Or – “Where it all began…”
This week Major Spoilers celebrates its first birthday! Woohoo! While Major Spoilers may be one year old this week, my love of comics began way back 1981. We were on a family vacation – you know the kind of vacation where you pack everyone into a camper and travel the highways and byways of this great country seeing the sites. I believe it was the summer we did the old west tour of Deadwood, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, and of course Frontier Days in Cheyenne. It was on one of the many gas/restroom breaks, that I spied a comic book on the magazine rack that not only had Superman on the cover, but Batman and Robin too. I begged my parents to spend a whole dollar to buy this 48-page special, and I spent the remainder of the trip reading and re-reading this issue trying to make sense of everything inside. So to celebrate Major Spoilers Birthday Week – I bring you our Retro Review of World’s Finest #271.
Prior to the ripe age of 11(and if you’ve ever been around an 11 year old, you know how ripe they can be) I hadn’t had much exposure to comics beyond the occasional Carl Barks Scrooge comics and a short six issue run of Star Wars. Yeah, I knew who Batman and Superman were, but never knew they teamed up regularly save for Saturday morning cartoons. This treasure sold me on DC comics and made me a lifelong reader of the four color comics.
World’s Finest #271 kicks off with Clark Kent having a strange dream of a masked man taking him down with blasts of pure Kryptonite from his bare hands. The nightmare is so bad, that when Clark awakes, he can’t go back to sleep. Turning on the television he sees a report of a huge fire burning its way through Gotham City’s Victory Building. Even when Batman shows up on the scene, Clark knows only Superman can squelch the blaze.
It’s only after dumping a whole water tower full of water on the building that firefighters enter and emerge with a coffin with a strange symbol on the front. Amazingly, both Batman and Superman have a vague recollection of the symbol. Before the coffin can be safely opened, it explodes covering Superman with a coating of Kryptonite, rendering him useless, while the figure from Superman’s dream emerges from the rubble.
Atoman, huh? Even though he is able to take down Superman, Batman takes a poke at the fellow only to smash his fist on his rock hard jaw. The villain picks up the caped crusader and flings him to a near certain death, but Batman is saved at the last minute when Superman uses his super-breath to blow a sofa to catch him.
The Atoman escapes, and as he flies away, Superman passes out and begins to dream of one of the many times Superman and Batman “first” teamed up. The tale is one where Superman discovers a boat containing an unconscious Robin floating down the river. When he is able to revive Robin, and discover his true identity as Dick Grayson, Robin begs Superman to help him find Batman. The adventure leads the duo to a wax museum where Batman has been encased in wax. One super punch later (not to be confused with Tom Welling Punch) and Batman is free to help take down the gang of villains and capture the ringleader Zoltar.
Superman awakes from the dream and flies off with Batman in tow. When they are able to land safely, Superman recounts another “first” meeting of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne from the pages of World’s Finest #84. A young Bruce Wayne has been tasked to uncover the identity of Superboy, and through a series of events, Bruce ends up with a copy of Superboy’s fingerprints.
Fortunately, Bruce ended up destroying the prints, keeping Superboy’s identity secret once again.
Batman comments that Atoman could have really harmed Robin had he been around, which causes Superman to wonder if Robin isn’t somehow connected as technically, he met Robin before he met Batman.
From the pages of Adventure Comics #253 Batman recounts how Robin traveled back in time to team up with Superboy to prevent Superman’s death in the future. If Robin hadn’t been successful, the tale wouldn’t have a happy ending.
The duo recount several other times they met as teenagers, namely from the pages of Adventure Comics #275, where Bruce Wayne donned a costume to fight crime as the Flying Fox. Using his X-Ray powers, Superboy learns The Flying Fox is Bruce, and Bruce reveals he knows Superboy is Clark Kent through voice print recognition. The two agree to hypnotize one another to forget all about each other.
But that doesn’t prevent them from rediscovering their identities in an adventure from New Adventures of Superboy when they team up once again to save Pete Ross.
Through all the probing one thing Batman realizes is Superman hasn’t made a reference to the costume Atoman is wearing. It’s the same costume Supes designed for Powerman as recounted in the pages of World’s Finest #94.
What’s really cool is all of these flashbacks are done before reaching the halfway point of the story. Roy Thomas did an excellent job of tying all of these “first” meetings into a story that is quite logical in the way the story is told. As a kid I was really enthralled with the tale, and even 26 years later, it holds up pretty well.
Superman must not be the brightest bulb, because he completely fails to make the connection until Batman calls him on it. Before Superman can tell Batman where he got the idea, they discover Atoman atop the Daily Planet threatening to hurl the building’s giant globe on the streets below unless Superman meets him in battle.
And as you might expect, Superman battles the Kryptonite powered being while Batman saves anyone in harms way. Superman eventually succumbs to the Kryptonite radiation, falling from the sky and crashing through the street below.
Fortunately, Superman does survive, but in his weakened state, needs help getting away. Batman and Superman change back into their Bruce/Clark identities and head to Bruce’s nearby apartment so Superman can recuperate.
The big clue to the Atoman mystery was revealed in the above panel, but unless you know everything about DCU history, you don’t know what it means. Fortunately, Batman does and leaves Superman alone for a few minutes while he follows up a lead. Superman reflects on how good a friend Bruce is, even going so far as to recount yet another “first” meeting as chronicled in Superman #76.
This is one of my favorite “Batman/Superman discovering each other identities” stories. It takes place aboard the cruise-ship Varania where Clark and Bruce are “forced” to room together due to a mix-up in reservations, and limited space on the ship. When a fire breaks out on board the ship, Clark kills the lights in the room, while both change into their superhero duds.
When light from the fire enters the room, the two discover each other’s identities again, and team-up to save Lois Lane and the day. There are others who must love this team-up story as well, because if you read Superman/Batman Annual #1, the tale is re-imagined in a Deathstroke, Earth-3, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and Bizaro Didio tale that is very funny.
And while they did team-up here, it wasn’t until World’s Finest #200 they became a full fledged team. This is another of those stories where Batman and Superman had to switch positions to fool Lois to keep their identities secret.
Probably not the best flashback of the whole story, but again, as a kid, it was pretty cool to see them working together for a common cause.
It’s only at this point the story switches to a cave and the hidden lair of the German speaking Atoman. At last the readers get the origin tale of the Atoman. In a strange Captain America creation story, Atoman was a Nazi soldier injected with a secret formula (made from Kryptonite) that turns him into a super soldier, who has only one goal – destroy Superman.
Even though the Reich has fallen, Heinrich Melch forges papers and travels to Metropolis to work for the Daily Star.
At some point, Atoman (sans suit) and Superman get to mix it up. Unlike the modern Atoman, Heinrich can’t fly at this point in time, and in order to get Heinrich to stop shooting Kryptonite bolts, Superman grabs him and flies him high into the sky. What Superman doesn’t realize is Heinrich is more than happy to die for the Fatherland, and plummets to his death. In order to protect himself from the radiation, Superman places Heinrich in the Automan suit and buries him in the lead coffin discovered at the beginning of the story. What Superman didn’t know was Henrich was still alive, waiting for this day to rise again and take Superman down for good.
And that day is today as Atoman arrives at the stadium to battle Superman in front of a huge crowd. Once again, Superman takes to the air.
And here is where it gets really weird for someone who has never heard of the Multiverse. Heinrich is really from Earth-2 and during his first battle with Superman the two accidentally breached the barrier between worlds. All along Atoman has been fighting the wrong Superman! When everyone is on the ground, Batman, Kal-L, Robin, and Kal-El explain the two worlds to Heinrich.
Unfortunately, as a kid who never knew there were multiple Earths, I was completely baffled, but enthralled at the same time; I had to learn more!
It wasn’t until a few years later that Crisis on Infinite Earths came out and I learned all about the Multiverse.
- More origin stories than you can shake a stick at
- Plenty of clues to solve the mystery
- Unless you know everything about the Multiverse, the clues do nothing to help you
- Several flashback could have been removed in favor or more punching
I must have read this issue at least 20 times during that family vacation, savoring each and every panel, trying to discover all the clues and make sense of the story. In the years following the issue would find its way from under the bed, to the closet, to the bookshelf, to the bottom of a suitcase with those Star Wars comics, each time getting more and more torn in the process. I still have the issue today, it is in really bad shape as you can tell from the scans, but is still one of my cherished possessions. Three years ago, while attending Planet Comic-Con I had the pleasure of discovering a Near Mint condition issue that I was more than happy to pay $25 for. Even though the flashbacks were scattered left and right with very little to do with the main story – save for establishing the relationship between Superman and Batman, it is an issue that attempts to clear up all of the potential continuity errors four years of stories introduced. I think it worked quite well, even compared to today’s attempts (Action Comics #850 comes to mind), prompting me to give this Retro Review of World’s Finest #271 4 out of 5 Stars.