Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SUPERMAN V BATMAN : SUPERMAN'S CRIME OF THE AGES

This is actually a really clever splash page idea, much respect...
Hey, remember that time that Luthor and Brainiac tried to turn Superman and Batman against one another because they were lonely and they wanted Superman to be their friend? And they dressed like apes to do it? Future apes? Remember that? Remember it? It was the story which inspired Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as a matter of fact (there were heavy re-writes prior to production). Remember? Huh? Do ya?

The story in question takes place in World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.183 (March, 1969), fully one year after the release of the original film adaptation of Planet of the Apes -- which inspired, if only tangentially, the plot to this Leo Dorfman-scripted issue. Dorfman is a terrific writer mostly because, if you don't like his work, you can always raise your first to the heavens and cry "DORF-MAAAAAAAAAAN!" It sounds great, try it, it's therapeutic. It'll lower your blood pressure.

Good thing they brought along a photo, in case
Batman didn't recognize him.
Behind a false newspaper splash panel, the story unfolds with Batman returning from a trip to the future, in the company of two jumpsuited, metal-masked alien time cops. It turns out that Batman has been made witness to the grim future of the world of 4069, an era reverted to ape-like barbarism because Superman went soft in the head and threw a giant, radioactive mannequin of himself through the time barrier to fuck up somebody's random future. Bad luck on losing the "Superman Hates You" lottery, year of 4069!

The timecops' story is so compelling that Batman not only helps to incapacitate his trusted comrade and close ally, but he hauls his prisoner's sorry Super-ass before the world court of the United Nations so that he can be tried for future crimes. This is dystopian as hell and, as I understand it, also the plot of Marvel Comics' 2016 major event storyline Civil War II. Stay tuned to get a glimpse of how that might turn out (except completely differently, I hope. Well, you hope. I don't actually care).

In the background, Superman and Batman being
all "How did they get served before us, we got
here first!"
The crimes Superman is said to have committed in the future, and which Batman witnessed during his unsupervised timejaunt with two masked strangers -- what do we always say about accepting timerides from shady characters, Batman -- are scheduled to begin two days into the future. Superman will be experimenting with red kryptonite, explain the metal-masked futuremen, and will fall victim to an unexpected explosion. The radiations, it's additionally explained, will permanently twist the Man of Steel's psyche into terrible evil.

Among the crimes he's subsequently shown to be committing are the destruction of passenger liners at sea (intentionally drowning the passengers and crew), wrecking the Taj Mahal, and burning the New York Public Library. He also smashes all the statues of his friends which he keeps in the Fortress of Solitude, but you have to occasionally expect that out of a major celebrity. They have moods.

His chief sin involves building "the Superman Satellite," a giant likeness of himself which fires "devolution rays" from its eyes. With a mighty throw, he flings it into an unexpected point in the future, where it seemingly turns all of humanity into members of the Nairobi Trio. If you got that joke, then let me be the first to wish you a happy 70th Birthday.

"But our mothers think we're very handsome young men, as a matter of fact!"

The United Nations cannot help but accept Superman's guilt, which seems like a great argument against the United Nations. They also accept the timecops' recommended punishment -- a lobotomy ray that'll wipe out Superman's soon-to-be-evil tendencies. Also maybe he shouldn't experiment with that Red K and everything will be fine. Either way, forewarned or lobotomized, either one works as well as the other, I guess.

But, as it turns out, it's all a scheme! The future city of Cinopolis, seemingly ape-ified by Superman's far-flung parade float, is only the Hollywood of the future! And the ape-man which Batman saw were only actors in ape masks! And the Superman satellite is a "twist" that the future studio included in their remake of Planet of the Apes ("the 1968 movie classic," explains Superman, suddenly becoming the Robert Osborne of comic book superheroes). And the lobotomy ray is really a ray that would turn Superman evil! And and and!

"Can we still be pals?"
And the timecops are actually Luthor and Brainiac in ape masks, having hatched the scheme after stumbling upon the Cinopolis movie shoot while joyriding through time. This, by the way, is how I choose to think of Superman's greatest enemies -- the time-tossed Thelma and Louise of supervillainy, Riding in Cars with Superboys. Roadtripping from the past to the future, visiting strange worlds, taking selfies by dinosaur-themed roadside stands, and maybe -- just maybe -- learning a little something about life along the way.

One thing which they apparently learned is that they're lonely and want Superman to be their pal, only they had to hatch this scheme to make him evil, first. They didn't want him to bring down their shenanigans.

It's touching, really. There had been a Superboy-slash-man/Luthor connection since 1960, but it was only in the 1970s that Superman's writers really began to bang hard on the "they grew up together" drum. Prior to that, Luthor's motivation in bedeviling Superman could be whatever the story required -- for instance, framing him for time malarkies so that they could be pals. It's actually kind of sweet.

Oh, and how did Superman see through their disguise? Why, by observing their slip-up in the cafeteria, the way all master criminals are caught. Despite being from the future, you see, and subsisting entirely on capsule-shaped future vitamin tablets, the timecop ape-men nonetheless knew well enough to put salt and pepper on their lunch. BUT HOW?! They must be the greatest villains of the modern day, of course.

It's also how we knew Hitler was bad, when he was observed dipping his fish sticks in tartar sauce. How did he know?! And yes, I know, that last line is predicated on Hitler being from the future which, since I learned about history through comic books, I declare to be very likely.

As for Batman, the guy who actually went to the future, bought the fake timecops' story hook-line-and-sinker, gassed his longtime pal and dragged him before the world court, and who is also supposedly the World's Greatest Detective ... he had to be told after the fact. Hey man, Batman's got a lot of balls in the air, sometimes he slips up.

"Then I'll go pound drinks and maybe plow Billy Connelly's wife!"

4 comments:

David Burrow said...

Hey, I'm only 48, and I know the Nairobi Trio!

Like to imagine the follow-up to the p. 16 panel is Supes crying, "for HOURS, I tells you, FOR HOURS!" "...but we can still be pals?..."

Brad S. said...

Brainiac is the lamest supercomputer EVER!

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Never mind your Doom Patrol or your Brother Power--The Geek or even your Fletcher Hanks. 1960s World's Finest were the most insane comics. Is it my imagination, or do well over half the stories end with "...and once we figured out what your scheme was, we decided to play along to make you think it was succeeding!"?

@Brad S.: This is the challenge of writing for bad guys. Unless you're Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you're going to have a hard time writing Moriarty. If you're an average schmoe writing murder plots for Batman to solve in Detective Comics, you're going to have to swipe from everything from Mrs. Columbo to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery anthologies. And unless you yourself are a supercomputer with a "tenth-level intellect," you're going to have to settle for writing Brainiac as a SuperFriends villain who makes death rays out of lumber, after shave and writing pens.

Cheryl Spoehr said...

Actually,I got the Nairobi Trio joke and will only turn 63 in December. And these comics are the reason that I stopped reading World's Finest after the Weisinger,Hamilton/Shooter/Swan era.

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