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Superman/Batman #21

Superman/Batman #21

Scheduled to arrive in stores: July 27, 2005

Cover date: September 2005

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

"With a Vengeance!" - Chapter 2: "Mistaken Identity Crisis"

Michael Bailey Reviewed by: Michael Bailey

Click to enlarge

The Batman races to face the Atomic Skull, who has just broken into a Wayne Tech research facility and stolen a parcel that Batman was trying to keep secret. Batman is annoyed at this distraction as his original plan was to investigate the series of murders of couples who have been shot dead while coming home from the theater and then dragged up to rooftops for display. The Atomic Skull charges the Batmobile with his flaming motorcycle and leaps over the vehicle. Batman shoots out a grappling hook, which catches at the back of the bike. The Skull flies off as the cycle crashes into a fiery wreck.

From a nearby vantage point Batzarro watches his idol in action, but is caught up in the fireball from the Skull's crash. Batman, determined to get the case that was stolen back, takes on the Atomic Skull, who fights back with the chain that had been connected to the case. Batzarro tries to help, but the small flash grenades he uses distracts Batman giving the Skull the upper hand in the fight.

The Skull stands seemingly triumphant over Batman, but Superman suddenly appears and knocks the Skull down. Superman is annoyed that Bruce tried to take someone like the Atomic Skull on without asking for help. Batman is annoyed because he doesn't want Clark finding out what was in the box that the Skull had stolen. Both concerns are put to the side as the Skull uses the shell of the Batmobile to bash Superman to the ground.

Superman and the Skull trade blows before a Boom Tube appears out of nowhere. The Maximums step out and before Superman and Batman can find out who the group is and why they are there Soldier shoots at the Atomic Skull with a special gun. Superman tries to block the beam, but it hits the Skull right between the eyes. The blast causes the Skull's nuclear energy to pour out of him. Superman acts quickly to contain the damage, which confuses Robot, who wonders why someone who was a killer would concern himself with saving innocent people. Viking doesn't care and simply wants revenge for Skyscraper's death.

Batman, meanwhile, investigates the Skull's bike and finds a small transceiver. He turns to Soldier and Monster and demands to know why they killed the Skull. Soldier trains his weapon on Batman, which infuriates the Dark Knight and the two begin to fight. Monster joins his teammate in battling Batman as Viking and Superman begin their own battle.

Batman uses a special Batarang that delivers ten thousand volts into Monster's central nervous system, which causes Monster to change back into Becky, a little girl who apparently turns into the creature. Viking manages to cut Superman across the chest with his enchanted ax, surprising the Man of Steel. Hornet uses the distraction to fly into Superman's ear and begins to grow. The pain gives Viking the opportunity to knock Superman out with the blunt side of his ax. He shows Batman his friend's unconscious body and threatens to cut Superman's head off if he doesn't surrender. Batman tries to reason with the group, but Solider interrupts him a swift kick to the head, which knocks Batman out.

Soldier picks up the box that the Skull had stolen and decides he wants to know why Superman and Batman wanted to hold on to it. He orders Robot to pick Batman up so they can take them back to their reality. Robot tries to argue, but Soldiers informs his teammate that his request was an order. Suddenly the ghost of the Bowman appears and tells Soldier that taking Superman and Batman back wasn't part of the deal. The Soldier doesn't care and the team uses a Boom Tube to return home.

Batzarro watches the Maximums leave and decides that he needs to find Bizarro Number One. He travels to the Bizarro's Graveyard of Solitude and tells Bizarro that Superman and Batman have been captured. Bizarro grabs Batzarro's chains and flies off, announcing that they are going to team-up and save Batman and Superman.

4Story - 4: "With a Vengeance!" continues along nicely. The battle that pretty much had to happen happened and while this issue went quick it was a lot of fun.

Using the Atomic Skull was, at the risk of sounding silly, neat. Given the whole Marvel riff thing started last issue I loved the Ghost Rider bit. A flaming skull on a motorcycle worked great visually and was a lot of fun story wise. The fight between Batman and the Skull didn't go as I expected it to, but that made it enjoyable. As much as I like Batman and as much faith as I have in his abilities it was good to see him getting knocked down by a powerful metahuman villain.

(Okay, I'll cop to the truth. Yeah, Batman would have figured something out. I know this. You know this. Everyone knows this. Having Superman save Batman was a nice change of pace and a great way to bring him into the story.)

I'd write that I wonder what's in the box, but given the radioactive symbol on the front it is probably Kryptonite or some kind of synthetic Kryptonite that Bruce had been working on in secret. Then again the box may turn out to be what Alfred Hitchcock called the McGuffin, the thing that the characters care about but the audience has little interest in. My personal opinion is that the contents of the box will be revealed by Soldier and cause a rift between Superman and Batman that the two will overcome as the story ends. Or maybe, given current events, the rift won't end and the two will remain at odds.

See, this is why I don't like guessing what is going to happen next. There are too many possibilities. Eyes blurring. Head hurts. Must find will to continue review and stop writing ... in ... fragments.

I guess it's pretty clear at this point that the Maximums are supposed to be the Ultimates. Given their violent natures it only makes sense. The Avengers, while great, are simply not as cold blooded as this group and from what I have read of the ULTIMATES they are a pretty violent crew. That is not a slam against that book, just, as Robot would say, an observation.

Not much more was done with the Maximums as characters, but what was done was enjoyable. Robot came alive as a character and I liked his questioning of the situation, because somebody had to. Soldier evolved as he should have and I really enjoyed the revelation that Monster was a little girl named Becky.

The Soldier/Batman fight was fantastic, as was the fight between Viking and Superman. I enjoyed how Loeb paced the battles out and the conclusions were dead on. I had figured that Viking's blade would cut Superman but the Hornet doing what she did was a nice touch. You have to wonder if Batman is playing possum, though. As good of a fighter as Soldier probably is Batman is the best in hand-to-hand combat and no simple boot to the head (which suggests to me that Soldier is a student of Tai-Kwon-Leap) is going to take the Dark Knight down. I half-expect the next issue's introduction of Batman to be him feigning unconsciousness to get the goods on the Maximums.

One of the little bits of business that I liked about this issue was the fact that the Maximums kept pointing out how different they are from Superman and Batman despite the fact that everything they said had meaning for the two characters. Hornet's comment that Superman couldn't understand what it was like to be an alien really stuck with me. It may be a tad cliché, but if you are going to get into the heads of these characters and have some sort of mistaken identity drama then you need to emphasize how alike the characters are. It creates for a better moment when/if the two heroes come together.

And then there's the World's Not-So-Finest team. Batzarro really played the Bat-Mite role this issue by trying to help Batman but blowing it horribly. It was nice to see the Graveyard of Solitude again and the fact that Bizarro and Batzarro are now part of the story proper is fine by me. It also occurs to me that showing the imperfect doubles of the characters can satirize Superman and Batman without insulting them. If you are going to show what these characters mean to the universe then why not show the silly sides of them as well?

The more I read of this story the more I appreciate the deeper themes that Loeb seems to be exploring. If his intention was to show what Superman and Batman mean to the universe (or multiverse I guess) then what better way to show that than to portray how much more effective and how much more heroic they are than the Maximums. It's not that heroes should always be the pure, white hat wearing embodiments of morality. In fact sometimes a hero has to make some tough choices (see WONDER WOMAN #219), but in terms of this specific story than the morally ambiguous Maximums should be shown up by Batman and Superman.

Then again, that could just be me. Sometimes it is.

4Art - 4: McGuinness and Vines sure amped up the action for this issue. The page layouts were well done and the fight choreography was great. The artistic highlights of this issue include:

Pages two and three: A great two page spread and a wonderful Ghost Rider riff.

Page eight: Superman has arrived! This was a great splash page.

Page twelve: I liked the layout of this page. The progression really drew the reader's eye.

Page fourteen: A great fight. The fact that there are no backgrounds in the scene really emphasized the viciousness and intensity of these two going at it.

Pages seventeen and eighteen: The expression on Superman's face really sold the injury on page seventeen. I also liked the look of horror and agony on Superman's face when Hornet invaded his head. And the splash page on eighteen was just awesome. Again, Superman's expression sells the hit.

Page twenty-two: You can really tell how much fun McGuinness and Vines are having with these characters. This page not only shows how silly Bizarro and Batzarro are but how entertaining they are as well.

Like the story the art was really good this time around. It's great to see these two artists working together and doing some great work.

4Cover Art - 4: From a composition stand point this is an excellent cover. Superman and Batman both look great. The Maximums look good as well and I liked the black borders. This cover does a fantastic job of making a potential reader want to pick it up.

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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