Superman-Batman: Absolute Power

New Revised Review

By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco, Ivan Reis & Jesus Merino (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0447-1 (hardcover):         978-1-4012-0714-4 (trade paperback)

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths 1980s and 1990s, they were remade as cautious (but respectful) co-workers who did the same job whilst deploring each other’s methods.

They preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League… but then, the character continuity of team titles has always been largely at odds with heroes at home in their own titles…

However, after a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought the pair together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters in a series of epic adventures packed with high-value guest-stars.

This visually intoxicating tour of alternate times and places, collecting issues #14-18 of Superman/Batman (January-April 2005 and scripted by Jeph Loeb with art by Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino), again revisits and resets the original team-up concept, seeing the most important heroes in the universe uniquely co-opted by a trio of menaces from a very familiar tomorrow…

It all begins in ‘I Pledge Allegiance…’ wherein a rocketship crash in a Kansas cornfield and a murder in Gotham City back alley take a turn into the unknown thanks to a trio of time travellers. Decades pass and Kal-El of Krypton and 10-year old murder witness Bruce Wayne are reared by the cunning chrononauts to become the heroes they were destined to be, but with decidedly different ethics and motives.

The manipulators are far from idle over those years, intercepting other key events and ensuring Barry Allen, Arthur Curry, Hal Jordan and alien J’onn J’onzz all die before becoming Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern and the Manhunter from Mars.

However destiny is hard to thwart and other champions will always arise to try and restore the way reality should be…

Even as global rulers Superman and Batman are eradicating annoying gadfly Green Arrow and celebrating their anniversary of dominance with fond foster parents Lightning Lord, Cosmic King and Saturn Queen of the 31st century Legion of Super Villains, in a dank subway under America’s former capital a determined Amazon invader is using her Lasso of Truth…

Galvanised by her Grecian gods, Diana of Themyscira has tracked down the mystical embodiment of the Human Spirit and restored his memory.

Now Uncle Sam is ready to set the world right once again…

Wearing the power ring intended for Hal Jordan and liberating his original team of Freedom Fighters (Phantom Lady, Dollman, The Ray and Human Bomb) from their time-overwritten new lives, he leads them and Diana in a bold counterattack against the Cape & Cowl oppressors’ HQ in ‘What Price Freedom…?’

Their targets meanwhile, have just survived their closest call yet, destroying the mystic city of Nanda Parbat but almost falling before the possession powers of Deadman Boston Brand

By the time Superman and Batman return, Uncle Sam’s team have already defeated a team of thralls from the erstwhile Legion of Super-Heroes and, with no quarter asked, Diana kills Batman before herself being slain by his vengeance-crazed foster brother. The Freedom fighters press on to capture their target – the future felons’ time machine – but when Kal detonates the Human Bomb with his lethal heat vision the co-mixing of alien energies disrupts the time bubble and rends the very fabric of space-time.

And in a place beyond all universes, an unlikely assemblage of reluctant allies consider how best to remedy the situation they have instigated…

Superman and the somehow restored Batman awaken in a strange Earth where animals talk and act like men, and after a violent confrontation with Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, abruptly find themselves phased into another impossibly confused iteration of their home.

Here western gunfighters El Diablo, Bat Lash, Tomahawk, Scalphunter, Jonah Hex (packing bullets made from a glowing green meteor) and other cowboy crusaders hunt them down on behalf of President Lex Luthor and execute them both…

Alive again in that non-dimensional other-place, Man of Steel and Darkest Knight are confronted by Darkseid, knowledge god Metron, Etrigan the Demon and an older wiser Superman, who apprise them of the stakes in play ‘When Time Goes Asunder…’ before instructing the notional heroes how only they can repair reality.

Of course the Master of Apokolips does nothing for free…

Sent through time to mend their own origin tales, the saving of Jonathan and Martha Kent goes perfectly but when faced with allowing his parents to be killed again Bruce Wayne baulks and kills their assailant before the thief can pull the trigger.

As the Caped Crimebuster vanishes from reality, Superman is catapulted forward in time to ‘A World without Batman…’, or indeed any superheroes. Attacked by Sgt Rock’s Easy Company and the Haunted Tank, the Action Ace fights back valiantly before discovering that immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul is the undisputed dictator of Earth and he has destroyed every metahuman the world ever knew…

Retrenching Clark Kent then seeks out the Waynes and their playboy son Bruce in an attempt to restore some semblance of the only man ever to defeat “The Demon’s Head”…

Despite his many failings, Bruce is still a strategic genius and soon devises a horrific way to bolster the hard-pressed heroes’ forces before their final, doomed assault on Al Ghul. Tragically the World’s Finest warriors have not realised that their foe has allied himself with the time-tampering Villains’ Legion, nor that their former foster parents have plundered the future for murderous metahuman reinforcements…

The chronal carnage concludes with a spectacular confrontation in ‘Thy Will be Done’ (with additional pencilling by Ivan Reis) as Superman on the edge of utter defeat turns his enemies’ time-bending tactics to his own advantage and finds allies of his own from another furious future…

Although a superbly engaging piece of Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction, this temporal tempest of a tale suffers from the most common ailment to afflict such time-warping sagas – the reader already knows it will come OK in the end.

The art however is astoundingly beautiful and, subtly augmented by Laura Martin’s colouring, is one of the prettiest cascades of chronal Armageddons you will ever see…

Although an aging fan-boy’s dream and featuring a vast amount of fondly familiar razzle-dazzle from scripter Loeb, Absolute Power is probably a yarn best enjoyed by dedicated fans equipped with the memories to keep it all straight.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.