One of the more memorable foes to challenge the World's Finest team of Superman and Batman was the Composite Superman, an amalgam of both heroes with the powers of the combined Legion of Superheroes.

Secretly Joe Meach, a custodian at the Superman Museum, the Composite Superman defeated our heroes in World's Finest #142 but luckily lost his powers before he could kill them. Three years later, an alien named Xan restored Meach's powers for a rematch which didn't go much better, although luck saved the day again as Meach had a change of heart and sacrificed himself to save the heroes.

And that was that, until suddenly 15 years later old Compy reappears in a two-parter in World's Finest #283 and #284 (Sept and Oct 1982, respectively). Cary Burkett writes the tale, with art by George Tuska, at the time the artist on the nationally syndicated "World's Greatest Superheroes" newspaper strip.

The big mystery of course is how Compy can appear at all with Joe Meach dead, a mystery we won't solve until part two, when Superman time-travels to the 30th Century to enlist the aid of the Legion of Super-Heroes in their 1982 (real time) configuration. They readily agree and return to 1982 a mere moment after Superman left.

Superman has time to land just one blow ("Keep your hands off Batman!") before Legionnaire Wildfire makes a crack about the Composite Superman's infamous costume:

The villain gives Wildfire a powerful punch, but quickly agrees with his assessment. "My current appearance is ridiculous! I only assumed the identity out of convenience -- but it was originally conceived by the disturbed mind of Joe Meach!" Determined to be taken more seriously, he comes up with a more awe-inspiring name and outfit...

Oookay, then. And this is better how, exactly? Amalgamax sounds like a laundry detergent, or maybe a company that manufactures dental supplies. Anyway, when a villain shows up with a name like this, you know you're reading what will be his only appearance.

The Legionnaires give battle but find themselves no match for Amalgamax. Batman tosses a batarang at him, which is good for a chuckle all around, except that inside the batarang is the Legionnaire Shrinking Violet, who appears in my candidate for "Most Fun Panel When Taken out of Context":

Ahem, yes. "Hey, Violet I have a plan, but before we try it on the villain why don't you try a test run in MY trunks?"

Anyway, the plan involves setting off an alarm in Amalgamax's buckle that warns him his power is running out. Sure enough, he trusts the alarm and beats a retreat to his space ship.

Superman and friends hold a confab in a hastily constructed hideout and Batman deduces that their foe must be Xan, the space villain who restored Joe Meach's powers back in 1967 as part of a plot to avenge his father, a space pirate who died in the prison Superman and Batman sent him to. Meanwhile in his orbiting space ship, Xan recounts how he's recreated the events that resulted in the first Composite Superman to make himself into the new model. Returning to Earth, he starts smashing up buildings to draw the heroes out.

Realizing they can't beat their foe through force alone, Superman returns to the prison where Xan (and before him his father) were held and has a chat with the warden. When he hears the story of Xan's father's death, he hatches a plan. Returning to Earth, he has Princess Projectra use her illusion-casting powers to make Xan/Amalgamax believe he's contracted the same deadly disease that claimed his father's life.

Amusingly, Tuska draws the "blotches" on the fabric sleeve of Xan's costume, not his skin, but whatever. Superman tells Xan that since the disease-causing microbes were inside him when he gave himself super-powers, they too are now super-powerful and spreading rapidly. Without a 30th-century cure for the disease -- which he cannot utilize in his current state of invulnerability -- he will die. Xan surrenders to the Legion for treatment and a good laugh is had by all.

So it is that 16 years after his last appearance, the Composite Superman finally gets a full-fledged, no-holds-barred showdown with the entire Legion of Superheroes. Only he's not the same Composite Superman. And it's not the same Legion. And he changes into Amalgamax almost immediately. And there's very little actual fighting in the story. And he gives himself up. Oh well.

The interesting thing here is that the heroes, the villain and by implication the writer think the Composite Superman is a cool idea except for his "ridiculous" appearance. But it's not so ridiculous that they don't milk its sales appeal for two consecutive covers. And when the old outfit goes away, the old problems remain; how to tell an interesting story about a villain who is too powerful to be defeated by any one or group of heroes.

Turns out that old costume was the coolest part of the deal, all along.