There’s no real need for this, but for completeness’s sake, and because I devoted an essay to Wonder Woman, at least a token effort seems appropriate.
The Man of Steel and the Darkknight Detective were the first two heroes, and they were the primal heroes, the twin poles between which all superheroes exist. Superman, the more than human in every respect, Batman, without a single superpower, humanity tuned up as far as it will go. Their success in being characters so popular that the kids would buy books featuring them and then alone. It was with a view to promoting those of his own characters that he believed could do the same that Charlie Gaines ordered up All-Star Comics and, through that, the Justice Society of America.
Superman and Batman were mentioned as being out there keeping the peace when the JSA had its inaugural dinner in All-Star 3, but they were not introduced as Honorary Members until there was a need for that class of Membership, when The Flash stepped down in issue 6. The very next issue, all three appeared briefly, at the end, to help out Johnny Thunder, but the World’s Finest Duo would only appear once in action, both in All-Star 36. I’ve discussed that particular issue elsewhere: suffice to say that it appears that Superman and Batman were shoe-horned into an already written story, to which they contributed little that was unique to them, and which was never repeated because of the intransigence of Superman’s editor, Mort Weisinger.
As with Wonder Woman, at some point between 1950 and 1960, DC’s stories about their big two switched from Earth-2 to Earth-1. I’m not going to start doing histories of the characters as they developed from there, as far as I’m concerned, that’s outside the remit of this series. But the careers of the Earth-2 versions are something different.
Though they were excluded throughout the Gardner Fox years, both Superman and Batman did eventually play their part in JLA/JSA team-ups. Superman appeared first, in 1969, and made the more appearances, with the Earth-2 Batman – referenced in 1967 as being in semi-retirement – only appeared once, in 1976. That was an unusual occasion, for almost at the same time Bruce Wayne was introduced in the All-Star revival as having ended his career as Batman, but still protecting his city as Police Commissioner.
Over the following months, a story was told: of how, years earlier, Batman had finally confessed his love for Selina (Catwoman) Kyle, who had served her time, gone straight, and then become his wife. They’d had a long and happy life together, and been blessed by a daughter, Helena, who inherited both their athletic skills and minds.
This idyll had come to an abrupt end when Selina was blackmailed by an old colleague into committing one last crime as Catwoman. With Robin out of town, Wayne had donned his costume to intervene, only to inadvertently cause the shot that killed Selina. After that, he tore up his costume, whilst Helena responded in true Wayne manner (I am so sorry, but I could not resist that), using her training to become The Huntress and eventually joining the JSA.
As Commissioner, Wayne had had a run-in with the JSA in which he appeared to be persecuting them, but this was exposed as being the influence of the Psycho Pirate in manipulating his emotions.
With Paul Levitz at the helm, the All-Star revival was making a determined effort to exploit Earth-2’s status as an alternate Earth, on which things were different, and this led to the controversial decision to kill the Earth-2 Batman.
The worst aspect of this was that the story – originally scheduled for the unpublished All-Star 75, but winding up split over Adventure 461 – 462, was such an atrocious, ill-founded, illogical and wholly unworthy affair. Instead of one of Batman’s traditional foes, we had a nobody from nowhere, a guy called Bill Jensen, suddenly invested with great and destructive power and intent on killing Commissioner Wayne. Jensen wanted revenge, claiming Wayne had framed him for murder to get himself into the Commissioner’s role, though Wayne stated that the case against Jensen was watertight. But after Jensen had knocked the JSA down – twice – Wayne puts on Batman’s costume for the last time, advances on Jensen through all these blasts that have floored the likes of Doctor Fate, until enough of his mask is burned away for Jensen to recognise him as Wayne and call down enough destructive force to kill both of them.
To compound this already idiotic story, the very next issue it turns out that the true culprit was a one-off sorcerer named Frederic Vaux, who was using Batman as a sacrifice to claim power for himself. So a Batman died – the original version of one of the two most important characters in DC’s history – killed in a stupid way by two nobodies.
Needless to say, an attempt was made to undo the ravages of this story, and by Roy Thomas, of course, but whilst his effort was marginally better, it was tedious and dull, and, most deep of ironies, required Thomas to contradict continuity! It appeared in the mini-series America vs the Justice Society, in which the late Batman’s Diary (a riff on the then recent Hitler’s Diary scandal) accused the JSA of having been firstly fascist dupes working for Hitler than, after the war, Communist dupes working for Stalin.
This required the Justice Society to go through a Congressional Enquiry in a ludicrous version of a courtroom drama in which all courtroom rules were thrown out. The mini-series was meant to string all the JSA’s cases into a comprehensible whole, which has the JSA ‘acquitted’ out of nothing more than popular sentiment, whilst the Batman Diary peg is settled by being a subtle clue by the late Wayne to an overlooked case the JSA needed to settle. As to why he didn’t just come out and tell anyone, this was attributed to Wayne’s paranoid attitude to the Justice Society in his last year, because he was dying of cancer.
Psycho-Pirate? What Psycho-Pirate?
No, it doesn’t make any sense, any more than the mini-series did. Thankfully, post-Crisis it all ceased to exist and it all became meaningless.
The original Superman at least fared better. He was brought into the JLA/JSA team-ups in 1969, the first post-Gardner Fox story, though probably in order to justify a tremendous Superman vs Superman cover by Neal Adams. Thereafter, he made the occasional appearance in team-ups, and had a short run in the All-Star revival, being introduced from the shadows in a page that simply breathes respect, and the right degree of awe (not, to be honest, something you could often accuse Gerry Conway of doing).
After that, DC seemed to recognise the value of having an alternate version of Superman around. For one thing, most of the canonical details of Superman’s career were later developments: the Earth-2 Superman could be distinguished by taking on all the original, spurned conditions – the Kryptonian name Kal-L, no Superboy career, working at the Daily Star under George Taylor, a more brutal Lex Luthor with a shock of red hair.
Best of all, he could allow DC to tell the then-unthinkable story of Clark Kent’s marriage to Lois Lane, and the back-up series “Mr. and Mrs. Superman.”
Crisis on Infinite Earths, as it was intended to do, swept all this away, but the series paid a proper respect to the original Superman, to the Primal Hero, the First Of Them All. He survives the transformation from Multiverse to Universe, only to find himself on an Earth that only has a place for one Clark Kent. He is utterly alone, his Lois gone, but still he throws himself into the final battle, striking the final series of blows that destroy the villain, whose ambitions have diminished in scope but increased in intensity.
The First strikes the last blow, and his reward is escape, to leave the Universe, together with his Lois and two other companions, into a place of beauty, of peace, of reward for all he has done, never to be seen again.
Unfortunately, as I have previously had occasion to mention, the word ‘never’ is devoid of meaning in mainstream comic books.
Superman’s other two companions were Alexander Luthor of the former Earth-3 – a world of inverted moral standards, where all the heroes were villains, and the Luthors were the only good guys – and Superboy of Earth-Prime – supposedly our own world, the one where we all read DC Comics. This latter was an oddity: he had been created halfway into Crisis, a new alternate world character in a series intended to wipe out all alternate world characters. I never understood why he was created at all, unless it were for the tenuous purpose of providing a Superboy to go into retirement, as a gesture to the forthcoming reboot and modernisation of Superman by John Byrne, in which Clark Kent’s teenage career would not now exist.
‘Never’, in this case, lasted fourteen years. In 1999, in The Kingdom, a sequel to his massively successful Kingdom Come series two years previously, Mark Waid introduced a figure battering at an invisible barrier in the sky. It looked like Superman, despite the shadowed face, but only the older readers noticed the simplified ‘S’ shield on his chest, the mark of the elder Superman.
The Kingdom introduced the short-lived concept of Hypertime, a bold and flexible means of reintroducing a form of the Multiverse (and eliminating continuity errors by absorbing them). Waid’s story reminded people that the first superhero was still out there, and strongly hinted that he would someday returm.
Had he done so under Waid, one of the biggest Superman fans alive, I’m sure it would have been a delight, and a fitting return. But Hypertime was banished and DC started building towards Infinite Crisis, the twenty-years-after sequel to the original Crisis and a reboot that would restore the Multiverse itself, in a more composed and finite form, as 52 Earths, each of differing histories.
It transpired that the original Superman and his fellow exiles had been observing the new Earth all along, growing ever more despondent over its darkening, its deterioration, its increasing corruption. Superman blamed everything on Earth-1, an inherently flawed Earth, being ‘chosen’ as the template for New Earth. At last, he broke everybody out, to change thing, to have the purer, nobler, cleaner Earth-2 as the template for a revised New Earth.
But Superman was unaware that his young allies had their own agendas. Alexander Luthor, specifically the ‘good’ Luthor, seemed to have made the intellectual decision to turn bad, just because all the others had been: he planned to first recreate the Multiverse, then create a perfect Earth by combining the best elements from however many Earths it took.
Superboy-Prime was a different kettle of fish. He was a permanent adolescent, full of raging hormones, trapped and unable to grow up to become Superman. He wanted his Earth back, Earth-Prime, his girlfriend, and to become the important one. He was a rage of uncertainty, paranoia, defensiveness, ignorance, arrogance and refusal to accept responsibility. In short, the psychological portrayal was acute, but on the page he was a hideous, whining, embarrassing OTT mess, who grew increasingly difficult to read on an exponential basis.
He became the villain, intent on destroying the newly created Uni/Multiverse and being the only hero left. To stop him, it took the two Supermen flying him through the core of Krypton’s red sun, temporarily stripping him of his powers. Unfortunately, it also stripped the two Supermen of their powers and, before other hands could come to restrain him, Superboy-Prime beat the original Superman to death with his fists.
In 1985, DC had been so respectful of their first hero, the First Of Them All, that he had struck the ultimate blow and gone on to peaceful retirement. Twenty years later, thinking of themselves as daring and edgy, they had him bludgeoned to death by a hysterical shrieking parody of his younger self.
No more telling symbol of the degradation of the comics industry could possibly be created.
Now the past, the history, has been destroyed yet again, only to be strip-mined for yet another round of pallid imitations, supposedly sophisticated but utterly devoid of any true life, just to titillate the jaded appetite of an ever-shrinking audience, taught by its own decadence and by the drip-feed of horror and destruction in its entertainment to respond only to the pulling off of fly’s wings in cruelty that exists only for its own sake.
For that, you have to have brutalised and ignobled the symbol of what once stood for openness, good, morality and progression towards what was better for everyone.
Superman is better off out of it. So too all the heroes of the Justice Society of America.