Nerd History (w/ Tom Elmore): The Origin and Evolution of the Batman/Superman Team-Ups

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice marks the first time that these two iconic characters have appeared together in a live action film or television production. However, it is far from the first the first appearance of the ultimate superhero dream team.
batman_superman_Jim Lee

(image courtesy of DC Comics, art by Jim Lee)

Their first joint appearance took place on the cover of New York World’s Fair Comics #2, July 3, 1940, but were in separate stories on the inside. The next year the publication’s name was changed to World’s Best Comics. Issue # 1, dated Spring 1941 again featured both heroes on the cover but in separate stories on the inside.
NYWFC2

New York World’s Fair Comics, 1940. (courtesy DC Comics)

Unfortunately for National Periodical Publications (the forerunner of today’s DC Comics) there was already a magazine called Best Comics published by Better Publications. When Better threatened to sue National, the name of the comic book was changed to World’s Finest Comics starting with issue #2. For over a decade it would be an anthology magazine featuring not only Batman and Superman, in separate stories, but other minor characters as well.
Batman and Superman first joint appearance inside a comic book occurred in All-Star Comics # 3, Winter 19401941 which debuted the Justice Society of America. During a cameo appearance at the JSA’s inaugural meeting the duo were introduced as honorary members.
The two legends still did not work together until September 5, 1945 in the radio serial The Adventures of Superman, when the Man of Steel discovers a row boat with an unconscious young boy in it. Superman notices that the boy is wearing a red vest with an “R” under his clothes. “Great Scott, if this boy is who I think it is, this is serious business!” Of course, it was Robin, the Boy Wonder. Five days later Superman rescued Batman. The Caped Crusader would return the favor over the years by substituting for Superman as the lead character of the serial whenever the voice of Superman, Bud Collyer, took a vacation.
All-Star_Comics_Vol_1_3

All Star Comics #3, Winter 1940-41.  (courtesy DC Comics)

In All Star Comics #36, August/September 1947, Batman and Superman finally joined forces in a comic book in their one and only adventure with the Justice Society during the “golden age.” Five Drowned Men, follows the typical JSA format of each team member solving a piece of the mystery on their own, with the whole team coming together in the last pages of the book.
It was not until the 1950s that the pairing of the two became a common occurrence. Thanks to Fredric Wertham’s now-discredited 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent in which juvenile delinquency was blamed, in part, on comic books. Subsequent hearings by the U.S. as well as the public outcry, forced comic book publishers to cut back on their titles, or in some cases close shop all together.
Luckily, Batman and Superman were so popular, that they survived the purge and hysteria. However, with fewer heroes to draw from and a smaller market for comic books, National changed the format of World’s Finest starting in issue #71, July 1954, into a regular Batman/Superman team-up. Through the 1950s up to the mid-1980s, the two characters were depicted as BFFs both in and out of costume. (Though one cannot help but to wonder why no one in Metropolis or Gotham City found it odd that a multi-millionaire would hang out so much with a newspaper reporter.) The two became original members of the Justice League of America, which debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28, March 1960. Throughout the early run of the JLA, both heroes tended to work together and were sometimes absent from JLA adventures.
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The Brave and the Bold, issue #28, 1960. First appearance of the JLA. (courtesy DC Comics)

As the 1960s progressed and the Adam West Batman television series became a cultural phenomenon, both Batman and Superman got their own Saturday morning cartoon shows, but it was not until 1973’s Super Friends that the two joined forces on the small screen. Originally airing on ABC and produced by the Hanna-Barbera animation studio, the show became a hit and a cult classic. Variations of the show, using the term “Super Friends” would be produced until 1986, though the format and the line-up of heroes and villains would change over its run.
Back in comic book land, the format for World’s Finest Comics changed with issue #198, November 1970. It started featuring Superman teaming up with other heroes, with the occasional Batman cameo. This was similar to what had been happening in The Brave and the Bold since issue #59, May 1965, when, in reaction to the popularity of the Batman show, the comic featured the Caped Crusader teaming up with other DC heroes, starting with Green Lantern. This format remained in place until The Brave and the Bold #200, July, 1983 when the magazine ended its run with the Earth-One and Earth-Two Batman teaming up. That issue is also noteworthy for Batman’s decision to quit the Justice League, which was the beginning of his return to his “Dark Knight” roots.
The Superman/Batman team-ups returned in World’s Finest Comics #215, January, 1973 ironically in an “imaginary story” as to “what if” the caped crime fighters had sons? These two “sons” were often featured for rest of the comic book’s run.
The final issue, World’s Finest #323, January 1986, is one of the darkest and most depressing comic books DC has ever published. The cover features the two heroes waving to each in a not so friendly manner with the caption The End.
In the book, while investigating a mysterious and magic based darkness, Superman is attacked by Nightwolf, a shaman-like villain who controls the darkness and a group of phantom wolves. Using his powers of magic, Nightwolf is able to subdue and capture the Man of Steel. However, Batman is later able to sneak up on Nightwolf and take away a magic belt, rendering the villain powerless.
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World’s Finest Comics #323, january 1986. Final issue. (courtesy DC Comics)

 

When Superman wakes up from his attack he tries to thank the Caped Crusader, but is rebuked by the Dark Knight.“Save it, I don’t want to hear it!” Batman says. “You wouldn’t have to be thanking me if you’d handled the situation a little differently than you ALWAYS do! You’re faster than a speeding bullet… SLOW DOWN… and use that super-brain once in a while. The night, the shadows, those are my domain. The backstreets and back alleys… they’re MY territory. Leave them to an expert. I’ll save your neck anytime, but I won’t write your epitaph. Think about it!”
The final page shows the two heroes going off in different directions. Story, and the comic book series ends with:
 
The bonds of a friendship are forged of the mightiest steel…
Tempered in a flame that burns brighter than a thousand suns.
For half a century, no man, no war, no cause,
Has ever shattered those bonds…
But this day, they have discovered a crack in the metal…
We can only hope… it is not beyond repair.
World’s Finest #323, January 1986
 
Around this time Frank Miller debuted his classic mini-series The Dark Knight Returns. Though not considered a part of the official DC cannon, it does feature Superman and Batman literally fighting each other to the death. It also marked the complete transformation of Batman to the loner vigilante figure that he is today.
dark_knight_returns

Batman vs Superman in ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ by Frank Miller, February-June 1986. (courtesy DC Comics)

           
While all of this was taking place, DC Comics launched its epic year-long mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths in April 1985. This massive undertaking which involved every title in the DC line was intended to clean-up the publishing company’s “universe” continuity which had gotten complicated over the last fifty years. The most notable change was the end of parallel universes like Earth-One and Earth-Two. Since then DC has “tweaked” things further with Infinite Crisis (2005-2006), 52(2006-2007) and Final Crisis (2008), Zero Year (2013-2014) and the upcoming Rebirth.
           
For Batman and Superman, their days as BFF’s was all but erased from DC history. Since the first “Crisis” the two characters have “reconciled” somewhat, though the relationship today is more professional than personal. Superman has even entrusted Batman with kryptonite in case the Man of Steel ever goes rogue. They have both been a part of the post-crisis Justice League and have worked with the revamped Justice Society. However, trying to graph or chart their relationship in the post-crisis DC Universe is akin to trying to untangle a tumbleweed. Still, a clear reflection of how enduring and popular their World’s Finest Comics team-up was shown by the two recent comics: Superman/Batman which ran from 2003-2011, its first story called World’s Finest. In 2013 the series was revived as Batman/Superman.
           
In addition, the two have appeared together on the WB’s Superman animated series (1996-2000) and the Cartoon Network series Justice League (2001-2004), Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006), Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011) and Young Justice (2010-2013) as well as several direct to DVD animated films.
           
With Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (and all of the critical hoopla currently surrounding it, including our very own review right here at Nerd Nationcomes another chapter in their 70+ year partnership. In many ways it has been like a marriage with ups and downs along the way. Unlike most marriages nowadays it has found ways to endure. Besides, can anyone imagine DC not trying to milk their two most famous and beloved characters for all its worth? As long as there is a demand, the two will remain involved, and honestly, does anyone see that demand ever going away?
 
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-Tom Elmore
Staff Writer/Chief Historian: Nerd Nation Magazine
@NerdNationPress
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2 thoughts on “Nerd History (w/ Tom Elmore): The Origin and Evolution of the Batman/Superman Team-Ups

  1. “in case the Man of Steel ever goes rouge.”
    He’s wearing too much makeup?
    And how many “tittles” has DC released?

    Like

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