Friday, March 18, 2016

Public Enemies Part Four: Battle On (DC)
Superman/Batman #4 When: January 2004
Why: Jeph Loeb How: Ed McGuinness

The Story So Far...
A giant piece of the destroyed planet Krypton is hurtling towards the Earth! The humongous meteorite threatens all life on Earth, but President of the United States Lex Luthor has a plan to thwart what his government claims is a proven attack orchestrated by Superman!
Uniting with Batman; Metropolis' Man of Tomorrow helps devise a plan to stop the celestial threat, and undo Lex Luthor's corrupt political scheme once and for all -- becoming a wanted fugitive in the process!
With a bounty on their heads, the World's Finest evade attacks from some of the most notorious figures in the criminal underworld, before fending off a team of government enlisted heroes. When an accident during the fight causes mass destruction in Tokyo, the big guns of the Justice Society of America finally agree to step in to take the pair down safely and quietly at the rest of Wonder Woman. Enter the JSA's hand-picked heroes for a showdown in the snowy mountains of Japan: Captain Marvel & Hawkman!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Captain Marvel 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Batman 5 (Professor)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speeds)
Stamina: Superman 6 (Generator)
Agility: Batman 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Hawkman 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Superman 5 (Lasers)

Over the past month we've seen instances of The Man of Steel getting the better of Captain Marvel [Kingdom Come #4] and Hawkman [Justice League of America #200] individually. So what happens when the battle escalates to titanic tag team proportions? That's what we aim to find out today as the JSA deploy their two most perfectly suited enforcers for an explosive two-on-two encounter with the JLA's finest: Superman & Batman!

Captain Marvel and Hawkman know each other relatively well, but the edge of familiarity likely has to go to the defending team.

Superman & Batman don't always see eye to eye, and the reason their occasionally bitter rivalry gets so volatile isn't just rooted in difference -- but because they know each other so darn well! When they're fighting on the same side that spells bad news for any opponents! Just take a look at past skirmishes with: Darkseid [Superman/Batman #42], Atomic Skull [Superman/Batman #21], Mongul [Infinite Crisis #1], and inhabitants of a universe where they conquered the world: Green Arrow [Superman/Batman #14] and Freedom Fighters [Superman/Batman #15]!

They haven't conquered the world in today's feature, but their fellow heroes are operating under the instruction that it's a possible goal. This means Captain Marvel & Hawkman can put some of their reluctance aside when fighting. An argument can be made that this allows them to fully exploit key advantages they hold over their counterparts.

As we saw in Superman #216: Captain Marvel & Superman match-up pretty well, but the magic strength of Hercules and power of Zeus gives Cap the slight strength advantage needed when employing his ruthless lightning ambush. Nth metal enhancements ensure Hawkman has a decided strength advantage over The Batman, as well. If he can use his medieval arsenal with impunity, even the ever-resourceful Batman could quickly find himself at a deadly disadvantage!

Switch it up and things get even worse for Batman, who won't have kryptonite to fall back on fighting the magic of Shazam, the way he usually does against Superman. Play that scenario out and the best Superman can hope for is a drag out one-on-one fight with the big red cheese. With a kryptonite meteor heading for the Earth, that's not an ideal place to be.

The Tape stats noted above show Superman & Batman have versatility over the specialist skills of their opponents, but the only way to know for sure is to let the fight play out! Let's see how it went...

The Tape: Superman & Batman Ranking: Batman (#1)

What Went Down...
Touching down with Powergirl & Katana en tow; Superman & Batman draw their plans to save a world they've been accused of threatening. Knowing the battle is far from over, they charge their juniors with a vital mission. They will not be able to execute it. A streaking red blur confirms it.

A weighted net ensnares The Batman, followed by the descending shadow of the winged Hawkman! He commands the outlaw heroes to honor their past and make it easy. Standing boldly over his fallen target, Captain Marvel echoes the sentiment -- reminding Superman he's beaten him before and will do so again.

Superman chooses non-compliance, blasting Captain Marvel in the face with an explosion of heat vision! His words scold as harshly as the heat, challenging the Captain for accepting President Luthor's orders!

While the super-powers collide, Batman gets to freeing himself from his netted prison. A cutting tool makes light work of the snare. Hawkman warns him to stay down. An interesting choice of words.

Superman and Captain Marvel come to super-human blows. The Man of Steel reviews his opponent's innate advantages. Toe-to-toe his magic power gives Captain Marvel the edge. A straight right to the jaw punctuates the point, before a stinging left follows directly at Superman's face!

Meanwhile, Batman observes Hawkman's obvious advantage: flight. As the winged warrior swoops with trademark fixed mace in hand, Batman attempts to turn the tables - firing his grappling cable around his flying foe!

The Bat succeeds in grounding Hawkman for a moment, but any advantage is short-lived -- the power of his mighty wings too great for the tensile strength of the chord! The recoil sends Batman flying!

Clearly struggling against their respective opponents: Batman calls for a "castling" strategy - a switch of King and Rook.

To facilitate the exchange, Superman catches Captain Marvel's next blow and uses the leverage to toss him in the direction of Batman! The Bat gets a kick in, directing Marvel's careening body into the snow -- while in the blink of an eye Superman goes airborne, collecting Hawkman at mach speed!

The Man of Steel heads for the Earth's upper atmosphere with a note of regret, intending for Hawkman to blackout. The veteran scoffs his target's arrogance, knowing full well what Superman & Batman are attempting. Far from done, he introduces Superman to his glove: The Claw of Horus!

The Claw draws its power from the Earth's magnetic core -- allowing Hawkman to hit Superman with the force of the entire planet! The blow sends Superman plummeting back down to Earth with extreme prejudice!

While below, Batman investigates Captain Marvel's impact. Instead he discovers young Billy Batson in the snow with a cut on his forehead. The Dark Knight checks on his opponent's mortal counterpart. When Batson whispers the magic word "Shazam" a magic bolt of lightning strikes the Earth to transform him back into the big red cheese Captain Marvel!

With Batman slumped over his shoulder, Marvel re-joins Hawkman - who stands over an unconscious and wounded Superman! Victorious!

The Hammer...
Did you see it happening? Our winners are very much Captain Marvel & Hawkman, but there's more to this story than meets the eye...

If you followed the recap, you may have noticed the absence of Powergirl and Katana - who exited just as the fight started.
This was the real key to victory, as Superman and Batman's ultimate goal in the fight was to ensure they were left unhindered. It's all part of a larger plot to avert the disaster President Lex Luthor has accused Superman of causing. The very reason they were in remote Japan - home to the industrious Toyman.

Fans of the Public Enemies story will know Captain Marvel & Hawkman's victory is short-lived. Somewhere between the end of the fight and Superman/Batman #5, the title duo blindsided their opponents while their guards were down, in order to steal their identities. This allows the fugitive Superman & Batman to confront Luthor at close proximity, and rescue their protégés, who had responded to premature news of their capture.

It's a contrivance almost purely for the reader's sake -- just barely functional enough in the bigger picture to make its convincing execution worth the while. It got us a kickass fight between rival heroes, and gave half a subsequent issue to a fun group of young heroes. Not bad!
It doesn't hurt that the whole affair is deliciously rendered by a master team of artists. I'm a big fan of the world according to Ed McGuinness. He was a natural fit for Superman, and I think a surprisingly effective and maybe underrated Batman artist, as well. He doesn't do it alone, of course. He's brought to his very best by inker Dexter Vines, with perfect, wet paint colors from Dave Stewart. The end result is big, bold, powerful and wonderful to look at.
It's easy to forget that a Superman/Batman team-up book was a slightly sketchy proposal in 2003, especially on the back of Jeph Loeb's instrumental rekindling of the Batman v Superman rivalry that same year [Batman #612]. McGuinness played a big part in successfully selling the dynamic of character examination under big action frivolity that underscored much of Loeb's run. There's positive and negative, but it gave something back to the introspective superhero comics of the time. If DC's upcoming Rebirth intends to address things that are missing - this balance of elements, characters, fun, stakes, and Ed McGuinness' pencils are all good places to start!
Ironically, some of McGuinness' least effective pages take place during the Captain Marvel/Hawkman fight. The intention of certain action sequences aren't as clear as they should be. These panels leave a lot of vague, uninteresting, dead space. Some of this seems to be in service of not calling attention to Hawkman's trump card - The Claw of Horus. It works, giving the reveal impact without obviously holding his hand behind his arm, but it may've pressured the Captain Marvel "Castling" sequence into some flat panels.
Something I do like about the Superman/Hawkman sequence is how well it plays off the fight in Justice League of America #200. That time Hawkman was left for dead floating unconscious in space. This time he was prepared!
Some may argue the surprise twist in Superman/Batman #5 invalidates the victory demonstrated in today's feature, but the result is never explicitly disputed. The outcome is merely overturned by a second, unseen skirmish. By hook or by crook, Captain Marvel & Hawkman did defeat Superman & Batman as we saw. Secret Wars on Infinite Earths bylaws typically dictate results should be determined by issue cut-off. The facts of the case just so happen to support the result, either way.
Which pretty much takes care of that! It also wraps up our run of Superman's battles with heroes for this month! It won't be the last time we take inspiration from the March 25th release of Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, though! There's a third hero set to play a feature role and they'll be tag teaming with one of the other most talked about heroes coming soon to theatres. If you guess this unlikely pairing -- you'll deserve a no prize! 'Nuff said!
As always, you can find more Superman & Batman battles by following the links, or checking out the Issue Index Archive.

Stay tuned for more Hero of the Week and Old Comics Wednesday portal picks, too! Wanna read the comics you've seen here yourself? Use Amazon purchase links provided to support the site! Be sure to tell your friends, too!

Winners: Captain Marvel & Hawkman
(--) #1 Batman
(--) #4 Superman
(+8) #27 Hawkman
(+222) #100 Captain Marvel

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