I've never been a fan of Superman stories. There's something about the silver age goofiness that no one notices it's just Clark Kent with his glasses off that never sits well with me. He's also too powerful. And, I'm still baffled by how the most powerful superhero in the DC universe was killed in a seven issue fistfight with a villain who, at the time, had no back story. One of the few times Superman interests me is when he's shown in the context of other heroes, particularly Batman.
If there is a modern era retelling of the first meeting of Batman and Superman collected in trades, I haven't read it yet. But Trinity by Matt Wagner (not to be confused with the Kurt Busiek weekly series from 2009) not only gives us a great Superman and Batman interaction, it also serves as an introduction to Wonder Woman, another character who I only enjoy amongst other heroes. Her inclusion in this story gives us an outsider's view to the odd relationship between Batman and Superman.
In the Golden and Silver Ages, DC continuity had established their two main heroes as best buddies who played sports together and never had more than the occasional mild dispute. In 1986, Frank Miller changed all that with The Dark Knight Returns (which, for this chronological project, is considered an Elseworld tale), and John Byrne made it canon with The Man Of Steel.
This story presents us with bumbling Clark Kent missing his train to work. When the conductor of the train he missed is shot by a sharpshooter, Clark goes all Superman and rescues the train, but doesn't have time to go after the men who caused this act of terror. Luckily for him, Bruce Wayne was in town, and Batman hogtied the criminals for the police.
The terrorist group is called Purge, and is run by Ra's Al Ghul. Ra's is an immortal eco-terrorist whose schemes usually involve purging the Earth of humanity. This time he frees Bizarro, a Superman clone with severe mental limitations, and uses him to obtain a cache of nuclear missiles from a Russian Submarine. He also hires an Amazonian assassin named Diana to train members of The Purge.
During Bizarro's mission, he accidentally releases one of the non-nuclear missiles near the island of Themyscira, home to a sect of Amazon warriors. The sect believes Superman to be responsible, and sends Wonder Woman to Metropolis to investigate.
Wagner fills this book with a bunch of plot misdirects. The young Amazon punk named Diana turns out to not be Wonder Woman, and then he sets up an obvious battle between Wonder Woman and Superman over identity confusion, only to have Wonder Woman act very sensibly and work everything out on her own.
It's Batman who causes friction by roughly interrogating a member of The Purge, despite Wonder Woman aiding him with her Lasso Of Truth. The relationships between the three characters for the rest of the book is fantastic. Wagner plays them off each other flawlessly, giving them a depth I haven't seen in any other book. We get to see all three of them exceed the call of duty in their own way. Each of them adheres to their morals, and apart from their first meeting, and after an unfortunate dip in a Lazarus Pit for Wonder Woman, the three do so without bickering.
As with Batman And The Monster Men, and Batman And The Mad Monk, Wagner pulls double duty as writer and artist. And with the exception of one oddly sketch-faced panel of Ra's Al Ghul, the book is gorgeous. Wagner is really up there with Tim Sale as one of my favorite Batman artists.
The story also features a few little cameos, including Dick Grayson as Robin, and this chronology's debut of Aquaman. We really get to see the DC Universe starting to take shape outside of Gotham, without having to go too in-depth to the other characters.
JLA Year One by Mark Waid comes right after this on my bookshelf. There's not a lot of Batman in it, so I won't be including it on this website, but this story is in some ways a precursor to it. And it's a decent read.
As for Wagner's Trinity, it should be no surprise that I give it
Story 5/5, Art 5/5