With the changes taking place in the books belonging to Superman and Batman, it was no surprise that these impacted on their joint strip in World’s Finest Comics during the period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age. The Superman/Batman team would get a new origin, as well as a new version of the first meeting of the two characters. Lex Luthor and the Joker would also have their first team-up, and Batwoman and the bottle city of Kandor would appear in stories during these years as well.
Among the many contradictory stories that relate how Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent met, the one in World’s Finest Comics 84 is one of the better variants. Superman goes missing after a meeting with a mysterious man. Lois Lane is losing it, and gets Perry White to contact Gotham City and call Batman in on the case. This is a neat allusion to the actual way the characters first met, on the Superman radio show, when Batman was called in to find him. The rest of the story is completely different than the radio tale, and consists of a long flashback to Superboy’s days in Smallville.
The Kents cameo, but the major trouble for Clark Kent is caused by a snooping young man. In the present, a con man is claiming to have been that guy, with proof of Superman’s identity. In fact, it was really young Bruce Wayne, figuring out Superboy’s identity for his own amusement. He saw a shady guy paying him too much attention, and threw the evidence in the fire. Knowing that, they figure out that the two shady men are one of the same, faking Superman out.
An origin is given for the Superman/Batman team, which contradicts all earlier variations of how they met, in World’s Finest 94. Batman and Robin are puzzled, and hurt, when Superman dumps them for a mysterious new hero, Powerman. Batman and Robin follow Superman and Powerman around as they go after Lex Luthor, trying to figure out who the new hero is.
As they do this, Batman recalls the first time he and Superman worked together, as he saved Superman from a criminal armed with kryptonite. As it turns out, the present day situation is much like the one from the past, as Luthor has kryptonite, and Powerman is a robot Superman constructed in case Luthor used it on him.
The given explanation is that Superman wanted to keep Batman and Robin safe from Luthor, which is odd. He never worried before. Often reprinted, this story was also reworked later in the run by Roy Thomas, who introduced a real Powerman in the tale.
Often the stories in World’s Finest would feature the hero switching powers or partners, trading elements of their lives. In World’s Finest 80, Bruce Wayne enters the newspaper business. Batman calls Superman for help when a Gotham newspaper is in danger of going out of business. Yup, that’s what sets this story off. No criminal activity, just the free market. Anyway, with Perry White’s blessing the Planet takes over the Gotham Gazette for a month, during which Lois Lane will be the editor, and Bruce Wayne will become a reporter. There is a crime plot, of course, to fill out the tale, but the story is about seeing Bruce Wayne function in Clark Kent’s job. Alfred gets a small role in the story, as he chauffeurs Bruce to his assignments.
The Superman books from this time started introducing a lot of Kryptonian elements, so it was not too much of a surprise when a Kryptonian throwback landed on Earth in World’s Finest 102. The caveman immediately goes on a rampage. Superman is amazed when the creature uses x-ray vision, and after examining the rock he landed buried within, realizes that he is from Krypton. It’s an outrageous coincidence, but commonplace in the Superman mythos.
The situation becomes complicated when hoods go around with a fake caveman to scare people off. They get ahold of Batman and Robin, and keep Superman at bay with kryptonite, but the caveman is the one to capture the bad guys, tossing their car off a cliff. Superman saves their lives, and is about to tackle the caveman when he simply keels over, dead. Superman has a sort of explanation, about cosmic rays and kryptonite.
Switching powers was always a reliable basis for a Superman/Batman story, and in this era it takes place in World’s Finest 87. Elton Craig, who is more concerned with covering his face than his body, comes across some capsules created by Jor-El, that will temporarily endow someone with super-powers. He attacks Superman with kryptonite, and Superman takes a capsule to regain his powers, not realizing that they have become contaminated with kryptonite as well. The result, no powers for Superman.
So he gives the capsules to Batman and Robin, and they get powers for the duration of the story. Even so, the climax still comes down to the villain with the super-powers, facing a powerless Superman. The bad guy shoots him, and Superman falls, but of course the costume is invulnerable, and he was just playing possum.
Batwoman makes her first appearance in this book, and her third appearance overall, in World’s Finest 90. Elton Craig, from the story I just discussed, has one remaining kryptonite-infected super-power pill. Superman and Batman are on his trail, and Kathy Kane decides to join the hunt as Batwoman. The heroes tell her to go home, but she doesn’t listen, and, in fact, finds Craig first.
She stops him from taking the power pill by taking it herself. The heroes continue to disparage her, telling her that having powers will be too dangerous for her, and once again insisting she go home. She vows that she will use her powers to discover their identities. Although she fails at achieving that, she impresses Superman with her skills.
Superman must have had a private chat about Batwoman with Batman before the final scene, because Batman finally agrees that Kathy has earned the right to continue being Batwoman.
Carter Nichols appears in two Superman/Batman stories from this period. In the first, in World’s Finest 79, Carter Nichols calls for Superman when he cannot make Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson return from a time trip he sent them on, to classic Baghdad. This is, I believe, the only time we see Nichols Laboratories as an office building.
Rather than send Superman back the way he sent Bruce and Dick, Superman heads for the past on his own. For a few pages we see Superman fly backwards in time, while finding out that Batman and Robin are enmeshed in the Aladdin story.
When Superman reaches the duo, he takes the role of the genie in the tale. It’s a good, solid, adventure story, and there would be more time travel trips, courtesy of Nichols.
One of the most-loved, the Three Super Musketeers, appeared in World’s Finest 82. The mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask is the core of the story, and indeed, the rest of this tale derives largely from the Dumas novel of that name. Carter Nichols sends Clark Kent back, along with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, to discover his true identity.
It’s a rollicking adventure yarn, with Superman kept to the side to allow Batman and Robin space to shine. Superman does get his big moment at the end, taking the place of the captured king, and becoming the Man in the Iron Mask for a few minutes himself, as he survives an attempted drowning.
A number of later stories and concepts look back to the Club of Heroes tale from World’s Finest 89 for their genesis, although they all ignore what is the real thrust of this story. The Club of Heroes draws its membership largely from the Batmen of All Nations – the Knight and the Squire, the Musketeer, the Legionary and the Gaucho had all last appeared in that story, a couple of years earlier. This tale adds Superman to the mix, invited by millionaire John Mayhew. But after this promising start, the rest of the story deals with Lightning Man, which is pretty obviously Superman in a different guise.
He has been affected by kryptonite, and has no idea he has developed a split personality as a result. Most of the heroes from this story would not appear again until revived during Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, although this organization would be credited as a root from which the Global Guardians grew.
Aside from the Powerman story I already mentioned, Lex Luthor made four more appearances in the Superman/Batman strip during these years. In World’s Finest 100 Lex Luthor makes it into the bottle city of Kandor. Irritatingly, the city is never called Kandor in this story. We see, in flashback, Brainiac stealing it, so there is no question what bottled city this is, but the story always refers to it as Krypton City. Luthor builds shrinking belts, allowing him and his gang to enter the bottle. Superman follows. Batman and Robin come across more of Luthor’s gang, find out his plot, and grab a couple of spare belts which they use to fly into the Fortress of Solitude through the keyhole, and then down into the bottle itself.
It’s a bit of a shame this story came so early, before Kandor got really developed. We see no inhabitants, and get no feel of anything Kryptonian. Instead, it’s just more super-weapons of the kind Luthor frequently has, and then some action as Luthor emerges first, getting much larger than the heroes, and trying to squish them.
World’s Finest 104 brings together Luthor and Batwoman. Luthor sends men to rob a science exposition, but is also doing a demonstration there, in disguise. He pretends that he has built a matter-transmitter. It’s all part of a plot to kill Superman. Batwoman trails Luthor’s men, and gets captured.
Her only real function is to warn Batman and Robin about Luthor’s plot to kill Superman in the matter-transmitter. They do not reach Superman in time, but he had figured out Luthor’s plot on his own anyway.
World’s Finest 88 features the first ever team up of Lex Luthor and the Joker. It’s a fun little story, but it’s largely a Luthor tale. They two villains do form a partnership together, but it’s primarily about the mechano-men that Luthor has invented. Superman and Batman both get publicly humiliated after stopping what appear to be crimes by the mechano-men, but are really legal uses of the robots. Superman stops one as they perform an underwater search, taking its place. He hopes to find out what the Joker and Luthor are really up to.
The villains figure out that Superman is one of the mechano-men, but are confident enough in their plan to let him stay. And the plan was not a bad one, having mechano-men impersonate them during a big demonstration, while they use other to pull off a big robbery. But Superman spotted the extra sets of clothes, and figured it out first. The story would lead not only to many more Joker/Luthor team-ups in this book, but to other pairings of Superman and Batman villains.
Superman and Batman get the best villain they have yet faced together in World’s Finest 98, the Moonman. An astronaut, just called Rogers, orbits the Earth, but his ship passes through the tail of a green comet. When he returns to Earth, he finds that, when the Moon shines on him at night, he gains super-powers, and an evil personality. The powers are magnetic in nature, but as the comet had kryptonite in it, he also becomes toxic to Superman when in his Moonman guise.
Sprang has a lot of fun on the art, and Rogers is a reluctant villain, appalled by his own actions. He tries to turn himself in, but gets captured by criminals, who hold him until the Moon causes another transformation. Really, the only reason Superman and Batman triumph in this story is that the effect of the comet simply wears off. A villain with a lot of potential that was not made the most of, Rogers would not return to these pages until 1980.
The Atom-Master gets introduced in World’s Finest 101. The story begins as it appears that Batman and Superman have gone on criminal sprees. In fact, these were just illusions of the heroes, accompanying actual criminals, working for the Atom-Master. He has a really large helmet with which he can create these illusions. He decoys Superman and Batman away from more crimes by his gang, as they deal with illusions of disasters. Finally, the heroes notice that the illusions cast no shadows. Took them a long time to see that.
The Atom-Master has been using the loot to finish off a machine that will make his illusions reality. Superman knocks him out and takes his place. He creates an illusion of a dinosaur, which his gang believes is real, in order to capture them. Atom-Master returns in the 80s as a member of the Forgotten Villains.
Superman, Batman and Robin have their hands full in World’s Finest 103, as two men go in search of four deadly weapons, the Sorcerer’s Treasures. The story opens as Batman and Robin deal with a giant green dragon, released from a magical box. The man who released is one of two antique shop owners who are tracking down four powerful objects. The two men are fighting to acquire them, while Batman and Robin are joined by Superman is trying to prevent anyone from getting them. There is a prism that reflects any attack, a glove that fires disintegrating power blasts, and a cloak of invisibility.
The heroes triumph, and Superman throws the “treasures” into space. They appear to be destroyed in the last panels of the story, but their magical nature must preserve them. They return to Earth eventually, and the quest to retrieve them is one of the big storylines in Secret Society of Super-Villains in the late 70s.
The Superman/Batman team continue in the next period, 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age.