Bizarro Back Issues: The Feud Between Batman And Superman! (1964)
Most of the time, when you see Superman and Batman fighting — and boy howdy have we seen Superman and Batman fighting — it’s over some kind of ideological difference. It’s a conflict that always seems to have its roots in mistrust between the ideas that those two characters represent, that extremely relatable conflict between a super-powered alien and a normal, regular, non-powered human who only has a billion dollars, a weaponized meteorite, and a rocket car to level the playing field.
But for me, that’s only part of the story. I think if we just go a little deeper, we’ll find that there’s one major source of conflict between Superman and Batman that you almost never hear about.
It’s all about hurt feelings.
That, at least, is the premise behind “The Feud Between Batman And Superman,” by Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan. It originally appeared in World’s Finest Comics #164, but like our last look at these two heroes and their bizarre best-of-frenemies relationship, it can be found as the centerpiece of 1970’s all-Batman vs. Superman special (and honestly one of the best back issues you can grab at your local shop), World’s Finest #197.
Now, regardless of where we all stand on the idea of Superman and Batman fighting each other, I think we can all agree that Batman’s war on crime works out for the best when he has the appearance of invulnerability. If any geek off the street can prove that he can take Batman out with a mere handgun, then the criminal element of Gotham City is going to get bolder, and if it looks like Batman needs help from Superman, he’s not quite as scary to the crooks, no matter how superstitious or cowardly they may be.
Apparently, Superman never got the memo about either of these things. After Superman intervenes in a rooftop chase with a couple of common criminals — not even the Joker! Not even the dang Calendar Man! Just some regular guys! — Batman ends up catching a bullet that ricochets off of the Man of Steel’s invulnerable abs, which leads him to doubt his role in the World’s Finest partnership:
“You look fine, Bruce! You only got gut-shot with a small-caliber handgun, quit your whining!”
Really, though, Superman is pretty upset by the thought of not being able to hang out with his best bro, so he decides that the best course of action is, of course, to set up a fake crisis that will give him his confidence back. And, since Superman wants to give Batman the chance to outshine him on his own merits, he decides to do it in a place where neither of them will have super-powers: The Bottle City of Kandor!
Personally, I would question the wisdom of this, since Batman’s whole deal is that he’s insecure about not being able to measure up to Superman precisely because of his super-powers and not because he doesn’t think he’s a better detective and karate man than Superman, but, y’know. Superman, as we are about to see, isn’t really great at thinking things through.
In order to set everything up, he calls up Than-Ar, essentialy the Mayor of Kandor, and tells him that he wants to rig up a fake crime wave using ancient and deadly Kryptonian artifacts to cheer up his friend. This seems to me like a pretty unreasonable request, but I suppose you’re always willing to disrupt millions of people’s lives in order to fulfil the whim of a super-powered giant who keeps your entire city in a dusty corner of his second house.
At Wayne Manor, Batman himself is listless and depressed, lounging around as Bruce Wayne even as Robin (and Ace, the Bat-Hound) try to cheer him up enough so that he can go wage an endless war on criminals — and when Batman is so depressed that making him go violently work through the trauma of his parents being murdered in front of his eyes is your solution, you know you’ve got a problem.
When Superman arrives, though, he convinces Bruce and Dick to join him at the Fortress, and once they’re there, Than-Ar’s call about the Metalloids comes through, Batman reluctantly agrees to help Superman out inside the Bottle City. When they arrive, though, the fight is a little more intense than Superman was expecting.
From there, we move to the Nightcave, the secret headquarters that Superman and Jimmy Olsen use when they’re operating in Kandor as the heroic team of Nightwing and Flamebird. As Jimmy says, they’ve based themselves on Batman and Robin, to the point where they have both a Nighthound and a Kandorian version of Alfred named Nor-Kan, and I am split on how to react to this. On the one hand, finding out that your friends occasionally go on vacation and cosplay as you is a pretty good moment to start sizing up the room for the nearest exit before they decide to make a suit out of your skin.
On the other hand, though, it’s kind of flattering to find out that Superman pretends to be you. If you’re looking for a confidence booster, that certainly fits the bill.
Anyway, Superman and Jimmy — as Nightwing and Flamebird — head off to check out the Metalloid’s latest crime, with the plan of being “captured” so that Batman and Robin can come and “rescue” them. Unfortunately, the Metalloid doesn’t seem to be playing along, and instead of a work, this fight turns into a shoot, with Superman nearly being killed.
And then Jimmy ruins everything.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m the world’s #1 Jimmy Olsen defender and/or apologist, but folks, you do not get a lot dumber than going “Hey, our plan to trick Batman with this fake lie fakeout that we’re doing sure is different then we planned, when we planned to lie to Batman to make him think he was cool, isn’t it?” is a pretty dumbass move, especially when you are standing three feet away from Batman himself.
Needless to say, the Caped Crusader is pissed.
Not only has he been lied to, he’s also (in his eyes) been made a fool of and become Superman’s pity friend. But after he slugs Superman in the face, the Kandorians interrupt, claiming that settling arguments like this with something as base and barbaric as fisticuffs violates their traditions.
Kandor is, after all, the last remnant of a proud alien society that was advanced far beyond our petty concerns here on Earth, and where crime and violence are all but eradicated. Naturally, actually punching someone on the street over a debate is going to be met with shock and horror by the citizens, who settle their disputes in a classier, more refined way.
By fighting with swords in an arena.
BATMAN 3:16 SAYS I JUST STUNNED YOUR ASS!
In the story, Batman ends up winning because Superman is reluctant to take advantage of the openings Batman gives him because he’s too angry to fight smart, and that, even more than the Jimmy Olsen thing, is a pretty big problem. I know that this is a book about both heroes, but honestly, if you want me to believe that Batman can beat Superman in a swordfight when Superman doesn’t have his powers — and that being angry at the person he’s fighting is a problem for Batman — then you’re just being ridiculous.
After the fight, though, the story becomes a pretty straightforward affair. It turns out that — as you probably guessed from the second he showed up — Than-Ar’s brother Jhan-Ar is the one responsible for the very real Metalloid crime wave, using “wristlets” that transform their users into unstoppable metal-skinned monsters who look suspiciously like Shotaro Ishinomori’s Robot Detective, minus the cool jacket and hat. They manage to beat up Superman, leaving Batman and Robin to take them on themselves.
And to fight Metalloids… you must take your shirt off and become Metalloids.
With that, Batman has proven his worth, and the World’s Finest Team is finally reunited, with Batman secure in the knowledge that he is, in fact, a valuable ally in the battle against evil — and that if he comes down to it, he can still beat Superman in an Electric Sword match at KandorMania IV.
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