***It’s easy to put Batman and Superman against one another, as they’re so different. But those who truly understand them know that the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are better together! “Best of Batman & Superman” celebrates their best moments as a team!***
TITLE: World’s Finest Comics #77
AUTHOR: Edmond Hamilton
ARTISTS: Curt Swan, Stan Kaye (Inker)
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
ORIGINAL COVER PRICE: 10 cents
By Rob Siebert
A few years back I spotlighted a story called “Super/Bat,” in which Batman gains Superman’s powers and the Man of Steel winds up powerless. It’s one of the more obvious stories you can do with these two heroes. But “Super/Bat” was hardly the first time it happened. For that, you’ve got to go back to 1955.
“The Super Bat-Man” is an oddity for this space, as it’s not what I would call a great work. At times it’s hardly even good. But it’s got a winning premise, and there’s some nice creativity on display here. It’s an intriguing “What if…?” story if nothing else.
Once again we’re with Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan as the evil Professor Pender’s “de-charging ray” robs Superman of his powers. And of course, he’s got a “super-charging ray” that grants someone super powers for a day. Within five pages, Batman is converting the Batmobile into a Supermobile, and turning the Batcave into the Supercave. Silly? Sure. Obvious? Probably. But why the hell not? Also, the guy can’t fly anymore! He’s gonna need a car.
As one might expect from a ’50s comic, this super-powered switcheroo becomes the fodder for campy comedy. Batman may be a martial arts master and the world’s greatest detective, but he apparently doesn’t know his own super strength. Complete with Robin under his arm, his landing in the Batcave shakes not only the cave, but all of Wayne Manor. He also breaks some household stuff. Again, silly and obvious.
There’s also an awkward panel in which Swan seemingly wasn’t sure whether he was drawing a Wayne Manor or a Batcave interior. We wind up with a bizarre backdrop that’s half of each (shown above).
What I appreciate more than anything about this story is the psychological effect it has on both characters. Because of their new situation, they now have to play by different rules, and have completely different mindsets. We see them do things they’d previously never have to do. Case in point: Superman technically has to lie by omission. To stop a pair of goons stealing a fur truck (Just go with it…), he bluffs by simply standing in the middle of the road. The crooks obviously think Superman can “wreck our truck — and maybe ourselves too!” But of course, Superman isn’t wrecking anything in his current state. It’s a clever, if not a little underhanded, way of getting Superman out of a bad situation.
Incidentally, I’m fascinated by how some of these stories treat Lois Lane. She’s portrayed as cunning and clever, which she should be. But Batman, and more notably Superman, either underestimate her or flat out treat her like an idiot. After Superman busts the fur bandits, Lois quite naturally asks him why he’s driving a car. His brilliant response (shown above)? “Just an — er — idea of mine! I’ll explain later! Bye Lois!” Yeah, because that could have worked.
Moving on to Batman, he uses his new powers as an opportunity to build on his image as an agent of terror by going to the next level with his bat iconography! Well…sort of. He uses two big pieces of metal to put out a gigantic fire. But of course, they just happen to be blue and shaped like Batarangs. So if it looks like a bat and flies like a bat…
So how does Superman get his powers back? Comic book science at it’s finest, folks. It turns out Pender’s de-charging ray sprayed fine Kryptonite dust on to Superman’s costume. So a quick costume change, and we’ve got our Man of Steel back. A hastily thrown together solution. But hey, they’ve only got 12 pages. They did what they could with what they had. And for what it’s worth, fine Kryptonite dust isn’t the worst route to take under the circumstances. It’s easy to explain and easy to do away with. Just fine for a short story like this.
I do, however, have to call BS on something Batman says on the final page. Once the day has been saved, he tells Superman he’s not sorry to lose his powers, as “being a Super-Batman is too much for me!” Nope. Not a chance he says that. Even Silver Age boy scout Batman would recognize how much good he could do with Superman’s abilities. He’d understand the need to let them go, but would quietly wish he could stay super.
The story ends on a really bizarre note, even by ’50s standards. Lois “deduces” that the entire power switcheroo was a hoax, and that our heroes simply switched costumes. No matter how you slice it, that just doesn’t make sense. If Superman and Batman switch costumes, that means Bruce Wayne is walking around without his mask on, and his double-life is over. Or is she saying that Clark was switching back and forth between the Superman costume and the Batsuit? If so…why? Why would he do that? What purpose would that serve?
Lois may be cunning and clever, but even she doesn’t get them all right…
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.