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Superman/Batman #20

Superman/Batman #20

Scheduled to arrive in stores: June 1, 2005

Cover date: June 2005

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciller: Ed McGuinness
Inker: Dexter Vines

"With a Vengeance!" - Chapter 1: "Here Come the Maximums"

Michael Bailey Reviewed by: Michael Bailey

Click to enlarge

As a radio talk show host debates violence in the media and its effect on society with his listeners the super-villain group known as the Axis of Evil (Annihilate, Godiva, Rapier and Demise) finish up their break-in of a museum. Rapier is agitated and wants the group to hurry before you know who shows up. Godiva quips that she needs time to shop, but Demise agrees with Rapier. The group stands back as Annihilate finishes breaking through the wall only to find the government sanctioned super-hero group the Maximums (Soldier, Hornet, Skyscraper, Bonk and Robot) waiting for them on the other side.

The Maximums go on the offensive with each team having their own measure of success before a Boom Tube opens up over them. Superman and Batman fly out and immediately attack the Axis of Evil. The battle ends quickly with Superman and Batman as the victors. Soldier steps forward to shake Superman's hand, but the World's Finest attack the Maximums as well. Hornet asks Superman why he and Batman are attacking them. Superman replies that they are harboring a fugitive. He flies up to Skyscraper and informs the giant hero that he is the one they are looking for. Skyscraper asks what he is talking about since they have never seen either him or Batman before. Suddenly, Superman unleashes a powerful blast of heat vision, killing Skyscraper while accusing him of murdering Lois Lane.

Superman hovers near Batman and apologizes for his actions, but adds that there was no other way. Batman agrees, but their conversation is cut short when Bonk slams into Superman. Solider tells Batman that he doesn't know why they killed Skyscraper, but they will never stop Viking when he gets wind of their actions. Batman asks who Viking is as he kicks Soldier to the ground.

From behind them a voice calls out. The heroes turn and see Viking, Son of the Ice Giants standing before them. After a quick introduction he attacks, encasing the two heroes in ice. Superman breaks loose and quickly frees Batman. Superman states that their job is done as a Boom Tube appears. Viking launches another attack and informs them that escape is not an option. His threats prove hollow as Superman and Batman disappear. The Viking cries that they are cowards before Soldier vows that despite the fact that they don't know who Superman and Batman were the Maximums will tracks them to the end of the universe for what they did to Skyscraper.

In another time and place Bizarro Superman #1 travels to Gotham after receiving a phone call to come there. Using his spotlight vision, the imperfect version of Superman quickly comes upon a figure dressed in a cape and cowl. Bizarro, in his own way, asks who the person is. The figure introduces himself as Batzarro, the world's worst detective as he opens fire on Bizarro. Bizarro feels sorry for Batzarro since he doesn't get out much on account of his lack of enemies. Batzarro comes from the same place that Bizarro does and wants to be a hero like his idol Batman.

Bizarro asks what the situation is. Batzarro explains that since Batman's parents are dead and his parents are alive then Batman is a better detective. So Batzarro is going to kill other parents to solve what he calls the crime. Bizarro offers to team-up and Batzarro agrees. The two shake hands and suddenly Bizarro starts to feel strange. His speech patterns turn to normal. Batzarro is amused by this and reveals the Blue Kryptonite he found after the meteor shower. Bizarro flies away and returns to "normal" and tells Batzarro that he will be back to help him solve the murders. Batzarro thanks him and adds that he hasn't touched anything so the crime scene is not contaminated.

Meanwhile Superman battles some kind of Kryptonite Man in Tokyo, Japan. He barely holds his own against the K-Man and asks Batman for help. The Batman attacks with a device built by Hiro Okamura, the thirteen year old genius who calls himself the Toyman. The device draws the green K out of the creature, but Hiro points out that it is as if there are two life forms, both energy beings, at work. The creature continues to blame Superman and Batman for some perceived slight before the green K is totally drained from him.

Superman and Batman watch as the creature writhes about and after all of the green K is drained away the two heroes are shocked to see Captain Atom standing before them. They question the very confused Captain, who doesn't remember much about how he survived the crash landing he performed with the massive Green Kryptonite meteor that had threatened the Earth. Atom believes he could have absorbed the radiation, but is mostly glad that he is back and that the Earth is safe. Superman continues to question him, but Hiro interrupts the interrogation by pointing out that energy cannot be destroyed, but only converted. His question becomes now that he has the green K energy trapped what should he do with it?

Elsewhere the Maximums bury their teammate and swear vengeance on those who killed him. The team is surprised to find that a member of their team who is already deceased, the Bowman, has come back in wraith form and is talking to them. Viking believes it to be a trick played on them by his sister. Bowman informs them that he is indeed dead and that stuff like this happens when you visit a graveyard at night. He asks how they are gonna make things square for Skyscraper. Soldier replies that they can find no sign of this Superman and Batman while the Viking informs the group that his father had often told him that the dead can see things the living can't.

Bowman agrees and tells them that he can get them to where Skyscaper's killers are hiding. He warns them that this won't be like their normal assignments. If they go they are going to need to take both of them out. Soldier speaks for the rest of the group when he says that when they find Superman and Batman they will take maximum vengeance. The Bowman takes a drag off his cigar and informs the group that they better fasten their seat belts because it is going to be a bumpy ride.

5Story - 5: If any sort of pattern has emerged in the past twenty issues of this series is that Loeb usually begins his story going down one path and somewhere around the second or third part of the story he'll jerk the reader into another direction. This has been one of the more enjoyable aspects of the series and of Loeb's writing in general. It is nice, as a reader, to have that whole, "what's goin to happen next?" feeling.

"With a Vengeance" looks to have that same, unexpected vibe. In this issue he introduced not one but three different plot lines, all of which have the potential to go in some interesting directions.

The first of these plot lines concerns something that has become a running gag in comics; the cross-company doppelganger. Writer Roy Thomas was one of the first to use this concept when he introduced the villainous Squadron Sinister into the pages of the AVENGERS back in the '60s as a way to have the Avengers "meet" the Justice League, albeit evil, alternate versions of Superman, Batman and the rest. The Squadron Sinister later evolved into the Squadron Supreme (also known as That Group of Characters That Before J. Michael Stracynski Came Along Were Perpetual Victims of Mind Control) and went on to appear in one of the more acclaimed Limited Series Marvel published in the '80s.

Then there is Marvel's Imperial Guard, which was made up with a group of characters that were alternate versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Most of these doppelgangers (which isn't exactly the correct term for it since a doppelganger is a ghostly double of a living person that haunts its living counterpart, but it seems to be the best word for the job) are tongue-in-cheek nods to the competitor and can be a lot of fun for the reader.

(At this point I could make a cheap shot at Rob Liefeld's expense and point out the fact many of his original creations are take-offs of various Marvel and DC characters. I could do this, but I won't mainly because I harbor no real animosity for Rob Liefeld or his creations and I think that the people who come to this site are above such petty, fanboy snipes.

Or I could be wrong. Let me know.)

The Maximums, which I assume are more of a riff on the ULTIMATES rather than the AVENGERS given the name, are a great addition to this convention. Not a whole heck of a lot was done with them, but considering this is their first appearance it was more important to introduce them then delve into their inner-most psyches. Their introduction in a huge fight scene where everyone is carrying on a conversation while performing extremely strenuous physical acts is a great riff on the standard Marvel fight scene and considering whom they are supposed to be based on this makes perfect sense. Stan Lee was one of the first to use this form of exposition and I think Chris Claremont pretty much perfected it in the pages of X-MEN where characters would carry on entire soliloquies while taking on the bad guys.

Loeb seems to be having fun with the concept. With Soldier as Captain America, Hornet as the Wasp, Robot as Iron Man, Bonk (that was his name, right?) as the Hulk, Skyscraper as Giant Man, Viking as Thor and the deceased Bowman as the deceased (for the moment) Hawkeye Loeb presents a team that is familiar yet new and gives him a chance to take a friendly poke at the competition while not being nasty about it.

The other Marvel staple that Loeb used was the misunderstanding as a catalyst for a story. Somebody (or a group of somebody, usually villains) frames one set of characters so that a second set of characters will go after them. Usually the misunderstanding didn't involve the death of a team member, but you get the idea. I thought this was a wonderful addition to the story and brings up the questions who sent the evil Superman and Batman and why. Of course those are the questions we are supposed to have, but it was great to have that feeling of anticipation again.

The second plot line was the most amusing of the three. The return of Bizarro and the introduction of Batzarro was a whole lot of fun. I absolutely loved the fact that Batzarro repeated out loud everything that was in the inner-dialogue panel and that he was able to poke fun at himself by having Bizarro questioning the nature of those panels. At first I thought that this was going to be a fun little sub-plot, but from what I was able to gather from the dialogue Batzarro is investigating who killed Batman's parents in his own demented way. It makes me wonder if Loeb is going to tie up that little loose end from his first arc in the series.

Then, a third of the way into the book we finally get to Superman and Batman and the return of not only Hiro the Toyman but Captain Atom as well. The fight was pretty standard, but the use of the Toyman was great and the fact that Captain Atom isn't dead makes me very happy. I especially liked the fact that when Superman told him that they gave him a nice funeral Captain Atom was appreciative. I am interested to see the full story on how he merged with the Kryptonite Man entity and how much of a role Captain Atom will play in the story line.

I also enjoyed the radio talk show narrative. I am curious if this is going to continue over the next five issues and if Loeb is going to carry on the violence in the media and its effects on those who view or read it concept. It's an age old question that, unfortunately, will never go away. I could get into my own theories on the subject, but this review is running long as it is.

In the end we are left with nothing but questions, but that's good. I'm kind of glad that Loeb has six issues to work with because he has set up a good deal of story to work with. Who set Superman and Batman up? What are Bizarro and Batzarro up to? What is the Kryptonite energy entity? Was that really the ghost of the Bowman or something else entirely?

A lot of questions and I am really looking forward to the answers.

5Art - 5: The return of McGuinness and Vines! Hooray! As I have mentioned in other reviews I used to not care for McGuinness' artwork, but his run on SUPERMAN soon changed my mind. I have come to appreciate his style and I believe that Dexter Vines is probably one of the best inkers he has ever had.

The artistic highlights of this issue include:

Pages two and three: A wonderfully drawn fight scene and a great introduction to the Maximums. The character designs were nice and I especially liked the fact that all you saw of Skyscraper was his hand and forearm.

Page seven: The page layout was interesting, especially the fact they paced everything around the letter M.

Page eight and nine: Another great two page spread.

Page eleven: I liked the introduction of Viking and I think that besides Soldier he has the best design of the Maximums.

Pages fourteen and fifteen. This page had a wonderful layout. You could see that a lot of thought went into how Batzarro looked and I enjoyed the little touches like the fact that the bat on his chest is upside down, his cowl has no eye slits, his Spawn like chains and the fact that his utility belt is upside down. You also have to love that the sound effect for the gun shots were backwards as well.

Page sixteen: The Bizarro/Batzarro logo was perfect.

Page seventeen: I liked the sheer raw power of this page. Superman looked good, the Kryptonite Man looked good and the left Superman took was great.

Page nineteen: The return of Captain Atom and he's bald. This was a nice splash page.

Page twenty: I liked the layout of this page as well though Superman looked kind of funky.

I am glad that McGuinness and Vines are back for this story arc. It's fitting since they were the team to kick off the series they should be the one that Loeb closes out his run with.

4Cover Art - 4: A really nice cover. Superman and Batman back to back surrounded by the hands and weapons of their enemies. It has that, "What the...?" aspect that a good cover should have.

This cover gets a nine out of ten 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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