A Tribute to the of

This has been another of those times when I've had a dickens of a time deciding which issue to spotlight this time around.  I've been reading all kinds of great "new" goodies and also thinking about what's been done to death lately or any particular significance that could trigger a review.  My thought process was ricocheting around more than Bouncing Boy.  Well, I decided at last and it was triggered by a cover I saw for it in another magazine.  It reminded me I had the story, but then I had to recall which collection of reprints contained it.  I really need to sit down and index my resources.  Of course by the time I get to that chore I'll have exhausted many of them.  Anyway, I finally selected a story from World's Finest, issue #175 from May of 1968 that features "The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!" Editor Mort Weisinger handed the scripting assignment to Leo Dorfman, with art, both pencils and inks, provided by one of my favorites, the great Neal Adams. If you'd like to own this issue's original cover art follow this link.

Things begin on a rather bizarre note when a figure skulks into a railroad graveyard near Metropolis.  As the man approaches the old roundhouse, a large representation of Batman appears from the torso up asking who has come.  "A friend."  "Advance, friend…and give the sign!"  The man moves forward, draws a knife and stabs the figure through the heart of the bat emblem on the chest while crying "Die, Batman, die!"  Apparently that was the correct sign, triggering a mechanism that opens the door.  He then joins two other men and they are queried as to their qualifications for joining the brotherhood.  One by one, they do so:  "I'm "Cash" Carew.  I just broke prison!  I was the country's best counterfeiter.  Then, that skunk, Batman, nabbed me!"  "I'm "Barney the Blast!"  I was booby-trapping the Batmobile when a safety device triggered my bomb prematurely and I lost a hand!"  "I'm the "Flamethrower!"  I used my sideshow stunts for underworld arson jobs, until Batman sent me up the river, that is!"  Their host then says that they each have a score to settle with Batman and that they've decided to form the Batman Revenge Squad.  He then presents each man with a replica of Batman's uniform, with some significant modifications.  For starters, they're a different color, more of a purple motif, but also with a skull between the batwings on the chest emblem.  After donning their new garb, the revenge squad recites their carefully considered slogan:  "Die, Batman, die!"  Little do they know they're being watched.

We switch now to a monitor in a spacecraft that's being watched by a couple of completely bald men in Superman suits.  They decide to teleport themselves to the anti-Batman squad's headquarters to introduce themselves.  "We're the Superman Revenge Squad…criminals from a hundred planets…and sworn foes of Superman!"  "So why are you wearing copies of his super-costume?"  They then point out the difference in the familiar "S" emblem.  It's a glowing green, signifying Green Kryptonite, which can kill Superman.  The Superman Revenge Squad says they've come to help these amateurs, since they've been scheming against Superman since he was a boy.  The Batman Revenge Squad bursts into peals of derisive laughter, pointing out the Superman Revenge Squad's obvious success after all these years.  The bald leader retorts that they'd better check out the front page story on the Gotham Gazette, which reports that the annual duel of wits between Batman and Superman is about to begin.  He further explains the contest has been going on for the last few years, pitting the Superman-Jimmy Olsen team against the Batman-Robin duo, usually with a token wager, such as a pair of Batman's boots or Superman's cape on the line.  He then mentions that the Superman Revenge Squad has cooked up a scheme to take advantage of the contest this year due to a change in the rules. 

Segue now to Gotham City Police headquarters, where Robin is dropping off the wager offered by Batman, which includes a miniature crime clue computer, night vision goggles and a muscle amplifier, which multiplies the wearer's strength a thousand fold.  Soon Jimmy Olsen arrives with Superman's wager, which has an anti-gravity feather cloak, an intelligence expander and a model combat machine, all trinkets from other worlds.  Also, we learn the difference in this year's competition as neither of our favorite heroes' junior partners will be participating.  Abruptly a man bursts into the room wielding a pistol and lunges toward Jimmy.  Olsen uses a judo toss to defend himself and the malefactor is quickly apprehended.  Unfortunately in the scuffle, Jimmy's celebrated emergency signal watch is damaged.  As the cell door is closed on the unknown assailant, however, we see he's smiling and thinking that things are going according to plan.

The next day, the World's Finest team is meeting with Commissioner Gordon while Jimmy and Robin look on.  James explains the rules:  "This will be a three-day competition!  Every day each hero will have to solve a super-problem given to him by his opponent!  At the day's end, the winner will choose one of the trophies wagered by the loser!"  The pair shake hands and Part I comes to a close.

Part II is entitled "To the Victor Comes Death!"  Superman presents the first challenge, introducing Batman to a glass chamber in the basement of police headquarters.  The glass is unbreakable and there's a gas nozzle toward the top that will spew some illuminating gas.  Batman will have 5 minutes to stop the fumes or risk unconsciousness and he is prohibited from using any of his bat-weapons.  Thinking quickly, the World's Greatest Detective pulls some matches and paper from his famed utility belt and lights a hastily prepared paper airplane to burn the fumes, winning out over his challenge.  Later, Superman flies alongside the bat-copter out to sea until they come upon an old, obsolete tanker vessel, anchored far from any shipping lanes.  Once on deck, Batman explains the puzzle to the Metropolis Marvel.  He points out a large bell, a factory style whistle and a ship's cannon.  Superman is tasked with deciding, without benefit of his powers, which device will make the loudest sound and in one hour's time to activate his choice.  Batman then departs.  Superman glances at the watch on his wrist, which is Jimmy's signal watch that he'd recently repaired, to check the time.  He also decides that since he has an hour, there must be more to this puzzle than meets the eye. At last, Superman makes his choice and slams his fist into the whistle.  On a distant island, Batman, Robin and Jimmy observe as a mushroom cloud forms over the sea.  Robin comments that Superman activated the correct device, the whistle that contained a concealed atomic bomb.  I guess it's a good thing satellite technology wasn't much of a factor in 1968 or the pair would have caused a nasty international incident.  When Superman descends to the island, Batman queries whether he stuck to the rules.  Krypton's Last Son assures him that he did, but that Jimmy's signal watch, which is also a radiation detector, clued him in.  They call it a draw and a day.  The Revenge Squads, meanwhile, are monitoring their activities and they are hoping for a win in tomorrow's contest so that a trophy will be won.  Later that night we learn why as the incarcerated attacker picks the lock to his cell and sneaks into Commissioner Gordon's office to booby trap the trophies. 

The contest reconvenes the next morning at the top of a pair of skyscrapers.  Superman points out three cables strung between the two buildings and explains that only one of them will support his weight as he uses it to transit to the other side.  Using his keen powers of observation, the Dark Knight notes that one of the cables is swinging a bit less than the others in the breeze, indicating a sturdier material.  He chooses the middle cable and begins his crossing. 

All this is being observed at the revenge squad HQ where the Batman Revenge Squad is cheering on their nemesis.  A member of the Superman Revenge Squad decides to take matters into his own hands and uses a remote-control dissolver ray that eliminates Batman's cable.  Superman flies to the rescue, but thinks to himself that he was certain Batman had chosen correctly.  Back at the lair of the Revenge Squads, the Batman Squad cries foul.  The Superman squad says it's more important that their man win.  As they continue to bicker, we rejoin Batman and Superman where it's now the Man of Steel's turn.  The location is an Army Proving Ground and Batman points out two identical targets.  One is legitimate and the other is wired to explode.  Once Superman makes his choice, he must launch himself at the target to see if he's correct.  Superman notes that one target seems to lack the correct number of rings, so he makes his choice based on that and launches toward what he believes is the real target.  The Batman Revenge Squad then intervenes, using a teleport missile that blows both targets up before the Man of Tomorrow can reach his, thus rendering the contest moot.  The Superman Revenge Squad upbraids the Batman Revenge Squad saying that now they'll have to wait until tomorrow to bring their scheme to fruition. 

Later, as the heroes gather again in Commissioner Gordon's office, there is a surprise arrival by the Flash.  The Fastest Man Alive reports to his fellow Justice League members that their sanctuary is being menaced by a mysterious foe and all members must bring their latest security devices to an emergency meeting.  The pair decides to call off their contest and go to their respective bases prior to reporting to JLA HQ.  They also decide that since the duel of wits ended in a tie, each should select one trophy as a memento.  Superman suggests that Jimmy choose for him and Robin choose for Batman. 

At the Revenge Squad's lair, there is jubilation.  Each squad holds a remote control that will activate the booby trapped trophies, destroying their respective enemies and their home bases of the Bat cave and Fortress of Solitude.  They turn off the monitor and draw lots to see who gets the honor of pressing the button.  Later, when the monitor's tracking beam indicates that both Superman and Batman are at their respective headquarters, they turn on the monitors and observe the pandemonium.  One blast eliminates Batman while the other is a one-two action, the first of which blasts off a lead sheath covering Gold Kryptonite, which robs Superman of his powers permanently and a second follow-up explosion to destroy the now mortal hero.  Moments later, however, their euphoria is cut short as Superman and Batman crash into their hideout with Robin and Jimmy close behind. 

Jimmy explains where their plans went awry, after first enlightening them about the scenes they'd just witnessed, where the explosions destroyed dummies of each hero. 

They became wise when Robin asked for one more chance to try the strength multiplier that Jimmy had selected.  Superman offered to let him take a poke at his solar plexus and when Robin swung, he missed completely and smashed the wall.  Robin and Jimmy decided to check the circuits when they discovered the booby trap, which led to examination of the other trophies revealing more nasty surprises.  They deduced that they could trace them back to their owners via the remote-controlled electronic waves used to trigger them.  Thus, the trap was set and the Squads were apprehended, ending the story with the squads being escorted to prison, both locally and intergalactically.

This was a different sort of story.  There was some mystery involved, as we tried to figure out what the Revenge Squads were all about and how they intended to do in their hated foes.  It was kind of an interesting twist to see Batman and Superman matching wits in a contest that seemed to be strictly for fun.  The presence of Jimmy Olsen and Robin was actually an enhancement for a change, too.  Oh, Robin is generally more help than hindrance, but in far too many tales they're pretty much relegated to comedy relief.  I know for a fact that anything Neal Adams puts his talents to is definitely enhanced.  I've long admired his great artwork.             

I'll rate this story with an 8.  It was both enjoyable and imaginative and had the teamwork elements that make the Silver Age a hero's haven.

This issue's "Editor's Roundtable" reprint is none other than "The Strange Experiment of Erdel!", the story that introduced J'onn J'onzz, aka, The Martain Manhunter to the DC Universe. This origin tale is the subject of Sage #31.    

The next edition of this feature will be posted on the web in about two weeks, so make it a point to return then as we continue to explore the greatest vintage comics known.  Also, my e-mail box awaits your comments, questions and feedback of all sorts at professor_the@hotmail.com.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2005 by B.D.S.

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