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
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
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.