The Batman and Superman blame game, Pt. 2

When we left off, Superman lost a village to an OMAC – a robot/cyborg created by Batman’s former (rogue) satellite Brother Eye, which Batman bought to spy on everyone. And Max Lord, the psychic baddie who commandeered Brother Eye, is psychically controlling Superman to make him do his bidding. There. You’re all caught up. So that’s why Superman’s a bit bummed out in Adventures of Superman #642-643, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Karl Kerschl, Derec Donovan, Cam Smith, Sean Parsons, Carlos D’Anda, and Rags Morales. It’s for a good reason. Y’see, Max Lord made Superman try to kill Batman. He got pretty close. Click the pictures below for a larger version if you so desire.

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Everything I’ve shown you is important, I promise. It all leads to a single poignant conversation about personal responsibility that’ll pierce the very vortex of your comic-book-loving heart (well, maybe not now that I’ve hyped it up so much). Look, Superman always does the right thing no matter what, no exceptions, because Superman is Superman and the most perfect physical, mental, and emotional being in fictional history. So when the writer wants Superman to do something murder-y, another separate force must take over the Man of Steel. Superman didn’t mean it! He was under Max Lord’s control! Which, while totally a legitimate excuse, doesn’t make these next few pages feel any better.

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After this, he gets psychically taken over one more time for a brutal Superman versus Wonder Woman fight. Then Wonder Woman breaks Max Lord’s neck. And even after this whole Max Lord episode ends – both Wonder Woman and Superman in pretty terrible shape (and Max Lord dead) – our dear protagonist has to immediately save the world from a runaway missile. Crime never sleeps, especially not in a universe with fifty different series to fill every month. Oh, and in Superman’s thought boxes, he’s talking to Lois Lane (remember when those two used to be married?).

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Brother Eye, who still operates for the most part even without Max Lord, doesn’t really get dealt with until Infinite Crisis (which occurs months after this), so the OMACs still run rampant. And most importantly, there’s a little secret about these whole OMAC creations that Superman doesn’t find out until right now. You know how I referred to them earlier as cyborgs? Turns out no one told the Man of Steel, so he has to find out the normal method – letting a tiny bit of his infinite power loose followed by immediate and overwhelming shame.

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Finally, we reach our conversation. With the thirty-ish pictures you’ve read and everything I’ve explained, you should understand every reference and argument the two make. Will this all be worth the immense amount of time I’ve spent building up to this? Look, let’s not worry about that. It’s an important conversation with an important message at the end – a message that’s not brought up enough about both of the characters’ most glaring flaws.

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Both of them are correct, of course. But since the DC universe walks the super thin line between spandex-wearing cooks punching moons and the actual moral quandaries of our real life world, we always get left with more open-ended questions than any sort of satisfying answers. The only thing I’m sure of is that if guilt was kryptonite, Superman’d be a dead man. I’m leaving with you with the final page of this issue, which consists of Superman sobbing into the arms of his loving wife. I know it’s a bummer. But it’s important for us to read. Right?

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Something happy next time!

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The Batman and Superman blame game, Pt. 1

Everything you’re going to see today and tomorrow leads to a single conversation between Superman and Batman – all 40-ish pictures involving explosions and OMACs and betrayal and spying and mind control and missiles and everything else. We’ll weave five separate stories together in a coherent knot that eventually ends up on the complicated idea of personal responsibility. I know that’s not as exciting as missiles, but it’ll be more satisfying. Probably. Most likely. Let’s start with a scene from Superman #217, written by Mark Verheiden and drawn by Ed Benes. Superman and Lois are currently hanging out in Peru, helping people and reporting news and whatever else. Terrorists, already once foiled by Superman, threaten to blow up the local village’s dam. I want to proclaim that this looks like a job for you-know-who, but I cringe every time I start to write that.

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It’s an OMAC! Shortened for Omni Mind And Community, they’re crazy powerful robots/cyborgs. We like to think of a superhero’s job as beating up supervillains, but a more accurate description would be saving people from supervillains. The bad guys only exist as obstacles to prevent a superhero from accomplishing his chosen bloody career path. So think of OMAC as the jammed printer that’s preventing Superman from submitting his report on time. And then think of that printer being kicked repeatedly.

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I know we don’t like mopey Superman. Batman doesn’t cry or be emotionally vulnerable like the Man of Steel. But, because Superman’s perfect, he must be as sensitive as he is masculine. A real man wouldn’t be ashamed to shed tears or sit in the dark sadly when he fails since a real man has no need to impress anyone. Hence for all of Superman’s embarrassing weeping, of course he cries. It’s just one more thing he’s better at than we are.

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I’m upset too. We’re moving on to a scene from The OMAC Project #2, written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Jesus Saiz. Don’t worry, Batman doesn’t fail in this scene as that would be too difficult to believe. To understand the importance of what’s upcoming, we must jump back to the greatly hated DC event Identity Crisis. If I can be honest, while really dark, Identity Crisis wasn’t that bad. When Batman stumbled upon Zatanna and other members of the Justice League mindwiping the supervillain Dr. Light (to erase his knowledge of the superheroes’ secret identities), Zatanna had no choice but to mindwipe Batman as well. The Dark Knight only deals in black and white, y’know because he refuses to operate in that logical gray area of morality. In response to his friends’ betrayal, and in a move that’s a huge gray area, Batman builds a giant satellite that can spy on everything and everyone in the world, basically wiping out privacy.

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Max Lord, psychic supervillain, stole the satellite. He also killed the Blue Beetle, hence why Booster Gold’s a bit upset. Note that before Blue Beetle died, he went to Batman with this information and Batman brushed him off, thus forcing Blue Beetle to confront Max Lord by himself. And Max Lord shot him, something he wouldn’t have been able to do if any of the Justice Leaguers had accompanied Blue Beetle. It’s complicated. But most importantly, Booster Gold makes a poignant observation:

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It’s a strange double-edged sword. Since we as readers get a full view of Batman’s life that the other superheroes don’t, we know that of course Batman takes blame for his mistakes. He takes all the blame to the point where it’s unhealthy (ex. Jason Todd’s death). But Batman also doesn’t have the emotional capability to show vulnerability. Or show emotion or have normal human feelings or trust others. Even Superman – arguably Batman’s best friend – doesn’t get the heart-on-the-sleeve Bruce Wayne. But also, of course Batman doesn’t take blame with the others around. He doesn’t have superpowers. He’s a normal dude hanging out with gods. So the first time he admits his mistakes, he acknowledges that his contributions to the Justice League (almost entirely his detective skills and information network) might not be perfect. And then Batman’s just a normal dude in a Bat costume and certainly not the perfection incarnates (Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter) or powerful meta-humans (Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman) that he has to always competing with.

But today’s connected by a single thread: OMACs. Brother Eye (Batman’s hijacked satellite) creates OMACs, and Max Lord controls Brother Eye, both of which are the pillars of despair that will define Friday’s article. It’ll make sense, I’m pretty sure.

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To be continued indeed! My convoluted conclusion next time!


War Machine’s anger issues

The man has some feelings to work out.  James Rhodes, the owner of the War Machine armor (think of Iron Man with more bullets), gets his second real shot at being the superhero the same comic Tony Stark “dies.”  Mainly, it’s out of necessary, as criminals still need to be stopped and Iron Man comics still need to be sold.  But unlike you or me or practically anyone else in the Marvel universe, Rhodes isn’t happy about his new exciting title.  No, actually he’s quite angry (as you guessed from the title). Here’s some scenes of Rhodes/War Machine raging around from Iron Man #284-291, written by Len Kaminski and drawn by Kevin Hopgood & Tom Morgan.

So I’m sure in the cynical depths of your comic-loving soul, you balk at my statement.  Please, you say, all superheroes get outraged occasionally.  How bad can he be?  Well, you know:

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Rhodes has no super powers.  You just witnessed a normal man put a lamp through the television for something that Fox News makes an entire network about.  So now with no Tony Stark to hang out with and no Iron Man to lie to people about, Rhodes will have to spend his time productively.  And for someone who loves and admires Stark so much, he’s certainly not happy about following his final wishes.  As the imaginary Tony Stark rattles off all the qualifications that make Rhodes the superhero we all know he should be (mainly being a good person), understand the lunacy of Rhodes’ misplaced anger.  If I came to you announcing that I’m going to give you the physique of an Olympic-level athlete and the ability to shoot lasers out of your eyes, would you just shout, “Eff you!” before shoving me away? No, because we’re not crazy people.  His rage continues unabated for the next eight issues.

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I’m not going to spend 600 words to announce over and over again – look how upset War Machine is! Don’t you worry, because War Machine possesses a superpower that delights me far more than yelling at the ghost of Iron Man.  Witness the unparalleled majesty of Rhodes’ combat banter.  His references are horribly outdated.  His references are pretty much nonsense.  It builds absolutely zero suspense.  And you’re welcome in advance.

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So as you’ve figured, Tony Stark isn’t dead.  Actually, you know for a fact he isn’t because I did a previous article about his coma dreams and whatnot that takes place during this arc.  War Machine finally gets put back into the truth loop about halfway through this – not to Tony Stark’s fault as he spent most of the first half being unconscious.  And because I’m about to show you the pages of Rhodes discovering the truth, you should know that Rhodes reacts poorly.  What’s the proper mood when you find out your best friend isn’t actually dead?  Elation?  Surprise?  Happiness?

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For a man who’s entire superhero identity is constructed using technology, Rhodes really hates electronics.  In the past decades, Rhodes has slowly morphed into the stoic demeanor and good-natured humor of an ex-military/superhero making his way as a normal man in an insane comic book world.   But not for a while.  If War Machine isn’t complaining that he has to fight crime even though he doesn’t want to, mom, I just got home from school so let me go to my room please, then he’s spending his time having shirtless bedside conversations with his string of lovers.  He leads an enviable life, even if he doesn’t notice.  And here’s some more combat banter:

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Look, Rhodes and Stark end this arc as friends again.  The status quo must remain strong. Iron Man, in all his bed-ridden glory, must convince War Machine not to be a little b-word and accept that the world needs a gun-toting making-dad-jokes Iron Man-spinoff flying around the Marvel universe to blow away robots with shoulder-mounted miniguns.  I don’t want you to surprise you, but Rhodes isn’t happy about this arrangement.  Spoiler alert: he’s angry.

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And that’s the story of how War Machine joined the West Coast Avengers.  Next time, Batman and Superman!


Northstar’s deportation problem

Northstar and his manager Kyle got married!  We all celebrated and rejoiced and hugged our loved ones.  Their marriage notched another mark into the bedpost of diversity in comics.  But if you’re going to have two characters take advantage of the United States legal system for the wonderful joy in all our hearts, that also means dealing with all the disadvantages (and oh, is there a lot) of the double-edged sword of the endlessly complicated United States legal system.  Like Northstar (real name Jean-Paul Beaubier) being a Canadian citizen instead of an American.  And his 2012 gay marriage not being recognized by the United States government.  So I present to you the other side of Northstar’s marriage that no one talks about: his immediate deportation.  Today, we’re using the following comics:
Astonishing X-Men #51, written by Marjorie Liu and drawn by Mike Perkins
Astonishing X-Men #56, written by Liu and drawn by Mike Perkins
Astonishing X-Men #59, written by Liu and drawn by Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Astonishing X-Men #66, written by Liu and drawn by Amilcar Pinna
Astonishing X-Men #68, written by Liu and drawn by Walta
Amazing X-Men #1, written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Ed McGuinness

Before we delve into law talk and other thrilling topics, let’s take a moment and refresh our memories on the delightful wedding between these two good-looking, happy, loving men:

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Yes, it’s everything a comic book wedding ceremony should be: overly emotional and an enormous pain for the artist to draw.  It feels good and we’re better people for having witnessed this.  Now normally, marrying an American citizen anchors dear Northstar to our beloved country, much like having a child or building an underground bunker would.  But when the X-Men – already a super high-profiled team – have a very public and very ornate wedding, it’s going to attract some major attention that it wouldn’t otherwise.  Like the government.  Correcting their mistake.

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Honestly, superheroes break laws all the time.  Due process, trespassing, assault (tons of assault), etc.  But superheroes have always been notoriously bad at solving problems that don’t involve punching.  So as Northstar breaks the news to his husband that all the dreams and desires they brought with them to New York will be crushed under the immense weight of American bureaucracy and the price of celebrity, remember the most important thing: Canada’s not so bad.  There are far worse places to be deported to.

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Nothing else is said about this for many, many issues.  The giant X-Men event X-Termination kind of abducts the current story line as Astonishing X-Men contributes some issues to the event.  Then Iceman has a schizophrenic, definitely evil, almost-destroying-all-of-NYC episode that takes up five issues.  So, we never see Northstar and Kyle move.  Actually, nothing else is ever mentioned at all except for the single page below where they briefly mention they’re in Canada.  But back to the Iceman thing, that’s why everyone’s so angry at him (also, Northstar use to have a crush on Iceman, but that’s wildly irrelevant information I’m only giving you to take up space).

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So what happens you ask?  I don’t know.  No one knows.  Astonishing X-Men ends and this court case never once gets brought up again in the history of comic books.  Luckily, our real life law caught up enough that comic book law could say these two would be allowed back in the United States, but I can’t tell you anything beyond what you just saw above.  Luckily, the next time Northstar appears, he’s a faculty member at Wolverine’s X-Men school in upstate New York, so we can only assume that he won his case.  Good job, She-Hulk.  Here’s some proof from Amazing X-Men:

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And everyone lived happily ever after!  Hopefully.  Goodness, it’d be nice.


Robin trapped in concrete

Teenagers are a giant mess of sweat, insecurity, and mistakes.  That’s not even opinion; I imagine science could back me up on that.  And like all non-adults, teenage superheroes – aside from still being perfect physical specimens, going through puberty with relative ease, and attracting more of the opposite sex than the school they attend combined – make terrible errors in judgement. Such as Robin today in Robin #4-5, written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Tom Grummett & Ray Kryssing. He breaks up an attempted robbery, except he didn’t think through the bad guy’s full plan.

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Y’see, the money’s hot, right?  The cops’ll be looking for the stolen cash and armored car, so the supervillains decide to bury it in concrete for a few days before excavating it, thus losing the evidence if they get caught or whatever.  So our whole story takes place in the five by ten foot enclosed square of an armored truck with Robin and Cluemaster (Spoiler/Batgirl/Stephanie Brown’s father) stuck together.  It starts off pretty much how you imagine it would.  Badly.

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This is why superheroes are only applicable in a fictional universe.  Superboy and Wonder Girl in a single punch would have been back home sleeping soundly in his barn by now.  Beast Boy would have slipped out before the concrete came down.  Starfire could blast her way out.  And Cyborg must have dozens of methods to escape or call someone or he might not even need to breathe at all.  But poor Robin has to rely on luck.  His utility belt has many gadgets, but none of those pockets contain miracle guns or divine intervention lasers.

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The clock indicates what time it is.  It builds suspense while Spoiler runs around on the surface in the sub-story I’m not showing you.  And poor Cluemaster, getting lectured by a high school sophomore. No one takes Cluemaster seriously rocking a ponytail like that.  Hairstyles for supervillains must be short, normal, or outrageous, not a style blaring Nostalgia for the ’80s.  But luckily as you’ll see below, Robin has learned the most important lesson one could under Batman’s teachings: blame yourself for every little thing you do wrong no matter what the situation or uncontrollable variables because you should know better always and forever.

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We all know Robin isn’t going to die.  It’s only issue five of his series, and DC usually waits until sales get low before they kill off their series’ main characters.  Dear Robin gets saved entirely by the chaos of the comic book universe and not his own abilities.  It’s an acceptable method of storytelling as having the superhero lose once in a while raises the stakes for their next battles.  That’s why Superman usually battles dudes stronger, faster, and tougher than he is.  Though I imagine this is a story Robin won’t be telling Batman about when he gets back to the cave.

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This moment marks more than Robin’s embarrassing rescue.  You’re about to witness the beginning of the Robin/Spoiler romance, despite Robin having a girlfriend and it taking thirty-ish issues before they actually become a couple – and even then, Robin won’t tell Spoiler who he is although he knows Spoiler’s real life identity.  It’s a slow, drama-filled burn, like all high school relationships should be.

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Iron Man and his father

Iron Man is dead.  At least in this point in the comics.  It allows War Machine to take over the title for a few issues, but it mainly consists of James Rhodes angrily stomping his feet in frustration at every single situation that comes his way.  Seriously, for starring in his own superhero comic for these precious few issues, Rhodes has more angst than Spider-Man’s worst day.  Anyway, in Iron Man #285-288, written by Len Kaminski and drawn by Kevin Hopgood & Barry Kitson – Iron Man obviously not “dead” dead – our hero hallucinates about his past.  Mainly about his relationship with his father. Nowadays in current continuity, Tony Stark’s dad acts much like Batman’s dad: a paragon of the community and a role model for our superhero to aspire to be.  But not in these four issues.  Let’s meet a very different Howard Stark.

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Iron Man has been sober for about a hundred issues or so.  But all that previous alcohol fried his brain enough for him to repress all those awful memories of the domestic abuse committed by his boozy father.  We know this story as a constant theme in comics — terrible parents force the prodigal son to begin his never-ending quest seeking the approval of people who will never give it to him.  But this story factors so much into Iron Man’s personality: his love of machines, his superhero fantasies, his maniacal self-improvement, and his relentless drive; everything pretty much goes back to his father being a dick.

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I know he’s called Iron Man and his first two armors were made of iron, but let’s chalk his father’s proclamation up to a coincidence.  By the way, is it just me or is it weird to see Tony Stark without his mustache?  Even as a child.  That ten year-old needs to be rocking that pencil-thin mustache for me to be completely comfortable with this flashback.

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You see what happens when you let kids be exposed to fantasy?  They become billionaire playboy superheroes who gain the whole world’s adoration and love.  Off topic, but I do hold a firm belief that superheroes are America’s King Arthur.  Britain has their fictional greater-than-life heroes, complete with adventures and so on.  We Americans created our own fictional greater-than-life heroes, just with spandex and who punch mobsters as opposed to slaying dragons.  Though, if I can shamelessly plug, Green Arrow has totally slayed a dragon, so take that Lancelot or whoever.

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You should feel bad for Iron Man, and not because he lost his parents.  No, y’see, Iron Man is so amazing that nothing is difficult.  He’s good at everything.  He has no weaknesses.  He’s a god among men.  So shed your tears now, my friends.  Can we all take a minute and proclaim what a genius Stan Lee is?  He created Iron Man, a superhero literally no one can identify with (except maybe Elon Musk), injected into him the ego of an entire professional sports league, gave him everything the readers weren’t getting (like girls), and then somehow made this man a comic book superstar.

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You know what happens next.  Terrorists kidnap him or Vietcong or whatever’s the current group Iron Man first gets kidnapped by.  I know nowadays his superhero origin relies on an abduction somewhere in the Middle East, but that changes depending on what decade the Iron Man story takes place in.  But that incident propelled him to become a good person, warrior of justice, etc.  May we all hope that our own physical, mental, or emotional transformation doesn’t involve building a suit of armor to blow up terrorists.  But we should definitely hope that we can one day we could wear a pencil-thin mustache and still be called cool.  That’d be a decent enough transformation, I guess.

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Iron Man’s back to life!  On Monday, get ready for a surprise (because I don’t know what we’ll be reading at).


The Batman and Daredevil team up 2

[Ed. Note: I’m feeling better.  I promised myself I would get to 500 articles, so I hope you’ll enjoy the final fifty articles as much as I’ll enjoy writing them!  Until I’m back to 100%, I’m going to cut down to two articles a week – I appreciate your support far more than you would ever imagine.)

Last time the Man Without Fear and the Dark Knight crossed pathes, they basically spent the entire issue seeing who had the bigger wiener.  We all know the winner: Superman.  His perfection doesn’t end at the belly button, my friends.  In their second team up, Batman/Daredevil: King of New York, Daredevil begins our story by traveling the mysterious dimensional gap of DC/Marvel cities to Gotham City.  I know the story’s called King of New York.  Just go with me here.

Daredevil’s following Catwoman, who stole something valuable or whatever.  But because all good team ups must begin with fisticuffs, Batman’s going to show up to wreck whatever information party Daredevil hoped to figure out.  Cue the initial brawl:

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These two constantly seem to forget that they’re normal dudes who can’t do stuff like fly or land safely on the ground without transforming into superhero goo.  And while I know Daredevil attempted to interrupt Batman, the crooks are going to figure out who’s on their tail when Daredevil tackles his superhero counterpart in clear view while they both fall to their deaths.  Truthfully, Daredevil’s actions only serve for us to witness a cool acrobatic free-for-all between Batman and him.  And it’s awesome. I never need context for stuff like that.

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Thus begins round two of their big wiener contest.  The stakes are just as high as last time (nothing). But here’s the summary of their current squabble: both Gotham City and New York City are awful places that create the most unnecessarily toughest people to ever walk the comic book universe. But it’s their super awful places.

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The story takes Daredevil’s bad guy Kingpin and Batman’s bad guy Scarecrow to New York City where the Scarecrow plans to unleash a mega bomb of fear toxin that will destroy the tough people of New York City.  Earlier, Kingpin betrayed Scarecrow – y’know, because they’re both supervillains and that’s why every time the Injustice League gets formed, it eventually dissolves into infighting and misery – and now Kingpin’s getting his revenge.  These next two pages aren’t important to the story, but they’re important for my heart and soul.

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As required in a team up, our two superheroes face their buddy’s supervillain.  I’m skipping Batman versus Kingpin, but only because the Daredevil versus Scarecrow fight is so much better.  The baddie can’t beat Daredevil in a fistfight, so he has to use that magical fear gas of his.  But Daredevil’s the Man Without Fear, right?  See?  I told you their fight was better.

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Victory for our heroes, who never meet again.  Luckily, I found a bunch of other crossovers, so next time we’ll have Batman team up with another Marvel superhero.  Hint: this one doesn’t banter or smile.  He only wears shirts with white skulls.  His name starts with “P” and ends with “-unisher.”