Feud Between Superman and Batman!
Living in the same world with Superman
can be a handy thing if you're a reckless girl reporter,
a mishap-prone "Pal" or just a resident of Metropolis,
ground zero for alien invasions, natural disasters and mad
scientist plots. However, if you're trying to make your
mark in the world as a daring crimebuster, sharing the stage
with a near-omnipotent Kryptonian can make you feel...well,
kind of useless.
No less a crimefighting luminary than Batman
himself finds this out the hard way in World's Finest
#143 (Aug 1964), when an on-the-job injury leads the Caped
Crusader to consider breaking up his partnership with Superman
once and for all.
Writer Edmond Hamilton starts us off in
Gotham City, where Superman, Batman and Robin are about
to break up a band of criminals. When an armed thug opens
fire, Superman is of course unharmed by the bullets, but
one bounces off to strike Batman, who collapses. Changing
to Clark Kent and Dick Grayson,
Superman and Robin take their injured friend
to a hospital in his Bruce Wayne guise,
claiming he's the victim of "a hunting accident."
Hopefully the surgeon is no ballistics expert, or they'll
have a hard time explaining just what he was hunting with
a .45 automatic.
The operation is a success, but the experience has been
a wake-up call for Bruce, who decides he's just not in Superman's
league (if you'll pardon the expression).
As the days wear on, Bruce heals physically, but his spirit
is broken. Dick tries to coax him into resuming their regular
patrol of Gotham City, but Bruce opts to hang out at the
mansion and mope.
Consulting with Jimmy Olsen, Superman
reasons that Batman could get over his inferiority complex
if the two of them could only share a case in Kandor --
the one place Superman has no powers. He contacts his old
friend Than-Ar in Kandor and suggests they
resurrect an ancient threat from Krypton's past.
Now all that's left is a pretext for getting Batman into
the bottle. Traveling to Gotham, Superman says, "I
need the help of your detective skill, Batman! I'm worried
about my Fortress and want to put better locking devices
on the doors!" Now we're sure Batman's off his game,
or else those famous "detective skills" would
tell him a door with a key the size of a double-decker bus
probably can't be made any more secure with the addition
of a few deadbolts.
Once work at the Fortress is underway, Than-Ar broadcasts
a distress signal from Kandor -- as planned -- and reports
the return of the dreaded Metalloids. Superman asks for
the help of the Dynamic Duo and Jimmy, and after shrinking
themselves the four comrades parachute down to the tiny
city. In short order, they find themselves face to face
with one of the metallic marauders, and decide discretion
is the better part of valor.
At the Nightcave, secret headquarters of Superman and Jimmy's
crimefighting alter-egos Nightwing and Flamebird, Batman
and Robin are shown the Nightmobile and trusty canine helper
Nighthound, all obviously modeled after the Earthly Dynamic
Duo. Nightwing and Flamebird head into the heart of Kandor
to learn the Metalloids have been wreaking havoc through
Deciding Than-Kar (his name having mysteriously acquired
a "K" on page 5) is taking the charade too far,
Superman removes his Nightwing disguise and goes to meet
his friend. When he finds what he thinks is Than-Kar in
Metalloid form, the metal creature attacks him and nearly
kills him, before the timely arrival of Batman and Robin,
who run the creature off.
At this point, Jimmy once again shows his great worth as
a partner and sidekick by spilling the beans within Batman's
Cheesed off at being manipulated, Batman refuses to believe
Superman when he says the "fake threat" has turned
dangerously real. When Superman persists, Batman punches
him in the face. As luck would have it, a Kandorian official
witnesses the altercation and tells the two they'll have
to settle their differences in the arena.
Notice he says the arena is for anyone who has "a
quarrel," which seems a bit drastic. Someone steals
your parking space? See you in the arena, buddy! Can't agree
with the missus on what channel to watch? Get the swords
and shields out. Anyway, the two heroes face each other
with stun swords -- the first to be struck will be temporarily
stunned, losing the match. Superman sees an opening but
hesitates, and Batman takes advantage, knocking Superman
out. Batman collects Robin and the two leave Superman where
he is ("It serves him right for his hoax!")
On waking, Superman takes Flamebird to track down Than-Kar
and stop his Metalloid rampage. Tracking him to the jungle,
however, they're ambushed by not one but three Metalloids,
and Superman tells Flamebird to run for it and bring back
Batman and Robin.
Back to his sharp-witted self, Batman suggests first consulting
Kryptonian history tapes to see how the Metalloids were
defeated in the old days, and finds that removing their
bracelets will return them to their more easily subdued
flesh-and-blood forms. Locating the Metalloids, the Dynamic
Duo use teamwork to take down the first of them, Batman
blindfolding the creature with his cape and tunic while
Robin snatches the wristlet.
Batman dons the wristlet, becomes a Metalloid himself,
and wallops the second villain. Robin takes that one's wristlet
and helps subdue the third and final foe.
With his wristlet gone, the leader of the Metalloids is
revealed as Jhan-Ar, brother of Than-Ar
(notice the "K" is gone again...the editor giveth
and the editor taketh away). The mystery solved and the
menace ended, the heroes leave Kandor, the experience having
restored Batman to his former, confident self and the World's
Finest partnership to full harmony.
This is actually a great idea for a story, since anyone
who's ever read a World's Finest tale has to have noticed
just how lopsided the Superman/Batman partnership is, power-wise.
It's only logical that sooner or later the World's Greatest
Detective would see what millions of 7-year-old readers
Having said that, however, the trigger for Batman's "complex"
could have been handled better. After all, by 1964 Batman
had already been shot at by crooks for 25 years, and a few
of those times he'd even been hit. The fact that Superman
happened to be present when this one got him was incidental.
Batman may not be "in Superman's league," but
the cheap thug who shot him surely wasn't outside his usual
comfort zone. Personally I think it would have had more
impact if this story was treated as fallout from the epochal
confrontation with the Composite
Superman in the previous month's issue. Facing a foe
with the powers not only of Superman but the entire Legion
of Super-Heroes would definitely make a guy ask, "what
am I doing here?"
One of the fun things about this story is seeing one of
Superman's manipulations blow up in his face. You have to
think, though, that if anything would help Batman overcome
his inferiority complex, it would be seeing the Nightcave,
the Nightmobile and the Nightwing and Flamebird suits, and
realizing what a rabid case of Batman-worship his pal indulges
when Earth-folk aren't looking. This issue has some historical
significance as the third appearance of Nightwing
and Flamebird and the first visit to Kandor
by Batman and Robin (this issue's letter column is also
the first in the title's history).
The art in this one, by the great Curt
Swan with inks by Shelly Moldoff
and George Klein, is just plain beautiful,
and the story has something for everyone, including the
fantastic sights of Kandor, sword-slinging gladiator action
and rampaging "robots." It's all great fun, even
if by story's end all we've really proved is that Batman
is only a match for Superman when they're both in a bottle
city where Superman has no powers, which we kind of knew