Friday, November 4, 2016

World's Finest #142 (June, 1964)

"The Composite Superman!"
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Sheldon Moldoff

Synopsis: Oh man, Composite Superman. Here we go.
So in both the Batcave and the Fortress of Solitude, our heroes discover mysterious messages from someone saying they know all their secrets and to meet them atop the "Black Mountain" tomorrow at noon.

Batman, Superman and Robin arrive for the meet-up, and are greeted by a man wearing a half-Batman, half-Superman costume with green skin. He has all of Superman's powers, and all the powers of the Legion of Superheroes. With his telepathic powers he knows their true identities and wants to join up with them as a third member. If they refuse, he'll out them.
Superman tries to see through his mask, but it's lead lined -- which is weird because one half of his face is exposed and it's just his but green so.... Anyways, they agree to let him join, but everyone's pretty apprehensive about it.
The Composite Superman goes around causing accidents and incidents so that when Batman and Superman show up to help he can show them up by doing even better than them, as his goal is to humiliate them. The World's Finest realize he's being a jerk, but can't seem to figure out that he's the one causing the problems or how, even though they know he has a million superpowers.
Eventually we get a flashback sequence explaining how this guy came to be, and boy, it's something. He was a high diver named Joe Meach who nobody likes, and who blames everyone for not liking him. So he goes to dive off a tall building into a pool of water to prove he's the best, but his pool has sprung a leak and he doesn't know cause he's falling in the air, so Superman comes by and rescues him. In Meach's mind, this makes him even more of a joke, he says he can't get a job so Superman makes him a janitor at the Superman Museum! So, Superman saved his life and gave him a job, but Meach hates him because he thinks Superman humiliated him. Uh-huh.

So Meach becomes a janitor at the Superman Museum, which includes a display of statues of the Legion of Superheroes -- you know, the teen alien heroes from the future that Superman hung out with when he was a teen? And these aren't any statues, they were created in the future by Brainiac 5's duplicator ray, so they are exact duplicates of the Legionnaires while not possessing life, somehow. And so a bolt of lightning strikes them one day and somehow this unleashes the powers of all the Legionnaires including Superman into Meach.
So he decides to use Chameleon Lad's powers to look like a half-Superman half-Batman with Brainiac's green skin, because he's gonna show up the World's Finest and show them he's better than them. And I really got to stop here and say -- what does Batman have to do with any of this? I mean, I get it, it's a World's Finest story but seriously this guy should be called Composite Legionnaire and this story should be over in Adventure Comics.
Anyways, Batman and Superman decide they need to test their newfound friend to figure out if he genuinely wants to be a hero or not, so they rig up a situation where a remote control Superman robot is attacked by kryptonite shells and a remote control Batman in a remote control Batplane drone goes to help him, and Composite Superman refuses to help and the robots "die." Composite Superman then shows up at the Batcave and reveals that between telepathy, phasing through walls, shrinking, and shapechanging, he was able to listen in on these guys planning this and knew they were trying to fool them.

He tells them they have to give up their superhero identities and let him be the hero now or else he'll reveal them to the world. Then he flies off and Superman and Batman mope about this until Robin reminds them that, like, they're heroes and they should be able to fight this guy right?
Turns out Composite Superman has been going around the world taking a bunch of precious metals, and eventually Superman and Batman decide to risk it and follow him to figure out why. Turns out he's built a giant Composite Castle out of the metals and like... shouldn't his hideout be half Batcave, half Fortress of Solitude? Ugh. Anyways, inside he's got a giant statue of himself holding the Earth, so Superman and Batman figure he means to take over.
Composite Superman easily takes out Batman, cuz he's just a dude, and incapacitates Superman with kryptonite (he can make the stuff on command with Element Lad's powers), and then flies off to go reveal their identities to the world. But, conveniently, it turns out there's a charge to the powers, and he's reached the end of it. With time running out, and his powers fading, he writes a note to himself explaining how to get the powers again, but with the powers go his memories and soon he's just Joe Meach again, with no memory of anything that happened during his time as Composite Superman.
Batman and Superman never find him, and figure his powers must have run out somehow and hope he never resurfaces. Meach has the letter, but doesn't understand what it means. But he might figure it out some day...
Thoughts: You can definitely tell that World's Finest has switched to the editorial office of Mort Weisinger, because it reads exactly like a Weisinger era Superman tale. It's dependant on Silver Age Superman continuity, and has the same story structure of contrivances, coincedences, and fretting over secret identities. Batman has barely anything to do with this story, you could take him out and it wouldn't change a thing. He's in it only because this is ostensibly a team-up book, but otherwise it's a Superman story through and through.
The Art: It's really hard for me to comment on Curt Swan art from this period, because while I am aware it's technically good, and that he's a well regarded Superman artist, and it's clean and clear and easy to read, it's also really flat, unengaging, unexciting, lifeless and in my opinion boring. It has a lot to do with the "picture book illustration" style art that Weisinger preferrred, where every panel is basically a tableau. I know there's nothing technically wrong with it, but it doesn't appeal to me. The best sequence is where Meach is struck by the lightning that gives him his powers, which is at least allowed to have some drama to it. 
The Story: Silver Age DC Comics, especially Weisinger edited ones, are an accquired taste. I am sure Composite Superman has his fans. But this story just didn't work for me. Composite Superman feels like something a child on a playground, upset he doesn't get to play as Superman or Batman, would come up with. "Oh yeah, well he's half of each and has ALL the Legion's powers!" He's a bizarre idea, and also as a character just has the worst motivations. He's an utterly shitty dude, basically. There's maybe something there about "here's what someone with superpowers but a really selfish worldview would be like", but there's nothing really done with it. And he's not defeated by any effort of our heroes, but because it turns out his bullshit arbitrary powers, which he came upon in the absolute craziest of ways, have an arbitrary time limit. Yeah, sorry Silver Age, this story is definitely has all your qualities, but this one's bad.
Notes and Trivia: First appearance of Composite Superman.