Here’s the problem with a Superman-powered Batman: he’s never going to stop. Ever. Until his dying breath in a post-apocalyptic kryptonite meteor shower, Batman’ll never pause or take a break from heat vision-ing crime. Y’see, the only reason he heads back to the Batcave during dawn is to do normal human stuff like collapse into his bed or suture up his wounds or do that whole feeding himself nutrients thing. But no more. Superman always had a stable alter-ego in Clark Kent, but not Bruce Wayne — and you can see his obsessions fully manifest as the arc progresses:
I looked up the word unequivocal: leaving no doubt, unambiguous. Part of Batman’s war on crime relies on evil-doers knowing Batman’s out there and ready to strike. With heat vision, the bad guys can’t crop up their failings on bad luck when the Batman symbol gets seared into their car. Also, take a moment to appreciate Batman perching/brooding on the Eiffel Tower.
Oh yeah, and his friends are worried, but like all great teenage logic, no one could ever understand Batman, right? Gosh, just leave him alone and let him text his friends in peace.
It’s the “with great power comes great responsibility” cliche, except if Spider-Man never stopped swinging around New York City from the day he got bit by the spider until his heart gives out on the way to the Spider-Nursing Home. I know what you’re thinking: someone’s going to have to talk some sense into Batman, and his friends are very poor at talking sense. The Justice League punches first, negotiates second. But if his buddies can’t convince Batman that an equal balance of work and life prevents him from going crazy with power/duty/freeze breath, then it’ll have to be his most trusted ally. His dearest comrade’ll make one of the stupidest decisions I’ve ever seen him make, and that includes the pixie boots.
All this after Batman beats up Catwoman, though. We need to see his instability before the escrima sticks become justified.
Batman’s (very) minor weakening will be explained in a few pages. We all agree Nightwing made a terrible choice. Maybe he thinks Batman’ll take it easy on him or might even refuse to fight him at all — though to be fair, Nightwing did just see Batman wipe out Catwoman, and those two have seen each other’s private parts. So if you’ve ever wanted to see a very human Dick Grayson fight an angry Superman-powered Bruce Wayne, your wish has been granted. Spoiler alert: it goes as well and lasts about as long as you think.
For our big finale on Friday, Batman takes on his toughest opponent yet (excluding a healthy relationship with a woman). Hint: everybody. He fights everybody.
Our title’s on the nose today. Batman gets all of Superman’s powers and Superman gets all of Batman’s powers (nothing). It’s a brilliant idea. Batman’s personality flaws revolving his obsessions and unending justice get blown open wonderfully when he actually has the powers to act out his unending justice obsessions. We’ll take a look at this mess in Superman/Batman #53-56, written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson and drawn by Rags Morales.
Like all good Superman and Batman arcs, the story begins with their contrasting viewpoints. Spoiler alert: they think differently.
How could you not love panels of Superman in Gotham City? His outfit’s a primary color nightmare against the browns and grays of Gotham, and the wild optimism of Superman’s ideals against the city that attempts to prove him wrong. I love it, almost as much as I love the idea of Firefly getting taken out by Superman in almost certainly the most embarrassing and fastest loss of his supervillain career. Oh yeah, and our two protagonists switch powers.
This can’t be bad, right? Superman could use a nice rest from singlehandedly being the most powerful superbeing on the planet and let Batman take over for a little bit until Silver Banshee can be found. Y’know, except that Batman’s mentally ill and the only factor that prevents him from ever stopping beating up bad guys is that whole normal human thing like sleep and food. But not anymore. Not at all.
Here’s a glimpse of what Batman can accomplish if he doesn’t have his humanity holding him back. And I mean that physically. Because let’s be fair, if Batman gets a new batarang that shoots out knockout gas on impact, he’s using that baby on every bad guy that crosses his path that night. But invulnerability? Hypersenses? Heat vision? All I’m saying is it’d be a bad night to be Two Face.
Only one person manufactures and sells venom. And poor Bane really has no idea what he’s in for. The whole purpose of this issue just seems to get readers acquainted to a Superman-level Batman. So it’s a dozen pages of Batman wrecking everyone who even ever considered anything evil. And a dozen pages of a mortal Superman trying to adjust, but I’m ignoring all of that.
That smile on Bane’s face is about to be wiped away. All the poetic talk won’t save this brute from a Superman-level beatdown, though it certainly adds to the ambiance. Also, I like any man who wears a nice suit and tie but keeps the luchador mask on. Murcielago is Spanish for bat, by the way.
Oh, and Superman got shot. He’s okay. We’ll cover Batman’s continued assault on crime, his mental decline, and the inevitable switch back next time!
Cassandra Cain’s daddy issues. Because despite whatever problems Barbara Gordon has with her loving cop father or Stephanie Brown has with her minor supervillain father, poor Cassandra received the short end of the family stick. Her mercenary/assassin father David Cain raised her as a small child without stuff like language, toys, fun, happiness, etc. to essentially make her into a perfect body language-reading weapon. Perfect assassin upbringing, perfect assassin genes (her mother’s Lady Shiva), perfect plan — except for Batman. Now, our dear girl can talk, but all those lingering psychological traumas still exist wedged deeply in her psyche. Until Batgirl #5-6, volume two, written by Adam Beechen and drawn by J. Calafiore. Time for some daddy problems to be solved. By punching. Always by punching.
Think of David Cain as a duplicate of Deathstroke without the obsession of battling large groups of teenagers. Actually, Batgirl (and Ravager) fought Deathstroke a few issues back, but that’s for another time. Batgirl stopped Cain from killing Oracle, and now she has to take out her father one final time. Recently, Cain and Deathstroke drugged her and made her kill dudes again, causing a rift in the Batfamily, so Batgirl figures one more death won’t add much to the pile. Also, Cain deserves it.
I want you to know that while Cain’s about to murder his daughter that he trained/raised since a child, it still hurts him. Like it would hurt us if we had to shoot children, y’know, assuming we’re all insane evil sociopaths. The whole arc includes themes about the idea of right versus wrong when it comes to killing. It’s an idea that pops up in every other Batman issue and also, truthfully, can only exist in the fictional world of comic books. But one thing we can’t argue: Cain gave Cassandra a terrible childhood.
Turns out old mercenaries can learn new tricks. As in Batgirl needs to give her father a stark dose of reality (mixed with attacks because of superhero law), and what better environment than on top a lonely rooftop building in the pouring rain? If only a solo cello player on the rooftop next to them could crescendo his sad song during these next few moments.
Those last three text boxes also made up the last moments of Batman Begins. Let movie Batman do what he wants. We know comic Batman would have saved Ra’s al Ghul, partially out of his moral code and partially so writers can reuse the supervillain at a later time. But Cassandra has grown since her first appearance in No Man’s Land roughly ten years before this. She’s a bonafide superhero with superhero principles and morality. And yes, Batman’s influence strikes much harder than having henchmen pee themselves when he crashes through a skylight.
Okay, so this last page is heartbreaking. Bruce Wayne never adopts her. He dies soon after this, the DC universe reboots, and Cassandra disappears from continuity. But that’s the way the comic book business goes sometimes. Go buy this miniseries, you should treat yourself.
Some venom addicts don’t get the luxury of being locked in the Batcave for a month with a lush supply of food and the eternal worry of a dutiful butler. Nope, some have to sweat out the toxin the ol’ fashioned way: prison. Maybe. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Lock Up. But today in Batman: Vengeance of Bane II, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Graham Nolan, Bane beats his most dangerous foe yet: himself. Well, his third most dangerous foe. Batman’s number one. Azrael’s number two. Then himself.
Look, he’s in prison and has no access to venom. So he’ll break the habit like he broke Batman.
KGBeast beats him up after this. Don’t worry, Bane shows the commie who’s the real boss later in the issue, both scenes I’m skipping. But our theme persists: Bane struggles with his own identity — y’know, the whole being born and raised in a Santa Prisca prison because of a crime his father committed. It’s a brilliant example of nurture over nature, and during his whole Rule Gotham phase, venom made sense. No more. No medicine, no help, no shortcuts. Because he’s Bane. Physical, mental, emotional torture? That dude’s ready.
He won’t be able to beat his addiction with other people nearby, especially KGBeast running around and punching him through railings. Note that Bane’s not in Arkham Asylum; they stashed the brute in Blackgate Prison instead. There’s nothing insane about Bane, even when stuff like this happens:
I don’t think that kind of prison cell is allowed to exist in our real world, but bad guys who put on luchador outfits and fight other grown men in bat costumes don’t exist in our real world either. And Bane’s real motivation for beating venom? Not vengeance, despite the title of the one-shot we’re reading. No, y’see, Bane’s been wronged by the world. By society. By his father. What sins did he commit besides being born in a third-world hell to a fugitive parent? Nothing, of course. Y’know, if we ignore all the assaults, murders, arson, mayhem, property damage, etc. Seriously, it’s a long list. But to Bane? Well, venom serves a distinct purpose in his past life. More on that later.
You saw chubby Bane earlier in the story, and the six months of darkness and exercise does wonders for his physique. Bane’s mission now demands he breaks out of Blackgate (like how he broke Batman), and a real prison doesn’t have the revolving door that Arkham Asylum gets. I’m also skipping that part. It’s a sixty-four page issue, so there’ll be a lot I can’t cover. Oh, and on an unrelated note, do you know Bane’s real name? You shouldn’t. It’s never been revealed.
He escapes Blackgate. For those confused about his claim of innocence earlier (like I was when I read it), Bane’ll attempt to explain his theory to Batman. His thought process still borders on a psychopathic delusion due to his supervillain nature, but if we all pretend we’re enormous luchadors, maybe we can grasp his idea.
So there you go. My best guess? Bane blames the venom for causing him to lose against Azrael and his empire to topple. The addiction controlled him, and you know who controls Bane? Darn tootin’ — no one. But most importantly, venom debilitated him — he fought Azrael at a level below his very best (the dude lost his confidence when Azrael cut his supply) and that sure as hell won’t happen anymore. Oh, have you read Secret Six? Bane’s amazing in that series.
The “no powers” description of Batman constantly comes back to bite him in the butt. The greatest mind in DC comics can only be so effective when fighting overpowered monstrosities. Batarangs’ll just bounce off Doomsday or Darksied. Of course, his normality (or close enough) is part of why we love him so much, but it hinders superheroics when the Batcomputer and a mind built for sudoku aren’t enough to take down some of the heavier threats. To fully appreciate why Batman decides to get “juiced,” we have to understand the motivation behind such an act: guilt. It’s always guilt with Batman. Let’s take a look at some scenes from Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20, written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Trevor Von Eden & Russell Braun.
You can probably predict where the next three pages go. Human athleticism has a limit, even after a decade of punching giant crocodile men and clay creatures. You know the main difference between Batman and Superman? Besides all the obvious stuff? When Superman arrives on the scene, the citizens of Metropolis relax almost immediately, because Superman’s amazing powers and morality let us know that everything’s going to be alright. The wicked will be punished and the innocents will all be saved. But not so with Batman. The people of Gotham City have all pretty much realized by now that Batman’s just one of them in a fancy costume. While he saves the day, his success isn’t guaranteed.
Do you get why someone like Batman would turn to the power-enhancement that venom provides? For comparison, I’ll provide two pages, one where he’s normal and the other with venom flowing freely through his veins. Because while the drug alters his personality into the steroid-bound maniacal jerk that we know all too well from various professional wrestling characters, we can’t deny venom’s effectiveness.
See the difference? I looked it up and the world record for the overhead press is somewhere in the 450-ish pound range. Batman took that world record down by a good two to three hundred pounds. The Dark Knight officially has superpowers. Which he immediately regrets. The drug’s addictive quality leaves him at the mercy of his dealer who’s a terrible, manipulative person. And when the bad guys start to withhold the supply so Batman has to accomplish their awful missions in order to get more venom (like kill Commissioner Gordon), Bruce Wayne figures he has no choice — it’s time to beat the addiction. And trust me, you saw the last article where Azrael almost certainly pooped his pants from venom withdrawal. It’s going to suck.
The montage of Alfred checking in on Batman beating the addiction is mixed with the arc’s villains going about their plans as well, so if you see tropical island scenes, it’s character development/plot advancement for the sleazy venom dealer and corrupt military commander.
I want you to brace yourself for Batman’s cave beard. It’s enormous for just a month of no shaving, but maybe Batman had a hair-growing superpower all along? More importantly, this story from 1990 parked a few years (finishing in KnightsEnd) where after sixty years of Batman always being prepared, Batman always winning, Batman always figuring out the secret weakness, etc. — we needed to be reminded of Batman’s major limitations. As in the whole nothing superhuman guiding each punch or aiding each throw. Brilliant mind, normal human strength. Bane proved that to Batman beautifully. But for now, it’s time to punish a venom dealer and his military partner.
As we left off last time, Bane filled up Azrael with a injection full of venom, the insanely addictive strength-increasing serum. And now Azrael has to go through some major withdrawal. Note: we ended on a ship crash, but I’m jumping ahead a good dozen pages. What you’ll miss: Azrael dramatically climbs a cliff wall, loses again to Bane and Bane’s soldiers, gets captured by Bane, becomes trapped in a cage, tricks Bane, and jumps over the cliff. It’s all exciting stuff you’re not going to see. Anyway, we pick up after that:
Know that in the first page, it’s made clear that Azrael pooped his costume. And while I’m no expert on addiction, my only vices being attention and adoration from others, I imagine a hot tropical island in South America with no modern amenities or anything to ease the trauma probably isn’t the best place to beat the drug. Also, and far more importantly, those list of venom withdrawal symptoms? That’s Batman talking to Alfred about that, which means Batman also pooped his suit. Don’t ever forget that.
But superheroes are our betters, so of course Azrael’ll rise triumphant. We expect nothing less.
After losing two physical confrontations against Bane in the past four issues, it’s time for our hero to adjust his tactics. I’m mean, it’ll still involve punching Bane a whole bunch, but now we get an added dose of psychology thrown into a fight where fiery golem claw hands aren’t enough to overcome Bane’s sheer power. Spoiler alert: it involves lying.
Azrael’s acting isn’t exactly Shakespearean quality, but why wouldn’t his gambit work the way it did? Bane’s weakness stems from his former reliance on venom, and without it, he’s physically weaker than when he fought Azrael’s Mecha-Batman suit. Though it should be known that Bane still massively overpowers Azrael. Any character in comic books who goes in combat without wearing a shirt is someone who’s pretty confident he (or she?) will splatter your butt across whatever tropical island/city block/space station/Microverse landscape you’re fighting in.
That one line “He rose up like some primordial sea-beast” gets me every time. I’m not addicted to venom, but I would definitely poop my costume if I saw Bane rise up unharmed from a suicide cliff drop. But our adventure’s not over. Y’see, the next issue takes place during the Batman event Cataclysm. A devastating earthquake turns Gotham City into the broken post-apocalyptic wasteland you see during No Man’s Land. And since superheroes always having such impeccable timing, Azrael delivers Bane to the Gotham police at the exact moment the earthquake hits.
But first, how about some self-doubting? It’s more of a Marvel thing, but it’s nice to see DC try to worm its way into Azrael’s decision-making process.
Bane’s point, while not exceptional or totally convincing, does bring up some great points. Batman did invite Azrael into crime-fighting before immediately treating him like crap. To be fair to Batman, Azrael refusing to give back the Batman mantle and then pummeling Bruce Wayne probably warranted Batman’s condescending future treatment of Azrael, but it’s that simple idea of power versus responsibility. Because let’s face it, Batman’s not happy. He devotes his crazy wealth and power to a city and cause that’s largely ungrateful and unchanging. But if Azrael uses his own crazy power to work with Bane, he could probably live that wonderful life of pleasure and fun that his father (and Batman) deny him. I’m just saying, remember when Nightwing took over for Batman a few years ago? We were excited for reasons that included stuff like, oh, this Batman’ll actually smile once in a while.
Then Cataclysm hits and Azrael chases Bane down.
It’s nice for Azrael to get some therapy in before he and Bane kick each other. By the way, for all of Azrael’s efforts, Bane escapes Blackgate Prison pretty soon after this to form his own gang during No Man’s Land. Next time, we’ll jump back to some more venom coverage. Want to see Batman with a full beard? Of course you do.
So after Azrael goes mad with power, almost strangles Robin, and assaults Batman while Azrael’s dressed like a robot, he gets put on a probation by Batman. As in, the Dark Knight doesn’t trust him, like him, or want to be around him. And after Azrael screws up an undercover police job, it’s time for Bruce Wayne to let Azrael know the bitter truth — he’s a sucky vigilante. In Azrael #36-40, written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Roger Robinson, our dear Jean-Paul Valley has one last chance to prove himself by taking down the biggest, scariest, most powerful supervillain in Batman’s rogue gallery.
Seriously, conversing with Batman is like talking to your dad when he’s not angry, just disappointed. As usual in a crimefighter’s life, everything goes bonkers at once and Azrael misses his deadline. Also, love interests and stuff, but that’s off topic. And let’s be fair to Azrael, he’s mentally ill trying desperately to impress another mentally ill man who may be legitimately impossible to impress. Batman can’t even meet his own standards — what chance does the Batfamily have? But the stakes remain the same: Jean-Paul brings in Bane or Batman’ll punch Azrael out of crimefighting forever.
Here’s how you know Azrael’s on Batman’s bad side: he makes Azrael fly coach. Even Robin has his own plane. For those not in the know (including me about two weeks ago), Nomoz helped train Jean-Paul into Azrael way back in his origin comic. He’s the sidekick for this arc so Azrael doesn’t have to talk to himself the whole time.
There is a greater theme here spread throughout the pages. Jean-Paul’s constantly conflicted between his identity as Azrael and himself. He can’t fight crime without becoming Azrael, but he hates Azrael’s cruelty and violence. It’s a schizophrenia shaped by his dead father. Oh, and check out that the dude’s back in his “default” costume. Of the six Azrael articles I’ve done so far, he’s had three different outfits.
Need further proof that Azrael’s the most ’90s superhero that ever existed? He has fire coming out of claws. And the claws are attached to giant golem hands. You can’t get more extreme ‘tude than that. And the cape’s not even practical — it’s looks like it’s made out of ribbons pieced together from a Hobby Lobby shopping spree.
I’m no historian, but after the super gritty, dark, realistic comics of the late 1980s, the medium compensated with brighter, supernatural, “extreme” adventures. The 2000s reacted to that by making comics dark again. Nowadays, we’re in a resurgence of comics written with a lighter touch. In five or six years, we’ll repeat the infinite cycle — after all, the 1980s came as a response to the trippy, magical LSD-fueled journeys of 1970s superheroes. For reference, you’re currently watching Azrael kick henchmen butt in 1997.
Remember how Azrael beat Bane the first time? He took out Bane’s venom supply causing the supervillain to freak out enough for the lucid Azrael to knock him out. Bane’s off venom now. Our poor protagonist has to fight Bane in his purest, non-addicted state. That’s pretty much why he gets his butt handed to him. Plus, we have three issues left in our arc. Sadly, Bane only spares Azrael’s life to give him a greater pain: prison justice.
Venom’s beyond addictive and no rehab center exists for this sort of ailment. See what it’s doing to Bird? If you need more evidence, Batman once succumbed so horribly to venom addiction that it took him a month locked in the batcave of sheer willpower and crazy hallucinations to break it. Actually, we’ll cover that story next because it’s really good and serves as a prelude to Knightfall. And Azrael’s withdrawal? That comes soon, but first, they have to inevitably escape from being tied up and make a terrible situation much worse.
On Friday, we get our exciting conclusion, and by that I mean several pages of Azrael sweating and crying.