Cover: Alex Ross
As a kid, 1962-1968, I enjoyed reading the Superman/Batman stories because the two of them always displayed such friendship, something that would be lacking at times in the aftermath of the reboots and reworkings of each character over the past 20 years. They were like the ultimate “buddy movie” in comic book format. This collection captures many of those moments…and a few of the later ones that, while not necessarily built on friendship, were built on respect.
This is a premiere collection of some of the best stories involving Superman and Batman, with an excellent Alex Ross cover.
The book kicks off with the story of how the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader first learned each other’s secret identity in a story entitled “The Mightiest Team In The World” from Superman #76, May/June 1952. Through a series of events that could only happen in comic books, Superman and Batman find themselves (in their secret identities of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, respectively) booked into the same cabin on an ocean cruise. Naturally, an emergency occurs that requires they change to their superhero personas.
Of course, Lois Lane is also on the cruise as well and she naturally suspects not only Clark of being Superman but Bruce of being Batman. In what would become a standard way out in these team-up stories, Superman and Batman cover for each other to throw Lois off the trail and make her doubt that either one could be part of the World’s Finest team.
The next story brings together not only Superman and Batman, but their two arch-enemies Lex Luthor and the Joker in “Superman’s and Batman’s Greatest Foes” from World’s Finest Comics #88, May/June 1957. Luthor and Joker claim to be going straight and teaming up to pool their talents for good, but in the end Superman and Batman & Robin discover their true evil intentions and thwart their plans.
From World’s Finest Comics #142, June 1964, “The Composite Superman” is a nice two-part story that involves a janitor, lightning and statues of the 31st century’s Legion of Super Heroes causing Superman and Batman & Robin to face foe they have no hope of defeating. In the end, they never do defeat The Composite Superman”, but instead win by default when his powers disappear. However, in true comic book fashion, the door is left open for his possible return.
Next up Superman and Batman face their evil opposites in the two-part “The Cape and Cowl Crooks” from World’s Finest Comics #159, August 1966.
The mystery is not only where these two anti-heroes came from, but why they seem to know every secret of Superman and Batman…except their secret identities. However the World’s Greatest Detective gathers all the clues and figures out the answer in the end.
“The Superman-Batman Split” from World’s Finest Comics #176, June 1968 is a rather convoluted two-part story by Cary Bates that is redeemed by the art of Neal Adams. Two different aliens approach Superman and Batman separately claiming that the other is a felon from another galaxy, thus setting up the World’s Finest team to fight each other in defense of their individual alien. Supergirl, Batgirl, Robin and Jimmy Olsen all get involved before the truth is finally revealed.
The panels above are a good example of the dynamic nature of Adams’ pencils, with figures “breaking out” of the panels and crossing borders. I’m not sure, but this may be the story that gave Frank Miller his inspiration for the “Kryptonite Glove” his Dark Knight used in “Batman the Dark Knight Returns” some 18 years later.
Next is “A Matter of Light and Death” from World’s Finest Comics #207, November 1971 which kicks off with Clark Kent trying to hire some hitmen to kill…Superman, preferably before Supes kills him, he says. Later, realizing he is having blackouts, Clark decides that “If you want a mystery solved, you contact the world’s greatest expert in the field…THE BATMAN!” They both almost end up dead before the answer is revealed. A good story by Len Wein with so-so art by Dick Dillin and Joe Giella.
From Man of Steel #3, November 1986, “One Night in Gotham City…” is the first meeting of Superman and Batman after the reboot of the DC Universe earlier that year. This meeting is quite different than their original first meeting 34 years earlier. When they first meet up Superman is ready to take Batman to jail until…
So, of course, they team up, catch the bad guys (and girl) and afterward, on a rooftop as they are about to go their separate ways, Superman wants to address the “matter of the innocent life you placed in jeopardy.” I won’t spoil the ending by telling you Batman’s answer, but in the end they part as uneasy allies and, as Superman flies off, Batman thinks,“In a different reality, I might have called him ‘friend’.”
“A Better World” from Batman & Superman: World’s Finest #7, October 1999, is a Karl Kesel tale that delves into the friendship that Superman feels for Batman and how he tries to be there for him after the death of Jason Todd. The majority of this story is talking with a minimum of action, and yet it works and provides a moment to take a breath from the usual slam bang nature of a Superman/Batman team-up. Bruce even gets to sample Ma Kent’s flapjacks at the Kent Farm in Smallville.
There’s a small, two-page Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale “story” titled, “When Clark Met Bruce” which could be the very first meeting of Clark and Bruce as children in Smallville from Superman/Batman Secret Files 2003, November 2003.
The collection ends almost the way it began. Writer Joe Kelly offers an updated re-telling of the first story in the book with “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One…” from Superman / Batman #Annual 1, October 2006. Here’s how that first meeting in the cruise ship cabin is related for the modern-day heroes.
On the whole, this trade collection is a nice package of enjoyable Superman/Batman team up stories from different time periods in the characters’ histories.