***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!***
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
The more I read these old comics, the more obvious it becomes just how much Batman and Superman comics have changed. Specifically, how they’ve matured, and what segment of the audience they’re reaching for.
Case in point, the modern Batman/Superman series is written for teens and adults. But in 1955, World’s Finest #75 was clearly written for children.
In the modern era, our heroes are searching for traitors among them in Who Are the Secret Six? Or in more recent issues, getting introspective as they take on a bunch of cybernetic supervillains. The wacky, fun adventures are usually still there. But their sensibility skews older. World’s Finest #75, on the other hand, is at its core a pretty basic story about friendship and insecurity that kids can still relate to more than half a century later…
Written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, our story sees the Caped Crusader break his leg in a fight with the treacherous “Purple Mask Mob.” With his partner on the sidelines, Robin needs a new cohort to help him catch the bad guys. But soon, Batman finds himself asking whether Robin prefers being partnered with the Man of Steel.
Robin is the oft-unsung hero of these early Superman/Batman stories. (Though he did get a date with Lois Lane that one time.) Going even as far back as the early covers for World’s Finest, Robin is right there with them. Heck, he’s often between them! And while the story is more about Batman than anything else, it all revolves around Robin. As a reader and someone who loves these characters, that’s gratifying to see.
The Purple Mask gang. Batman gets his leg broken not by the Joker, the Penguin, or the Riddler, but the god damn Purple Mask Gang. *face palm* I can’t imagine why they were never adapted into one of the movies.
One thing it will help to know coming into this story: It’s dripping with Silver Age camp. You’ll find no better example than Batman sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a cast on his leg, dressed in full superhero garb. There’s bad hokeyness, and then there’s good hokeyness. For yours truly, Batman’s wheelchair attire falls directly into the latter category. I can just picture him being so pathetically despondent after getting hurt that he refuses to take his costume off.
In the spirit of Silver Age camp, this story straddles an odd line between playing up Batman’s importance to the trio, and making him look like an oblivious buffoon. Come to think of it, Superman and Robin don’t come out looking too shiny either…
Our altered Dynamic Duo (Super Duo?) spent much of the story following the trail of the ever-elusive Purple Mask Mob. Meanwhile, the incapacitated-yet-still-costumed Batman continually asks them to bring back “trophies” from their various outings. Because apparently a T-Rex and a giant penny aren’t enough for the Batcave.
Then toward the end of the issue, as Superman and Robin are bamboozled as to the location of the gang’s hideout, Batman reveals some debris left on the so-called trophies have allowed to deduce the Purple Mask Mob’s location. In Superman’s own words, “How do you like that, Robin? He solves our case for us…at home, in a wheelchair!”
Pretty good, right? Finger and Swan shine a spotlight on what makes Batman different from other superheroes: His wits. But on the other end of the spectrum, while Batman can use tiny bits of hair and clay to locate a gang of crooks, he apparently can’t tell whether his leg is or isn’t broken.
That’s right, kids! Batman’s just fine! See, the “break” happened when Batman got some dust thrown in his face and fell out the window. (It happens.) The dust was apparently poisonous, and Superman and Robin needed to keep him out of action for a few days so his body can safely process the…poison? Wait, what? That’s not just comic book science, that’s comic book medical science!
It does, however, beg the question of why they couldn’t just tell Batman that he, you know, breathed in poison. Not to mention the question of how the world’s greatest detective couldn’t tell that his own leg wasn’t really broken.
So why, amidst all this silliness, do I consider this to be one of Batman and Superman’s finest tales? It all comes down to Batman’s insecurities, and Bill Finger knowing his audience.
Batman worrying about whether he’s being replaced by Superman is a story plucked straight from an elementary school playground. Think back: What happened when your best friend suddenly had a new buddy? You inevitably started to wonder if he/she liked this new person more than you, and if your friendship was being usurped.
Is it still a silly story by modern standards? Of course it is. But remember, these stories were written for kids back then. Like it or not, Bill Finger was smart enough to know this was something his readers could relate to.
It also plays into something I’ve always felt about this trio: Robin’s got the best gig in the world. Remember, Robin was originally created as a point-of-view character for young readers who wanted to fantasize about running around beating up bad guys with Batman. With World’s Finest, Robin got to do that, plus pal around with Superman! What kid wouldn’t want that?
Of course, we know what’s coming at the end. The once again bipedal Batman asks Robin if he’d rather be teaming with Superman, and the Boy Wonder affirms that, “We’ll always be a team!”
It’s such a weird story. Yet it’s so simple, kid friendly, and easy to access. It’s enough to make you wonder if major publishers like DC should get in touch with their roots a little more. In the ’70s, and especially the ’80s and ’90s, mainstream superhero comics matured to try and keep up with an aging audience. At one point, DC used the tag line, “DC Comics aren’t just for kids!”
Okay. Fair enough. But lets never forget: DC Comics was ultimately created for kids. The so-called “dark age” of comics is over, folks. We don’t have to make everything for the little ones, but let’s try a little harder to remember where we came from…
Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us out on Twitter.