DC Comics History: the Superman/Batman team (1960 - 1964: the Silver Age)
By Deejay Dayton
Jun 7, 2017 - 17:34
There was virtually no trace of all the wonderful developments in the Superman series in the Superman/Batman team ups in World’s Finest Comics during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age. It’s easy to say the series got dragged down by Batman during this time. Batwoman made three appearances in these years, and Clayface would show up to take on both heroes single handed. Easily the best stories from this period saw the pairing up of Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite.
The team’s old friend Carter Nichols appears in one story from this period, and sends Batman and Robin on trip back through time in World’s Finest 132. Nichols summons Superman when Batman and Robin do not return from a time trip, for the second time. Superman heads back in time to Florence in 1479 to find and retrieve them. The Medici and Leonardo da Vinci have small roles in this tale. Superman realizes that the people in costume as Batman and Robin are not really them, and we discover that they captured and unmasked the heroes, and then took advantage of Nichols to escape into the past.
Superman gets downed by a kryptonite meteor. It’s a bit of a puzzlement how one could exist hundreds of years before Krypton exploded, but this is hardly the first story to have anachronistic kryptonite. Batman and Robin escape from their trap in the present, and get Nichols to send them into the past, so they can now rescue Superman. The fake Batman and Robin wind up, conveniently, losing their memory, so the heroes identities are safe.
Batwoman appears in three Superman/Batman tales during this time. In World’s Finest 117 there is an evil, and silly looking, creature on the loose, the Golanth. It proves more than a match for Batman and Robin, but Batwoman follows it back to its lair, discovering that it is being controlled by Luthor. The creature endows Batwoman with super-powers, using rays from its eyes.
But the helmet that allows Luthor to control the Golanth also allows him to control the Glanth-powered Batwoman. This causes some problems, until Superman destroys Luthor’s machine. He loses control over both the Golanth and Batwoman, whose powers vanish as well.
Batwoman gets a cameo in World’s Finest 136, which is really a Batman solo adventure. The story begins as Batman crashes the Batplane during a storm. Shortly thereafter, he sees and apprehends the Joker, but when he brings him in to Commissioner Gordon, the story takes an odd twist. Gordon has no idea who Batman is, but recognizes the Joker, a prominent tv actor, not a criminal at all. Puzzled, Batman heads to Wayne Manor. He finds Alfred and Dick Grayson, but there is also a Bruce Wayne, there, who looks exactly like Clark Kent.
Batman realizes he must be on some parallel world. And indeed, that is the case. It’s a world without Batman, where Superman and Robin are partners. He finds someone who appears to be Lois Lane, but who calls herself Vicki Vale. This world’s Superman thinks Batman is insane, but when he helps Superman and Robin capture the Red Raven gang, Superman starts to believe his story about coming from a parallel world. They fix the Batplane, and he heads back, through another storm.
The story ends with Batman back on his own world. Vicki Vale is shown, a rare appearance for her in this book, and Batwoman as well, for no particular reason.
World’s Finest 139 spins a huge web out of the difficulties of maintaining a secret identity, and uses Batwoman as the core of the problem, rather than the more usual Lois Lane. Kathy Kane has a date with Bruce Wayne at a time when Batman is going to be appearing at a public function. As Alfred is otherwise occupied, Superman steps in to impersonate Batman. The problem arises when Batman appears to be killed in a huge explosion, one he could not possible have survived. Even Robin thinks Batman is dead, and seeing his ghost does not help.
The heroes are surprised that Robin didn’t figure things out. Superman is pretending to be the dead Batman, while Batman now is impersonating Superman. They continue this charade to scare the Sphinx Gang, the ones who set off the bomb. But then Batwoman gets involved, and finds out about the impersonation, which makes her suspect Bruce all over again. Alfred steps in at the end to impersonate Batman, who is joined by Superman, while Kathy is with Bruce Wayne. Silly, but fun. A refreshing variation, thanks to the presence of Batwoman.
A new Crimson Avenger appears in World’s Finest 131. This Crimson Avenger is an aspiring crime fighter. He has some impressive weaponry, but his lack of experience makes him more of a hindrance than a help to Batman and Superman. He claims to have taken the name of an earlier hero, which must be a reference to the original Crimsons Avenger. That’s a little on the awkward side, as we are now well into the “Earth-1” period, and there is no way this person could have known of the Earth-2 Crimson Avenger.
The Crimson Avenger refuses to face his incompetence, and gets furious when the newspapers mock him. When Superman and Batman next face the Octopus Gang (the villains throughout the tale), the Crimson Avenger appears to be working on their side, but Batman quickly deduces that this is not the same person as before. And, indeed, the gang captured the wanna-be hero, and one of the hoods took his place.
In the end the guy really does help Superman, Batman and Robin take down the Octopus Gang, but also realizes that he is simply not cut out for crime fighting, and retires. We never see this version of the Crimson Avenger again.
The story in World’s Finest 125 can easily be read as a sequel to the Sorcerer’s Treasure story from 104. A criminal, given only the name of Jundy, which isn’t terribly imposing, captures Batman and Robin, and brings them to an island filled with deadly traps. He then contacts Superman, demanding he retrieve a number of difficult to acquire objects. He has rigged the island with electric eyes, connected to a bomb, which keeps Superman from rescuing the other heroes.
The objects Jundy is having gathered can be assembled into a powerful Sorcerer’s Staff, which could easily be part of the same trove of magic items as the Sorcerer’s Treasure. Aside from that, the story isn’t much to speak of. The deadly traps are a bit of a disappointment, and the ending, in which Superman melts the staff with his heat vision, is quick and easy.
The first Batman villain to take on both Superman and Batman solo in this book is Clayface, in World’s Finest 140. The story opens as a normal Clayface tale. Matt Hagen escapes from prison, douses himself in his potion,and begins a series of robberies that attract the attention of Batman and Robin. When Superman shows up, the story kicks into high gear. Clayface takes Superman’s form, and is able to duplicate his powers. It is not always the case that Clayface is able to do this, but his abilities were inconsistently shown. Batman tries to take down the Clayface Superman with kryptonite, but Clayface just changes into a rocket and flies away. Still, the fact that he was susceptible to it gives Superman an idea. The next time the Clayface Superman appears, Superman uses a piece of red kryptonite on him. It can only affect a Kryptonian once, so Superman knows he is safe. And he chooses a piece that causes the person affected to lose their mind.
This makes Clayface much easier to beat, though they have to do it before he reveals Batman’s identity, which he discovered with x-ray vision. When the red kryptonite wears off, he has no memory of the experience, of or Batman’s identity.
I already mentioned one Luthor story, and he appeared in three more during these years. In World’s Finest 126 his latest invention produces unintended consequences. A ray that Luthor builds to kill Superman in fact splits him into two beings, one is himself, and the other a negative version. The negative Superman is evil, and the two spend much of the issue fighting against each other. Batman and Robin get involved, but this is really a Superman story all the way.
The “positive” Superman has an energy barrier around him that prevents the two from being able to make contact. Batman theorizes that kryptonite will make the negative Superman more powerful – enough that the negative Superman will be able to break through the energy barrier. When the two touch, they merge, and Superman is restored to himself, and able to take down Luthor.
World’s Finest 137 has one of the better plots from this era. Superman heads into space to help aliens fix up their planet, but when he returns to Earth, he begins a crime spree, heading back out into space at the end of it. Superman returns, claiming to remember nothing of this. Batman and Robin believe him at first, until they see the transformation occur right in front of them, and Superman turns evil again. Again, at the end of his spree he heads back out into space. When Superman returns a third time, no one trusts him, not even Batman and Robin, who explain his past actions.
Batman has also grown suspicious, and finds that Luthor is behind this. It was not Superman who “returned” the first two times, but a Superman robot that Luthor built. He expected Superman to believe he had lost control of his mind, and exile himself. By now, Luthor should have learned to consider Batman as much of a threat.
Luthor also teams up once again with the Joker, in World’s Finest 129. The Joker comes to Metropolis to rob a clock display, hosted by tv star Clifton Hilton. He has teamed with Luthor, who stays hidden until Superman arrives. Luthor has an atomic disperser that turns Superman into some cool bubbles, while Batman and Robin get defeated by some less dramatic weaponry. The story is not too different from their earlier outing, as the villains work harmoniously together to defeat their nemeses.
Once again there is deception as to their real goals, but the art along the way is far more fun in this tale. The first attack, on the clock display, was really just a cover to get footage of Hilton, who Luthor impersonates at the climax of the story. But the heroes figure out their plan, and capture them.
Teaming up the villains of Superman and Batman seemed to be a good idea. Luthor and the Joker were the most famous duo, but the best variation on the theme made a debut in World’s Finest 113, with the first meeting of Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk. Bat-Mite shows up first, causing problems for Superman so that he can watch his heroes, Batman and Robin, in action. Mr. Mxyzptlk then show up, irked that someone else is pestering Superman. The fact that Bat-Mite does not in any way view himself as a pest or a problem contrasts the two other-dimensional imps nicely.
They argue over which hero is superior. Mr. Mxyzptlk enjoys goading Bat-Mite, who hurls Batman and Robin into the path of a fire “breathing” monster, just to prove that they can beat him. You really have to feel sorry for Batman and Robin. It’s Mr. Mxyzptlk’s repetition of the word pest that gives Bat-Mite his brilliant idea. He uses his magic to mess up everything that Mxyzptlk does, and the heroes keep laughing, which just annoys Superman’s foe even more.
Mr. Mxyzptlk gets so mad that he ups and leaves, returning to his dimension. Bat-Mite feels that he has helped the heroes win, but their stern expressions let him know there is no gratitude coming to him, and he leaves as well. Too great a story not to have a follow-up, and it wasn’t even long in coming.
In fact, the Bat-Mite/Mr.Mxyzptlk team was so popular that they returned even before the second Joker/Luthor story, in World’s Finest 123. It’s an excellent follow-up story. Superman, Batman and Robin are all quite secondary to the imps, as they come to Earth independently, but wind up mixing their magic, creating a creature that neither is able to stop, or unmake. Everything the two 5th Dimensional beings do simply causes the creature to alter even further, creating more and more of a problem for the heroes, who are, frankly, all but useless in this tale.
The most they achieve is when Batman suggests that Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk create a duplicate monster to deal with the first – conveniently, after the creature has become a living magnet. Creating a duplicate causes the two to attract, and destroy each other.
The Superman/Batman team continue in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.
Superman/Batman team: World’s Finest Comics 107 - 140 (Feb 60 – March 64)
Next up – Jimmy Olsen!
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