Bizarro Back Issues: The Weirdest Superman/Batman Team-Up Story Ever (1968)
Look: I have read a lot of weird old DC comics. It’s kind of my thing. But the great thing about them is that no matter how crazy they get, every time I think I’ve seen the weirdest thing that comics have to offer, they always somehow manage to top themselves. Case in point: a Cary Bates/Ross Andru/Mike Esposito classic from 1968 that has somehow managed to outdo every other comic I have ever read. I realize I say this all the time, but this is, without question, the absolute balls-out craziest comic I have ever read.
Seriously, folks, I’ll go ahead and tell you right now that Batman casually mentions owning a time machine in this one, and as far as weird stuff goes, that’s not even in the top five.
Today’s strange tale goes by the title of “The Hunter and the Hunted,” and it originally appeared in the pages of World’s Finest #181 during Cary Bates’s tenure as one of DC’s top writers. I love Cary Bates. Like Jim Shooter before him, he was one of the teenage wunderkinds that DC, submitting (and selling!) cover ideas to the company starting at the age of 13, and getting hired for full scripts before he was old enough to vote. He’s probably best known for a tenure on The Flash and Barry Allen’s exhaustingly long murder trial, but he was all over those books throughout the ’70s and ’80s, introducing plenty of bizarre concepts like Terra Man, a time-lost cowboy who was abducted by aliens and came back to Earth to fight Superman. You know, as one does.
This story, however, makes all of those ideas seem downright mundane.
It opens up in the offices of the Daily Planet, where mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent (Spoiler Warning: he’s actually Superman) gets a message from the supercomputer that he keeps in the Fortress of Solitude that’s always running probabilities on dangerous situations. That’s something that we all know Superman has, right? Well, apparently when he was programming it, Superman decided that it would be best of his computer issued its dire, life-or-death warnings in the form of cryptic omens, because all it tells him that he better get his ass to Mars for the next 24 hours.
Okay, fine, it’s a little more detailed than that:
Superman decides to take the computer’s advice, so after leaving a note in the Batcave — and not, I should note, volunteering to help his best friend who has no superpowers whatsoever get off the planet — Superman heads out to an extremely depressing weekend on Toron, a “dead world” whose entire population was killed a hundred years ago.
Batman’s plan is even crazier.
After reading the note, he decides that it’s best if he travels incognito. He puts on a disguise that’s good enough to fool both Robin and Alfred, and then leaves… in the Batmobile.
The futility of putting on a disguise and then driving away in an extremely distinctive rocket car that everyone knows he owns is a moot point, though, because that’s only the first part of Batman’s plan. He obviously can’t fly to a dead world and hang out there for a weekend, so instead, he just decides to go drop himself into his time machine.
Oh, by the way, Batman owns a time machine.
This, at least, makes a little bit of sense in context: Silver Age Batman was always having time-travel adventures thanks to Professor Carter Nichols, although it usually involved hypnotism and astral projection and not, you know, a weird cage made of chickenwire. This raises its own question, though: If Batman needs to not be around for 24 hours and owns a time machine, why not just send himself 24 hours into the future? That seems pretty foolproof, but instead, he just hits random and presumably hopes that he doesn’t drop into the middle of a nuclear war or a time before the Earth could support life.
Son lives dangerously.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to keep them safe when the living embodiment of disco music shows up with his weird-ass seeing-eye space dog and starts teleporting through space and time to find them.
Superman is easy enough to find thanks to the super-scent he’s been leaving all over the fortress, and the mysterious man and Zyr the Space Dog teleport right to Toron and ask him to come along. Superman finds that he can’t say no, and so he joins them as they teleport once again, this time through space and time, to find Batman performing at a circus in 1896:
Let’s all pause a moment here and savor the fact that Batman is wearing a costume on top of his costume.
Batman finds himself similarly unable to resist the mysterious teleporter’s powers, and agrees to come along as well, and this is where things start to get weird. The World’s Finest team is teleported once again, this time to the oval planet of Orr — specifically, the capital city of Azib, where they notice that there are no forms of transportation, because everyone there has the power to teleport.
Batman karate chops the man who still hasn’t given his name and the heroes make a quick break for it, only to find that Superman has lost his ability to fly. Reduced to hoofing it, they dash through the streets of Azib, finally ducking into a weird house that appears to have been prepared for them:
Once inside, they end up battling a robot because we’re 11 pages into this story without Bates’s contractually obligated super robot battle, but even that turns out to be a test to verify their identities. The people of Orr are satisfied that Batman and Superman are who they say they are, which means that finally, at long last, it’s time to figure out just what the hell is going on here.
First, Mr. Disco finally reveals that his name is Kralc, and introduces the gorgeous Yllas to be their guide. She reveals that they’ve been summoned to Orr because a recent archaeological find has revealed them to be the progenitors of their race.
Weird. I didn’t even know they were dating.
They’re called upon to once again prove their identities, so Superman puts on a flashy show of powers and Batman straight up chokes a dude out with a gogoplata in the center of the ring, which seems to satisfy everyone. There’s a big ceremony where the heroes are awarded “Ribbons of Supremacy,” but the whole thing is still pretty confusing for them. How can they be founders of an entire society on a planet they don’t even remember visiting?
To find out, they break into the museum, and when they discover a bunch of square wheels and backwards signs, it all falls into place. See, Orr isn’t actually Orr at all. It’s Bizarro World, a million years in the future once the planet has shifted from a cube to an oval and the Bizarros have evolved into a race of normal people, except that they can teleport through space and time and also put curtains on the outside of buildings.
Go ahead, scroll up and look. I’ll wait.
Now that the mystery has been solved and we are all aware that that Superman and Batman have been teleported through time and space by a mind-controlling future-Bizarro and his dog (did I mention they have mind-control powers and that Superman never lost his ability to fly, they just made him think he couldn’t fly anymore?), the heroes are finally ready to blow that pop stand and go back to Earth. But how?
Simple: They just start acting like complete dicks.
Yes, once again, negging a pretty girl solves the problems of America’s superheroes, and they’re teleported back to Earth, with the planet Orr never to be spoken of again.
That’s probably for the best.