A Tribute to the of
It's been said that James Brown is the hardest working man in rock and roll. (Whoa, Prof, what is this all about? I thought this was a bi-weekly column reviewing classic DC comics from the Silver Age.) Don't worry, I'll tie it in here. Anyway, it strikes me that the hardest working man in comics is Batman. As I mentioned in my last review, the Dark Knight has been carrying more than his fair share in the DC line for years. Shortly following his debut in Detective Comics, he was soon given his own title and was a regularly featured character in the Justice League, the Brave and the Bold and World's Finest Comics. It's a darn good thing he had Alfred to do the shopping and cooking and to keep the Batmobile waxed. This time around we'll take a peek at an issue of World's Finest where he was routinely teamed up with Krypton's favorite son, Superman. Issue number 142 came to us in June of 1964 (this yarn saw print again in World's Finest #223, the June 1974 issue) and it sports one of the most memorable covers [Rendered by Curt Swan and George Klein] I've seen. Check it out and see if you don't agree. As you can see, a stunned Superman, Batman and Robin are being introduced to (and subsequently blackmailed by) a striking figure that is a composite of our two favorite heroes with the added twist that his skin is Brainiac green. The Composite Superman, as he calls himself, has the abilities of the entire Legion of Super Heroes, making him a formidable being indeed. He demonstrates on the cover his ability to fly, shoot bolts of lightning from his fingertips and to render himself invisible, not to mention the fact that his rather bizarre appearance is certainly done via the abilities of Chameleon Boy. The column to the right of the cover lists his more than 20 super powers and his introductory line to our heroes is as follows: "Batman and Superman! My telepathic powers reveal you're secretly Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent! Let me join you as a third partner, or I'll expose you both!" How's that for a fine how do you do? Now that the hook has been set, let's see what this magazine [Written by Edmund Hamilton and illustrated by Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff.] has in store.
The splash page immediately confirms that this character does indeed posess the powers of the entire Legion of Super Heroes, Superman's old outfit in the far flung 30th century. He's standing before a display of statuettes of the legion and is basking in their suddenly transferred abilities. Our story begins in Wayne Manor where somehow Bruce (Batman) Wayne has found the time to read a book and lounge in his ascot and smoking jacket. Dick (Robin) Grayson is, of course, close by. They spot the legendary Bat Signal lighting up Gotham's sky (no pagers yet in 1964) and head immediately for the subterranean Batcave where they discover a mysterious sign. "I know your batcave's secret and all your secrets! Meet me atop Black Mountain at noon tomorrow. XXX." Needless to say, this causes the Dynamic Duo a bit of concern. We next find Superman in the Arctic at his Fortress of Solitude where he finds the massive door ajar. Knowing darn good and well he'd locked up after himself, Superman is a bit puzzled. Once inside, he discovers a sign much like that in the Batcave. "Superman, I know all your secrets! If you want to meet me, be on Black Mountain at noon tomorrow! XXX." So, come high noon the next day, a trio of familiar figures are cooling their heels at Black Mountain, waiting for this mystery man to appear. Next thing you know, the Composite Superman hurtles down out of the sky and blasts the tail off Batman's jet. He then repeats the same line we see on the cover and tells them they can either take him on as a partner or he'll ruin their careers by revealing them to the world. Sort of reminds me of death by leathal injection or hanging. The World's Greatest Detective leaps to a brilliant conclusion. "He's got us Superman! But since he only wants to help us in our work, let's humor him and agree!" Good choice, Bruce. Satisfied, the Composite Superman flies off, vowing to be there whenever there's a call for help. After he's airborne, we enter his thoughts to discover that he's up to no good as he plots his way to humiliating the World's Finest Team. The first thing you know, there are some covert actions being taken by an invisible Composite Superman at a movie set. He tinkers with the controls of some rockets so that they'll be uncontrollable, thus creating his first emergency. He and our heroes arrive at the scene simultaneously to try to intercept the five runaway rockets. Superman and Batman each take one on, while the Composite Superman uses the talents of Triplicate Girl to split into three separate versions of himself. He then uses Lightning Lad's power of lightning to disable one, Mon-El's super strength to tackle another and Sun Boy's heat inducing abilities to melt the third. All this is accomplished in the ether, out of sight of our busy heroes. As he flies smugly away, Superman and Batman have a quick skull session to discuss how the Composite one took pleasure in outshining them. Soon afterward, it's time for crisis #2 in Superman's back yard of Metropolis. The Composite Superman has sabatoged a building that looks like an overgrown Space Needle causing it to begin to buckle, calling on Element Lad's powers of element transformation. As an added bonus, he also changed part of the building to Green Kryptonite, Superman's greatest weakness. As the Man of Steel tries to stop the structure from collapsing, he's quickly overcome by the radiation, allowing CS to swoop in and save the day. After darkness has fallen, our new villain has worked his way to Gotham City, where he encounters Batman and Robin searching for some hidden criminals. Unknown to them, the Composite Superman has located them with Saturn Girl's powers of telepathy and leads them to the hideout. As Batman and Robin begin to swing into action, our crafty Composite uses Star Boy's ability to briefly increase their mass causing their lines to snap and for them to fall to the floor. He then calls upon Jimmy (Elastic Lad) Olsen's power to stretch his arms down to where the crooks are and to take their guns from them. As he soars away from yet another triumph, his mind wanders to his former life. He was known as Joe Meach and he'd had nothing but a lifetime of failures. Long before anyone had heard of Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones or Sally Jessy Raphael, Joe Meach was a master of the victim mentality. We're introduced to his thought processes as he's filling a tank with water at the base of a skyscraper in Metropolis. "I should be the most famous high-diver in the world, but people have always been against me...it's not my fault I've failed! But this dive will make me famous!" In the following panel he's in mid plunge when a familiar red and blue figure streaks in to catch him. "Superman, you're spoiling my big feat!" "I'm saving your life, Meach! You carelessly used a plastic tank that leaked and there's only an inch of water left in it now!" "Other people have all the luck, but I can't even get a job! I've failed again.." Joe then thinks "...and it's Superman's fault this time." Supes then offers to take Joe to the Superman Museum where they're in need of another caretaker. Joe accepts and during the tour sees the display of Legionnaire statuettes. Superman explains how Brainiac 5 had invented a duplicator machine that made the figures directly through a beaming process on each individual Legion member and that they were presented to him as a momento. Joe grudgingly accepts his new position, but his resentment is apparent and he feels he's being subjugated yet again. Days later, as he's making his rounds, Joe comes again upon the Legion display and notices the nearby window was left open. A raging lightning storm is going on and a bolt comes through the window, striking the display. Suddenly, Joe realizes that the exposure has given him the Legion's powers. Now that he has the reasoning abilities of Brainiac 5, he can see what has occurred and he creates his new persona as the Composite Superman. He is intent to prove he is a winner, and it will come at the expense of Batman and Superman.
We now leap back to the present where Batman and Superman continue to confer about this disturbing turn of events. Little do they know that, via Invisible Kid's talents, the Composite Superman lurks in the shadows, eavesdropping. They head for the Batcave to discuss matters further, but Meach is a step ahead of them. He slips in through the keyhole, courtesy of Shrinking Violet's power of becoming tiny and quickly replaces one of Batman's statues of The Joker with himself, utilizing Chameleon Boy's camoflouge talents so that he can again listen in. Soon we see Superman flying above the skies of Metropolis, being pelted by green shells that appear to be Kryptonite. He struggles to fly away, but is obviously weakened. The Dynamic Duo show up in their jet to try to render aid as well as the Composite Superman, who refuses to assist. Suddenly the Batplane is hit by one of the shells as well and it plunges into the sea along with the comatose Superman. The Composite Superman, meanwhile, is investigating the source of the Kryptonite shells with Ultra Boy's Penatravision, which has no limitations toward lead. There he sees our heroes who have staged the entire scene with robot likenesses of themselves. The Composite Superman then crashes the Batcave where our heroes have been and states their unworthiness to be his partners and orders them to abandon their heroic identities, to remain as dead as they've appeared, forever. He makes his point by taking Batman and threatening to destroy him if Superman doesn't cooperate, which he reluctantly does. Our heroes then decide to try and find a way to beat this interloper in their civilian identities. Using his telescopic and x-ray vision, Superman observes the Composite Superman using Cosmic Boy's super magnetism powers to glean iron ore and other metals from the earth. They track his activities for awhile and then risk getting into costume to investigate. They soon discover a huge base of operations made from precious materials and with figures of the Composite Superman shown dominating the earth in one instance and the entire universe in another. They're soon discovered by a lurking Composite Superman who zaps Batman with lightning and then converts a model planet ring into Kryptonite to bind Superman. He then scoops them up and begins to fly to their respective cities, intent upon revealing them to the world. Suddenly, he slows down and begins to lose his strength. The Composite Superman promptly ditches our heroes in mid-flight and races back to the Superman Museum in an attempt to recharge himself. In free fall, Batman manages to free Superman of the Kryptonite bonds and he regains his powers just in time to keep them from becoming caped goo. At the museum, it's already too late. Meach can't muster any lightning to recreate the effect. His costume soon fades and he can feel himself slipping from consciousness. He makes a desperate effort to write down what had happened but only gets this onto a piece of paper that he discovers later when he's come to and has lost all memory of what has transpired. "When you stand before the super hero statuettes and lightning strikes them..." Meach thinks the note odd and supposes perhaps one day he'll remember what it was all about. Our heroes, meanwhile, are baffled as to his sudden disappearance and are only glad he's gone because, as Superman states, "We'll have to face it. He beat us at every turn. Let's hope he never appears again."
The accompanying tale is a reprint of Superman #142 (Jan. 1961) entitled "The from Krypton." [Written by Superman and Spectre co-creator Jerry Siegel and drawn by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye] The title dragon is under the influence of the unpredictable properties of Red Kryptonite. To add to the suspense, Superman's secret identity is nearly revealed, but with the help of Supergirl and Batman, his secret is restored to safety in the ever-suspicious mind of Lois Lane and the dragon is put on ice, orbiting around Pluto.
And now, the envelope please. In this classic issue, we are given something all but unthinkable. An unbeatable foe for the World's Finest Team. 'Course you can't really fault the guys. A one man Legion, who has Mon-El's abilities that mirror Superman's and then throwing in all the others would make one invincible. The stringent Comics Code of the day forbade the perpatrator getting away with his or her evil deeds, so he had to be defeated somehow. Our heroes just lucked out in the fact that his charge was temporary and faded just in time. The door was also left open for a reappearance of this amazing creature, though to be honest with you I don't know if he ever showed up again. Perhaps I'll have that answer for you one day. In the interim, for coming up with an unforgettable and all but invulnerable foe, I give this effort a 9. In a few short pages a nearly flawless storyline takes place and you're left scratching your head as to how the Composite Superman could taste defeat.
Once again I invite your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and I remind you to check back in about two weeks for the next installment.
Long Live the Silver Age!
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