Or – “This One Goes Out To My Homegirls, The Super-Future Friends…*”

I started regularly reading comics at a truly wonderful time, as Marvel was shaking off it’s 70’s doldrums and DC was building up to the biggest (and probably the most important) crossover madness of all time.  Both companies were also putting out handbooks explaining their long histories, and I clearly remember buying issue #5 of ‘Who’s Who In The DC Universe.”  After histories of Clayface (whom I remembered from the 70’s Batman cartoon), Colossal Boy from the Legion, and Commander Steel (whom I remembered from All-Star Squadron), I encountered a drawing of a green-skinned half-Batman, half-Superman creature, named ‘Composite Superman.’   Who was he?  What was his deal?  How in the world did he keep half a cowl on?  Why did he no-sell his Batman half?  These questions and more will be answered, including one that you might not have expected:  Who is the single most powerful entity in the pre-Crisis DC Universe?

*(Am I allowed to say homegirl?)    
 

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #142
Scripter: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein & Sheldon Moldoff
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Mort Weisinger
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents (Current Near-Mint Price: $14o)

Previously, on World’s Finest Comics: The 1940’s were a particularly wondrous time in the comic industry, when any number of gimmicks might be used to sell a comic book.  After the initial crush of superhero creations, DC’s two top draws quickly distanced themselves from the pack, so it was a natural instinct to combine the two into one book and double their sales.  World’s Finest Comics ran for decades as a Superman/Batman (and Robin) team-up book before DC callously canceled it right before ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths,’ and I will always remember the announcement by a young DC rep that the two characters never really worked well together..  You gotta love irony.  You also gotta love the madness of the Silver Age of Comics, as get a quick splash-page then launch straight into the story!

Who could crack Clark and Bruce’s biggest secrets, you ask?  A mysterious flying man whose costume combines elements of both characters into one, and who understands the most powerful impulse of the Silver Age:  Blackmail.  The newcomer, calling himself “Composite Superman,” wants to be the third member of the World’s Finest team, and he won’t take no for an answer.  Literally, as if they deny him, he’ll reveal their secret identities…

Curt Swan is handling the penciler duties here, but it’s pretty interesting to see the first half of the story inked by a Superman stable artist (George Klein) and the second by at Batman stable artist (Shelly Moldoff).  The brilliance of Swan’s work shines through, though, and he is the only artist (with the possible exception of the guy who did the first arc of Superman/Batman) who makes the ridiculous character concept fly.  Compy sneakily begins setting up a trap for our three heroes, and strangely enough, he begins referring to the future members of the Legion.  When several movie-prop rockets blast off “accidentally,” Composite Superman leaps into action to one-up the World’s Finest team…

Anybody who has been to www.superdickery.com will testify that Superman knows what he’s talking about when it comes to manipulative adolescent pranking, so you can take the Man of Steel at his word, there.  In the next few days, Composite Superman proves himself mightier than Superman, a better detective than Batman, and more acrobatic than Robin.  He humiliates the heroes at every turn, laughing as he flies away, remembering how he got his tremendous array of super-powers…

I’ve always wondered if Joe Meach wasn’t based on ‘Shipwreck’ Kelly, who used to sit on top of flagpoles as a publicity stunt.  Either way, Meach is a complete loser even at being a spectacle, and takes the job at the Superman Museum as a lowly janitor.  I’m torn between thinking that Superman is being nice for offering such a job and being a putz by offering the most menial task he can, but he listens closely as Superman gives him the tour, including showing him perfect statuettes of the entire 30th Century Legion of Super-Heroes, made by a special duplicator device created by Brainiac 5.  Meach soon learned that they were ‘perfect’ duplicates in more ways than one…

Lightning through the window:  The DCU’s version of ‘He’s a mutant!’  So, you ready to do a little superhero math?  There are 20 Legion statuettes shown, representing nearly all of the Legionnaires to date.  (Dream Girl, whose induction into the team is dated about four months before this issue’s is NOT shown, while honorary member Elastic Lad gets a statue, for some reason.)  That means that Joe Meach’s powers include:

  • The full range of Kryptonian abilities, strength and invulnerabitity (Supergirl)
  • The same abilities AGAIN plus invulnerability to Kryptonite (Mon-El)
  • The same abilities a THIRD time plus the ability to see through lead (Ultra Boy)
  • The ability to grow to giant size (Colossal Boy)
  • The ability to shrink to microscopic size (Shrinking Violet)
  • The ability to triplicate his body (Triplicate Girl)
  • The ability to generate lightning bolts (Lightning Lad)
  • The ability to generate heat and light (Sun Boy)
  • The ability to make things super-lightweight (Light Lass)
  • The ability to make things super-heavy (Star Boy)
  • The ability to consume absolutely anything (Matter-Eater Lad)
  • The ability to turn invisible (Invisible Kid)
  • The ability to inflate and bounce (Bouncing Boy)
  • The ability to stretch any part of his body (Elastic Lad)
  • The ability to shapeshift (Chameleon Boy)
  • Telepathy (Saturn Girl)
  • 12th level intelligence (Brainiac 5)
  • Magnetic powers (Cosmic Boy)
  • The ability to transmute elements (Element Lad)
  • The ability to phase through solid matter (Phantom Girl)

In short, Joe Meach is capable of becoming a minor deity, and he’s using this power…  to get even with the guy who made him look bad.  Great planning with that computer mind, there, Composite Supey.  I also cracked up that he made himself a perfect duplicate of half of each superhero, but kept the green skin that comes with being part Brainiac 5.  Why?  IT WAS THE SILVER AGE!  YOU DO NOT ASK WHY!!  When Clark and Bruce start conspiring to try and force him to reveal his true agenda, but fail because he can be invisible, shape-shift and read their minds.  Oh, and he can rip Batman in two with a flick of his finger…

As Englebert Humperdinck’s mother was once heard to say, “Yeah…  That’ll work.”  Using their human resources (presuming that Superman’s Kryptonian senses count as human resources, mind you), they track Composite Superman to his hidden fortress, and Superman and Batman attack.  They are quickly overwhelmed, and Composite Superman uses his Trommite abilities to trap Superman in a Kryptonite trap, electrifies Batman, and prepares to dispose of his foes.  When his powers start to wear off, though (as all powers did in the Silver Age) he drops them and rushes back to the museum.  Meach is too late, though, and his powers disappear…

Time told, by the way, and Composite Superman reappeared a few years later, only to sacrifice himself to save Superman and Batman’s lives.  It’s interesting to note that, while they never figure out who he is or what he’s powered by, Superman still remarks that Composite Superman used “his Element Lad powers” to create his throne room.  How did Superman know?  SILVER AGE!  The issue ends with a short Superman reprint (oddly enough, from only 3 years in the past) that ended the way 85% of pre-Crisis Superman stories did…

…with a huge con job.  It’s a good thing Kal-El was dedicated to fighting the never-ending battle against injustice, because he’d have made one hell of a flim-flam man.  Creators who worked under editor Mort Weisinger (who was responsible for this issue) used to say how he would have people pitch exciting covers to him, and then assign the interiors to be created based on which cover concept was most intriguing.  It makes for some pretty trippy stories, but this is one of my favorites, and one of only a few World’s Finest issues that I would never sell for any price.  That said, it’s still a goofy Silver Age adventure full of plotholes and chicanery, and a story that never quite gives the excellent art enough to do.  And, quite frankly, no matter what powers you have, you’ll never get ahead in the world if you’re as criminally stupid, as Joe Meach, the man too stupid to live.  World’s Finest #142 is an early 60’s gem, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  But what happened to poor Dream Girl’s statue? 

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Given the powers of Composite Superman, which superhero would YOU want to blackmail into quitting first?

 

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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11 Comments

  1. Ian
    July 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm — Reply

    “His mask is lead-lined, so I can’t see his face”… exxxxxcept it’s only covering 1/4 of his face. SILVER AGE!

  2. Sebastian
    July 18, 2011 at 12:26 am — Reply

    I love your retro reviews! Great stuff as always :-)

  3. Number6
    July 18, 2011 at 1:36 am — Reply

    It was the Composite Superman that introduced me to the Legion and help formed my idea for the future of the DC Universe. Long Live the Legion and I’m waiting for my Composite Superman (Composite Man) Hero History.

  4. July 18, 2011 at 7:27 am — Reply

    Long Live the Legion and I’m waiting for my Composite Superman (Composite Man) Hero History.

    Ummm… Let’s see. Composite Superman did a grand total of about three appearances. B.I.O.N. (a similar construct) was around for an arc. Composite Man was around for an arc…

    I don’t know that there’s much more history than that. :)

  5. July 18, 2011 at 8:27 am — Reply

    Great review. I have always loved Composite Superman. The man who beat the dynamic duo.

  6. Oldcomicfan
    July 18, 2011 at 8:41 am — Reply

    Thanks for the great review. It’s always nice to remember just how downright DUMB comics were when I was a kid. I almost envy todays kids who get to read less insulting comic books than we had back in the day. Sure, they have to put up with the incomprensible stories by Grant Morrison and anything by Rob Liefelt is annoying, but they also don’t have to put up with such idiocies as Bat-Mite, Streaky the Super Cat, or The Composite Superman. Why didn’t “Compy” call himself “LegionMan” by the way, since he had the legion’s powers, an no part of him was either Superman or Batman. But then, logic (or even basic intelligence) was never a part of the comics from the 60s and the early 70s.

    • ikdks
      July 18, 2011 at 11:12 am — Reply

      GM brought back bat-mite in Batman R.I.P and it friggin’ ruled. If you havn’t read it, check it out.

    • July 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm — Reply

      Why didn’t “Compy” call himself “LegionMan” by the way, since he had the legion’s powers, an no part of him was either Superman or Batman.

      Because in 1964, the Legion was just another set piece in the Superman mythos, part of the Man of Steel’s supporting cast. It makes sense in context.

      And there’s nothing at all insulting about this issue. Sure, it’s incomprehensible and goofy, but it’s still fun and entertaining, even in the 21st century, at least for me. These books aren’t cautionary tales, they’re just what it says on the tin: disposable entertainment to while away an hour or so while your mom shops at the IGA. Mileage always varies, but I’d take Composite Superman over ‘The Hood is the new Kingpin’ or ‘Bruce Wayne travels through time while not entirely dead’ any day.

  7. brainypirate
    July 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm — Reply

    Whom would I blackmail into quitting?

    Bruce, Barry and Hal. Time to let the TNG take over the mantles again.

    I’d also get Bat to dress up like Bruce Wayne for 8 hours a day to become a human being again.

    I’d also get Bats and Supes to stay off the JLA so that everyone else on the team has something to do.

    I’d get Keith Giffen to stop drawing.

    I’d get the editors at DC to either stop using Kirby’s Fourth World characters or at least radically redesign their costumes so they don’t look like circus freaks.

    I’d get the artists to stop showing buttfloss on the women and to spend less time detailing the over-developed musculature on the guys. Hmm, maybe artists would stay on schedule if they showed muscles the way they actually look under fabric… (Just a thought….)

    I’d get the artists to stop making every comic like Gotham City during a blackout. Good grief, show the characters getting along and laughing and being friendly! There’s a reason I chose DC over Marvel as a kid!

  8. xrayguy
    July 20, 2011 at 1:00 pm — Reply

    Waitaminnit-if we’re in the “past” and the Legion is in the “future”, shouldn’t Superman keep their existance secret so it doesnt affect the time line?? I mean, if we know all these people will exist…..y’know???

  9. Damascus
    August 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm — Reply

    So he got all the Legion’s powers, but did he get any of their weaknesses? His mask is made of Lead and yes, he can see through it, but isn’t Mon-El weak against Lead? I dunno, maybe he’s like Blade, all the powers, none of the weaknesses. Oh well.

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