Bizarro Back Issues: The Batman Superman Team-Up That Was All About Getting Defense Contracts (1994)
Last week, when DC launched a big sale on Batman Adventures, I did what I always do in that situation and told everyone to buy and read all of them immediately, because they are the best Batman comics of the '90s. But as good as they might be, there's one issue that stands out, one that rarely gets mentioned despite feeling like it ought to be a pretty big deal: Batman Adventures #25, which features the first meeting of the Animated Series Batman and Superman.
And it's also, as reader Geoff DeSouza put it when he asked me about it, "one of the best weird comics ever."
So here's the thing: Batman Adventures obviously took the same approach to its title character that Batman: The Animated Series did, using a sleek, stripped down version that still feels timeless over twenty years later. When Superman showed up for "Super Friends," however, Kelley Puckett and the late, great Mike Parobeck opted not to take the same approach.
In a way, that makes sense. Superman: The Animated Series was still a few years away, and while this is definitely the first meeting of the two characters in any version of the Animated Universe continuity, it's not the first time that DC tried pairing them up. The year before, they'd launched Superman & Batman Magazine to the mass market, and while there are only two things I really remember about reading it when I was eleven, one of them was that it definitely paired up the familiar TAS Batman with a decidedly non-animated Superman and ads for stories where he was beaten to death by a bone monster.
Incidentally, the other thing I remember? An article where Robin taught the Huntress about meditation and they just chilled out on a rooftop breathing deeply and imagining that all their anxiety was compressed into a single point of light.
Point being, they didn't have quite the same road map for the aesthetic, so at the end of the day, that's how we ended up with classic, timeless Batman hanging out with long-haird 1994 Superman and a version of Lex Luthor who looks like he's about two steps away from telling you that his fursona is a lion.
And that's just the tip of the weirdness iceberg.
It's worth noting that while there's not a whole lot of fanfare about it, I do get the idea that this was meant to be a big deal. By 1994, BTAS was a huge hit that pretty much everyone loved, and while 25 isn't quite the milestone issue that you'd get with #100, it's still a pretty solid landmark for an all-ages tie-in, even at the height of the boom. Superman's first animated-style appearance in comics, then, would seem like something of an event, especially since the issue actually was a little bit oversized, with a bonus pin-up gallery that featured Mike Mignola, Alex Toth, Dave Gibbons and others.
The entire plot is essentially built around LexCorp and Wayne Industries both vying for a defense contract from the hilariously named General Turgidson, whose cigar seems to get even bigger and more unwieldy with every panel. Bruce, it seems, wants to sell the military on unmanned surveillance drones to gather intelligence without hurting anyone, while Lex's offer is built around remote-controlled murder robots.
It's a real tough call.
Unfortunately, the meeting is interrupted by a bomb scare, but really, I have to imagine that a room that has a bomb, Batman, and Superman is probably still the safest room in the world. Superman quickly takes care of the bomb by throwing it out into space, while Batman, in a move that is actually more impressive than casually tossing a hunk of C4 into the sun, apprehends the crooks responsible by jumping through a car.
So this is where things start to get really strange. The bomb is, quite obviously, a plot by Lex Luthor --- there's even a bit where he watches Superman grab the bomb and lets out a self-satisfied "perfect," which is only about a half-step below a full-on moo-hoo-ha-ha on the Supervillain Reaction scale --- but there's another villain in play, too: Maxie Zeus.
It will come as no surprise that I love Maxie Zeus, especially with his portrayal on BTAS. He's this perfect blend of the show's Fleischer-inspired art deco animation and the goofiness of King Tut from Batman '66, and the fact that he's threatening to destroy Gotham City for a ransom of 500 oxen and a harp is pretty fantastic.
The question, then, is just how he's planning to pull it off. Maxie might be delusional, but as evidenced by the fact that he once tried to blow up Gotham City with a gigantic lightning cannon, he doesn't bluff. Thus, Superman and Batman go looking for the obvious solution, a bomb set at a nearby fault line.
That might actually be my favorite panel in the entire book, if only because I can't read it without the implication --- never stated --- that Batman is grumpily refusing to be carried and Superman has to hang back while he ninja-runs across the scrubland until he's within grappling-hook range of one of those awful trees. Seriously, Batman: This is exactly why you own a rocket car.
While the heroes are unsuccessfully looking for earthquake bombs, though, we finally get to the crux of Luthor's plan. See, he didn't just show up for dinner to talk about his unstoppable army of murder bots, he also brought them along just in case.
Lex, of course, arranged for the whole thing as a demonstration, from planting the bomb at the dinner to duping Maxie into acting as the fall guy in a demonstration of his weaponry.
Superman and Batman, being Superman and Batman, have no trouble tracking the crooks down to the actual source, and they end up scrapping with Maxie's crew and the Hunter-Seekers, with Batman taking on the crooks and Superman tearing through the robots, as is only right and proper.
Once both sets of threats have been neutralized, Maxie gets hauled back to Arkham --- but not before he reveals that it was "Hephaestus," god of the forge, who provided him with his "magic" earthquake rod. And, as it happens, Hephaestus looks an awful lot like Metropolis's most successful businessman.
With that in mind, Batman goes to have a private chat with Lex:
And that, my friends, is the single weirdest thing about this comic: That the first animated-style meeting of Batman and Superman is built around Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor competing for a defense contract, and the story ends with Batman leaning on Lex to withdraw his bid.
Of course, on the next page Batman reveals that he also plans to withdraw his bid for the same contract, meaning that a) Ted Kord's unexpectedly having the best day ever, and b) Batman has a policy about being prudent in keeping business and vigilante activities separate.