The 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 the city.

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 hearing.

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 spotted immediately.

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 already.