Over at Mister Silver Age's 12 Questions thread, Kirk G asked about the Composite Superman which inspired me suddenly to do write about World's Finest Comics #142 (Ju'64) which I first read when it was reprinted in World's Finest #223 (Ju'74), ten years later!
The story itself, "The Composite Superman", was written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn superbly by Curt Swan and George Klein.
It begins quickly as both Batman and Robin then Superman realize that their respective hidden headsquarters the Batcave and the Fortress of Solitude are no longer hidden and that someone knows their secrets and orders them to meet later. With other heroes, it varies in degrees but the secret identities of the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusaders were always treated like they were forbidden, almost sacred knowledge.
On top a high mountain, they meet their trespasser, a bizarre being half-Superman and half-Batman with green skin calling himself The Composite Superman (Com/Sup). Just looking at him, Superman dubs him a "One-Man Legion" which should have been a big clue. Robin also recognizes his connection to the Legion but this is dropped quickly as if it was mentioned for the readers' benefit! Com/Sup comes in peace and wants to be their new partner by blackmailing them with the public exposure of their true identities. Having little choice, they accept.
The next day, Com/Sup sabotages five movie rockets to send them out of control. The Batplane shoots one down and apparently one rocket is Superman's limit. So the Bisected Bully triplicates himself to handle the remaining three. This confounds the Action Ace no end as he says that he couldn't have done the same! And he has no idea how Com/Sup accomplished that feat, forgetting that he possess super-vision!
Not content with showing the World's Finest Duo together, the Twin Terror humilates them seperately, making them look ineffective and foolish. In Batman's case, he and Robin are knocked out briefly due to Com/Sup's shenanigans and for some reason, think he captured some crooks without using any powers. Why would they think that? Because he told them he didn't?
Abruptly, there is a flashback on who the Composite Superman is and how he came to be. He was Joe Meach, a bitter man who wanted attention in the worse way. To get it, he jumped off a skyscraper into a kiddie pool! Superman flew in and caught him, saying that the pool was leaking. Even if it wasn't, he saved Meach's life and he moaned how much of a failure he is. So to lift Meach's sagging spirits, the Kryptonian Career Counsellor got him a job as the janitor of the Superman Museum! Great moral-boosting there, Kal!
But then on the tour, we get to this important (to me anyway) scene:
Yes in the 20th century, there are statuettes of 30th century super-heroes! There is knowledge of the future right there in the open! Superman confirms that he got his complete Silver Age Legion action figure set (Lucky Bastard! Wish I had one...) as Superboy which opens up a whole mess of questions like
One night, lightning struck the statues in front of Meach which infused him with ALL the Legion's myriad super-powers including the combined strength of Supergirl, Mon-El and Ultra Boy with Brainiac 5's intelluct to guide him in optimizing their use. With his newfound might, Meach creates the identity of the Composite Superman and vowed to humilate Superman for making him a lowly floor sweeper and Batman for no apparent reason. (He knew that he was going to be in World's Finest, not Action Comics?).
By in the present, Com/Sup eavedrops invisibly on our Outmatched Heroes and hears how they don't trust him. Like he cares. Still he again invades the Batcave by flying through the lock of its backdoor (!!) and mimics a mannequin of the Joker and "confirms" their suspicions. Thinking they're clever, Superman and Batman create an elaborate scheme to "prove" that the Conniving Combiner is, in fact, a bad guy by faking attacks on themselves. But since Com/Sup has Saturn Girl's telepathy, he knows all their plans as they make them. He confronts them, threatening to use deadly force on Batman unless they agree to give up their costumed identities forever, still using his knowledge of their alaises as leverage, not to mention his unlimited power! Again they are forced to capitulate. Worse, the world thinks that they're dead, thanks to their clever stunt!
Thanks to a pep talk by Dick Grayson, his major contribution to the story, they decide to keep tabs on him as Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne via Clark's super-vision (which he has rediscovered) and Bruce's ability to buy large maps! They observe the Sinister Split-Face gathered large amounts of various metals. But why? He has the transmutation power of Element Lad.
Clark and Bruce decide to spy on him but risk wearing their costumes so we don't get five more pages of Clark's suit and Bruce's ascot! They see that he has built a massive Composite Castle out of different metals. He also carved statues of him cradling the Earth, sitting amoung planets and creating a diamond throne. With these subtle hints, the Darknight Detective and his Super-Watson deduce that Com/Sup may be wanting to rule the world...and beyond!
But again, they can't elude their Deadly Doppelganger and he captures them with ridiculous ease. He carries them off to reveal their identities to the public. They are helpless and they can't escape. But suddenly his powers begin to wane. In a panic, the Multiple Menace drops them and speeds back to the Superman Museum to recharge his powers. But it's too late. He can no longer shoot lightning and his array of powers rapidly fade as does his memory of his time as Com/Sup convienantly.
Joe Meach wakes up after nearly giving Superman and Batman their total defeat and goes back to sweeping the floors like a good fellow.
Meanwhile, Superman and Batman pray that their hunch on why the Composite Superman fled is correct because they still have no idea who he was nor what they can do to stop him if or when he returns.
This period of World's Finest is one of the great runs of the Silver Age from 1964-1968.
When you read the story, you realize that Superman and Batman not only DON'T win but very likely they CAN'T win!
There is a running theme during this period of Superman protecting Batman from super-powered foes. In fact, he could get downright over-protective! This would cause some problems down the line.
As I've said before, this was my first exposure to the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Strange as it seems, the Legion connection is never explored as a means of finding out who the Composite Superman really is. In fact, it appears that they don't even care how he got their powers!
There will be a sequel in World's Finest # 168 (Au'67) which was also reprinted in the 70s in Super Team Family #6 (S'76).
But the menace of the Composite Superman would haunt Batman and especially Superman throughout the rest of the Silver and Bronze Ages.
He would also get an action figure of his own, ironically!
Mr. Age wrote: I don't think the editors were actually that impressed. In his second appearance, he not only doesn't appear on the cover, he isn't even mentioned there!
The editors had different agendas then we did -- their agenda was, "Get the kids to buy this thing!" Whereas our agenda, many decades later, is, "Hey, how come you don't reference everything that we think made this comic book so cool?" That's how we end up wondering how come Sally Selwyn wasn't on the cover of either of her two Silver Age appearances in Superman (though finally getting there when the first story was reprinted), or why J'onn J'onzz's first appearance in Detective doesn't rate a cover scene (just the innocuous words, "Also a new feature... Manhunter from Mars"), or why Jimbo's first appearance as Elastic Lad didn't rate the cover OR even a mention on the cover.
So anyways, here's the cover to World's Finest # 168, the second (and to my way of thinking, last) appearance of the Composite Superman. Frankly, I think this is one of the great covers of the Silver Age, in terms of getting 8-year-old me to snatch this thing off the spinner rack and say, "I've just GOTTA read this story!"
Five years ago (yow!) I posted this on the CBGXtra Ask Mr. Silver Age Forum:
Here’s a way early “precurser” to the Composite Superman I found while reading the new Showcase Presents World’s Finest. These are the closing panels from WF #74, January-
February 1955, and are scanned from World’s Finest Archives Vol. 1.
Frankly, I think this is one of the great covers of the Silver Age,
That may be, but it's not a great cover for the return of the Composite Superman. And I don't think Mort created covers first, so he must've planned to bring back CS here.
I think our agenda were pretty much the same: They wanted to create cool covers I'd buy, and I wanted to buy comics with cool covers. And putting CS on the cover would've attracted my attention (probably more than what they used).
Heck, CS on a JLA cover would've gotten my attention! Maybe Julie didn't have access to him. But my point was, they didn't seem to think CS was all that great, and they were wrong.
We can agree to disagree, but I think the cover to WF # 168 is far superior to the one for WF # 142 (at the top of the page). Plus, I hadn't seen the first Composite Superman story, so having him on the cover, cool looking dude though he was, wouldn't necessarily have gotten me to buy the comic, certainly not any faster than what we got for ish # 168.
Digressing slightly, World's Finest had a number of standout covers during this same period, which for whatever reason were much cooler than most of the other comics on the spinner racks at that time. Here are some others that I just automatically snatched up and ran up to the drugstore counter, a dime and two pennies tightly clutched in my fist:
I would bet "The Return of the Composite Superman!" with his mug defeating both Superman and Batman (and Robin!) would've gotten your attention. The notion that this was a recurring villain with some history was a strong pull.
Your selections indicate that WF was a lot about the relationship between the two and among all their family members. It was less about who they were facing. In that vein, maybe having Bruce slug Batman made more sense to them than showing a villain defeating them.
It would've been okay with me if CS had moved on to the JLA. Better him than Shaggy Man or the Royal Flush Gang.
I have to agree with Mr. S. A. about the peculiarity in not cover-featuring the Composite Superman in World's Finest Comics # 168. I remember buying that issue at Koplin's Drug Store, inside contents unseen, because World's Finest was one of my regular-buy titles. Later, after I got home and opened it up and read the story, I was surprised to find it featured the return of the Composite Superman.
The C.S. had been one of the World's Finest Team's more exciting villains---to me, anyway---and I recall thinking how odd it was that he had not been featured on the cover of # 168. It was almost as if Mort had had this neat cover---Superman, Batman, and Robin slugging their civilian selves---but no story to put it to. It seemed like a generic cover that had been slapped on the first Superman-Batman tale that might fit the cover's theme. And even then, it was a "square peg in a round hole" sort of thing, because no scene anywhere close to the cover's depiction appeared in "The Return of the Composite Superman". The best one could argue was that the scene on the cover could happen---if the C.S. used his Triplicate Girl power to split into three forms and then each form used Chameleon Boy's power to transform into Superman and Batman and Robin.
But, even if Mort had a cover he had to use, one would think it was wasted on the Composite Superman story---since certainly a cover featuring that villain outright would have been a much greater lure. Unless, as Mr. S.A. conjects, Mort and company just didn't think the C.S. was strong enough on his own to draw folks into buying that issue.
By the way, Craig, I should have worded my comment over on your "12 Questions" thread better. I was not implying that the Composite Superman was as powerful as Galactus; I was merely addressing the "Law of Diminished Menace" that, I felt, would have accompanied multiple returns of the C.S., just as it had in the case of Galactus.
The C.S. didn't set the whole world to panicking, but he sure turned Superman and Batman's stomachs queasy. In "The Return of the Composite Superman", Our Heroes were genuinely dismayed---in the "Oh, crap, what are we going to do now?" sense---when the Man of Steel showed the Dynamic Duo the tip-off that had been left in his Fortress that the Composite Superman was back. Presumedly, fans of the original C.S. story would have felt the same way. And that's what I was getting at.
If the Composite Superman had returned over and over, and kept getting beaten by the heroes, despite possessing the powers of the entire Legion, that sense of overwhelming formidability would have been lost. He would have become another Luthor or Brainiac; tough to beat, but not someone to set Our Heroes shaking in their boots when he appeared.
Yeah the cover of #168 definitely feels like a cheat to me but a lot of Mort Weisinger's covers featured scenes that had little or nothing to do with the actual story.
Still it's odd that the Composite Superman wasn't promoted more. There were more World's Finest covers with Clayface and the (Silver Age) Super-Sons on them. Even Doctor Zodiac got the spotlight on him!
But I feel that they couldn't really do more with the Composite Superman. You could only have him nearly destroy Superman and Batman but then his powers fade so many times!
Mr. Silver Age said:
But the menace of the Composite Superman would haunt Batman and especially Superman throughout the rest of the Silver and Bronze Ages.
Yeah, the Commander brings up that idea over in the 12 Questions thread, and I'm not buying it. It's not like they kept mentioning or thinking about him. I think we were impressed and assume they therefore were, but I don't remember seeing any evidence of that.
I don't think the editors were actually that impressed. In his second appearance, he not only doesn't appear on the cover, he isn't even mentioned there! Just how scary did they think he was? Galactus usually gets mentioned when he shows up.
I chalk that up to the different way of doing things at DC vs. the Marvel approach.
In the category of "why did they choose THIS as the cover?" my nomination would be another Weisinger comic from roughly the same period: Action # 352. This was part two of the Zha-Vam storyline, and as I've related here before, it was rare that I'd ever buy two consecutive issues of a comic back during the 1960s since I couldn't drive and it was pretty much up to my mom going to a store that sold comics whether I'd have a chance to peruse the latest selections. I remember picking up this issue of Action at one of those comics vending machines, so I didn't even have the chance to give it the flip test. I remember thinking, "Aww, man, I must've missed the Zha-Vam conclusion!" not realizing that the comic headed down the chute to my waiting hands was in fact the exact comic I was looking for, and also not realizing that it would not be the conclusion, but only part two, and I would have to go through this cycle yet again the following month (when fortunately, Zha-Vam was on the cover, and fortunately, I did manage to get my hands on it).
It's a pretty weird cover, any way you look at it: Superman is just standing there like a statue. Surprised they didn't have a bird roosting on his head.
Why are they trying to chip him, do you think?
Yes, it's lucky I didn't try and think about Superboy visiting the LSH too much as it would never have worked for me.
Mr. Silver Age said:
With the Legion, it's often better that we don't think about these things.