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Into the back issue box #37

Yes, it’s time to go a bit old-school again, as we visit … the early 1980s!  Oh, the horror!

The ground rules for these posts are here.  That’s where they always are!

World’s Finest #283 by Cary Burkett, George Tuska, and Frank McLaughlin (main untitled story); Bob Rozakis, “Novick,” and McLaughlin (second story); Mike W. Barr and Gil Kane (third story).  Published by DC, September 1982.

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You know, with that cover blurb, how can this book not be awesome?  It’s the freakin’ Composite Superman, for crying out loud!  Poor Batman – he makes up half of the Composite Superman, but gets shafted in the naming.  How about Composite Super-Bats?

We begin as many comics from back in the day began (it’s not as common today, although it still shows up occasionally): with a splash page showing our two heroes, a mysterious bad guy, and a menacing threat.  In this case Superman and Batman stand looking at the audience, with a shadow in the lower-right corner speaking the words: “Each time we’ve met I’ve defeated you!  Now I shall destroy you!“  Then we go back in time to set up the story.  Despite the fact that we know the bad guy is Composite Superman (unless the cover is lying to us), it’s a fairly effective way to draw readers into the story.

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So we’re in space, on a “distant frigid planet” on which is placed an alien prison-compound.  A strangely-clad figure breaks loose, helpfully thinking, “The dissolvo-pellet my friends smuggled to me has destroyed the whole wall!”  Man, when I was doing a stretch in Chino all my friends smuggled in was porn.  This guy has real friends!  A few panels later, we find out his friends left him a space-cruiser!  Sheesh.  When I complained about all the porn, my friends helped break me out, but they left a Big Wheel® for my escape.  No Christmas cards for them!  In the next panel we learn that the ship can travel through time as well as space, and that the escapee has had years to plan the murder of Superman and Batman, so he can avenge his father.  That’s sweet.  He cares about his dad.  (I didn’t think this was our evil villain, but I guess he is.  It’s not really that clear.)

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We shift to a swanky yacht in Gotham City, where Bruce Wayne meets up with “Dan,” an old friend.  They talk polo, and we also learn that Bruce has given up his responsibilities at the Wayne Foundation because his far more important job of Batman was keeping him too busy.  Dan wants him to play polo again, and even later, as Batman swings through the night, he considers it, because Dan uses his wealth to help others, so Bruce admires him.  Suddenly he sees Superman, who blows him off the roof.  Well, that’s just not very nice!  Batman manages to tumble in the air, brace himself on the building, and leap toward a flagpole.  He holds on, even though it “feels like [his] arms are torn out of [his] sockets!“  Oh, boo-hoo, Batman!  When he gets down, he thinks, “If Superman has lost his mind, or fallen under some kind of spell, the whole world could be in danger!”  “Some hours later” in Metropolis, Superman is searching for some “super-weapons” that were stolen from his fortress in World’s Finest #280, and Batman shows up.  He’s holding a box that appears to hold a diamond ring, which leads us to believe he’s going to propose to Superman, but when he opens it, it contains Kryptonite!  Oh, crap!  Superman uses his X-ray vision to confirm that it’s really Bruce Wayne, and once he leaves, Superman manages to jump off the roof and recover when he falls out of the range of the Kryptonite.

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Superman busts into the Batcave, threatening the Dark Knight.  Batman, of course, thinks Superman tried to kill him, and he counters by showing Superman his own box of Kryptonite (without opening it).  They argue, but before they come to blows, a shadow rises up and confronts them.  Batman says, “My … God!  It’s him!  Of course!  That explains everything!” and Superman says, “But he’s dead!  We both saw him die!  It can’t be him –” and we turn the page, and Superman continues, “– not the Composite Superman!!“  C-S (it’s tough typing Composite Superman) explains that he impersonated both of them (thanks, we figured that out) to make them feel “the pain of betrayal.”  He wanted to confuse them longer, but they were unwilling to believe the worst of each other, so he decided to fight them.  Superman gets a great, bloodthirsty line in: “Since you’ve got super-powers, I don’t have to hold back!  And this is going to be a pleasure!“  Man, Superman likes to mix it up!  C-S, however, is THREE TIMES STRONGER than Superman, so he knocks him down and grinds his face into the dirt.  He zaps Batman with his “Lightning Lad powers,” but then his “timer-alarm” goes off, which means his powers are due to fade “in a few short hours.”  Like a stupid villain (when will they learn?) he could finish them off, but leaves them alive to prolong their suffering.  He uses Phantom Girl’s powers to pass through the walls, leaving them alone.  Superman remarks to Batman that he thought they saw the last of him when Joe Meach died.  I smell an informative reverie coming up!

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Well, of course I do – it begins in the next panel!  Joe Meach, apparently, was the caretaker of the Superman Museum, and one day he’s checking out the statuettes of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  The Legion gave them to Superboy by using a “duplicator” to “recreate” each “particle” in a Legionnaire’s body and shrink it, to make “an almost living likeness” of each of them.  As Joe Meach goes to shut a window next to the display case, a bolt of lightning hits and releases “the latent power within them,” giving Joe Meach all their powers.  Using his Chameleon Boy powers, he turns himself into a form of Superman and Batman so he can prove to the world he was better than all of them (we’re told, helpfully, that this story took place in World’s Finest #142).  Why he should be evil is glossed over, as is the reason his skin is green (Chameleon Boy powers, maybe?).  In the present, Batman picks up the expository thread by mentioning that he would have beaten them if his powers hadn’t worn off, but some uncolored alien (seriously, he’s in black and white) gave him his powers back so he could defeat Superman and Batman.  As his powers waned, Joe Meach lost his hatred of them (why did he have it in the first place?) and sacrificed himself to save them.  But who is this new Composite Superman?  WHO????

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After a two-panel interlude which shows a Dr. Dundee reading a “medical report of Bruce Wayne” and fretting because he a) knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and b) has something “terrible” to tell him about that secret, which may have been betrayed.  But that’s for next issue!  We go back to Superman, who is flying around hoping C-S attacks him.  Of course he does, and Superman gets C-S to chase him.  Superman tries to hit him with a Phantom Zone ray, but C-S can read minds, just like Saturn Girl, and he knew Batman was hidden there with the ray.  He smacks Batman and tells him he’s going to take his time destroying him, but Superman comes in and, in an unintentionally hilarious panel, hits C-S while bellowing, “Keep your hands off Batman!!”  “He’s mine, Composite Superman!  All mine!  Lois just doesn’t understand!”  C-S uses his Element Lad powers to turn the ground to Kryptonite, then tells Batman to take Superman away, because he’s not ready to kill him yet.  Sheesh, C-S, just get it over with!  He does use Star Boy’s power to make Superman “super heavy,” then torments Bats as he carries Superman away, taking his Justice League signal device and zapping him with lightning and Sun Boy’s heat rays.  Composite Superman is a real prick, apparently.  When Batman gets Superman far enough away from the Kryptonite, Supes recovers, but runs like a scared clarinet player, and C-S says he can easily track him down and present him with Batman’s lifeless body.  Superman, of course, hasn’t fled, but hidden his thoughts so C-S can’t read them.  His only hope, he believes, is to journey to the future and bring back the Legion of Super-Heroes.  But that will have to wait until next issue!

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The second story is a simple two-pager, in which a mugger tries to beat up some guy named Ray Palmer.  Big mistake.  I’m going to assume the artist is Irv Novick, even though he’s only credited by his last name.  The final story is a Green Arrow/Black Canary story, which gives us the particulars about our heroes by the title.  I love reading the status quo in the DC or Marvel Universe at any particular time.  At this time, Black Canary was “born on a parallel earth.”  Oh, that makes sense!  Pre-Crisis DC was awesome.  An old woman has Black Canary tied up while she watches a video feed of Green Arrow agonizing over accidentally killing Slingshot.  Black Canary flashbacks to getting captured and how a stun arrow and a “deadly” barb-tipped arrow were exchanged and GA used the deadly arrow when he meant to use the stun arrow.  This begs the question of why he has a “deadly” arrow if he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but we’ll leave that alone.  The old woman exposits that Green Arrow killed her son, and it nearly drove him mad, and she figured a second death would finish the job.  Her hired punks drag Green Arrow to her, but it turns out he was faking his crippling dementia!  He fires a gas arrow and beats the punks up with his hands (he can’t trust his arrows because they may have been tampered with) as the old woman runs for it.  She’s grabbed by Slingshot (who’s not dead, natch), who already has Black Canary by the throat.  He says “Mollinger” (the old woman) got him parole but then double-crossed him, so he’ll let her go if he can fight Green Arrow one-on-one.  Of course GA says okay, and Slingshot lets them go.  GA says it’s unfair because Slingshot has to shots to his one, but Slingshot doesn’t care.  Mollinger tells them to shoot, and GA fires at Black Canary instead of Slingshot, ripping her gag off and letting her scream at Slingshot, knocking him insensate.  Black Canary asks how he avoided killing Slingshot, and Green Arrow tells her he realized the arrow was the wrong one, so he fired behind Slingshot, knocking the head off, and the ricochet knocked him out.  He asks Mrs. Mollinger to forgive him, but she says she can’t, because her hatred is all that keeps her alive.  Green Arrow gets all philosophical, telling Black Canary that if you hate long enough, the only thing you end up is hating yourself.  That’s deep, Ollie!

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You’ll notice what a dense comic book this is, as there’s quite a bit going on.  That doesn’t necessarily make it good, but it’s something to remark on.  It’s not a great comic, but it’s charming in that pre-Crisis, post-1960s DC way, when their comics grew up just a little but couldn’t escape the wackiness of the Silver Age.  Composite Superman is a goofy idea, but Burkett does a decent job with him.  It’s a bit clunky, the way he lets us know all of the powers of the Legionnaires, but you know? it still reads better than “The Lightning Saga.”  It’s kind of nice to see the kinder, gentler Batman of these days, and it would be nice if writers could find a happy medium between him and the post-Crisis bleak Batman we all know and love.  It seems like the current Bat-writers are trying, which is kind of cool.  The Green Arrow/Black Canary back-up story is pretty darned good, and shows why Barr is such a underrated superhero writer and why Gil Kane is, well, Gil Kane (when he’s not asked to draw aliens, of course).  There’s a lot to like about this comic, and if you’ve never picked up a comic book before, you might laugh at the goofiness of Composite Superman, but Burkett certainly tries to give you your money’s worth.  And for 60 cents, you need to get your money’s worth, consarnit!

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So, Greg Hatcher – how did Superman, Batman, and the Legion defeat Composite Superman?  Inquiring minds want to know!

10 Comments

“Why he should be evil is glossed over, as is the reason his skin is green”

I always figured it was Brainiac 5′s influence, not Chameleon Lad’s. I mean, there’s nor reason for it, but there’s also no reason to be half Superman/half Batman.

And Batman is represented in the name: he’s the MAN! :)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 18, 2007 at 4:46 pm

Why he should be evil is glossed over,

It’s a standard DC rule, often showed by Jimmy Olsen – when you get powers, you have to try kill Superman.
My theory is of course that the whole world hates Superman from all those ‘pranks’ (or ‘boners’) he played in the 60′s, and so it’s an unwritten rule that if you get powers that give you even a chance of taking him down, you’ve got to do it.

Ah, not as bad as modern comics but still not as new reader friendly… here is a villain who seems to be made up of half of our heroes… but his powers are actually those of an entirely different group of characters…

But I agree about Barr… Love the original Batman and the Outsiders…

This C-S was Xan, the alien who gave Joe Meach his powers in the 2nd C-S appearance. Xan was just released from prison and wants the powers for himself to avenge his father against Supes and Bats; his father had been captured and imprisoned by them for some reason.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on Composite Superman, “Xan assumed the identity of the Composite Superman and displayed greater control over his powers and understanding over his weaknesses, such as timing his needed restorations of energy to maintain his power. Xan soon discarded the Composite Superman identity and created an original costume, with the new name Amalgamax. Superman traveled to the 30th century to ask the Legion of Super-Heroes for assistance, and Superman, Batman and the Legion defeated Amalgamax by making him believe that the disease that killed his father had developed in him and that his excessive power was causing the disease to develop rapidly.”

Whenever there’s a Legion question, Michael will show up and explain it all! Thank you very much, sir, for the excellent knowledge. I didn’t think the prologue in this issue was connected to the rest of it, but I guess it was. It’s weird that they don’t make any good transition between the two.

Actually, I think this kind of story is VERY new reader friendly in its own way. The new reader might not know who Lightning Lad et al are, but it’s not truly necessary to follow THIS story… and it might pique the reader’s curiosity to learn more!

They were really, really good back at walking the line between “leave ‘em wanting more” and leaving the reader frustrated because he doesn’t know the obscure backstory details necessary to enjoy THIS comic book.

Don’t give me TOO much credit, Greg. The only two things I remembered from this 2-parter were that the guy changed his name to Amalgamax and that the second part had a really cool cover by Giffen and Mahlstedt.

I had no recollection of the conclusion of the story, so I’m assuming that the Wikipedia entry is correct!

See also C-S entries at the Absorbascon, Dial B for Blog, Prism Comics, and even Metafilter. And he’s even got a cool action figure from DC Direct, too.

What’s the point of shouting ‘Get out of the way you idiot!’ AND firing the gun at the same time? What the fuck did he expect Joe Meach to do?
If you ask me, the only idiot here is the guy firing the gun. A better line of dialogue could have come from Joe himself upon being shot: ‘AARRRGH! You shot me, you prick! Gawd, I wish I’d never taken this job! Y’know they wanted me to be a caretaker at Yankee stadium! URK!’

We shift to a swanky yacht in Gotham City, where Bruce Wayne meets up with “Dan,” an old friend. They talk polo, and we also learn that Bruce has given up his responsibilities at the Wayne Foundation because his far more important job of Batman was keeping him too busy. Dan wants him to play polo again, and even later, as Batman swings through the night, he considers it, because Dan uses his wealth to help others, so Bruce admires him.

Yeah, me and Bruce Wayne hang out and play polo.

Anybody have a picture of Amalgamax? He must be completely awesome.

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