Friday, December 29, 2006


With a Vengeance! Chapter Two:
Mistaken Identity Crisis (DC comics)
Superman/Batman #21 When: September 2005 Why: Jeph Loeb How: Ed McGuinness

The story so far...
Batman and Superman have unwittingly become pawns in a fatal game of death staged between two of their oldest foes, but they each have more immediate and bizarre concerns.

An organized break-in at Wayne Tech sees an amped up Atomic Skull stealing a very specific lead atache case which contains synthesized kryptonite.

Meanwhile lurking in the shadows, Batzarro, and another motely grouping of avenging warriors, but are these champions friend, or foe? Batzarro am knows!

Previous Form:
Batman (#1): Batman has victories over Amazo, Captain America and Superman.
Superman (#7): Superman has defeated the Hulk and Metallo.
Atomic Skull: Atomic Skull has not previously been featured.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Superman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Superman 6 (Sound Speed)
Stamina: Superman 6 (Generator)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Batman 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Superman 5 (Lasers)

I'm going to admit straight up - I'm kinda ignorant to a lot of Atomic Skull's finer details. I'm going to assume this isn't a great issue to draw data from, either, seeing the character painted as little more than a Ghost Rider analogue in a key vaguely similar to Vengeance.

Statistically I think certainly as an individual Atomic Skull poses a potential threat to even Superman, but certainly he reads much more like your stock standard second/third tier opponent who is eventually disposed of after some minor trepidation.

In hand-to-hand combat, Batman might have a little bit of trouble with a guy like Atomic Skull. Of course, we've been doing this long enough to know Batman is smart enough to stay out of that kind of situation.
Even if Atomic Skull were somehow able to stage an ambush, gadgetry could probably slow things down enough for Bats to make a retreat, or retrieve the Batmobile ala the fight with Amazo. [Batman #637]

Then of course there's Superman, who can presumably take everything Atomic Skull can dish out, and as always come out on top.

Average: Batman & Superman 30 (+9)
Overall: Batman & Superman 60 (+39)
The Pick: Batman & Superman

What went down...
Alfred calls into the Batmobile to tip Batman off on the break-in, but Bats is already on the scene, and has Atomic Skull in visual atop an atomic themeed flaming motorcycle.

Skull hops his bike over the bonnet of the Batmobile, avoiding a direct collision.
Batman is able to use in-built grappling technology to snag the cycle as it drives, yanking it to a halt and sending Atomic Skull hurtling over the handle bars.

Batzarro watches on as the bike comes to an explosive halt, and is engulfed in the cycle's flames.

Batman goes into battle with the hopes of retrieving the case chained to Skull's wrist. Using his acrobatic skills he avoids an attempt at using the case as a weapon, and slings off a string of batarangs.

Atomic Skull's new armor proves to be much stronger than his previous, holding up to the attack. The chain, however, proves less robust, giving Batman a chance to retrieve the kryptonite housing case.

Atomic Skull continues the assault, using the broken chain like a whip, but Batman is able to use his superior speed to avoid any direct hit.
Batzarro's attempts to aid Batman prove more devestating than Skull's attack, blinding Batman with three flash cubes. Skull capitalizes, checking Batman across the face with the chain.

The villain looms in for a killing strike, but Superman arrives on the scene in the nick of time, arcing his arrival into a devestating torpedo attack!

Superman helps Batman to his feet, only to be crushed beneath the Batmobile by Atomic Skull. He follows it up, punching his way through the vehicle to get to the floored Superman.

The two mighty titans continued to come to blows when suddenly a teleportation boom tube explodes on the scene, and from within comes the battlecry, "MAXIMUMS MARCH!"

Batman, Superman and Atomic Skull each share a confused glance as Atomic Skull remarks, "They ain't with me."

Robot is able to collect spot intelligence from police radio broadcasts, and the team ascertains that Atomic Skull is a threat wanted by the law.
Using a bizarre weapon the Maximum's leader, Soldier, fires off a bullet that passes through Superman's hand with ease and penetrates the villain's skull.

The damage results in a massive firey explosion of energy, as Robot reveals to the team that this character is quite unlike their own "Skull Biker," whose powers are Satanic rather than nuclear, like Atomic Skull's.
Never the less, the deed is done.

The hammer...
Well, the best Batman and Superman can do is an assist, with Soldier striking the killing blow.

Readers familiar with this Superman/Batman storyarc will have immediately jumped to The Maximums as the feature of this particular issue, and in 2007 I'm sure we'll revisit it for the confrontation between the superteam and the starring protagonists.

For those who don't know, The Maximums are a fairly transparent analogue of the ever-popular Ultimates, from Marvel comics. The team that Jeph Loeb has actually taken over post-Millar as his first announced major task moving back to the House of Ideas (Marvel).

Superman/Batman was certainly a book that had it's fair share of detractors, but consistently I think it remained a misunderstood book. It's precipice was that of a traditionally fun superhero comic book, regularly willing to indulge in the classic, but with a contemporary twist. Something I have to say I've enjoyed during my dabbles in the title.

Ed McGuinness' art in particular is a treat, and inking/colouring combo of Dexter Vines and Lee Loughridge is superb. Loughridge's colours maintain a smooth palette, while Vines' inks are strong and certain of themselves.
These go together with McGuinness' bold cartoony lines to make an exciting and easy to read action-adventure story. On this book, I think McGuinness has perhaps never looked better.

It will be interesting to see how the pair handle The Ultimates proper.
Joe Madureira takes the art duties of the third 'season' of Ultimates, before McGuinness reteams with Loeb on the title in the fourth. I've fallen a little out of touch with the progress on the book, but an interesting note, and perhaps unfortuante weakness in McGuinness' approach is a change in designs.

Most notably Iron Man is taking on a graphic look far more like that of the traditional Iron Man, which is certainly striking to the eye, but highlights one of the follies of the development of the Ultimate brand as a whole.
Consistently it seems to be reducing it's relevence, and graphically I feel Iron Man's pull was as a fantastic reality that is largely absent from the streamlined designs of the traditional Iron Man.

Loeb has mentioned part of the evolution is explined by way of Stark's employment of developing technologies, but still, these familiar designs seem to detract from the clunky reality of Hitch's previous designs. Designs that went out of their way to show a utilitarian requirement over asthetic design.

That said, it's sure to be a great read, and certainly The Maximums were a fun preview of what's to come, and also a nice way to round out the year.
This issue was actually one I considered at length before launching the blog, so at the end of 2006 we come full circle, a full year later.

Thanks to all who've been patient with my lateness, and hopefully now that I'm only a few weeks late, we can look forward to a smooth running 2007!

Even if you don't have bulging muscles or special mutant powers, you still can be a hero in your community by getting your Online Social Work Degree.

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5
Additional Stats: Though present, Batzarro receives no stat. His bungled attack for Batman is not worthy of an assist statistic.

NEXT: January 2007 kicks off with the first post of the year, and finally the top five superheroes of 2006 are announced, plus much more! Including an all new Quick Fix featuring Moon Knight!

No comments: