John Byrne’s clever skim through the decades spotlighting Batman and Superman in the first Generations graphic novel was a beguiling story well told, but it didn’t seem to leave much room for a sequel. To think that, however, is to underestimate Byrne. This takes the same template of every chapter being set in a different year, only this time it’s different years and Byrne involves the wider DC universe. As before, though, the characters age in roughly real time, with the continuity jumps now eleven years at a time rather than ten.

Byrne slots his plot around what’s already been established in the first Generations, fleshing out some items from that story, and toying with readers. Generations 2 can be read without having read the first story, but anyone who has starts with some little pieces of extra knowledge. Byrne is a master string puller, and he also makes use of other characters in novel ways. For instance, although considered near immortal, R’as Al Ghul first encountered Batman in stories published during the 1970s. For Byrne’s purposes on this alternate world it’s more convenient for him to be mentioned in the 1950s, and there’s quite the novelty to this refreshing idea. In the same year Superman meets Abin Sur, the Green Lantern who later bequeathed his ring to Hal Jordan.

The art is a little looser than on the story from three years previously, Byrne’s approach becoming sketchier, but still allowing for great detail when the fancy takes him. He’s also taking a more stylised approach to people, with plenty unnaturally thin and bearing pointy features.

It’s appealing that the plot fills in gaps from the first story, letting us see events just mentioned in passing or to be assumed, and sometimes applying some nice logic underpinning them. What doesn’t work as well is the use of other characters. Their cameos sometimes seem more in the way of setting up a possible sequel to the sequel than of any consequence to this story, and as Byrne’s dealing with so many other heroes, there isn’t enough space to give them all a proper focus. It’s initially Wonder Woman who’s seen the most after Batman and Superman, then Green Lantern. The assorted conflicts spread thin lack compusion.

As he did before, Byrne ends with a trip to the past. This is a clever story with an emotional pull and some great steampunk devices taking a look at pivotal moment of DC history. It’s one that’s been revisited many times before, but never quite like this, and that Byrne is true to the characters and still makes it fun is really satisfying. Overall, however, that final chapter isn’t enough to rescue the entire project.

A third Generations followed, but is only available as a dozen individual comics.