Thursday, March 17, 2016

TV/Movie Tie-Ins, Part X: World's Finest #197

Batman vs Superman's Silver Age Smackdowns
Batman vs. Superman 

The Dark Knight Detective vs. The Man of Steel 

The eternal fanboy question: who can defeat whom? And before we get into 2016's Batman vs Superman movie, I thought it wise to take a trip in the wayback machine to view how they used to settle these things. 

Luckily the Crapbox provided an opportunity.

This compilation volume of World's Finest tales features three short stories reprinted from the Silver Age (late 50's to the end of the 60's), each of which tries to answer who would win, showing our heroes in various states of combat with each other: mental, physical and emotional.

However, the tone of the conflict is rendered completely different than today. 

Since Frank Miller's fourth and final installment of The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, Superman and Batman have waffled through periods of reluctant-but-distant admiration to outright hostility. Since the book came out they have never approached the level of innocent friendship seen in these earlier stories.

Their camaraderie displayed in the three brief tales from World's Finest #197 show an almost brotherly love for one another. There was the overwhelming oblivious certainty in the other hero's methods and motives. These magical tales of the Silver Age treated superheroes like one big giant family. And not one of those 1990's dysfunctional ones, but more like the sitcom ones from the era before TV screens had color. Or if not that, then at worst like a 1940's dysfunctional one, where you hid your uncle who liked to wear women's dresses in the back room with your cousin who enjoyed her drink too much.

It was a simpler, less racially diverse time.

I am bringing that up because it is so obvious in the stories contained herein. It is a saccharin, Caucasian fever dream that drifts so far from reality that every element has only the barest tethering to our world. If the Marvel universe did anything right it was to juxtapose this white man's idealistic world with one that ran closer to reality.

It took DC years to come around to what Marvel was doing. The start of the Bronze Age heralded changes fast approaching. First Green Arrow broke ground in this more genuine approach to story-telling with hooking Speedy on drugs. Certain DC series such as the George Perez era Teen Titians and Arnold Drake's Doom Patrol might even have done Marvel one better in some respects. Some great storytelling imbued with sincere attempts at painting an honest picture of our culture emerged.

And then early into the Copper Age Frank Miller puts out The Dark Knight Returns and took DC down a gritty and grim path that carried this realistic approach a mite too far. It has been cited by Zac Synder as his template for the new film and I'd speculate the Man of Steel reboot film that came before it. I'd blame Watchmen too, to a lesser degree. But it is Miller's work that directly influences these two characters. After TDKR, they really would never be the same. While the antagonistic Supes v. Bats stories are relevant and enjoyable, they are really only ONE type of superhero story.

As these three vignettes show, they aren't the only way you can put Batman and Superman at odds with each other and give the fanboys something they clamor for.

The Capture of Superman

The first tale of the trio is called "The Capture of Superman" and is the earliest tale of the three. Appearing first in World's Finest #143 back in 1961 it is uncredited but my digging shows it was written by Jerry Coleman, penciled by Jim Mooney and Inked by Sheldon Moldoff. I am going to admit that I never heard of any of these guys but I'm sure that's to be expected since stories from this era are rarely reprinted today.
We begin out tale with Batman and Robin placing a distress call to our Man of Steel. Seems there is this giant robot problem they have in Gotham. The dynamic duo would take care of it except the robot had flame throwers for hands.

So Supes flies in to take care of things. When suddenly that mineral which is apparently so common that it can appear in nearly every Superman issue of this era hits our hero straight in the breadbasket. He narrowly escapes being depowered by judicious use of "Super-Intelligence."

"Super-Intelligence." You have to love the Silver Age for all its whimsical doo-daddery. I bet he has a superpower for everything in these stories. Suppose when he shops he save loads of money by using his "Super-Thriftiness"? The answer surely is yes.

Superman handily defeats the robot and Batman offers to take care of finding out where it came from AS WELL AS disposing of the kryptonite. Note how chummy the heroes are here.

But WAIT! In a shocking reveal, after Superman leaves Robin and Batman discuss how they were behind the robot and are secretly plotting to "get" Superman. 

This will surely damage their best-friend status if it gets exposed, right?

It is the latter as it turns out. As Batman next tries to trick Superman into getting close to a monster statue in the Batcave that he has put the kryptonite in, Supes quickly figures out what is up. Must be more of that "Super-Intelligence" at work.

"Fantastically accurate" is what Batman means to say. You have to kind of smile and pat the book on its head like you would a small child when you read these direct accusations told in such a straightforward fashion. The writing of this period was very "dinner theater"- like.

With Superman flying off, Batman begins to recount WHY they are trying to catch the Metropolis marvel. (As an aside, couldn't you just die seeing those flashbacks with the little character head in the corner so you KNOW who is telling the story. It is so hokey and old-school. I kinda love it.)


Yes. Aliens. Or more to the point, AN alien. Klor by name, who tells a tale of Superman coming to his homeworld and being a giant dick. Also he just broke the dam, not drank all the water it contained. It isn't like that water is completely gone now.

The aliens try shooting him and since it is Superman, it has no effect. So after causing untold damage, he flies off.

Klor chases him to Earth and now enlists Batman and Robin to help capture the Man of Steel. Why would they do that?

Oh, he will melt everyone if they don't. Also they can't confide in Supes because he could perform a cosmic-sized dose of evidence tampering. Pesky X-Ray Vision! After a few more abortive attempts at curtailing Superman, Batman has "an ingenious idea," which is whatever this thing is.

The plan is to hide out in a giant glowing statue of Green Arrow which the caped crusader has painted with radioactive kryptonite and made to disrupt ship-to-shore messages by emitting strange radio waves while they shoot arrows at passing ships to create a dangerous and puzzling situation necessitating Superman to investigate.

So that thing works, that they did up there that I'm not even going to TRY to explain. They capture Superman and hand him over to alien justice. Batman accompanies him to act as a character witness in his defense.

I'm going to spare you the rest of this. It's Klor. Of course it is. He set all this up. He wants Earth's diamonds (which he goes to a random jewelers to obtain after Superman is in custody while masquerading as Superman) which allow him to become invulnerable for a limited period of time. Batman figures this out by…see for yourself.

 Yeah, okay...whatever. 

The Feud Between Batman and Superman

Next up we jump ahead three years to 1964's little diddy called "The Feud Between Batman and Superman" from World's Finest #143. The writer is Edmond Hamilton and the penciler is none other than the legendary Curt Swan. Swan defined Silver Age Superman to me as most of my original Crapbox I had as boy contained Swan Superman books in various stages of decomposition. Inking is by George Klein.

It is a bizarre tale of that time when Batman lost confidence in himself and the "Superman Batman Team." I mean: total self-doubting Batman here for an entire story. I can't tell you how odd this is to read. You know, in an era where "I'm Batman" has come into its own as a mantra of self-confidence, this is a real shocker.

How did he lose faith in himself? 

Oww! Rick O'Shea got him! Still, MY generation's Batman would shrug that off. Not Batman '63 though.

Dude has totally gotten over that dead parents thing, apparently.Also Robin has to quit too. Batman is so bossy.

I'll spare you most of this issue since it has the least superhero-on-superhero conflict of the three. Batman is all mopey, so Supes hatches a plan. The man of steel takes Batman and Robin to Kandor. In Kandor All three of them are non-powered beings.

Superman has a fake menace setup for Batman to defeat so he can gain back his confidence. Batman finds out and is upset. Superman finds out the menace is really-real, but Batman won't listen to him anymore. 

He starts an argument, which leads to this. 

Now I don't want to say this, but a unpowered Superman vs Batman would be a cakewalk for the Dark Knight. I mean Supes relies on his strength far too much to be an effective fighter de-powered. This is just silly. As is this…

So much for the advanced system of government that Krypton had. EVERY quarrel had to be settled in a trail by combat. How is that fair? How does that not favor the physically superior over someone less strong but with a better argument? I mean if they were smart, they would just shut up instead of getting pounded every time they disagreed with some mental midget with the body of a wrestler or the agility of Errol Flynn. Way to go Krypton.

Anyway THIS happens:

And Supes lets down his guard and Batman stuns his butt into unconsciousness. Not exactly the Dark Knight Returns, but kinda the same too.

In the end Superman gets captured, Batman comes to his senses, and uses his wits to get his friend freed, thus gaining back his confidence. Huzzah!

Prison for Heroes

Lastly we have 1964's "Prison For Heroes," probably the most imaginative and troubling tale of them all. We have the same team of Hamilton, Swan, and Klein doing the honors, same as last time. As for the story…I better let you see for yourself.

Yup…they are at it again, those pesky…

This time they play up to a gullible Batman, enticing him with pleas that he can't ignore such as: "You are urgently needed…a far planet…(heroes) face a great emergency." Basically the same operating principal as those emails you get for cheap Canadian Viagra or offers from that Nigerian Prince who needs your bank account number. Batman of '64 steps into the transportation bubble of course.

ONLY to find himself TRICKED!
They pull another fast one on him by using the dreaded SUPER-HYPONOSIS on him to turn him into a masochist with a hard-on to dominate a powerless Superman.

I know you think I'm lying about this, so I better show you.

Newly dominant Batman also finds the perfect lash to use on his fellow Justice Leaguer.

After sending his "friend" a coded message, Batman patiently waits for his Super-sub to arrive. This tale gets kind of twisted at this point. 

So now Clark is helpless and Batman is…excited to get down to some domination and jailer-prisoner play. What follows is like '50 Shades of Super-Gray" as Batman whips Superman….

Jails him...

Denies him food and water...

And forces him to perform backbreaking and hazardous manual labor. 

Basically abusing him over…

And over…

And over again.

Batman is a dick to the rules of the Geneva Convention. Finally Supes has had enough and he figures out how to get back his super-powers. And his first act is to find a way to free Batman too, right?

Wait, wha? Superman is now lording it over Batman. Even his fellow prisoners are shocked at Superman's treatment of Bats. Supe shuts that down fast though.

Yeah, vindictive Superman needs an action figure – stat. Something with a mini scale of justice and a dish that is best served cold. I can't wait for the '60's version of Luthor to meet this Superman. He's in for a surprise.

Speaking of surprises...Bats gets one from the man of steel.

Aww…an even HEAVIER ball and chain, how nice. I could point out how there is some weird sexual subtext to this and WHAT WERE THE WRITERS THINKING WHEN THEY PUT THIS TOGETHER!!! But I'm not going to do that. I'm just leaving it all alone.
Which is something the Aliens can't after they see Superman in charge. When they arrive, he is forced into an admission.

Yes, he used his super-breath powers to help the other Super-types also in prison get back their powers. They used them to make it look like Superman was back to full strength. After knocking Batman out, he un-hypnotized him (shutup! It's a word!) and then they concocted a plan to use the alien's spaceship to…well, see for yourself.

And with Superman at full strength, the heroes leave while stranding the aliens there all alone. At least, all alone until Superman or Batman come back to work out some of their new kinky personal issues on them.

That's a look back on a few of the duo's pre-Dark Knight Returns conflicts. What lies ahead for both of them, we don't really know. And with Zack Synder at the helm, odds are it won't be good, but at least they won't be whipping each other in a super-prison.



  1. "Super" read! Great coverage of these stories and excellent commentary and good context. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the movie in the future.

  2. Incredibly in-depth and well-written article!


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