The changes that Batman underwent during the period 1964 – 1967: the New Look wound up also affecting his team ups with Superman in the pages of World’s Finest Comics. As a result, this era saw some of the best stories of the Superman/Batman team, mostly scripted by Edmond Hamilton, with Curt Swan art. There was more experimentation with teaming up villains of the two heroes, as well as the introduction of the Composite Superman. Jimmy Olsen and Robin would form their own team, and the Super-Sons would also make their debut during this period.
Superman and Batman descend into Kandor for World’s Finest 143. Batman gets shot while stopping a crime, and sinks into a depression. Superman and Robin come up with a plan to get him out of his funk. Superman, in conjunction with some of his Kandorian friends, fake an attack by metalloids in the bottle city, and request Batman to help. Ace, the Bathound appears briefly in this story, the final appearance of the faithful dog. Superman and Jimmy Olsen don their Nightwing and Flamebird costumes while in Kandor. Jimmy came along because. He just. Nightwing and Flamebird! Oh, and Nighthound, a telepathic Kryptonian dog that Jimmy had worked with in his own book makes his last appearance here as well. We also see Nor-Kann, and old friend of Jor-El and Lara, who appeared occasionally in Superman stories from this time. He provides Batman and Robin with flight belts, making them a bit more “powerful” that Superman in his Nightwing guise. Things get complicated when Batman finds out he has been conned, but then the metalloids turn out to be real, and a sulky Batman refuses to believe Superman. Aside from Batman’s completely out-of-character behaviour from beginning to end, this story does give everyone a fun role in the adventure, and is miles above the Dictator of Krypton City story, the first time Superman and Batman had a tale set in Kandor.
World’s Finest 155 gives the spotlight to Batman, as he strives to solve the mystery of Nightman. Batman is to be presented an award commemorating his one thousandth case with Superman, but he declines, as Superman has more recently worked with Nightman. Batman insists that Nightman must be a better hero than he is, in a sort of petulant, sulky way. Batman vows to figure out who Nightman is, and retired if he fails. For much of the story it seems obvious that Batman is Nightman himself. Bruce is tired and irritable, never around at the time Nightman is. But when Batman tracks down and starts fighting with Nightman it’s clear that something else is going on. Batman does deduce that he is Nightman, and that Superman hypnotized him into becoming so, and having no memory of it. Superman impersonated Nightman for the climactic battle. Superman explains this as a “present” for Batman. Yeah, mind-control and amnesia, the perfect gift.
Part of Batman’s New Look was aging Robin, making him about the same age as Jimmy Olsen, which resulted in the Olsen/Robin team coming into existence in World’s Finest 141. Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and George Klein do an excellent job on this story, which sees a news predictor makes startlingly accurate predictions, before forecasting the deaths of Robin and Jimmy Olsen. The two young men act as if they are scared for their lives, and nothing Superman or Batman can do calms them down. The heroes then find the boys dead and buried. But at this point, the reader is let in on the secret. They were behind the news predictor. Robin made all the pre-planned predictions come true. They stumbled across a plot by hoods who have a machine that makes them invisible.
The bad guys plan to kidnap the boy in order to force Batman and Superman to let them run free. Jimmy Olsen and Robin fake their deaths to nullify the plan, and go after the invisible bad guys themselves. They even open a secret base, complete with mementos of past adventures, the Eyrie. This would appear again in a later story. Of course, the boys shockingly underestimated Superman and Batman. Once the crooks are caught, the heroes turn the tables on the boys, putting fake corpses in the coffins. Superman had spotted their fingerprints on the outsides of the lead coffins, and knew all along they were not dead.
The Olsen/Robin team branch out on their own in World’s Finest 147. Robin and Jimmy Olsen are moving trophies into the Eyrie. We see that interplanetary clock, usually seen in Superboy’s possession, from Robin’s first encounter with him. There are also two space jewels that Jimmy brings, a gift from Superman. Robin and Jimmy quite abruptly turn on their mentors, adopt new costumes, which feature the jewels, and become a crime fighting team on their own. Superman and Batman are puzzled at the sudden change in their behaviour, and it doesn’t take too long to figure out that the jewels are central to this. Heading to the planet where Superman found them, they discover that the gems give off a mental command to anyone who possesses them, who is not invulnerable, to restore them to their location. Jimmy and Robin’s action have all been about getting the jewels back to their home planet. This is actually a re-write of a Tommy Tomorrow story from the early 50s. Probably the exact same gems.
In World’s Finest 158 Robin and Jimmy Olsen are out exploring when they find three Kandor-like bottles in a cave. They appear to be exactly like Brainiac’s bottled city. The boys bring them back to the Eyrie and decide to enter one an investigate. When the boys don’t come back, Superman and Batman get on the case. They find the bottles, and enter them. In each they find a hostile and violent culture, and are lucky to escape, and rescue the boys when they find the right bottle. These bottles were populated by Brainiac A, a rebellious earlier model that was exiled by the Computer Tyrants of Colu when he refused to collect cities for them. He decided to capture evil cities instead. I have always really liked this story, and wish that the character had returned to face his successor in some tale.
Teaming up the supporting characters of the two heroes continued with Perry White and Commissioner Gordon in World’s Finest 159, “The Cape and Cowl Crooks.” Perry White is doing a special for the Daily Planet on Superman and Batman’s headquarters, and foes, with the aid of Commissioner Gordon. They tour both the Batcave and the Fortress of Solitude. Kandor is shown. Later, Superman and Batman are each attacked by evil versions of themselves, with matching powers or equipment. The Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman seem to know everything about the heroes. They release a number of the big name villains, and we see the Joker, Riddler and Penguin between frequent appearances in Bat-books. The Prankster and Toyman, on the other hand, were not so common at this time. The Toyman had appeared the previous year, but the Prankster’s last appearance had been in 1955, in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Neither appears again until the mid-70s. It becomes clear that, despite all that they do know, the Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman do not know the heroes identities. Anti-Batman spends his time driving around Gotham City, asking anyone who is associated with Batman if they know where he is. He does this with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. It turns out to be Perry White and Commissioner Gordon, under the influence of chemicals from the Fortress of Solitude. A typical easy out ending, but a fun trip on the way there.
Remarkably, there were no further Joker/Luthor team ups during this era, but other villains would work together to cause problems for the Superman/Batman team.
Brainiac and Clayface work together in World’s Finest 144, although Jimmy Olsen and Robin are far more important to the tale than the villains are. Jimmy winds up doused with microscopic kryptonite by Brainiac, and so he and Robin switch partners. Batman is so happy to be working with Jimmy that he even reveals his secret identity to him! As the story goes on, Superman finds Robin a less desirable partner than expected as they take on Brainiac, and Jimmy similarly causes problems for Batman as they deal with Clayface. Matt Hagen only meets Brainiac as the story approaches its climax, in which the two young heroes prove themselves and lead the capture of the villains.
Brainiac also created his own partner, Genia, in World’s Finest 164. This story has a terrible opening. Just awful. Brainiac disguises himself as Batman and breaks into the Fortress of Solitude to steal Kandor. When confronted by Superman, he lies painfully, trying to hide the bottle city under his cape. Superman takes Brainiac down and gets Kandor back, and Brainiac sulks off, as he ought to. The he stops being a dumb evil robot and becomes a genius evil robot again, and constructs Genia, designed to replace an existing woman on Earth, but be a killer sleeper agent as well. She is quite powerful on top of this, and able to create large, hypnotic illusions, with which she convinces a UN crowd that she has developed a pollution eliminator. The devices are really shrink rays, so Brainiac can steal cities from all over Earth. The heroes figure out that Genia is a robot, and defeat Brainiac, again. They debate what to do with Genia, and have a scene (as per the cover) in which it appears that they kill her. But Batman was firing a Phantom Zone ray at her, but Superman got her first with a shrink ray, sending her to Kandor for reprogramming. It clearly worked, as we never hear of her again.
World’s Finest 156 sees the Joker work with Bizarro. Batman and Superman head into space for a mission, letting Jimmy Olsen and Robin know. But Bizarro is monitoring Superman at that moment. The Bizarro Batman makes his first appearance, and they head to Earth to substitute for the heroes. Each builds an extremely public version of their respective secret headquarters, and then go around undoing previous deeds of Superman and Batman. Robin and Jimmy Olsen fret, but have no real function. Bizarro and Bizarro Batman do break the Joker out of prison, and help him commit a jewel theft. When Superman and Batman do return to Earth, the Bizarros have no problems about handing over the Joker, and think the gems are ugly and worthless. They intend to stay on Earth, so Superman and Batman head to Bizarro World and start fixing things, which upsets the Bizarros, who return home.
The Colossal Kids cause a lot of trouble for the Superman/Batman team in World’s Finest 152. Force Boy and Speed Kid have powers that rival Superman and Batman, and seem to have come around simply to torment them. Superman suspects the boys may be from Kandor, and indeed two youngsters from the bottle city have gone missing. But Superman finds them, and they are not the boys. Batman proceeds on the notion that they are robots, or from the future, but again finds evidence that dismisses that. Towards the end of the story we discover that it’s Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk in disguise. A really clever way of playing this third team-up for the two imps. They have a bet going as to whether the heroes will be able to figure out who they are, Bat-Mite taking the heroes side. And, indeed, Batman does not let down his fan, deducing that they must be using magic, and therefore have to be Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk.
Two more of Superman’s enemies, Rokk and Sorban, show up in World’s Finest 150. The story opens as Batman investigates a gambling island just off the coast of the US. The games are entertainingly oversized, but all play fair, so far as Batman can tell. The whole island, and getting Batman there, are really just a lure for Superman. Rokk and Sorban, two alien gamblers that Superman met the previous year in his own book, have set up a trap that forces Superman to come to Ventura to play games in order to keep Batman alive. As Superman is escorted around Ventura, the story delves into the laws and schooling of a planet where gambling is the central way of life. It’s an enjoyable extrapolation. On the other hand, one of the “games” is recognizable from the Legion of Super-Heroes story in which Proty sacrifices himself to revive Lightning Lad. We are told that the person whose rod gets hit by the lightning “wins,” but not that the victory is death. Superman manages to outwit Rokk and Sorban, winning Batman’s life. He also exposes their cheating, which is highly illegal on this planet, and the pair get carted off to prison. But they do return a couple of years down the road, so their sentences were not too severe.
Some new villains were introduced during this era as well. Superman and Batman are given one of their greatest foes in World’s Finest 142. The story opens with the mysterious Composite Superman attacking the heroes, and getting the best of them. Looking like a half-Batman, half-Superman, but with green skin, the Composite Superman displays the powers of many of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which just makes the good guys even more confused. We, but not the heroes, discover that the Composite Superman is really Joe Meach, a janitor a the Superman Museum. Brainiac 5 created perfect miniatures of the members of the Legion, which are on display at the museum. Meach, unhappy with his life, had a chip on his shoulder against the much-loved heroes. In a sequence pretty much stolen from the origin of the Flash, Meach is standing in front of the Legion display when lightning blasts through a window, hitting both him and the statues, and endowing Meach with the powers of all the Legionnaires.
Superman, Batman and Robin try brute force and subterfuge, but nothing seems to work against a villain who is smarter, more powerful, and can do anything from turn invisible to split into three people. In fact, as the story ends, both Superman and Batman have been defeated by the Composite Superman. But he feels his powers wearing off, and leaves them, rushing back to the museum. Meach is too late, and reverts back to his normal self, losing all memory of his other existence. Superman and Batman have no idea what happened to the Composite Superman, and just hope he does not return. Bad news for them, good news for us, he does return in a couple of years.
One of the earliest Superman/Batman outings, “Swamis, Inc,” gets reworked in World’s Finest 160 as the debut of Dr. Zodiac, a villain that the two heroes would face a few times over the years. Crime is slow in Metropolis, so Superman goes to a county fair and exposes a fortune teller there as a fake. The guy and his girlfriend get fired, and he vows vengeance. The guy finds a book of magical forecasts, and decides to create the identity of Dr. Zodiac. He gets a gang who wear zodical signs on their shirts. His girlfriend goes in disguise to get the birth dates of Superman and Batman. Based on what the book tells him, Dr. Zodiac plans crimes to exploit the heroes “forecasts.” It’s a fun story all around, but the ending is kind of evil. The book was a fake, planted by Superman and Batman. So they left this for the guy to find, hoping he would use it to commit crimes, which they would then stop. Umm, wow. Remember, this guy started as a carnival fortune teller. They got him fired, and lured him into the world of crime, just so they could bust him. Superman and Batman should have better things to do with their time. Nevertheless, their evil mind-warping worked, and Dr. Zodiac returned in these pages in the early 80s.
The Superman of 2467, who had appeared the previous years in Superman and Action Comics, made his third and final appearance in World’s Finest 166, teaming up with a future Batman. His enemy, Muto, returns as well. Muto encounters the descendant of the Joker, and we see that insanity clearly runs rampant in that family. The story also introduces the Batman of that era, and we see that, for generations, the descendants of Batman and Superman have operated together. This notion will return many times over the years, in stories about future, even if the specific heroes and times change. The story spends a lot of its time on this Batman. It details his origin, as the man’s parents are killed by the future Joker, and only then does he learn his family’s heritage of masked crime fighting. The future Superman and Batman team up to track down Muto and the future Joker. This Joker dies at the end of the tale, and perhaps the future Batman retires after this, his quest for vengeance sated. The future Superman, and Muto, are largely forgotten about after this tale, but do return, in a fashion, in a hallucinatory Superman tale in 2000.
Of all the delightful stories from this era, the most important, in the long run, was an “Imaginary Story” from World’s Finest 154, which introduced the Super-Sons of Batman and Superman. This story opens with the double wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane. The women know their husband’s secret identities. Right from the start, there is some trouble brewing, as Kathy and Bruce head off on a luxurious honeymoon, while Clark and Lois go it on the cheap, to help maintain his cover identity. Lois is increasingly jealous of Kathy, whose crime fighting past as Batwoman means the men treat her a bit more as an equal. The tensions boil over when it comes to the women’s young sons.
Superman Jr roughhouses with Batman Jr. The boy doesn’t mind, but Kathy steps in, and Lois gets upset, and the boys get forbidden to play with each other. A midget criminal takes advantage of this, luring the boys to his hide-out and then holding them captive. When the two couples find that their children are missing they put aside all difficulties and work together to rescue the boys. Kathy gets back into her Batwoman gear, and Lois insists that she come along as well.
The Super-Sons, now teenagers, return in World’s Finest 157. Kathy Kane and Lois Lane get small roles, but the story really deals with the relationship between Superman and Batman and their respective sons. The boys begin playing increasingly dangerous and irresponsible pranks. Whenever they get confronted by their angry fathers, the boys deny doing anything wrong. The dads decide a good old fashioned camping trip, in full costumes, might bond them better with the boys. In fact the situation gets worse, but the boys just keep denying everything. It becomes clear that there must be two impersonators in the story. But it does come as an enjoyable surprise when these are revealed as Bat-Mite Jr and Mxyzptlk Jr. Again, an inventive variation on the Bat-Mite/Mr. Mxyzptlk team.
The Superman/Batman team continues in the next period, 1967 – 1970: It’s a Happening!
The Superman/Batman team: World’s Finest Comics 141 – 167 (May 1964 – June 1967)