Superman & Batman: The Original Super-Friends

'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice'
‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’

The world waits with bated breath for the opening of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” on March 25.

The Dark Knight meets the Man of Steel for the first time in a live-action film, and it looks to be a brawl for the ages.

And that got me thinking. How did the comics – you know, the source material for just about every blockbuster film keeping the major studios afloat these days – handle the first meeting of DC’s greatest titans?

What threat could possibly be dire enough to bring the two champions of justice together?

The Anti-Monitor? Darkseid? The Joker and Lex Luthor together?

Would you believe … a cruise ship vacation?

Superman No. 76, with special guest Batman.
“Superman” No. 76: When Superman met Batman.

Hop in the wayback machine for “Superman” No. 76, “The Mightiest Team in the World,” cover date July-August 1952.

Yes, even though both had been around since the late 1930s – and dominated the superhero genre – the Superman and Batman had only “met” on cover illustrations for “World’s Finest” and in cameos in “All Star Comics.”

At last, writer Edmond Hamilton would team the heroes together in one story (with art by Curt Swan and John Fischetti) in a story you just have to love.

It’s just so darn screwy.

Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter alter ego of the Last Son of Krypton, decides he needs a break from crime-fighting – and books a cruise.

Unfortunately, as Clark discovers, the ship is overbooked and he’ll have to bunk with this Bruce Wayne chap.

Clark Kent encounters booking trouble.
Superman could have flown to Saturn to unwind and had less grief.

Now as a fellow journalist for a major metropolitan daily, I can relate to Clark’s problem. I can’t count the number of times I’ve taken a trip and been forced to room with a millionaire. Why, actually, yes, I can count the number of times. Hang on. … Add the five and the seven. … Carry the two …

Zero. Zero times I’ve been forced into close quarters with a millionaire.

That’s because reporters, then and now, make less than pigeons. And millionaires like Bruce Wayne would book an entire cruise deck and would absolutely be the last ones forced to room with one of the unwashed peasants.

And while Clark has a reason for not wanting to make a fuss, lame as it is, what’s Bruce’s excuse?

But if Bruce actually acted like an entitled moneybags, we wouldn’t have a story.

Clark and Bruce are forced to share a cabin.
The sharing economy, 1950s style.

But evil rears its head, as it is wont to do, even on cruise ships. Our heroes must go into action – but how to get into costume and preserve their secret identities?

Superman can fly so fast, he’s practically invisible. Batman can toss a smoke capsule into the trash can, scream fire and depart in the confusion.

Either one can make an excuse and leave the cabin.

No. They turn out the lights and change in the dark.

This is their great plan for fooling each other.

Bruce and Clark try to hide their secrets from each other.
Bruce under fire: The best he can think of is to shut the lights.

I’m starting to worry about these guys. Just how did they manage to foil the likes of Brainiac and the Riddler all these years?  Let’s watch this play out:

Superman and Batman quietly change into their costumes.
Strangers in the dark: Superman and Batman change into their costumes – vewwy quietly.

 

Superman and Batman realize who they are rooming with.
Worst secret identity reveal ever.

The two quickly agree to keep each other’s identity secret, and they remain cabinmates as they hunt for a crook. Also on board: Meddlesome girl reporter Lois Lane. Superman comes up with a plan that proves why so many consider Batman the brains of the operation: Batman can distract Lois by pretending to be interested in her.

Lois overhears and decides to play them both by pretending to fall for Batman, thus prompting Superman to reveal his top-secret power: Super passive-aggressiveness. “I’ve saved you 100 times, but you seem to have forgotten about that!” he snits.

Superman, you bitch.
Oh, Superman, you bitch.

I’m beginning to suspect Hamilton drew his inspiration from “I Love Lucy.”

And that’s not even my favorite moment in this terrific tale. My favorite moment comes when the thief makes his getaway from the boat into the air, and Superman decides to help his new pal by throwing him at the helicopter.

Superman tosses Batman at a getaway helicopter.
Watch out for those blades, Batman!

Because just picking him up and flying after the copter is not nearly as suspenseful as waiting to see if the Caped Crusader is accidentally sliced to bat-bits.

Evil is thwarted. Lois’ suspicions about Clark are denied when Bruce masquerades as him – just the first of about eleventy billion times the two dress up as the other.

You can find this classic in “World’s Finest Archives Vol. 1,” the black-and-white trade paperback “Showcase Presents: World’s Finest Vol. 1”  and the DC Comics app.

Batman supports his best pal Superman.
Batman leads the Superman fan club.

For over 30 years, in the pages of “World’s Finest,” Superman and Batman were the models of friendship to readers. These two different men, one practically a god, the other a talented mortal, saw the best in each other. Their friendship enriched their lives and was perhaps the most powerful weapon in their arsenal against evil. No matter the threat – aliens, Lois, Red Kryptonite, Lois, aliens hopped up on Red Kryptonite, Lois –  they were there for each other, without question.

Superman sings the praises of his best pal Batman.
…while Superman gets gooey over Batman. (This and the previous image from ‘World’s Finest’ No. 76.)

“Crisis on Infinite Earths” pretty much eradicated that, although I would be willing to bet their friendship was not one of the casualties Marv Wolfman had in mind when he penned that classic.

Friendship was too much of a relic from the Silver Age. In this dark age, heroes innately distrust one another. Fisticuffs is always the first resort.

I can’t help thinking we’ve lost something special.

 

4 thoughts on “Superman & Batman: The Original Super-Friends

  1. I love the visual art of those comic books of the past. Thanks for reminding me.

    Ben Affleck as Batman? I can see Henry Cavill as Superman, but Ben?

    And how can anyone battle Superman? I like the Batman myth, but he’s just an athletic guy with sophisticated toys.

    Like

    1. Agreed, Brian, these stories are gorgeous. And DC is currently releasing a few ‘World’s Finest’ comics from the ’50s every Thursday on its app – I’ve been stocking up – great fun. As for Batfleck, I guess we’ll have to wait and see how he wears the cowl!

      Liked by 1 person

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