They are two of the world's biggest icons, and yet they couldn't
be any more different. One is the most powerful being on the
planet, wielding an array of superpowers - a shining symbol
of hope, embodying truth, justice and the American way. The
other has no powers but has trained his mind and body to the
peak of human perfection - a dark vigilante determined to
strike fear into the hearts of evildoers. Together, this popular
and unlikely pair has starred in numerous team-ups over the
decades, facing evil duplicates, a collaboration between Lex
Luthor and the Joker, Doctor Light and other menaces...
unlikely pair indeed. The comedians Mitchell and Webb probably
had Superman and Batman in mind when they devised their hilarious
sketches about the mismatched duo Angel
Summoner and the BMX Bandit. Imagine the following
exchange... Batman: "Right, here's what we'll do. I'll ride
over there in my Batmobile, spin my back wheels really fast
to get some mud on their faces, then I'll throw my batarang
and knock the guns out of their hands while you fly in and
rescue the hostage." Superman: "Yes... or I could just use
my awesome superpowers."
I'm joking, of course, but there are genuine instances of
dialogue that come very close to the above, highlighting the
absurd disparity between these two heroes' abilities. "Go
ahead, Superman - we'll follow!" shout Batman and Robin from
the Batmobile in "Superman's and Batman's Greatest Foes!"
(originally presented in World's Finest Comics #88,
1957), as Superman zooms away to stop Lex Luthor's latest
scheme. "Doc Light's image left a photonic trail," declares
the Man of Steel in "A Matter of Light and Death!" (World's
Finest Comics #207, 1971), "the kind of trail only I can
follow! You're gonna have to sit this one out! Keep the home
fires burning! I should be back soon!"
To be fair, though, the Caped Crusader's unique powers of
detection come in useful during the same strip. They also
do in other stories, such as the very first partnership, "The
Mightiest Team in the World!" (Superman #76, 1952),
in which Batman's gift for disguise also gets Clark out of
a tight spot.
You may notice a distinct lack of material from Batman-related
titles such as Detective Comics and Batman in
this collection. Two strips come from the pages of Superman-related
comics, the rest from the team-up series World's Finest
and Superman/Batman. I believe this to be an indication
of the fact that Batman can inhabit Superman's fictional landscape
more comfortably than Superman can occupy Batman's. To put
it another way, it's easier for fans of the Man of Steel's
adventures to believe in a costumed detective than it is for
the Dark Knight's fans to accept the presence of a superpowered
alien from the planet Krypton.
As if to prove my point, the earlier strips in this volume
are very silly indeed. "The Mightiest Team" is a frivolous
affair, more concerned with mundane issues such as which hero
Lois Lane fancies the most than with any serious threats to
life and liberty. "Superman's and Batman's Greatest Foes!"
includes some unlikely mechanical men. "The Composite Superman!"
(World's Finest Comics #142, 1964), "The Cape and Cowl
Crooks!" (World's Finest Comics #159, 1966) and "The
Superman-Batman Split!" (World's Finest Comics #176,
1968) all revolve around super (or apparently super) villains
with bizarre secret identities. At least "The Superman-Batman
Split!", which also ropes in Supergirl, Batgirl, Robin and
Jimmy Olsen, boasts dynamic art by penciller Neal Adams and
inker Dick Giordano, and subtle colour and shading work that
is truly ahead of its time.
Things get more character-driven in "One Night in Gotham City..."
(Superman: Man of Steel #3, 1986) and "A Better World"
(Batman & Superman: World's Finest #7, 2000). The timeline
also gets potentially confusing from this point. "One Night"
hails from the John Byrne "reboot" era, and puts a fresh spin
on the first meeting between the two costumed heroes. "A Better
World" turns the clock back in a different way. It is set
shortly after the death of Jason Todd, and before Clark has
revealed his secret to Lois, though in the compressed timeline
of DC Comics, this is just "Four years ago."
Rounding off the anthology in style, "Stop Me if You've Heard
This One..." (Superman/Batman Annual #1, 2006) harks
back to earlier and more frivolous times. Combining the shipboard
setting of "The Mightiest Team in the World!" with the "evil
doppelganger" elements of "The Composite Superman!" and "The
Cape and Cowl Crooks!", this cheekily witty tale retells the
heroes' discovery of each other's secret identity. Writer
Joe Kelly also has fun with some petty rivalry between Clark
Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman.
This is an impressive collection, if you don't mind a bit
- well, a lot - of silliness.