Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the relationship between the two biggest icons in the DCU, Batman and Superman.
The Golden Age was a time before crossovers were an everyday appearance. For the most part, heroes stayed compartmentalized within the pages of their own comic book. Save for the revolutionary Justice Society of America, the world’s first superhero team, characters remained apart in the pages of National Comics, later DC Comics. Across the street at the publisher who would go on to be Marvel, Namor faced off against the Human Torch and the All-Winners Squad briefly formed, but these were outliers, not common occurrences.
Although both Superman and Batman were massive successes for National Comics in the 1940s, no effort was made to have the two characters meet. Their worlds were different ones. Superman’s tales became larger than life stories of superpowers and science fiction. Batman’s tales were generally concerned with crime of a more earthly nature. In any case, it just seemed natural that the heroes be kept apart. That didn’t keep DC from publishing a comic titled World’s Best Comics in 1941 which featured Superman, Batman, and Robin all in the same image for the very first time.
While these heroes appeared on the cover together, they had separate tales in the book. True, these tales were new and had never previously been published, but they were solo affairs. The cover, through striking, was a bit of a bait-and-switch.
World’s Best Comics sold well enough to become an ongoing quarterly concern. However, the title was found to be lacking. With the series’ second issue, the book was changed to World’s Finest Comics. Batman, Robin, and Superman remained on the cover of each issue but their adventures remained forever apart.
The first time Superman and Batman met was in a completely different medium from comics. It was on the radio during The Adventures of Superman program that a case forced the two heroes to interact. In a 1945 episode, Superman stumbled across the unconscious body of Robin and the resulting case brought the two heroes into each other’s orbits. From there, Batman became a reoccurring character on the program. Whenever Bud Collyer, the voice of Clark Kent and Superman, wanted to take a vacation during the summer, the writers simply brought in Batman to be the hero of the program for a week or two.
Adventures of Superman slowly faded away and, in 1950, the radio show was cancelled. So ended the collaborations between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight.
That all changed in 1952. During an issue of Superman that could have been no different than any other of the time period, billionaire Bruce Wayne and reporter Clark Kent found themselves forced to room together on a crowded cruise ship. When a fire erupted on board, Bruce switched off the lights in an attempt to change into his Batman costume so he could save the day. Clark took the opportunity to change into Superman during the blackout. Fate played its hand and a light suddenly shown through their cabin’s window, exposing each other’s secret identity to his bunk mate.
There are several plot holes here. Why would Bruce Wayne not kick up a bigger fuss when learned he was forced to room with a reporter? Surely, money can buy one privacy, especially in 1952. Also, Superman could have changed at the speed of light and have been gone long before Batman looked around his dark cabin. In any event, this was simply a tale which allowed two of readers’ favorite heroes to meet for the first time and work together to crack a case. It allowed Batman and Superman to figure out the other’s secret identity immediately so that neither was somehow less than the other hero. Both were on equal footing and the pairing worked out quite well.
Though the heroes forged a friendship by the story’s end, that seemed to be the end of it. No further mention of Batman was found in Superman’s line of books and the same was true of Superman in Batman’s books. The pair went their separate ways and didn’t speak again. That was true until DC’s publishing schedule was suddenly changed.
By 1954, World’s Finest Comics had moved from a quarterly title to a bimonthly one. The comic was a huge 68 pages. The decision came down to shorten the number of pages in the title. This would drop the cost of the book from 15¢ to 10¢ with the hopes that a price reduction would help the title sell better. However, less pages meant that one of the two main features would be lost. Would Superman be kicked out of World’s Finest Comics or would Batman? Remembering that the two heroes had met two years earlier, DC rolled the dice on creating a new main feature which featured both Batman and Superman working together issue after issue. The plan worked and World’s Finest Comics became a must-read title for both Superman and Batman fans.
Quickly, DC’s writers had to figure out a way to make their two heroes fit together in the same story. As Mark Waid said in his introduction to World’s Finest Comics Archives Vol. 1, “Batman, while no wimp, was the brains of the team; Superman, while no lunkhead, was the muscle.” This relationship worked well and sparked decades of stories in the pages of this comic.
The pair’s relationship was mostly relegated to the pages of World’s Finest Comics. However, one would occasionally call on the other to help him out of a sticky situation in which an outsider had discovered his secret identity and needed someone to help cover his tracks. There was also one memorable story in which someone appeared to have broken into the Fortress of Solitude while Superman wasn’t looking. The tale ended when Superman discovered that Batman was behind the infiltration. It was meant to be a puzzle for Superman to solve for his birthday. With that, the two broed out and ate a giant cake together.
While Superman and Batman were already a team in the early 1960s, DC wanted something even bigger. Inspired by the Justice Society of the Golden Age, DC launched the brand new Justice League of America in the pages of The Brave and the Bold, one of the publisher’s try-out titles. The biggest stars in DC’s lineup met for the first time there and began working together to tackle problems too big for any one hero. Superman and Batman were on the team, but kept out of the limelight for the most part. The duo didn’t even directly work together until the JLA’s fourth titular issue. They seemed fine with letting new heroes like the Flash and Green Lantern have the majority of the attention.
Superman and Batman’s membership in the Justice League ebbed and flowed over time. Depending on the story being told and the writer of the title at the time, they would be involved in the story or not. For the most part, the pair remanded on good terms with the League and helped out when needed.
The relationship between these two heroes remained relatively unchanged over the next 25 years. However, DC’s decision to shake up their continuity resulted in some big changes to this relationship. First, during the height of the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, World’s Finest Comics came to an end with its 323rd issue. Then, Frank Miller wrote his groundbreaking Batman: The Dark Knight Returns miniseries. During the pages of this out-of-continuity story, an old, retired Batman returned to Gotham City. The trouble that he stirred up by his return got the attention of the United States government, who asked Superman to persuade Batman to give up his crusade. Events came to a head when Batman challenged Superman to a street fight.
The idea that Superman and Batman were at odds over their fundamental differences in how they viewed the world was a new one. It was revolutionary. It challenged readers to ask themselves why would these two seemingly opposite personalities worked together. Readers were still asking that question a few months later when the first adventures of an in-continuity post-Crisis Superman hit store shelves.
In the pages of Man of Steel, John Byrne wrote and pencilled the adventures of a relatively new Superman who became involved in a case which lead him to Gotham City. There, he stumbled across Batman. Bristling at the idea of Superman charging into his city and making a mess of things, Batman told Superman that if the Man of Steel touched him, a bomb would go off killing an innocent person.
At the adventure’s end, Batman revealed that the bomb was actually in his belt and the only person who would die if Superman touched him would be Batman himself. Superman was shocked at Batman’s extreme behavior, but agreed that such actions may be called for in a place like Gotham. Having wrapped up the case they were working together, Superman flew off back to Metropolis while Batman watched on. It was clear that the pair disliked each other on a personal level but a respect for each other was already forming.
A few years later, Superman stumbled across an old scrapbook. The first half contained newspaper clippings on disasters that had nearly happened. These were clippings about tragedies and disasters Clark had stopped before he’d become Superman. The second half were stories about Superman saving the day. Little did Superman realize that this scrapbook had been created by his own mother but that it had been sent in the mail to him by a third party. Realizing that he didn’t have the time or resources to look into the scrapbook’s origins by himself, Superman turned the book over to Batman to see if the Dark Knight Detective could do a better job of digging up its story. The only thing Batman figured out about the book was that Superman was secretly Clark Kent.
Superman left the meeting feeling foolish for giving Batman the opportunity to learn his secret identity. However, he did reveal that he knew Batman was secretly Bruce Wayne, thanks to his enormous array of superpowers and ability to make minute observations.
Eventually, another case brought Superman and Batman together. Tracking down a lead from Gotham, Batman arrived in Metropolis on the trail of a killer. The case involved an old ring that Lex Luthor made which contained a small piece of Kryptonite. At the story’s end, Superman had the Kryptonite ring in his possession but felt that someone else needed to hold onto it. He gave the ring to Batman with the instructions that, should Superman ever go rogue for whatever reason, he trusted Batman enough to be the one who decided to put him down.
It was here that the true bonds of respect were formed. There was now no one in the world Superman trusted more than Batman. Friendship slowly followed.
While Superman and Batman had been founding members of the original Justice League in 1960, their early time with the League was struck out of continuity following the Crisis on Infinite Earths. In 1997, the two rejoined together for the first time since the 1970s’ Satellite Era of the Justice League. Occasionally, Batman treated Superman more as a tool in his utility belt than a person, but the two did get along.
During a very strange Superman adventure, the Joker was given the extradimensional powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk. With those new powers, the Joker then tortured Batman to death over and over again. Batman would die but then be resurrected instantly only to be killed once again. The Joker made sure Batman remembered every one of these experiences. After Superman defeated the Joker, those memories remained in place. Batman was in a state of insanity.
Begging for help from the Hal Jordan version of the Spectre, those memories were eventually transferred to Superman. He risked his own sanity to save his friend’s life. His gamble paid off and everything was fine afterwards.
In 2003, Batman and Superman shared an ongoing title for the first time since World’s Finest Comics‘ cancellation in 1986. Titled simply Superman/Batman, the series ranged from telling bombastic tales of current cases to lost tales to out-of-continuity side stories. The various writers on the book tended to play up the fact that Superman and Batman were opposites in everything except their desire to make the world a better place. They were two sides of the same coin.
During the events of 2009′s Final Crisis, Batman appeared to die. It wasn’t Robin or Nightwing or Batgirl who discovered the corpse but Superman. By this point, the pair were back to being friends again after their Silver Age exploits had been wiped away, so Batman’s death hit Superman pretty hard. He would later avenge his friend’s “death” and be relieved when Batman eventually returned to the land of the living.
The pair remained friends up until the moment that the New 52 launched. Suddenly, everything reset again and now the two had to begin their relationship all over again for the third time.
During the first issue of the flagship Justice League title, it seemed as though Superman and Batman met for the very first time. As Superman battled against Batman and Green Lantern in the next issue seemed, the dialogue appeared to confirm to confirm that early reading. During the course of slamming Batman into a wall, Superman asks Batman who he is and if he has ties to Darkseid’s minions.
Today launches the New 52′s take on an ongoing Superman and Batman team up title. Unlike the previous book Superman/Batman, this new one is titled Batman/Superman and seems to be a tip off as to which hero is currently the most popular. The solicits seem to indicate that Justice League #1 wasn’t the first time that Superman and Batman met, no matter what the book itself says. How will this new title change the dynamic between these former friends? Will Superman trust Batman with his life by giving him a Kryptonite ring? Will Batman bake a giant cake for Superman’s birthday? These answers, like always, will only come in time.
Jeff Reid likes the story arc of Superman and Batman starting with grudging respect and building a friendship from there. Give Jeff some grudging respect by following him on Twtter.