A Tribute to the of
It's that time again, faithful readers, to journey back to a simpler time when the heroes were easily identified and we loved to read of their exploits in the great Silver Age of DC comics!
I don't mind telling you I had the devil's own time deciding on a worthy issue this time. I've got a small wealth of great issues just waiting their turn (never fear, I'll get to them in due time) and I went so far as to narrow the offerings down to two and gazed at them intently, calling upon my muse for inspiration. Oh that we would have such difficulties in a few weeks as we contemplate our vote for president. I finally opted for a recent acquisition that is actually a follow-up to one of my previous reviews that you can find right here in the Sage archives at The Silver Lantern. In fact, if you've not yet read it, I'd suggest you zip over to my review of World's Finest Comics #142 before reading this, the review of the sequel, World's Finest #168, yet another gem from perhaps my favorite year of the Silver Age, 1967. This is the August issue and it features, as usual, Superman, Batman and Robin and the return of the amazing Composite Superman. If you've read my previous review, you'll note that I mused about the return of this unbeatable foe. One of you e-mailed me and told me that the Composite Superman did indeed return and so it seems only right that I cover that here. It took nearly three years for Editor Mort Wesinger, writer Cary Bates and artists Curt Swan & George Klein to bring him back but it was worth the wait as I'm sure you'll soon agree. Let's check it out.
One of my few complaints about this issue is the cover rendered by Curt Swan & George Klein. Pretty ho-hum and, frankly, a bit misleading. They had a known commodity in the Composite Superman and if the blurb on the splash page is accurate, readers were champing at the bit to see him again, so why not do as they did in issue #142 and put him on the cover? Isn't the cover the first hook for a potential sale? Sure it is. So what do they do instead? They put each of our heroes on the cover clocking their secret identities. I can only assume it refers in a roundabout way to one of the action scenes later in the magazine, but it's still not quite how things went. Ah, well. What can you do? At least on the splash page you get the real scoop as we see the split face and cape of our villain at the top of the page looking over the carnage below as he is shown laying into the World's Finest team using some of the abilities of the Legion of Super Heroes. First, as Bouncing Boy, he plows into Batman, then in the other panel a super strong Elastic Lad empowered Composite Superman is wrapping up the Man of Steel. Time to delve into our story.
It begins, oddly enough, in a prison cell on an unidentified, far off planet. A humanoid alien is lying on a bed as a doctor with precious little bedside manner tells him he's about to enter the great beyond. The patient calls for his son and upon junior's arrival, the alien tells Xan that he was imprisoned because of the efforts of Earth's Superman and Batman. He asks Xan to avenge his time spent incarcerated and then fades away. Incidentally, in the first few panels we get to enjoy the master at work. Curt Swan was a legend and for good reason. He took measures to add details that you didn't often see elsewhere, such as the shadow of Xan across his father as he's speaking his last words. So, Xan, being the dutiful son that he is, vows to himself that vengeance will be taken on our heroes. He begins to research his quarry and to ponder how to go about his mission. He muses that his newly invented Magna-Gun would probably do the chore easily, but that it would be far too quick and merciful to make the task satisfying. He goes through the rogues gallery of Batman and Superman, noting that none of them have been successful except for the Composite Superman, who surely would have prevailed if his powers hadn't faded before he could finish them off.
Fade to the Superman Museum where we find custodian Joe Meach about his duties. Joe, as you know, was the Composite Superman, but when his powers faded, so did his memory of what he'd become and since our heroes barely escaped their last encounter with him intact, they never discovered his identity either. As luck would have it, Joe is right by the Legion display again, where the window is open again, and where a storm is brewing...again. Would you be surprised that a bolt of lightning came through the window and struck the display while he was in front of it again? Me neither. You gotta do these things in their proper order, though, no? Well, Joe is, of course, re-empowered with the abilities of the entire Legion of Super Heroes and his memory is restored. He quickly reforms himself via the talents of Chameleon Boy into the Composite Superman (CS) and expresses himself initially by melting and zapping (courtesy of Sun Boy and Lightning Lad's talents) the nearby statues of Batman and Superman. Meanwhile Xan, who hovers over Metropolis in his space ship looks on approvingly and reveals that he had created the artificial lightning that restored Joe's persona. Joe has unwittingly become the pawn of the alien bent on revenge.
The next day, the damage is discovered by the authorities at the museum and reporter Clark Kent is among those surveying the wreckage. Without a phone booth in sight, he ducks into an alley to shed his suit and to head off to the Fortress of Solitude. We next peek in on the residents of Wayne Manor. Bruce and Dick head for the Batcave when they're signaled that someone is within. They find Superman there, holding a stone he discovered in the fortress that is a combination of both their emblems. The World's Greatest Detective notes that the Composite Superman has returned. Seconds later, CS bursts through the wall of the Batcave and he quickly calls upon Triplicate Girl's power to split himself into three bodies. He then attacks our three heroes, which I assume is where the cover gag came from. CS really exploits his powers in this issue and in the initial fight scene uses Star Boy's powers of weight induction to cause Batman to sink into the ground. Superman quickly burrows after him and retrieves him. For whatever reason, CS has left before finishing the job and our heroes are left to ponder how to tackle the unstoppable menace. They decide to head to the Superman museum in hopes of finding some helpful clue. Leaving Robin in the Batmobile, they enter and head for the Legion display. Superman notes that he can detect a high energy charge emanating from the statuettes. He decides to scoop up the Mon-El figure and head for the 30th century to confer with Brainiac 5. Batman heads back out to the Batmobile where Robin reports a hotline call indicating a lead on the Composite Superman's whereabouts. As Batman takes the wheel, Robin's thought balloon tells us "What Batman doesn't suspect is that I am the Composite Superman! That I used Chameleon Boys' power to impersonate his partner...and that the real Robin is my prisoner! I'll lead the dauntless Caped Crusader into a death trap!"
As part two opens, Superman is at Legion headquarters where he's in the presence of the adult members. Brainiac 5 is explaining that the process for creating the statuettes they presented to Superman as a souvenir involved a duplicator machine that apparently incorporated their powers along with the tiny likeness of each member. Armed with this information, Superman heads for home, confident that he has homed in on the source of CS's powers and can begin to undo him.
We then rejoin Batman and Robin as the Batmobile burns up the road. Suddenly Batman puts on the binders as a bubble encloses Robin in the passenger seat. Batman then reveals his knowledge that CS is really Joe Meach. "I checked the museum's employee files! Only one man was always missing when Composite Man was on the prowl...Meach!" The Composite Superman then bursts through the bubble and flies off with Batman in tow, much to the delight of Xan who continues to monitor progress from the hovering craft.
Superman returns to the present and immediately destroys the statuette display in the Superman Museum before seeking out Batman and Robin, who have been trussed up like Christmas Geese by the Composite Superman. In another mind-blurring change of scenery, Superman is at the Batcave, checking in with Alfred. With no sign of the Dynamic Duo, he begins a high-speed search, only to uncover the unattended Batmobile that turns out to be the CS in disguise. In a short but spirited battle, he uses Bouncing Boy's power to carom into Superman, knocking him off his feet. He then takes on skyscraper dimensions as Colossal Boy and finally uses Elastic Lad's stretching ability, combined with the strength of Mon-El, Ultra-Boy and Supergirl to put the Man of Steel into the sleeper hold that any pro wrestler would envy. Scooping Superman up, the Composite Superman soon drops him at the place where he has Batman and the Boy Wonder tied up. He then reveals an inspired, evil end for our heroes. "It finally occurred to me that I could combine my powers to achieve a single, deadly effect! By using all my super abilities simultaneously I am literally able to split your bodies in half, the way mine is--only in your case it will prove to be quite fatal!" With that he blasts them and causes one half of each their bodies to become anti-matter. Now matter and anti-matter may be dandy fuel for the starship Enterprise, but in this case, they will simply react and wipe each other out. Fortunately, the effect isn't instantaneous, but Superman and Batman endure some agony when suddenly CS's powers begin to fail. He notes that he just needs to hustle back to the display, zap it with some of Lightning Lad's juice, and be back up to full power. Superman then informs CS that he's destroyed the display. Abruptly, Xan lands his ship just as Superman and Batman return to normal, Meach's powers having faded altogether. Xan reveals that he recreated the Composite Superman to carry out his plot to destroy Superman and Batman but that he'll now have to finish the job with his Magna-Gun. Joe thinks, "My hate for Superman and Batman faded with my power...I can't let this alien destroy them!" As the burst from the Magna-Gun is fired, Joe throws himself into it's path, disintegrating, but saving our heroes from it's force. Xan is quickly subdued and in the final panel we see the World's Finest team gathered in front of a statue erected in Joe Meach's honor. Joe ended his life as a hero, though he came within a whisker (twice!) of destroying Superman and Batman. Thus ends the career of the Composite Superman(...only for a while--see World's Finest Comics #283 & #284 ).
The accompanying story, an Editor's Round Table choice, features Robotman, a detective from the Golden Age created by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, [ in a reprint taken from the October, 1951 issue of Detective Comics (#176)] whose exploits led to the creation of the Robotman some of you may know from the Doom Patrol. The very short story, entitled The Testing of Robotman, has him trying to join an elite international detective's club called The Cluesters. He is initially rejected due to the limitations of his robot body housing his human brain, but eventually wins their respect and his own membership card. Kinda cute, but I won't go into it further here. Besides, I'm still trying to figure out how he can masquerade as a human being, even with a plastic "skin" when his metal body has a pretty pronounced and protruding "flap" both on the back of his head and over his tush.
The character first appeared in Star-Spangled Comics #7 04/1942. Robotman's origin is revealed in Detective Comics #138 08/1948. His last Detective Comics appearance is in #202 12/1953.
It's rating time again and I give this feature story high marks for bringing back an unforgettable villain, fleshing out the character even further and managing to slip in a guest appearance by one of my favorite Silver Age groups, the Legion of Super Heroes. In a few short pages a great story unfolds and I give it a solid 9, teetering on a 10. A great, great read that I'll recommend to anyone.
As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback and at least in this case, I learned about the sequel, was able to get it and add it to the list of reviews here at the Sage. So, if you have information or a request or gushing praise, just let me know at email@example.com. I'll be back in two weeks with another review. Be sure to join me.
Long Live the Silver Age!
This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by B.D.S.
©2000 by B.D.S.
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