Time for a trip to the Elseworld titles! A series of stories set in the DC universe but out of continuity. A chance for writers to flex their creative muscles and ask ‘what if’ questions. Superman: Speeding Bullets was released in 1993 and written by J.M. Dematteis with art by Eduardo Barreto. The ‘what if’ in this case is a little bit strange but very fascinating. What if Superman was Batman?
The cover is just fantastic. Using the iconic image of Superman flying over the city that appeared on Superman #01 in 1939. Instead of a yellow background, the cover reflects Gotham’s aesthetics with a gradient of black to grey. Superman strikes the same pose within the oval, but his costume is replaced with a modified Bat suit. Noticeable, his face is covered with a full mask, similar to that of Spider-Man, rather than a cowl. The emblem on the chest is a perfect fusion of Superman’s shield and Batman’s yellow oval design with the overall shape being that of the shield, and the bat stretching out inside. The style, particularly in the cape, feels inspired by the work of Norm Breyfogle or Todd McFarlane. For this darker take and Superman’s Alien status, the style of cape works perfectly, as it gives it the feel of having a mind of its own. Even the books title box corrupts the original image. Taking the smooth curves at the edges and giving them a jagged horn like appearance.
Throughout the book we have narration, asking what it would be like if things turned out differently. We see a rocked escaping a planet as it explodes, a green glow all around. The rocket travels through space and crash lands just outside of Gotham City, where it is discovered by Thomas and Martha Wayne along with their butler Alfred. Inside is a young boy, Kal-El of the planet Krypton. Through pages styled to look like a photo album, we see the young boy grow as Martha and Thomas decide to adopt him, naming him Bruce Wayne. Martha dotes on the child, stating to love him as though she had given birth do him. Thomas was intrigued by the boy’s ability to quickly take to his lessons. How the boy was so agile, never a bruise or broken bone. Thomas was compassionate and kind, concerned with testing his mental and physical limits. He imparts to Bruce:
“The cowards and bullies use violence. But you – of all who live – must aspire to something better. Something higher.”
They were a family. Happy, without worry, and with a bright future ahead.
However, the point of the book is ‘What if Superman was Batman’. And one constant in the mythology of Batman is the death of the Wayne’s. Leaving the Monarch Theatre, Bruce shouts about how he want’s to be Zorro. “Defender of the weak. Righter of Wrongs”! Martha jokingly mentions that last week he wanted to be John Carter, and before that Sherlock Holmes. As they round the corner, they are confronted by a mugger demanding their money and Martha’s pearls. During the struggle, both Martha and Thomas are shot and die in front of Bruce as he cries on the floor. The mugger turns to Bruce gun pointed, and as Bruce looks up to him, full of rage, Bruce’s powers activate, and he blasts the mugger with his heat vision. The mugger runs in fear, his face burnt and Bruce struggles to control what’s happening to him.
The mugger is revealed to have been found the next morning, his body burned almost beyond recognition. But is identified as Joe Chill. Because of course. Young Bruce is found by the police, eyes wide, covered in his parent’s blood. After the funeral, Bruce is left in the care of his butler Alfred. Over time he grows and matures, but the guilt and shame still run deep through him, always at the forefront of his mind. At the age of 21, Bruce is bitter to the world, looking through the paper he sees nothing but blood and madness. Nothing but violence and death. As he tosses the paper aside, we see an article informing us that Lex Luther is coming to Gotham City. Because so far there has been far more Batman than Superman in this Superman story, apparently. Bruce unlocks a door to reveal hundreds of newspaper clippings tacked to walls, all relating to acts of senseless murder in his city. As he looks around, he begins to enter a panic attack, thinking about his parents and wanting it all to stop. He runs through the mansion before he realises that people have broken in and holding Alfred hostage. Pointing a gun at Bruce’s face. In a fit of rage, Bruce knocks them all side, even throwing one out the window. As one fires bullets right at him, they simply bounce off. Bruce crushes the gun in the criminal’s hand as his heat vision activates, terrifying the criminal. Alfred watches on, as Bruce breaks down remembering what he did to the man who killed his parents.
In a cave beneath Wayne Manor, Alfred and Bruce look through Thomas Wayne’s journals. As Bruce looks around, testing his super vision, He asks Alfred if he can see his ‘brothers’, referring to the bats in the cave. Testing his flight, Bruce flies among them.
“There’s so much I can do… That I’ve never let myself know I can do.”
Cut to another location in the city, a man behind a desk telling his men just how disappointed he is in them. Based on his purple and green outfit, brief flashes and pale skin, as well as the maniacal laugh, it’s clear who he is supposed to be. Condiment King. Obviously. He’s chewing them out over their inability to break into a mansion even with the equipment they were given. One of the men starts ranting about how Wayne is crazy, that he put Charly through a window. In retaliation, they are both strangled on the spot, as the figure laughs to himself.
Two months later, the GCPD are after a man on the roof, Mick Johnson. He’s firing at them from up above when a shadowy figure descends upon him. The Batman has arrived! In a flurry of panic, Johnson fires several rounds at Batman only for them to rebound off. In a final moment of panic, Johnson throws a grenade straight at him, only for Batman to catch it and let it explode in his hands. Batman throws Johnson over the edge, letting him fall, before swooping down to grab him and throwing him into the arms of the GCPD.
The next day, the media is having a field day over the appearance of a cloaked flying figure in the night. Luthor is looking over the paper during a meeting as he is attempting to take over Wayne Enterprises. Just as he’s about to sign the papers, Bruce walks into the meeting telling him that it’s not going to happen. Luthor doesn’t know who he is at first, meaning that Bruce is not very well known publicly, or doesn’t have much involvement with the company. Which leads me to wonder what exactly he has been doing over the years. Bruce puts an end to the deal, saying that he plans to be much more active in the company’s management and dismissing many of the people in the room. As Bruce leaves, it’s clear that Luthor is far from pleased.
Bruce stops off at the Gotham Gazette, the cities local paper and one he now owns, and meets the editor-in-chief Perry White, as well as running into the Gazette’s newest recruit, Lois Lane. Just arrived from the Daily Planet in Metropolis. Around Lois, Bruce becomes a bit a buffoon. Stumbling over his words and knocking into desks. It’s heavily reminiscent of a phrase from Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek. “If I sound smitten, don’t read too much into it – it’s because I am.”
At this point, it becomes clear that the narrator is Lois. Talking about how she expected Gotham’s famous recluse to be a lot of things, but not a shy, stuttering klutz, referring to him as charming, adorable, and disappointing all at the same time. Walking through the streets, Luthor’s car pulls up along side Lois, offering her a ride home. Lois accepts but Batman is watching from the rooftops. In the car, Lois and Luthor talk about how much things have changed, Luthor alludes to an accident that has changed him as he tries to slip his hand up Lois’s thigh. Lois slaps him across the face and is thrown out of his car. Fifty blocks from her apartment, Lois finds herself on the street with a group of men cat calling to her. They attempt to attack her just as Batman swoops in to save her. After knocking out the guys, he reaches out a hand to Lois asking if he can help. After the events of the night, Lois slaps his hand away and asks him to get away. Batman flies away just as the police arrive to help.
Back at the Gazette, late at night, Lois is typing up an article based on the man who saved her and the state of violence in the city. Bruce finds her there, and Lois instantly questions his appearance. Bruce says that he’s just getting some work done while it’s quiet and asks her what’s wrong. Lois tells him everything about her night, and describes Batman, saying that he has an “utter disregard for human life!” That he could do so much more for the world with those powers. She compares Batman to Bruce, his idealism and dedication, using his wealth to help others. The pair embrace and kiss in the middle of the office. Interestingly, this is a nice little twist on Lois preferring the meta-human to the bumbling co-worker. But even with the change of name and identity, Kal-El and Lois still feel like they are made for one another.
A few weeks later, a man furiously enters the offices of the Gotham Gazette and demands to see Mr. Wayne. As he crashes his way through, we see his purple and green suit and as he bursts into Bruce’s office, we see that the man is Lex Luther. Removing his hat and prosthetic skin to reveal a bleached white face and thick red lipstick. A jokerised Lex Luthor! Who saw that coming… Bruce jumps up to confront him, only to be blasted back by an umbrellas gun. As Bruce falls out of the window behind him, Joker/Luthor kidnaps Lois and escapes into the night with a small flying machine strapped to his back. As they land on the top of a tall building, complete with devil horned gargoyles. Batman flies in and grabs Joker/Luthor. Flying him high into the sky as narration talks about how Luthor wants to use chaos and violence to take over the city. As Batman announces to Joker/Luthor that he sees him as an “Insufferable Maggot”, that he is going to kill him. Joker/Luthor begins to laugh telling him that he’s just as mad as he is, wouldn’t he agree. As Batman screams “YES!” he throws Luthor to the ground from high above the city, as Lois watches on with the saddest of expressions on her face. Batman looks down at Lois, seeing her face and flies back down and catches Luthor, telling him that he’s going to jail in order to save the city. Batman takes on the hordes of tanks and men working for Joker/Luthor that have been trying to tear apart the city during this whole ordeal. When he’s finished he flies back over to Lois making sure she’s ok.
Lois: “What you did tonight… it was different. Not hate… not vindictiveness… not wasting your gifts on terror and brutality. With your power – There’s so much more you can do. Instead of flexing your muscles… stooping to the level of the very people you’re trying to stop – you can rise above all that. Stand as an example. A symbol of hope.”
Lois reveals that she knows Batman is Bruce Wayne and the pair embrace once again and fly off into the night.
As the story comes to a close, Lois continues talking about how all of this could have come out so differently. How different the man she loves could have been if he had landed somewhere else. Even making reference to Superman: Red Son as well as the main continuity. As the words play out we see a brighter figure fly over the city of Gotham, and the final page reveals a bright new costume for Bruce, and the new name of SUPERMAN!
In the end, the story is mainly about nature verses nurture. Not just for Superman but Batman as well. Superman is often called the most human of us all, despite his alien origins. This is largely contributed to his upbringing among salt of the earth people on a farm in Kansas. Batman is often the first to bring it up and often talks about what he would do if he had that kind of power. The book works as a good character study on these ideas. While certainly not the first story to do this for either Batman or Superman (and definitely not the last). Superman: Speeding Bullets is a fine addition to the Elseworld library.