Monday, February 8, 2016

The Composite Superman, World's Finest #142

In today’s look at the Silver Age era of the Legion of Super-Heroes, it’s the classic first appearance of that infamous villain Composite Superman, from the pages of World’s Finest Comics #142 that went on sale in late April of 1964. The story is written by Edmond Hamilton, with pencils by Curt Swan, and inks by George Klein.

The story opens with the World’s Finest team, Superman & Batman, your two favorite heroes in one adventure together, having their Fortress of Solitude and Batcave compromised and then being confronted by the mysterious Composite Superman. He blackmails the two heroes into letting him join as the third member of their team (apparently Robin doesn’t count as a member of the team even though he’s present in this adventure and every other, maybe because he’s a minor?), threatening to reveal both heroes’ secret identity if they refuse. Superman and Batman of course don’t trust this Composite Superman, but they feel they have no other choice than to comply.

And so the Composite Superman joins the ranks of the World’s Finest team, working to secretly undermine, discredit, and embarrass his teammates Superman and Batman. The Composite Superman is in reality, Superman Museum Janitor, Joe Meach, who received the fabulous abilities of every member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, when lightning struck a display of the heroes with Joe in the vicinity. It seems that when the statues were made, it duplicated each Legion member’s body, including a residual amount of each member’s power. Those power were then released from the statues and bestowed to Joe by the lightning bolt. Motivated by jealousy, Joe then uses his new found Super-Powers to wreak revenge on Superman, and his partner Batman, for some perceived injustice by Superman.

After a few days of discrediting his teammates at every turn, Composite Superman, feeling he has publicly embarrassed his new teammates enough, outright orders them to give up their Super-Hero alter egos altogether. Just when it looks like Batman and Superman are beaten, Joe’s powers begin to fade. He realizes he must return to the Legion statue display at the Superman Museum to recharge his failing powers. However, the World’s Finest team are able to delay Joe just long enough that his powers fade altogether, and with them, his memory of the incident and the powers he held. Neither Superman nor Batman discover Joe’s identity. All that remains is an incomplete note Joe left for himself hinting at the power that lays dormant in the Legion of Super-Heroes statuettes. The story concludes with the cliffhanger that someday Joe may learn the meaning of the note, and when he does, the Composite Superman will strike again!

The opening splash page that serves as a second cover to the issue shows the Legion of Super-Heroes statuettes that gave Joe Meach his power, but outside of this first page containing the Legion members’ likeness, and another panel dedicated to the statues, the only other shot of the Legion comes in a single panel during Meach’s flashback during his internal monologue about the origin of his powers.

That said, the entire issue is dedicated to Meach’s sinister use of the Legion’s power set to discredit and embarrass his would be allies, Superman & Batman, and thus it is an important chapter in the Silver Age history of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

In this story, the Composite Superman wielded the Invisibility of Invisible Kid, Lightning Powers of Lightning Lad, the Shape-Shifting Powers of Chameleon Boy, the Genius-Level Intellect & green skin of Brainiac 5, the Super-Strength of Mon-El, Saturn Girl’s Telepathy & Thought-Casting abilities, Sun Boy’s Radiant Heat, Starboy’s power of Mass Induction, the Replicating power of Triplicate Girl, Element Lad’s ability to Transmorph elements, the Telescopic Supervision of Superman, the Elasticity of Elastic Lad, the Size-Reduction powers of Shrinking Violet, Ultraboy’s Pentravision, and Cosmic Boy’s power of Super-Magnetism.

It should come of no surprise that the Composite Superman would return a little over 2 years later in a reign of terror that would require the full power and involvement of the Legion of Super-Heroes to end. This story serves as an important setup to that adventure, which will be covered later this month here at the Legion of Super-Bloggers.

The premise is obviously wacky and out there, but it’s a World’s Finest tale from the first half of the 1960’s, so that comes with the territory. This is the era where Superman and Batman are able to travel back in time via hypnosis, so with that in mind, a crazed man using Super-Powers derived by electrically charged statues from the future for the most petty revenge scheme ever, really just seems like just another Thursday on Earth-1 in the Silver Age. It’s a fun, whacky, and enjoyable read if you’re a fan of DC’s Silver Age stories.

The art is pretty standard of DC’s house style at the time, nothing too revolutionary, most pages have a slight tweak to the traditional 6 panel grid layout that a lot of DC books, especially World’s Finest Comics, used throughout the 50’s and 60’s (unless the book was drawn by Infantino, Anderson, or Kubert, who had much more dynamic and experimental page layouts & panel progressions compared to the other DC artists). That said, the characters are always on model and the figures very well rendered. Swan & Klein nail all of the character likenesses in the face, and their anatomy and emotions for each character are spot on.

The writing is pretty standard for the time; Superman and Batman both have moments of self-doubt that isn’t fitting for either character in this era where they are nearly infallible. Both of the World’s Finest heroes suffer from moments of downright stupidity in the face of their embarrassment from being upstaged by their new partner the Composite Superman.

That said, the story obviously has a resonance with fans and an important place in the eyes of DC.
This story was reprinted in the Bronze Age courtesy of the 100 Page Spectacular issue of World’s Finest Comics #223, DC Special Series (Blue Ribbon Digest) #23, Superman/Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told TPB, and the DC Showcase Presents: World’s Finest Volume 2 TPB.

Of course the elephant in the room is probably the villain’s name itself. Why does a hero with the power set of the entire Legion of Superheroes, call himself The Composite Superman, and parade around in a likeness that is half Batman and half Superman?

The deranged man, Joe Meach, has had it out for Superman ever since Superman caught Joe in mid-air while Joe was performing a high-dive off a tall building in Metropolis to the street below. He claims this wrecked his career, however, had Superman not intervened, it would have ended Joe’s life, as the pool had sprung a leak, and Joe would have been diving into a pool that was only an inch deep. Joe never dropped this resentment, despite Superman landing him a job in the Superman Museum.

So instead of using his new found powers to rob a bank in disguise, courtesy of Chameleon Boy’s shape-shifting ability, and then disappearing to enjoy his giant stack of money, like any criminal with common sense would, he chooses to single out Superman, and the Batman, who is apparently also guilty of Joe’s failed dive by association with Superman, for some good ol' fashioned petty revenge. Meach is clearly a nut-job, with a victim mentality, and a one-track mind for revenge. So the name Composite Superman is fitting. He chooses his name and likeness to be that of the target of his revenge scheme, who happens to be the hero Superman, who he hates more than anything else in the world.

Again, given the context of the era this story was published in and the typical stories you’d find in the pages of World’s Finest, the Composite Superman as both a story and character truly is one of the better and more memorable moments of the early 1960’s. He put Superman and Batman to the test both physically and mentally, while bringing a gigantic power set and neat visual aesthetic to the table. That’s more than you can say about the two random Kryptonian criminals and a handful of nameless thugs that show up as the antagonists in the next issue. (World’s Finest Comics #143). 

If you love the Composite Superman, please write in and let us know why. We'll collect the correspondence and pass it on to the co-founders of the Composite Superman Fan Club, Rob Kelly & Shag Matthews, of the Fire & Water Podcast Network. 


  1. Sorry, but my Composite Superman fandom is limited to the second composite superman, which briefly got me to read World's Finest. When the issues after those failed to contain anything nearly so rad I stopped reading, and the book was cancelled almost immediately after. This can't be a coincidence.

  2. I've always loved the Composite Superman. I don't know why, he's so wacky. Maybe as you said, he was something of a breath of fresh air in the dull Sixties.
    It was cool to see that he sorta came back in the Nineties in (I think) Legionnaires...?

  3. Always been a big fan since that World's Finest digest reprinting the original saga. Rob and Shag are wrong!


  4. Those guys have never been on the right side of history on this.