A Tale of Light and Shadow: History of the World’s Finest
A Tale of Light and Shadow: History of the World’s Finest by Jerry Whitworth
Announced at San Diego Comic-Con International 2013, the sequel to the blockbuster Man of Steel film will feature the Dark Knight of Gotham City. Dubbed “Batman/Superman” by various outlets, few details have been released about the project save that much of the talent involved in the first film will return. Director Zack Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, producer Christopher Nolan, and cast members Henry Cavill (Superman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Diane Lane (Martha Kent), and Laurence Fishburne (Perry White) have all been confirmed for the sequel. This is not the first time a film was planned featuring the two biggest properties at DC Comics. In 2002, Batman vs. Superman was announced as a pitch developed by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en) and revised by Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) set to be filmed in 2003 and premier in 2004. Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) was set to direct and Christian Bale and Josh Hartnett to star as Batman and Superman, respectively. The plot, reportedly, featured Bruce Wayne retired some years from being Batman and having lost virtually all of his adopted family and closest friends. Torn over the grief of their deaths, Wayne is saved by new character Elizabeth Miller who later agreed to be his wife. For their wedding, Wayne approached Clark Kent (suffering himself after his divorce from Lois Lane) as his best man only for the Joker to murder Miller on her honeymoon. Finally reaching his breaking point, Wayne again dons the garb of the Batman waging a bloody war of vengeance trying to hunt down the Clown Prince of Crime leading the Man of Steel to be forced to intervene. Lex Luthor was set to appear as part of the action as Lana Lang would be introduced as a new love interest for Superman. The film would be canceled when Warner Bros decided instead to produce two separate films for the characters in J.J. Abrams’ Superman: Flyby and Darren Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One.
It’s a fairly well known fact Batman was directly developed because of the success of Superman. Funny animal cartoonist Bob Kane heard National Periodical Publications was looking to develop more characters like Superman and so one weekend with shoe salesman (and future ghost writer) Bill Finger developed the Bat-Man. However, where Superman was some amalgamation of Doc Savage, Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch (adopted by Adolf Hitler for his eugenics beliefs), and Philip Wylie’s Gladiator (creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster huge science fiction fans), Kane and Finger’s Bat-Man was a mash-up of pulp, comic strip, and radio mystery men like Flash Gordon, Zorro, the Shadow, Green Hornet, Tarzan, the Phantom, and Dick Tracy (Kane going so far to adapt some of their storylines and trace a considerable amount of the art he employed for his comic from these sources). Batman, of course, would be another success for the publisher and in time get his own title. National was hesitant to put Superman and Batman together, however. The pair appeared together on the cover of 1940’s New York World’s Fair Comics #2 but didn’t team in the book itself and that same year would be mentioned by name only as members of the newly formed Justice Society of America in All-Star Comics #3 (editorial wanted to use the team to generally feature characters who didn’t star in their own titles, Flash and Green Lantern falling under the same edict later on). Yet again, the duo would appeared together on the cover of 1941’s World’s Best Comics #1 but not team (the title would later be renamed World’s Finest Comics). It wouldn’t be until All-Star Comics #7 that the heroes appeared beside each other but only as a cameo. The following issue, Batman and Superman would team up but in a text story for Hop Harrigan. The two heroes wouldn’t actually battle alongside the Justice Society until 1947’s All-Star Comics #36 which would be the last time they were seen with the group for the Golden Age.
In 1952, history would be made. While Superman and Batman made exceptionally rare appearances together with the Justice Society of America, one wouldn’t appear in the other’s book until Superman #76. In the title, Batman and Robin had toppled the last leader in Gotham’s organized crime and decided to take a well deserved vacation. Going their separate ways, Bruce Wayne boarded a luxurious cruise. At the same time, Clark Kent would decide to take a vacation aboard the same cruise and due to overcrowding was forced to share a room with Wayne. When trouble arose, the two would learn of each other’s identities and would cover for each other when Lois Lane began to suspect their dual identities. In a sequel to the story in 1954’s World’s Finest Comics #71, Lane would uncover Superman’s identity and the hero would switch identities with Batman to convince her she was mistaken. Previously an anthology title that generally featured Superman and Batman in separate adventures, World’s Finest Comics would change format to feature the team of Superman and Batman due to the decline of the comic book industry in a bid to recoup some of National’s losses. For the sixteen years that followed, World’s Finest would be a team-up book featuring Superman and Batman.
The Brave and the Bold #28 in 1960 would premier the Justice League of America, the Silver Age version of the Justice Society of America. Just as before, Superman and Batman were founding members but the two would only make a cameo in the issue. Fortunately for fans, Superman and Batman would star alongside Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter in the following issue as the group took on Xotar the Weapons Master (the heroic group becoming known by fans as the Big Seven). Batman, largely a step or two behind Superman, would see his fortune change when ABC began airing the 1966 Batman television series. With new found stardom, Batman began to headline the Justice League of America comic (as well as World’s Finest Comics). The Justice League would be adapted in 1973 for the animated series Super Friends from Hanna-Barbera featuring Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman (previously, Filmation would animate these characters and the Justice League but wouldn’t pair Superman and Batman). Since their pairing, the relationship between Superman and Batman has transitioned between two heroes that rarely adventured together to allies that could properly cover for each other when the need arose to becoming best friends. Superman would adopt a Batman-inspired identity in Nightwing when he adventured in the Bottle City of Kandor. Relating these exploits to a young Dick Grayson, when Robin decided to adopt a new identity he chose to become Nightwing (honoring both of his mentors). The relationship between Superman and Batman, however, would change radically in 1986.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller tells of a dystopian future where an aged, cynical Bruce Wayne has retired from being Batman and Gotham has been overrun with a nihilistic army of thugs. Superman had devolved into an oafish yes-man under the president of the United States (modeled after Ronald Reagan) who is his enforcer of his fascist policies including the ban on all other masked heroes. When Batman comes out of retirement to deal with the cesspool his city has become, Superman is sent in to bring the Caped Crusader to justice. Batman, with help from new Robin in Carrie Kelley and a one-armed Green Arrow (amputated by Superman), battles his former friend and defeats him. At the fight’s end, Batman stages a heart attack to make the world believe him to be dead. The popularity of the limited series inspired change in the relationship between Superman and Batman ever since. With the finale of Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, many characters’ entire histories were changed (some more radically than others). Superman became a less-powerful, less-confidant idealistic farm boy who had seen the sights the world had to offer and would be labeled a “boy scout” by the fan community. He combated corruption in the government and corporations (Lex Luthor re-imagined as a brilliant, corrupt businessman and inventor) in a world that didn’t fully trust him but where Superman dedicated his life to the ideal of freedom America was built upon. Batman returned to the darkness of his earliest incarnation to become a paranoid, cynical, and solitary gargoyle that put fear into enemy and ally alike. The revised Superman and Batman met for the first time in The Man of Steel #3.
Post-Crisis, Superman viewed Batman as an outlaw that needed to be brought to justice. However, Batman employed a ruse to force Superman to assist him in bringing thief Magpie to the authorities in their first meeting. Following the adventure, Superman decided to allow Batman to continue to operate provided he doesn’t cross any more lines in his war on crime. In the post-Crisis DC Comics, neither Superman or Batman were founding members of the Justice League (Wonder Woman, third in the so-called Trinity, had yet to even adopt her heroic persona at the time of the formation). The Justice League was instead made up of Green Lantern, Flash, Black Canary, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. Some time after their first meeting, Batman and Superman would join together in the storyline “Dark Knight over Metropolis” battling Intergang where the former came into possession of Lex Luthor’s Kryptonite ring. Superman decided to entrust the item to Batman in case the Man of Steel should ever lose control. However, Batman’s paranoid nature not only lead him to stockpile various forms of Kryptonite, but to even try to manufacture his own.
As Batman Returns was coming to theaters, producer/artist Bruce Timm was tasked with developing an animated Batman for a new generation that drew inspiration from the live action film series. The result was the multiple Emmy award-winning Batman: The Animated Series. The success of the series prompted development of sister series Superman: The Animated Series. Towards the middle of Superman‘s second season, Batman would cross over into the series for a three episode event (later combined into an animated film). In “World’s Finest,” the Joker steals Kryptonite and comes to Metropolis offering to kill Superman for Lex Luthor for one billion American dollars. Batman follows him and along the way he and Superman meet and discover each others’ identities. The pair prove to be uneasy allies, their methods in complete conflict, but manage to stop Joker and Luthor. The two heroes went on to become founding members of the Justice League when the team gained its own animated series (after various heroes guest-starred in Superman). Following the show’s ending, Superman would appear in later series The Batman and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Little is known of the relationship between Superman and Batman in the animated series Young Justice, likely the most intimate scene between the two being when they met in a diner in Metropolis where Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent discussed the latter’s clone Superboy. While not explicitly stated, it seemed as though they were friends.
In 2003, the World’s Finest Comics concept was revisited in the series Superman/Batman. While a limited series in World’s Finest was produced in 1990, Superman/Batman was a new ongoing series teaming the two heroes. The initial story dealt with Lex Luthor placing a bounty on Superman’s head and the second arc the emergence of the Kryptonian Supergirl post-Crisis. Both stories where adapted into two animated films. During the events of 2006’s Infinite Crisis, the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths divide between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were brought to a head. Superman was the most powerful hero on Earth but was apprehensive to use it to bring the heroes of Earth together and properly lead them (such as his longtime reluctance of becoming a full-time member of the Justice League). Batman’s paranoid nature would backfire on the hero community repeatedly, leaving other heroes to distrust him. Wonder Woman’s warrior nature made it difficult to interact with the largely passive hero community (reacting to crime rather than proactively preventing it) and when the time called for her to make controversial decisions, she became a leper among her colleagues. Following that crisis, they decided to take on the criticisms amongst themselves to become better heroes and friends. Towards the end of 2011, DC Comics rebooted its universe with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman again founding members of the Justice League and the first meeting of Superman and Batman is being told in the new ongoing series Batman/Superman.
While there are limited details as the project was just announced, director Zack Snyder has confirmed the sequel will deal with fallout from the first film. If you have yet to watch The Man of Steel, be warned from here on there will be spoilers. The finale of the film very loosely adapts Superman #22 (October 1988). In the comic, three criminals from the Phantom Zone led by General Zod nearly wipe out humanity on a copy of Earth. Freed by that world’s Lex Luthor, who never became a villain on this Earth, the scientist brings Superman to his world to combat the Kryptonian villains. In the ensuing conflict, the last remnants of humanity are wiped out but Superman manages to use Gold Kryptonite to take away the powers of the Phantom Zone criminals. When the villains comment that they will find a way to Superman’s Earth and wipe out humanity there as well, Superman is compelled to execute them with Green Kryptonite. Of course, in Man of Steel, Superman executes General Zod alone when he tries to slay human civilians. If the film’s sequel also adapts elements from the aftermath of the execution of the Phantom Zone criminals, it’s likely to be “The Day of the Krypton Man.”
After killing General Zod, Faora, and Quex-Ul on the other Earth, Superman exiles himself to space where, through a series of events, he obtains a powerful artifact of Krypton called the Eradicator. This device exploits the hero’s fragile mental state from his guilt to transform him into the Krypton Man, indoctrinated in the culture of Krypton observing himself as above humans (referring to them as a primitive race). Superman becomes a being of logic abandoning emotion he learned from humanity yet combating threats that seek the hero out. When the warrior Draaga implores the Kryptonian to kill him honorably in combat, Kal-El takes no issue with it and prepares to slay him. The intervention of a friend of Superman stops him as his adopted parents try to get through to their son. When the Eradicator tried to compel Superman to kill his parents, he finally broke free of it and threw the artifact into the sun.
It’s likely in an adaptation for the film sequel, elements of “The Day of the Krypton Man” and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns could be combined to form the skeleton of the plot. Superman is likely wracked with guilt over not only murdering Zod but his battle with him resulting in untold civilian deaths (which easily could have been in the hundreds) as Metropolis was nearly destroyed in that confrontation alone. It wouldn’t be that surprising if the grief results in a nervous breakdown and thus only requires some catalyst akin to the Eradicator to turn him into some facsimile of the Krypton Man. Becoming some fascist trying to save humanity from itself, Batman could be drawn into a conflict with Superman to try and save him from himself. Though, simply having a film where Superman and Batman duke it out may not be enough to base a film upon. It’s possible Lex Luthor could make his debut in the film and if a new Batman is cast, could a new Joker also be a possibility? Though, if showrunners maybe trying to separate themselves from past films of both franchises, they may go an entirely different route. For example, despite Superman’s extensive rogues gallery, films thus far have only been fixated on Lex Luthor and General Zod. And if the studio is holding off from using Darkseid for a Justice League film, the next logical threat to Superman maybe Brainiac. Considering the Eradicator is more or less a computer that manipulated the mind of Superman, it stands to reason Brainiac could easily fill this role.
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