"Century 26: History Lesson, pt. 1"
Writer/Artist: John Byrne
Publisher: DC Comics
Byrne's "Generations" concept grows more elaborate with each iteration. Similar to his work for Marvel on Lost Generation (the point of which was lost on many) and the Hidden Years (the point of which was more than just filling a continuity gap), "Generations" takes an aspect of DC continuity and plays around with it.
In fact, just thinking of all the toys Byrne has in play here is fun: OMAC, the New Gods, Batman and Superman Families, the Legion of Superheroes, the Green Lantern Corps, Wonder Woman and Kamandi. All concepts Byrne has worked with before, and all of it allowed because this is only an Elseworlds, an "imaginary tale."
The basic concept of Lost Generation was telling the story of a group of adventurers who preceded the Avengers in the Marvel universe, few of whom are known today. Through the eyes of a time travelling historian, we saw this group devolve over twelve backwards issues through the decades. The basic concept of the Hidden Years was what happened to the X-Men in between the Thomas/Adams run and the Wein/Claremont/Cockrum rebirth (about 30 issues of reprints).
The basic concept of "Generations" is what would the DCU be like if all of its heroes actually dated from the years of their creation, and aged accordingly. Not that they really do, as this issue proves by having both Clark and Bruce benefit from different longevity programs to still be active after 600 years.
But that works, too, because this is also a way to enjoy the World's Finest team, throughout time and as the legends they are. Byrne blasts Clark back into action this issue, and, intriguingly, he's more like the old Earth 2 Superman than the current model. With his graying temples and his air of rueful authority, he's decidedly old school. Maybe the grimmer Supes fits with the more optimistic Byrne Batman, who actually smiles now and again.
Clark's been sojourning among the New Gods (and apparently wed to Dreamer and father to Lar-El!), but he returns to an Earth doubly devastated (by Lex Luthor and the Parademons of Apokolips) to find that his grandson Clark and great-granddaughter Lois have died. Only her twin Lara and Batman (preserved, of course, by the Lazarus Pit) carry on the fight against the regular centennial re-appearance of the Parademon force.
Yes, there's some sort of overarching race against time going on (involving Saturn Girl, mostly), but it's all just an elaborate excuse to plunder and enjoy all the DCU has to offer. This issue is largely summary, getting Clark up-to-date, but it works well for us, too, because Byrne is throwing a lot of concepts around, and covering a lot of future history that needs explication. This issue isn't the tragedy that last issue's tale was; rather, it's a marshaling of forces, a gathering of players for the cataclysmic battles to come.
Art-wise, well, nobody's ever going to talk Byrne out of inking himself anymore, so the question is, is he any good? He certainly preserves the fluidity of his pencils, if sacrificing some of the detail other inkers might have provided. The balance of dark and light is decent on the page and the storytelling and anatomy remain as competent as ever. Weirdly (and I forget how Byrne comes up with his tech, some sort of computer-generated design software I think), but all the space vessels here have a completely different line-weight and are oddly delicate and European in style.
There's a sense of urgency to this story that may have been lost in the guest-starred complexity of Gen2. Mostly, this is the best place at the moment to see Byrne playing in his own little version of the world. It's not a bad place to visit.
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