Jan 25, 2011

[Comics] JLA: Tower of Babel

JLA: Tower of BabelBatman is a bad ass superhero. He's not quite an anti-hero - that's something we leave for the likes of Wolverine, The Punisher or whoever. No matter how you look at it, Batman is pretty intimidating as a superhero since he commands such an awesome amount of respect through sheer presence alone. And lest you forget, he's still just an ordinary human being with no super powers. An no, his utility belt and all his gadgets do not define his character nor make him "super". You may have him confused for the Blue Beetle or something.

Just how dark and disturbing Batman is has been a concept that has been more and more explored in recent years. We have the constant evolution of the comic book industry's level of maturity to thank for that. Otherwise, we would have been stuck with a lot of Adam West style tomfoolery. That wasn't too bad, but it wasn't bad ass.

Batman was probably one of those kids that the teacher would have marked as "does not play well with others." And yet time and time again he gets put into a superhero team for comic book sale purposes. So it's interesting to find a JLA story where Batman gets to be, well, himself more than anything else. And thus that makes him terribly dangerous to everyone around him.

JLA: Tower of Babel is a Mark Waid story that took place in JLA issues #43-46. And it's probably one of the best Batman / JLA stories I've ever read.

The story begins an unusual crime - someone steals the remains of Batman's parents. Thus he goes off on mad hunt to reclaim his parents, in a manner of speaking, thus leaving the "board" open for our evil mastermind to make the next move.

The it's quite a master stroke, really. The story relies on two main facts. First, Batman has spent the past few years observing his team mates and other superhumans in order to figure out ways to neutralize them in case they turned evil. Second, someone has managed to steal Batman's files and is now using them against the JLA to take them down one by one.

Ra's al GhulImage via WikipediaAnd the ultimate goal is to disrupt the language centers in everyone's brains, thus eliminating all communication and the ability to read even just basic symbols and numbers, throwing the world into chaos. Naturally a plan on this scale with this kind of far-reaching and potentially dangerous effects is the work of none other than The Demon's Head - Ra's Al Ghul.

The idea in itself seems a simple one - Batman is both smart enough and paranoid enough to figure out ways of neutralizing his fellow heroes if need be. And that says a lot about Batman, really. It shows just how smart and creative he is when it comes to analyzing other individuals as potential opponents. It also talks around just how far he's willing to go in order to keep humanity safe - no one is exempt from his unique brand of justice, may it be friend or foe. And that's a very scary thing to find in a man you're supposed to rely on 100% as a teammate. Thus the repercussions of this storyline end up being rather far-reaching.

The individual methods of neutralizing the League are pretty devilish as well, and those who don't want spoilers can skip over the next paragraph.

Just think about the kind of work that went into coming up with these solutions. Martian Manhunter was taken out using nanites that convert his skin to highly flammable magnesium. Aquaman is made to fear water, which he needs to survive. Plastic Man is frozen solid and then shattered. Green Lantern was made blind, thus unable to shape the energies of his ring into items that could aid him. Wonder Woman is trapped in some sort of a virtual reality battle against an unbeatable opponent, thus forcing her to battle to the death. Flash is shot with a vibra-bullet that triggers seizures as he tried to phase it out of him. And Superman's skin is turned transparent by artificially created red Kryptonite, thus leaving him overexposed to the solar energy that gives his his powers.

And they weren't exactly peaceful ways of neutralizing the League. They were all pretty painful or even life-threatening to varying degrees. In most cases, they were downright torture! And these solutions for stopping the JLA were a heck of a lot more interesting that Ra's Al Ghul's main scheme, which wasn't too shabby either.

Thus the whole compiled book ends up being pure gold in terms of writing and my major kudos to Waid for coming up with such an amazing story. It's one that finally addresses Batman's dark nature in the face of the need to operate within a team.

JLA: Tower of Babel is definitely a must-read for any Batman fan. It gets 5 jaw-dropping sequences of the JLA members getting taken down out of a possible 5. You can get the trade paperback in pretty much any major comic book store or bookstore near you.

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