THE SECRETS BEHIND "THE SECRET ORIGINS OF THE SUPERMAN/BATMAN TEAM"
WORLD'S FINEST COMICS, as longtime DC readers already know, has had a lengthy and honored career as a showcase title for Superman and Batman-the two most famous comic-book super-heros of all time.
The magazine began, actually, as NEW YORK WORLD'S FAIR COMICS (or just WORLD'S FAIR COMICS, for short)-two special 100-page issues printed in 1939 and 1940, in conjunction with the huge world exposition then taking place in Flushing, N.Y., at the end of the city's subway line.
Those two special issues were such a success (even though the first of them contained only Superman and a host of lesser heroes, with no Batman) that the powers-that-were decided to make such a magazine a regular thing. Thus, WORLD'S BEST COMICS debuted in spring of 1941, starring Superman and Batman in separate stories, with lots of minorleaguers in between: one hundred big pulpy pages for just 15 cents, which was already a nickel more than most comics cost in those long-gone, pre-inflation days.
With issue #2, the title was changed to the more euphonious WORLD'S FINEST COMICS, and things really got rolling.
Still, for a decade, the Man of Steel never bumped Into the Caped Crusader and/or his Boy Wonder buddy, except on the symbolic covers of the magazine-throwing baseballs at Hitler and Mussolini, straddling the big guns on an American battleship, or just clowning around. Their one or two real meetings on the printed page had occurred at sessions of the famous Justice Society of America, In ALL-STAR COMICS (#8 and #37). The sole exception, recounted briefly this issue, was the famous if low-key tale in SUPERMAN #76, "The Mightiest Team in the World," in which the pair exchanged secret identities and solved a shipboard stolen-diamonds mystery.
Then, in 1954, some wise person made the decision to change WORLD'S FINEST from a giant-size comic down to a regular-size one--and of course, the best way to do that was obviously to team up Superman and Batman in a continuing feature. So this they did, starting with issue #71's tale entitled "Batman-Double for Superman!"
The merger, need it be said, was an instant success, and this writer, for one, can still remember the thrill of first beholding the cover of that initial 10 cent issue, whereon "Batman" leaped into the path of a firing pistol to take a bullet meant for "Superman."
The Superman/Batman co-starrers lasted for some two decades, mostly under the recurring banner: "Your Two Favorite Heroes--SUPERMAN and BATMAN and Robin-in One Adventure together!" (I always figured that since Robin's name was simply printed as a kind of adjunct to the Batman logo, he didn't count, but still the sheer arithmetic of the thing bothered me for years.)
In the 1970's, for a year or so there, Kal-El dropped his alliance with Batman (who, after all, was already teaming up with other heroes in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD) in favor of one-shot forays alongside other DC stars, beginning with the Flash. But there was some sort of chemistry in the Superman/Batman team that just would not be denied, and so they were reunited in WORLD'S FINEST #215, leaving it to DC COMICS PRESENTS to handle Superman's one-issue stands.
"Batman's back, and Superman's got him!"
And so, as Kurt Vonnegut is fond of saying, it goes.
Strangely, though, the teaming-up of Supes and Bats in SUPERMAN #76 and WORLD'S FINEST #71 was not the first full-fledged joint adventure of those costumed stalwarts, as far as many of us were concerned.
No, their real origin as a team, it always seemed to us, occurred not in a comic-book at all, more's the pity-but on a 1945 radio program!
The Last Son of Krypton, you see, had had his own regular radio series since the early 40's, in various formats. This is neither the time nor the place to go into that show's star-spangled history, but it is instructive that it was also on radio, not in comics, that Kryptonite first appeared; the deadly substance was then sandwiched into the comics themselves a year or so later!
But, we're getting ahead of ourselves:
It was on the fateful day of March 3, 1945, on the Mutual radio network, that Superman responded to a message left furtively on Clark Kent's desk-and wound up rescuing Robin, the Boy Wonder, who desperately needed his help to find the missing Batman.
(This, of course, is the part of this issue's story which Superman sees as a dream.)
Superman and Robin teamed up to locate the Coped Crusader; then the three of them ganged up on the evil Zoltan and his minions, as shown herein. After that, the Dynamic Duo appeared quite regularly as guest stars on the "Superman" radio show through the remainder of the 1940's, even though they never got their own program till TV discovered them in the middle-1960's.
Thus it was that, when former WORLD'S FINEST editor Jack C. Harris invited me to plot a special 48-page story recapitulating all of Superman and Batman's various "team-origins," including several which had been anachronistically placed earlier than the events of SUPERMAN #76, my instant rejoinder was: "What about the radio meeting? That was the real origin of the team, you know-and it's never been adopted into comics form!"
Jack enthusiastically agreed, and so we decided to do more than simply re-tell old stories in the format of a new one. We would also bring in what amounts to the origin of the Earth-Two Superman/Batman team the one that happened on that parallel world, first introduced exactly twenty years ago in the pages of THE FLASH. (You know all about Earth-Two, don't you?: The earth on which there's a Justice Society rather than a Justice League; on which there was never a Superboy, since Clark Kent never donned his colorful costume till he was full-grown; and now, the earth on which Superman, Batman, and Robin, who had met at most in passing before, first joined forces to smash the dastardly schemes of a guy named Zoltan.)
For good measure, Jack and I decided we would use, too, the most famous villain created for the radio series: none other than the mysterious, Kryptonite-radiating Atoman (spelling arbitrary), who had created such a sensation in a series of shows in 1946 that his name was even appropriated by Lex Luthor in 1950, as LL's alter ego in the second Superman movie serial, "Atom Man vs. Superman."(See why we said our choice of spelling was arbitrary?)
Since the original Atoman didn't have a costume, though, we decided to give him one-the very one worn by Superman's "partner" Powerman in WORLD'S FINEST #94. Since that Powerman turned out to be a robot, we figured he wouldn't mind.
My own enthusiasm (as well as artist Rich Buckler's) having been fueled in turn by Jack's now, I set to work to listen to everything I could find on tape of the old Superman/Batman and Superman/Atoman encounters, courtesy of my two good friends Dan Glut and Jim Harmon. Between Jim's book The Great Radio Heroes, which covered the first Superman/Batman meeting in depth, and some tapes supplied by both him and Don, twos able to listen to some of the episodes of both adventures but not enough to satisfy me.
A quick call, then, to still another old time radio expert, Larry Ivie, who filled me in on a handful of all-important details about Atoman, and the rest is comic-mag history. A hearty, heart-felt thanks to Don, Jim, and Larry...and my sincerest apologies to them, for any minor flesh-wounds we may have accidentally inflicted upon the radio dramas by having to adapt them, in a relatively few pages, into comics format.
Someday soon, perhaps, if reader response is rabid enough, maybe WORLD'S FINEST's now and equally zealous editor, Len Wein, will be able to lay his hands either on all those old radio shows, or upon the scripts if they still exist somewhere on our earth. If he does, I'll be standing right there at the head of the line begging to be allowed to adapt them, as well! For now, though, it's enough that we've tried-the whole lot of us-to do justice not only to a half dozen, or so very important comic-book stories, a few of which seemed mutually exclusive at first glance, but also to that long-vanished Superman radio show on which so many aspects of the Man of Steel's mythos first saw the light of day.
Need we add that it was a heck of a lot of fun?
-Roy Thomas, writer
[Click HERE to Go Back!]