The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!

A serious drinking problem brings out the worst in Superman and Batman in World's Finest Comics #173,(Feb 1968), when the caped crimefighters become "The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!"

The trouble begins in a laboratory near Gotham City, where a rogue scientist is experimenting on a decidely unwilling subject. Strapped to a chair, the victim is injected with a substance that sends him into a mindless, screaming panic.

"My powerful mind drugs have produced in his brain the very substance of fear!" observes the unscrupulous Dr. Arron, obviously pleased with himself. His elation is short-lived, however, as Superman and Batman burst into the laboratory and break up the party.

Superman flies the victim to a hospital while Batman stays behind to turn the researcher over to the authorities.

Days later, the heroes make a public appearance at the Metropolis State Fair, giving a talk at a "Hall of Villains" waxworks exhibit. During the Q & A session, an audience member bundled up in a hat, scarf and sunglasses raises his hand with a question: "I want to know which enemies you fear the most!"

Hmm...a stranger with a hidden face asks a question about fear, mere days after a scientist specializing in fear vows revenge on Batman and Superman. Nothing suspicious there, right? Besides, what can it hurt to announce a psychological weakness to the world at large when you're waging a war on crime? And so they answer: Batman says Two-Face is his most worrysome foe because he's so unpredictable. Batman's secret to beating his many foes is to figure out their M.O. and stay one step ahead, but Two-Face leaves everything up to the toss of a coin, meaning even the villain himself doesn't know what he's doing next. (Of course, all his crimes center on the number TWO, so in that sense he's no less predictable than any other member of the Rogue's Gallery, but nevermind).

Superman's answer comes totally from left field, as he says he's most afraid of Kralik, the Conqueror. If you've never heard of him, don't worry; nobody else has, either.

In a flashback, we learn that Kralik once tussled with Superman on an alien planet and nearly took him in a brawl by fighting dirty. Superman won by getting in a lucky punch.

And that's it. One fistfight in one adventure we never heard of before, and he's Superman's worst nightmare. Anyway he made enough of an impression to rate a wax figure in the Hall of Villains, joining A-listers Luthor and Parasite (either of which has come closer to offing Superman, and multiple times). Whatever.

In a pre-planned photo op, Superman and Batman make a show of drinking the newly-released "Bat-Cola and "Super-Cola" drinks, scheduled to arrive in stores soon with all profits going to charity. Then suddenly, they both dash off, even though they'd earlier promised to hang around for more of the Fair.

Speeding off to the Fortress of Solitude under some strange, powerful compulsion, Superman takes the costume from a Kralik mannequin and puts it on over his own. Returning to Metropolis, he feels himself undergoing a bizarre transformation, and we see that his face and even his mind have changed to that of Kralik.

Meanwhile, Batman is undergoing a similar transformation; donning a Two-Face costume from his Hall of Trophies in the Batcave, he drives the Batmobile to the edge of Gotham before Bruce Wayne's face and mind are transformed into those of Two-Face.

Now we see the real reason for Kralik's inclusion in this story over the more logical "worst nightmare" candidates in the mythos: with his bushy hair, wild eyebrows and menacing features, he gives off a "Mr Hyde" vibe in a way Luthor et al never could. Likewise Two-Face is more "Hyde" than, say, the Joker would have been.

In his laboratory, Dr Arron celebrates.

"Kralik" leaves path of destruction through Metropolis, upending buildings and demanding a rematch with "that coward" Superman. Meanwhile "Two-Face" and his gang blast their way into a jewelry store with shells from a double-barreled tank. (It's worth pausing at this juncture to note Batman's incredible, wasted abilities as a super-villain, having acquired both a custom-made tank and a complete gang of costumed accomplices in what is, at most, a matter of hours.)

As "Two-Face" readies his tank to blast open the 2nd National Bank, he's beaten to the punch by "Kralik", who comes bursting through the bank wall. In time-honored tradition, the villains quickly turn on each other.

After a few moments of struggling, "Kralik" escapes the giant hand, fully intending to kill "Two-Face" for the humiliation, but suddenly he feels a powerful compulsion to leave the scene. "Two-Face" feels the same impulse, leaving his confused gang behind in the tank.

In a wooded area outside Metropolis, Superman regains his true face and personality, and heads back to the city in a state of confusion. There he meets up with a similarly restored Batman, and while the Caped Crusader investigates the scene of "Kralik" and "Two-Face's" rampage, the Man of Steel rebuilds the various smashed structures. Looking on from the sidelines, a TV reporter says what's on the mind of his viewers; where were the heroes when the villains were running wild? "Some believe Superman and Batman are hiding from the men who, by their own admission, they fear the most!"

Some time later, Robin returns from a Teen Titans mission and figures the whole thing out in about five seconds, not that it does him any good.

The heroes run off again and Robin, following Batman, sees his partner undergoing the transformation to "Two-Face." Alfred's coffee, like the sodas at the Fair, has been spiked by the omnipresent Dr Arron. As "Two-Face" makes a call from a payphone, Robin watches from a hiding place, but he in turn has been observed by Arron, who knocks him out.

"Kralik" and "Two-Face" waste no time resuming their grudge match. When "Kralik" accosts the bifurcated baddie on the streets of Metropolis, "Two-Face" answers with a blast from a (double-barreled) anti-matter weapon, but the alien villain shrugs it off and seemingly kills "Two-Face" with a single punch. Or does he? Suddenly, "force rays" rain down from above, and "Kralik" looks up to see a second "Two-Face" circling in a helicopter overhead (how come nobody ever hears a helicopter before they see it in comics?).

"Two-Face" and his men let loose with "super-force beams" which for once seem to have an effect on the "Kralik", until the alien deflects the beams with a hastily constructed mirror. As his gang lays down a covering ground fire, "Two-Face" beats a retreat to a secluded building in the hills outside Metropolis. It turns out to be the laboratory of Dr Aaron, much to the scientist's dismay.

"Two-Face" tosses a coin to decide whether to kill Arron, who passes out in fear. "Two-Face's" men try to revive the scientist with a glass of water just as "Kralik" shows up to mop the floor with the lot of them. It certainly looks like someone's going to buy the farm, but suddenly we see what looks like Batman's fist knocking out Kralik. Then a Superman-shaped blur takes out Two-Face with a super-speed tackle.

Sometime later, Superman and Batman awaken on the floor of Arron's lab, having regained their normal appearances and personalities (and costumes!). Robin is with them, having finally escaped the bonds with which Arron had tied him. He fills them in on their double lives, but they're understandably confused about how it was all resolved; who stopped them from killing each other in their villain identities? Surely Robin couldn't have taken them both out?

He didn't, we learn; instead it was...Dr Arron, who to everyone's surprise now looks an awful lot like the Composite Superman, minus the green complexion.

But why both of them, asks Superman? "I feared you both equally," Arron relates. "This caused an enzymic mishap which gave me more a "split personality" than Two-Face himself...and allowed me to retain my memory! I whipped up this costume at super-speed, using some scrap material!" Uh-huh.

Anyway, this explains why we saw "Batman's" gloved hand knocking out Kralik and a blurry "Superman" subduing "Two-Face." In both cases it was the Composite Arron-Man, doing heroic deeds in his newly valorous mindset.

And so the mystery is solved, but Batman is concerned with one major loose end; since Arron knows the location of the Batcave, it's reasonable assume he knows the Dynamic Duo's true identities, and once he regains his old, evil personality, nothing will stop him from blabbing those secrets to the whole world. Composite Arron-Man says there's no need to worry about that.

Poor devil, the only thing he'll be good for now is writing comics.

There's tons of problems with this whole story, obviously. First of all, every time the heroes become the villains, they have to go to the trouble of actually putting on the bad guys' clothes, as only their faces change. And yet when they "wake up" at the end of the story, they're back in their good-guy outfits, with no explanation. By rights, Batman should wake up as Bruce Wayne in a half-and-half Two-Face suit, his cowl having been left behind in the Batcave.

To be fair, there is a possible out here, as Robin is on the scene; a canny editor might suggest that the Boy Wonder dressed the heroes in their proper attire while they lay unconscious. Still, that doesn't explain why Superman "comes to" earlier in the story wearing a Kralik costume and fails to put two and two together. We don't see Bruce Wayne come out of his trance, but logically he'd have to have figured something was up when he found himself dressed like his famous enemy.

It's a huge stretch to have a complete unknown like Kralik declared Superman's most fearsome foe, but really the bigger "supervillain nobody saw coming" is Dr Arron, who in his one appearance outdoes a dozen Lex Luthors in scientific genius and manages the "everywhere at once" schtick better than Darkseid. Consider; here's a guy who's area of expertise is, apparently, the effects of fear on the human brain, but in a matter of days he perfects a formula that can completely change the personality and physical appearance of human subjects. What's more, he finds a way to make it work on Superman's Kryptonian body when alcohol, poison and even corrosive acids have never affected him before. And just for good measure, he figures out the secret location of the freaking Batcave and contaminates its water supply. Talk about over-achieving!

Then we have Batman's impressive achievements as "Two-Face." He keeps mentioning a criminal organization called "Intercrime" which seems to be supplying him with items like tanks, anti-matter guns and super-force rays -- so I guess that negates the need for him to have invented and built those things so quickly himself -- but this is the first time I've heard of Two-Face being involved in a larger organization. Moreover, even if Harvey Dent is a member, how would Batman -- as a fake Harvey Dent -- know how to reach the organization and collect these goodies? Even if we accept that Arron's potion gives him a criminal personality, it couldn't possibly give him Harvey's memories. So we have to assume that if Batman/Two-Face knows how to contact Intercrime, it's because that information is stored in Bruce Wayne's mind. And if so, why hasn't he shut the gang down?

Robin is, frankly, totally unnecessary here, showing up just long enough to get hit over the head and disappear again til story's end. Yes, he deduces the split-personality thing, but we already know all that anyway, and he never gets to do anything about it.

Even more superflous, and ultimately detrimental, is the "Composite Superman" cameo. There's frankly no good reason for Arron to dress like this, or change his clothes at all, when his personality is shifted to "good." All it does is remind us that if anyone should stand out in Superman's mind as THE villain to fear, it's the Composite Superman, the one villain to score a complete victory over him not once but twice, and to outmatch him in power several times over.

I was all ready to pat myself on the back for having recognized the fingerprints of a young Cary Bates on this story, but according to the Grand Comics Database, this one was written by Jim Shooter. Shows what I know. The art is by the great team of Curt Swan and George Klein.

This one's pretty to look at, but probably best enjoyed after drinking something stronger than Super-Cola.