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Last updated: September 27, 2004
I grew up on the World's Finest team-ups between Superman and Batman, so I'm a sucker for the less frequent team-ups that the new continuity offers (or at least, has offered up until recently).
In the Silver Age, Superman and Batman were best pals. Some of the most enjoyable Superman stories were ones that teamed him with Batman, both in the original Justice League of America and (with Robin) in World's Finest Comics. Together, Batman and Superman were icons of friendship and teamwork.
Surprisingly, although the two have shared a cover together since first appearing on the New York World's Fair Comics #1 in 1939 (which later became World's Best Comics and then World's Finest Comics in Spring 1941), for some inexplicable reason they did not become a team in the comics until 1952.
Both heroes were members of the Justice Society of America, but only appeared in two issues of the original 57 issue run of All-Star Comics. In issue #7 (where the JSA raises one million dollars for war orphans), they appear together inside a comic for the first time - though only for three panels. They get more screen time in issue #36 (the case of the"5 Drowned Men" and the infamous Koehaha - the stream of ruthlessness that turns good men evil) where they get individual chapters and appear together with the JSA in the introduction and conclusion of the story.
In a 1952's Superman #76, written by Edmond Hamilton with art by Curt Swan, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne share a cabin on an ocean liner. In the darkened cabin, the two try to change into their heroic costumes to respond to a fire. The rising flames illuminate the cabin and both learn each other's secret identities. They team up to battle one of Superman's most insidious opponents - the snoopy Lois Lane.
This was followed two years later in 1954 when World's Finest Comics #71 began their long history of monthly team-ups. That issue also featured the famous cover blurb:"Featuring your two favorite heroes together in one adventure!" - even though the cover also prominently displayed Robin, who shared almost every adventure with Superman & Batman during the following 32 years.
The final issue, before DC's Crisis On Infinite Earths changed everything, was World's Finest #232 - cover dated January, 1986. The cover shows the two going their separate ways with melancholy looks on their faces and the backdrop of a giant orange setting sun with"The End" written on it.
The story by Joey Cavalieri isn't anything particularly special, but it does presage the post-Crisis relationship between Superman & Batman. Superman is attacked by a magic wielding opponent and Batman outwits the attacker and saves him. However, when Superman tries to offer his thanks, Batman rudely reprimands him, telling him to use his super-brain once in a while. He says,"The night ... the shadows ... those are my domain. The backstreets and back alleys ... they're my territory. Leave them to an expert. The world almost lost Superman because of his foolish impetuosity. I'll sve your neck any time ... but I won't write your epitaph. Think about it."
The narration, as the two head their separate ways, states:"The bonds of friendship are forged of the mightiest steel ... tempered in a flame that burns brighter than a thousand suns. For half a century, no man, no war, no cause has ever shattered those bonds ... but this day, they have discovered a crack in the metal ... we can only hope it is not beyond repair."
Since Superman continuity was re-started with The Man of Steel mini-series, and Batman became more of a reclusive loner following Frank Miller's redefining work in The Dark Knight Returns, stories have emphasized the contrast between the two. There is respect and friendship of a sort between them, but nowhere near the best pal's status that they enjoyed previously. In this article, I won't examine the new JLA in detail or the annual crossover events in which the two usually meet only briefly. The focus will be on stories that deal with the relationship between Batman and Superman.
Their first meeting is in issue #3 of John Byrne's mini-series, The Man Of Steel. The time is established by Batman as 8 months since Superman's debut in Metropolis. This is early in Batman's career also as his costume has the black bat on his chest, without the gold oval. Batman is considered an outlaw at this time, which is the reason for Superman's visit to Gotham.
Superman snags the batrope and uses it to carry Batman towards police headquarters. Batman lets go of the rope and drops out of sight, eluding Superman temporarily. Batman reveals that he anticipated Superman's arrival and has surrounded himself with a forcefield. If Superman tries to get close, a hidden bomb will kill an innocent person.
The weak point of the story is the forgettable villain -- Magpie, a female who collects pretty, expensive baubles while cavalierly committing murder. It's too bad that Byrne didn't use a villain with a stronger presence or some familiar history from the old World's Finest continuity.
At the end, Superman concedes that Batman seems suited to the job that needs to be done in Gotham. He is shocked when Batman reveals that the life in danger was his own, as Batman removes the bomb from his utility belt. Superman takes his leave with a wave and says that he doesn't fully approve of Batman's methods, and will be keeping an eye on him "to make certain you don't blow it for the rest of us ... but ... good luck."
Batman wistfully thinks, "A remarkable man, all things considered. Who knows? In a different reality, I might have called him 'friend'." The thought is a bit too hokey, but Byrne's acknowledgment of what was and what may yet be is a nice nod and wink to the reader.
This issue sets up the dynamic between the two. They both fight for justice, but have different visions as to how to achieve it. They respect each other to a degree, but don't fully trust each other.
Grudging And Growing Respect
The two next team up in Action Comics Annual #1 (1987) when Batman (now with the yellow oval on his chest) asks for Superman's help in fighting a town full of vampires. The story starts as a Batman solo adventure, until he realizes he is in over his head (something that just doesn't happen when the Bat offices control the character). Batman calls Clark Kent to ask him to get in touch with Superman. Clark doesn't believe it's Batman, until he says, "and to prove my veracity, say one word to him". Clark says that the word proves Batman's story. (for those interested, the word is: "Magpie").
There isn't much interaction between Batman and Superman in the story. They only meet in two pages near the end, when Batman saves Superman from a vampire. When Superman offers his thanks, Batman replies gruffly, "Call it self-preservation, Superman. I don't much fancy the idea of a Super-Vampire flying around," and tells him to clean his scratches with holy water.
Batman appears for five pages of Action Comics #594. Superman asks for his help in trying to determine who has been keeping a scrapbook of his feats before his official debut as Superman (unknown to Superman, Ma Kent had been saving clippings, and her book had been stolen).
Batman brings Robin along to meet Superman. It isn't clear whether this Robin is supposed to be Dick Grayson or Jason Todd. While Robin stands slack-jawed (repeatedly saying "wow!"), the two discuss the scrapbook. Byrne draws Batman and Superman with smiles and they seem quite friendly. Batman congratulates Superman as Metropolis has declared the day as Superman Day.
As Superman flies off he thinks, "Funny ... that 'congratulations' is about the warmest thing I've ever heard out of our dark friend. I didn't really approve when I heard he'd taken on a junior partner, but now I'm not sure. Robin seems to have had a ... well, a humanizing effect on the Batman."
Superman's thoughts point out the contrast between the two"The Batman works as well as he does in Gotham City because the people there tend to fear him. But I gotta say ... it sure is great to be loved".
Superman checks back with Batman in Adventures of Superman #440 for three pages. The meeting is made a bit edgier this time. Batman is in his Dark Knight persona, wondering where Superman is. "I don't like standing idle like this. Gotham is a garden that needs constant weeding". Batman doesn't bring Robin this time and he is abrupt with Superman ("As usual, your humor eludes me, Superman.").
As to the scrapbook, Batman says that he wasn't able to come up with anything except, "the only absolute fact I was able to glean from the thing ... is that you're Clark Kent". Humorously, Superman's first thought is "Maybe I should have enlisted the help of the world's *second* greatest detective!" Batman adds that as a matter of "professional courtesy" he won't reveal Superman's dual identity to anyone.
Superman shows that there are some brains with the muscles when he replies, "Oh, I'm quite sure you won't do that ... Mr. Wayne." Batman almost slips off his batrope as he thinks, "and to think I took all that effort to line my cowl with lead foil."