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Superman/Batman #17

Superman/Batman #17

Scheduled to arrive in stores: February 2, 2005

Cover date: March 2005

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

"Absolute Power" - Part Four: "A World Without Batman"

Reviewed by: Michael Bailey

Click to enlarge

Using a temporarily enhanced Boom Tube that he negotiated from Darkseid Superman appears over a city that appears to be an amalgamation of Gotham City, Metropolis and New York City. He thinks about how he and Batman had traveled in time to fix the damage caused by Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen and Cosmic King and make sure that not only did the Kents find him when he was a baby but also to make sure that Thomas and Martha Wayne were killed by a common thief. When the two heroes had reached Gotham, though, Batman snapped and saved his parents before fading away leaving Superman with a ten year old Bruce Wayne who would never become Batman.

On the ground the men in Easy Company and Sergeant Rock spot the Man of Steel. Dozer, one of the men in Easy Companny, asks Rock what he wants to do. Rock replies that they follow orders of "No Flights, No Tights" and tells his men to bring up the big guns to blow Superman out of the sky. They open fire and the blast knocks Superman across the city and into the offices of the Daily Star. Superman recognizes Lois, who has no idea who he is and screams for him to get away from her.

Outside Rock orders Superman to come out peacefully as they open fire on the building. Superman becomes enraged and asks them how they can fire on civilians. He grabs one of the tanks and tosses it into the harbor. He follows the tank and is shocked to see a statue of Ra's Al Ghul instead of the Statue of Liberty.

He streaks across the sky towards his parents in Smallville and is shocked to discover a concentration camp where the Kent farm should be. He tears the fence apart and announces to those inside that they are free. Before they can react a squadron of Blackhawk fighter ships appears overhead. Blackhawk, their commander, orders Superman to stay where he is. Superman angrily takes to the sky and attacks the Blackhawks. He realizes quickly that all he is going to accomplish by fighting is getting someone killed, so he takes off again and heads towards Wayne Manor.

It is Halloween night when he arrives dressed as Clark Kent. He rings the bell and Batman answers the door. At first he thinks it is Bruce, but "Batman" takes off his mask to reveal that he is Thomas Wayne who assumes that Clark is looking for his son. He tells Clark that Mr. Pennyworth will escort him to Bruce. Mr. Pennyworth leads him to the indoor pool where Bruce and his childhood friend Tommy Elliot, who in the real timeline would become the criminal known as Hush, are surrounded by several beautiful women as they play a board game.

Mr. Pennyworth announces Clark as a reporter. Bruce and Clark shake hands, which gives Bruce the feeling that they had met before. He introduces Tommy to Clark, adding that his friend is a notorious cheat at board games. Clark asks if he can have a moment of Bruce's time. Bruce comments that he sounds so serious and Clark assures Bruce that once he hears what Clark has to say he'll understand. Bruce is intrigued and has Alfred take Clark to the study where Bruce will meet him after he changes out of his swim trunks.

Later, in the study, Bruce finds Clark staring at the grandfather clock that in another life time would be at the opening of the Bat Cave. After some small talk Clark tells Bruce that he has to come back with him. Bruce explains that he won't be going anywhere since he has guests. Clark opens his shirt to reveal the Superman symbol underneath and tells Bruce to take a hard look at it. He explains that Bruce may not remember it all but he does remember being ten years old in Park Row where a man coming out of the shadows with a gun. He asks Bruce to look him in the eye and tell him that be doesn't remember that night.

Bruce asks him what he wants and soon the two men are at Crime Alley. Bruce comments on how he doesn't know how Superman talked him into coming back there. Superman insists that Bruce knows how things ought to be and that all of the problems in the world, the ban on "capes", came from something he did. Bruce asks Superman to stop hovering because men aren't supposed to fly. Superman replies that there was a time when he didn't believe that. Bruce continues to stall and points out that he spent years in therapy to forget that night, but Superman is insistent.

Finally Bruce begins to remember that night and tells Superman what happened right up to the point where the man in the cape appeared and killed the man who was mugging his parents. Superman explains that Bruce changed what happened that night. Suddenly, the image of his parents being killed before him floods his mind and Bruce remembers everything.

Bruce realizes that he is going to need his uniform. Superman reminds him that his father was wearing one and Bruce asks him to get it because he doesn't want to go back there. Superman understands. Bruce also announces that if they are going to take on Ra's they are going to need the others. Superman asks who and Bruce replies the Justice League.

Soon after the now dressed for action Batman and Superman stand in a graveyard with tombstones bearing the names of their former colleagues. Superman asks how all of this happened. Batman explains that it took a decade of war. Ra's had started small with the Eastern bloc of Europe before moving on to all of Europe, Russia and China. Eventually he took over the world and those who tried to stop him were buried where the two heroes stood. Batman adds that since Superman time jumped to the present meant that he missed those years and because of that he shared the blame. Superman asks why they are there if the heroes are dead. Batman replies that they are there to dig them up.

Later, Superman and Batman fly in a stolen Blackhawk fighter to Ra's Al Ghul's base of operations. Batman bails out and floats to the ground using a parachute while Superman aims the aircraft at the mouth of the headquarters and bails out with a large crate. The plane slams into the mountain headquarters as the two heroes land. Moments later a squad of Ra's men come out and attacks Batman, who, despite the fact that he technically hasn't trained for it, manages to take the squad down. Afterwards, he joins Superman at the Lazarus Pit and the two heroes put the bodies of Green Lantern, Aquaman, the Flash and Martain Manhunter inside of it. The formerly dead heroes are confused, but Batman explains that no matter what they remember Ra's Al Ghul took their world from them. Martian Manhunter asks who their "benefactors" are. Superman replies that they are friends.

With Superman leading the charge the group of heroes makes their way deep into the compound. Martian Manhunter leads them to Ra's and Batman is quick to point out that Ra's is his to deal with. Superman warns him to be careful as Green Lantern clears the door. The heroes find Ra's Al Ghul standing by his throne. The immortal villain informs them that their coming was foretold. Batman tells him that he should not only know who they are but that he will not survive the night.

Suddenly the Martian Manhunter warns that Ra's is not alone. At first their thoughts were cloaked to him but now it is as if they want the heroes to know they are there. Superman asks who they are but Ra's is the one to answer. He explains that as powerful as he is even he would need outside help to hold an entire planet in his thrall. As he draws a Kryptonite blade Saturn Queen, Lightning Lord, Cosmic King and two other members of the Legion of Super-Villains step out from behind the curtain. The three time traveling villains inform Batman and Superman that they have been naughty and will be punished for their sins.

4Story - 4: It's funny, really. This issue could have been a complete waste of paper and I still would have liked it for the simple fact that Loeb poked fun at SMALLVILLE with his "no tights, no flights" joke at the beginning. You have to admire someone who will make fun of something that provides him steady employment.

All joking aside I really liked this issue. The time traveling aspects were fun and once again Loeb manages to put a lot of thought into the alternate timeline he has created. He also manages to throw in some good old fashioned comic book trivia alongside references to stories he had written in the past.

The little touches Loeb added here made the world that Superman was trapped in seem real. From the characterization you get a lot in how the Wayne household works. In his one scene Thomas Wayne comes off as a man who is somewhat disappointed in his son's behavior. If he didn't have a problem his greeting would have been warmer. Alfred's place in Wayne Manor is also different. Thomas Wayne calls him Mr. Pennyworth, which suggests that Alfred is looked at as just a servant or employee.

I really liked the "playboy" Bruce Wayne. This is the act that Bruce usually tries to play off in the regular comics but in this case it's for real. The whole scene with him and Tommy Elliot playing chess while surrounded by women in bikinis is everything the public thinks the current Bruce Wayne's life is all about. The martini line also reinforced how different this Bruce Wayne is from the "real" one. This, for me was the heart of this issue. As superficial as this Bruce Wayne is his life is a good one. Superman said it all; Bruce was happy. He led a pretty shallow life, but at least his parents were alive. You have to feel bad for the man that he has to give all of that up to save the world or at least the timeline.

This seems to be a running theme within "Absolute Power". No matter what happens, no matter whom gets hurt in the process, Superman and Batman are destined to be heroes. Their roles as the preeminent heroes of their generation is the foundation of their timeline. If anything was to prevent them from becoming the heroes they were meant to be than the world goes to hell in a hurry. While it is true that in the case of this issue Ra's Al Ghul had the help of the Legion of Super-Villains it is pretty clear that Superman and Batman are the two most important heroes in the DC Universe.

Then again the book is called SUPERMAN/BATMAN, so it is possible that the writer is a bit biased. In any case it is an interesting theme and Loeb is managing to run with it in an effective and entertaining manner.

The cameos continue to be a lot of fun. Seeing Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, complete with the Haunted Tank, fell in line with the other time tossed characters that Loeb has thrown into the arc. And if you are going to have a military reference it is hard to go wrong with the Blackhawks. Despite the fact that we only saw Blackhawk and Lady Blackhawk it was still great to have them there. Of course I love this sort of thing, so I could be partial to the situation. It was also great to see the Daily Star part of this issue's continuity.

The resurrection of the Justice League was a bit creepy. It served the story, but there is something really weird about Superman and Batman bringing heroes back from the dead to serve as back-up. I was a bit confused as to why they resurrected these heroes and not others, like Wonder Woman for example. In the end they really only needed the Martian Manhunter to find where Ra's was located in his headquarters. I realize that Batman was only working at half capacity, but with Superman there you have all the brawn you really need. It was an interesting use of the Lazarus Pit, but seemed a bit unnecessary considering that Batman and Superman could have found out where Ra's was in any number of ways. My only guess is that the formerly dead Leaguers are there as back up for the battle with the Legion of Super Villains that is hinted at for the next issue.

Speaking of the Legion of Super-Villains I was a bit confused at who the other two members standing behind Lightning Lord, Cosmic King and Saturn Queen were. I cracked open my WHO'S WHO: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE DC UNIVERSE collection and checked on the Legion of Super-Villains entry. I could not find the two other members standing behind the three we have already seen. My guess is that the flame covered woman is either a female version of the Sun Emperor or a future version of Inferno, who was a member of the Legion that existed before Mark Waid's current revamp. The other villain might be a future version of Ferro Lad. In any case it would be interesting to see if they are future versions of the Legion members or Legion villains considering that in the Pre-Crisis DC Universe several members of the Legion of Super Villains, most notably Saturn Queen, claimed to be from the future in their original adventures.

I only have one question; if Superman and Batman had succeeded in the previous issue in ensuring that the Kents found young Kal-El, then why was there no Superman in this timeline? An explanation would be nice, but it really isn't important to the overall story.

All in all a fun issue with some great touches. I have faith that the conclusion of this story arc will be just as good.

4Art - 4: Given the amount of characters Pacheco and Merino had to draw for this issue I was extremely impressed by their work. This is the main difference between the art in comic book today and the art from ten to twelve years ago. Back in the day the popular art, which for some equaled good, had none of the style and detail that today's artists have evolved into. Considering a lot of the artists working back then still work today it's nice to see the work improve over time.

Where the art in this issue excels is where the Pacheco and Merino know when to pull back into a multi-panel layout and when to do splash pages. In the very beginning we have a two-page spread with one panel at the bottom of the second page that is followed by a six panel page that pulls back to the title page, which shows the giant Ra's Al Ghul statue. The changes in perspective give the art weight and have a real cinematic quality to them.

The Wayne Manor sequence was great as well. I enjoyed the detail Pacheco and Merino put into Wayne Manor and the layouts were great. It was neat to see Thomas Wayne dressed as Batman even though it is hard to imagine the people who live in a world that despises and criminalizes "capes" that a man like Thomas Wayne or the parents of the children dressed like Man-Bat, Deadman and Zatanna would feel comfortable running around in their costumes.

I must confess that I loved the iconic feel of Clark opening his shirt in Bruce's study. The symbol looked great and I really enjoyed that panel.

I also enjoyed the scene where Bruce was remembering his past and his true destiny. I liked the fact that the false memories were done as ghostly images and then, when Bruce remembered what really happened that it was done as a solid image.

The two page spread of the super-hero graveyard was fantastic and a lot of the credit has to go to colorist Laura Martin and quite possibly Larry Molinar for the color work on this spread. It added to the mood of the scene and the greenish sky had a creepy quality to it that made the scene work.

Another creepy piece was the resurrection of the Justice League, but that had more to do with the zombie feel than anything else.

The final page was great as well. Between the art and the coloring it was an impressive end to a great issue.

3Cover Art - 3: As much as I enjoyed the interior art I had problems with the cover. Compared to the previous issues it was sparse. I understood the Ra's Al Ghul image in the background and I understood the image of Batman hunched over with his parents. What I don't understand is who the person that Superman is holding is? Also, Superman doesn't look as good as he did on the inside of the book.

Despite this I can see where people would be intrigued by this cover. That is why I am giving it an eight on the 2005 Edition of 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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