in the concept, yet the author is either unwilling or
unable to follow through. For me, Mr. Anderson's novel "Enemies &
Allies" was such a book. The base concept is a classic: Batman and
Superman begin their superhero careers and find themselves needing to
team up. The hook is that it is set in the 1950s of American
legend---with the Communist Menace sending Sputnik from abroad,
McCarthyism at home, B-movies of monsters and aliens, and all the
litany of societal change and prosperity and good ol' American values.

Well and good so far, and promising the reader a fascinating take on
an old tale through modern lenses---after all, the Batman/Superman
team-up really was a stable trope throughout the silver age, just as
it remains today. On the one hand, Mr. Anderson could have taken
these classic stories and given them a contemporary treatment of
depth, complexity of character, and moral ambiguity---not "dark and
gritty," but just fully rounded characters. On the other hand, he
might have embraced the trope and submerged us in the mythos, bidding
us suspend disbelief and go back to our childhood fantasies. Alas,
although he has tried for the second route, he has failed most

The fundamental problem with "Enemies & Allies" is that Mr. Anderson
really wants to be the reader and not the author. Submerging the
readers in their childhood fantasies is a very difficult trick,
requiring quite a bit of delicacy to pull off well. The problem is
that, when we've grown up, we really do lose some of that ability for
wonder that we had as children. There needn't be anything sad or
cynical about it---it's just that we've seen more things and gotten
more sophisticated in our understanding of the world. Put another
way: it's much easier for a child to suspend disbelief because there
are many fewer ways they can recognize inconsistencies. So to draw an
adult into a child-like fantasy, you need to give a lot of cues about
why it's OK to step away from their knowledge of the world---and most
especially, when you're telling a fantastic story, you must
scrupulously avoid any detail that is not necessary, for every detail
is an invitation to a rupture of the bubble. Give the reader space to
decide how to fill the gaps, let mysteries be mysteries, and above all
focus on the things that brought us to the world: the characters, the
sensations, the magic.

Sometimes this is done brilliantly, as for example in the "Venture
Brothers" cartoons, which freely mingles both childlike wonder and
adult cynicism. The better licensed novels attain this as well---even
now I still delight in the Mary Sue simplicity of the "Dreadnought"
and "Battlestations" Star Trek novels. Mr. Anderson, though, lacks
the touch. Most of "Enemies & Allies" reads like it was plotted and
written by a teenager, showing off all the neat things that he's
thought up without really exploring or fully developing any of them.
For example, he loves to spout technical facts about Batman's
equipment (ahead of its time and well behind ours) that bring just
enough reality to threaten our suspension of disbelief. Worse,
though, is when he has the things he wants to have happen go ahead and
happen with too much detail to sweep under the carpet, yet no real
in-universe justification. I think the epitome of this for me was
when Batman comes off well against Lex Luthor in a confrontation, so
suddenly all of Wayne Enterprises starts to outperform LutherCorp and
come up with totally awesome new inventions ripped straight from
yesterday's headlines. Because, you know, Batman totally kicked Lex's
ass, so that makes Wayne Enterprises scientists smarter!

Lots of things happen in the book---lots, and lots of things.
Mr. Anderson seems to never be able to resist adding another 50s
reference or side trip or info-dump about things that we all already
know from the 50s mythos. Like when UFOs are brought up, and he needs
to suddenly give us a paragraph of narrative recollection about
Project Blue Book---not that gives us any particularly interesting or
even relevant take on it, but that just rehashes a standard piece of
the 50s mythos in a style so detached it could have been a Wikipedia
entry. It's a classic case of telling rather than showing.

All this plot seems to have crowded out the characters entirely.
Superficially, they evince all the right emotions, but they seem to
all be just walking through their assigned paces, tiredly making their
way toward the assigned roles. Lois Lane, for example, is completely
robbed of the process of falling in love with Superman. Of course we
know she's going to end up in love with him---we want to watch how it
happens and to relive the feelings and the tension as it resolves.
Just being told about how he saved her life and now she's realizing
she really truly loves him doesn't do a thing for us. Lois is reduced
from one of the most noteworthy strong female figures of comics to a
cardboard figure who has to use extra adjectives to try to convince us
that she feels anything at all.

In the end, I haven't read enough of Mr. Anderson's other works to
judge whether this is typical of his writing or if it's just that he
phoned this one in. It wouldn't even be too bad a book to read if one
were a small child. I'm afraid that in my final judgement, however, I
would not recommend this book to anybody who wants to see anything
other than an uninspired rendering of a couple of superheros kicking