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Superman/Batman #15

Superman/Batman #15

Scheduled to arrive in stores: December 1, 2004

Cover date: Early February 2005

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciller: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Jesus Merino

"Absolute Power" - Part Two: "What Price Freedom...?"

Reviewed by: Michael Bailey

Wonder Woman and Uncle Sam stand before a pile of rubble in the desert. As Sam rolls up his sleeves Wonder Woman asks if he believes in destiny. He replies that he reckons that there is such a thing as the way things ought to be, like truth and justice. Wonder Woman then asks him what would happen if events were manipulated so that truth and justice were turned upside down. Sam tells her that it would be up to folks like them to set things right side up.

They dig through the rubble and Sam is surprised that Wonder Woman was right about the space man that had been buried there. She explains that the space man had the most powerful weapon in the universe, but died before he could deliver it. Sam takes the ring, despite the fact that he was never much for jewelry, and Wonder Woman brings the battery up to charge it and Sam speaks the Green Lantern oath. Wonder Woman asks him what compelled him to speak the oath and Sam replies that like he had said he believes that there is a way things ought to be, just like the Fates from Greek myth who told Wonder Woman where to find the ring. The two fly off to search for the help that Sam knows in his heart is there. Soon they gather Sandra Knight, Happy Terrill, Darrel Dane and Roy Lincoln who become Phantom Lady, the Ray, Doll Man and the Human Bomb.

On the moon, Saturn Queen tells Cosmic King and Lightning Lord that something is wrong. Lightning Lord agrees, but Cosmic King is convinced that they have the means to fix whatever problem exists. This angers Saturn Queen, who reminds him that they all know that by altering the times stream they have come close to upsetting a very delicate balance and that further tampering could prove disastrous. Lightning Lord asks where the boys are and after he is told that they are working out, he tells his comrades to find them since they should be made aware of their concerns.

Meanwhile Superman and Batman finish up slaughtering the citizens of Nanda Parbat, which is located high in the Himalayas. Batman discovers a survivor leading Superman to tell him to make her talk so they can find who they are looking for. Suddenly Clark is possessed by the spirit of Boston Brand, also known as Deadman, and with Superman's body tries to kill Batman. Batman uses the magic he learned from Zatanna to drive Boston out of Superman's body and traps him within a red crystal. Afterwards they are summoned back to the Watchtower by Saturn Queen.

Elsewhere the Freedom Fighters battle with the brain-wiped members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who were recruited by the three villains from the future to serve as their army, at Liberty Island. The Freedom Fighters take an early lead, but Superman and Batman arrive and Batman promptly kills the Ray. The Human Bomb blows into the ground and finds the entrance he had been looking for as Wonder Woman attacks Batman and Uncle Sam takes on Superman. Batman does his best, but Wonder Woman ends their fight by driving her sword into Batman's chest.

Superman goes into a rage and after knocking Uncle Sam out he flies to Batman's side. While Wonder Woman flies to Sam's aid Superman teleports back to the Watchtower. Wonder Woman begs Uncle Sam not to die, but after telling her to be careful he does.

On the Watchtower Superman's parents gather round him as he cradles Batman's body. Lightning Lord places his hand on Superman's shoulder and orders him to take his vengeance and to be swift and brutal. He flies to back to Earth and savagely attacks Wonder Woman and beats her to the ground. She begs him to try and remember what he could have been, but he ignores her and slams his fist into her face. His eyes blazing red he takes her lasso and wraps it around her throat, choking her to death.

Below, Phantom Lady, the Human Bomb and Doll Man find the Time Bubble exactly where Wonder Woman said it would be. They activate the Bubble as Superman breaks in. He freezes Phantom Lady, encasing her in ice. She shatters before him as he reminds her that they gave them a choice; obey or die. The Human Bomb warns him that since the Time Bubble has been activated his atomic energy might not mix well with it. Superman screams that the Bomb shouldn't tell him what he wants and promptly destroys the Bomb with his heat vision.

The energy eruption is enormous and the Earth, the Moon and the whole timeline are destroyed. Elsewhen, an older version of Superman tells Metron that they screwed it up again, an assessment Metron agrees to. Superman goes on, explaining that he went back once to change things and wonders how he and the others couldn't have learned. Metron replies that time, reality and energy are all intertwined and that unless it is repaired from the point of impact that everyone and everything that ever was will cease to exist. Superman tells him that he doesn't have a choice and resolves to go back there again to fix it himself.

5Story - 5: I actually had to add Elsewhen to my Microsoft Word dictionary.

The odd thing about this issue is that while I like alternate realities and futures, on a certain level I can't stand them. Well, let me clarify that. There is a difference between an alternate reality such as Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-3, etc. where events played out differently, but there were some constants on the way that had them line up and an alternate reality where a person goes back in time and changes an event in history. On a cosmic scale in the first concept certain events were supposed to happen. Superman was supposed to exist, whether it was in the '40s, the '80s or in the form of a villain. Batman was supposed to exist, as were Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and so on. They were different, whether in personality or in the fact that they were different people, but it wasn't that they all had the same history and at some point they separated and went off into different directions.

This is why as much as I may have disliked the particular issues I really enjoyed the Tangent concept when it came out in 1997 and 1998. It took a certain point in history, in this case the Cuban Missile Crisis and everything changed to the point where the world was unrecognizable from what we know. This works on several different levels, chief among them is that it is more (and I hate to use the term but it works best in this case) realistic when dealing with something as funky as the space-time continuum.

When you think about it we are all here because events lined up in a very specific way. Your parents were together at just the right moment to conceive you and they were put in that time and place by all of the bigger moments and choices they made in their lives. This type of thing isn't in a vacuum. The choices and events that put them in that time and place are affected by the greater flow of history.

In a way, you are where you are because of the thousands of years that man has been on the planet. A little trippy, but I buy into it.

Because I think like this I have problems with certain alternate history stories because going with my theory and sticking to it even the slightest shift in history would change everything. A good example of this is the movie IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. When George Bailey is being shown what life would have been like without him it is revealed that if George had not lived his brother would have drowned in an accident that George had previously saved him from. I don't buy this because it wouldn't be that cut and dry. Who is to say that without George being alive and having some say in the matter that his brother would have gone to the lake? Maybe George's absence would have led his brother to do something else that day. Maybe it would have led George's brother to sit down and studying more leading him to be the doctor that cures cancer. Who knows?

In any case I look at changing history as one, giant butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps it's wings in America and the slight breeze by that turns into a monsoon in Asia. One ripple in the time stream would lead to a wave where everything would be different as a result of it.

All of which is a really complicated way of saying that I think that Jeph Loeb is taking the concept of an alternate history and doing it right.

In the previous issue we saw how the Age of Heroes was destroyed not only by the absence of Superman and Batman as heroes and not despots, but with the deaths of Green Lantern, the Flash, Martian Manhunter, and so on. All of the characters are there, they just turned out differently. Lois Lane and Selina Kyle are there, but don't seem to be the strong, independent women that both Clark and Bruce were attracted to in the "real" world. I liked this. It made sense that they would be different and I would have found it kind of boring if they had the same personalities as before since it was obvious that the world these characters inhabit is so fundamentally different.

One of the most clever aspects of the story so far, which is kind of shot to hell at the end, was the gathering of the Freedom Fighters. From a historical standpoint this is dead on. When the Freedom Fighters were re-introduced in the seventies they were put on an Earth where the Nazis had won World War II and it was up to them to defend it. (Earth-X for those who were curious, though originally it was going to be called Earth and then a swastika next to it, but that concept was nixed by the editor, Julius Schwartz.) They fought because the world needed them. In this story they were cast in the same roles and I really liked it. This is why I was kind of upset at the end of the issue that the timeline was destroyed. I wanted to see more of this group. Sure, Uncle Sam having the Green Lantern ring was kind of cheesy, but it underscored the theme that seems to be running throughout this story.

I also liked that Loeb used the fact that this was a different world to his advantage and have anything happen. The deaths of both Batman and Wonder Woman worked in terms of the story and were very dramatic. I have to admit that I didn't see it coming because in most cases writers won't go this far. John Byrne did with GENERATIONS III, but in that case it didn't matter because after a few issues I got the sense that Byrne was going to pull the Deus ex machina that the events of the story never happened. I don't get that sense here. I got the feeling that all of the events on this world happened and mattered, which is a testament to Loeb's writing.

The dramatic pacing of this issue was great. The gathering of the Freedom Fighters was fantastic, especially how the characters were in this alternate reality. The fact that Loeb cast Phantom Lady as a stripper was kind of daring because it could easily misconstrued as sexist by the more sensitive readers in the audience. To me it showed how far off this world was from the "real" one. Having Doll Man work in an action figure factory was funny and appropriate.

The fact that Superman and Batman do not ever "see the light" also set this apart from most alternate reality stories. In most cases either one or the other will have a moment of revelation and assume the role of hero that they were destined to. That didn't happen here. Superman and Batman bought everything Cosmic King, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen told them and fought to the very end for those beliefs. I really enjoyed that.

It was also the little references and moments that made this issue a great read. The scene at the beginning with the villains from the future reminded me of the scene in SUPERMAN II where the Phantom Zone villains are gathered in the oval office right down to Cosmic King playing with the small, silver balls. The appearance of Deadman was fun and revealed how far Superman and Batman had gone away from their real selves by revealing the death of Zatanna. The Legion/Freedom Fighters battle was interesting as well. It was also interesting that Batman and Superman's "parents" were so saddened by their death of their "son." It was subtle, but suggested that they had really come to love these two former heroes and considered them their own. The tears that streamed down Lightning Lord's face may have been crocodile in nature, but I took them as genuine, which added another layer of drama to the story.

Then came the last page, and Loeb throws a serious curve ball. I knew this story was going to go in some weird directions, but as I don't really read Previews too closely I can't remember how the story blurbs read, so the last page was a surprise. I thought this was going to be a fight for freedom from oppressors from the future. Then Loeb destroys that reality and has the Superman from the first story arc of this series and Metron talking about how "they" failed again. Now I have no idea where this story line is heading, though I have my suspicions and I hope that it is heading to resolve the issue of the Waid Krypton versus the Byrne Krypton. I really like that. It brings back that feeling I used to get back in the day when I couldn't wait until the next issue of a comic I was following.

I really like having that feeling again.

4Art - 4: Pacheco and Marino combine for a very sleek style that I like in the comics that I read. Despite the fact that everyone appears very young the characters display emotion and look really good. Their Superman and Batman have an iconic feel to them, kind of like Matt Wagner did in the TRINITY mini-series. There is an almost timeless feel to them, which works great with the context of the story.

The pacing of this issue was excellent as well. Pacheco and Marino know exactly when to use multiple panels and when to pull back for the wide shot. The fight between the Legion and the Freedom Fighters was well choreographed and played out nicely. The moments where Wonder Woman kills Batman and then, in turn, Superman kills Wonder Woman worked great as splash pages. The drama and violence of them came off the page.

Oh, and is it me or was the coloring off slightly on the left side of the double page spread where the Freedoms Fighters charged at the Legion? It seems off color and washed in pink, as does the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMTED ad a few pages later. I wonder if this was intentional or a technical goof.

All in all some excellent art that fits the story nicely.

5Cover Art - 5: This is a really dynamic cover. Wonder Woman is leaping at Superman, her sword drawn and ready. Superman is ready and willing to fight back. The space effect of Wonder Woman's costume is fantastic. The layout screams power and good, old fashioned super-hero fighting fun.

And then I noticed where Batman was and I started to laugh. I laughed long and hard right there in the comic shop. People thought I was crazy, but I didn't care. It was just too funny.

You see, Batman is usually played as the ultimate bad ass. He has all of the angles figured out and in the chess game that is life Batman is always five moves ahead on anybody. This isn't a complaint. Actually it is. I am getting sick of Batman being almost super human in his ability to do anything. One of the great aspects of the Batman character is that with enough training and an insane amount of money he is the hero who could be you. Having a character that is so much better than me is annoying. At least with Superman you know you can't fly and all of that.

So you can imagine why I am so amused that Batman is featured on this cover under a bunch of debris. Well, not all of him. His head is actually on the debris and that is why I love this cover so much.

Funny stuff. Funny, funny stuff.

This cover receives a ten out of ten on the Grab Me Meter.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2005

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