Monday, April 18, 2016

The Return of the Composite Superman!


This time out, it’s another Silver Age guest appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes!  The Composite Superman is back! He once again uses his combined powers of the Legion to menace the Superman and Batman team in the pages of World’s Finest Comics #168. 


This story marks the second appearance of the Composite Superman and is from June 1967, three years after Superman and Batman first squared off against him in World’s Finest Comics #142 (as chronicled HERE.) The story is written by Cary Bates, pencilled by Curt Swan, and inked by George Klein. If you don't have the original issue, don't worry, the story is also reprinted in 1976's Super-Team Family #6 and the Showcase Presents: World's Finest Vol. 3 TPB.  
Synopsis:
The story opens in a prison located on a far-away planet. A dying criminal known as Vyl makes a final request of his son Xan: that Xan head to Earth and seek revenge on the two heroes that imprisoned him, Superman & Batman. Xan agrees, and even though he possesses a mighty new weapon that he feels could eradicate both Superman & Batman with ease, he would rather see the two heroes suffer. So he reviews the rogues’ gallery of both heroes and decides that the only villain who ever had the World’s Finest team whipped, before the untimely disappearance of his powers, was none other than the Composite Superman.

Back in Metropolis, Joe Meach (the alter ego of the Composite Superman although he doesn’t remember it) has become satisfied and quite pleased with his job as a janitor at the Superman Museum. He once despised both Superman & Batman, but Joe has realized what great heroes both are and has grown to admire the World’s Finest team. Suddenly, as Joe mops the floor in front of the Legion of Super-Heroes statue display, it is struck by artificial lightning generated by Xan. This duplicates the peculiar phenomenon that created Composite Superman. Now with his incredible powers and his memories from his previous villainous exploits returned, the Composite Superman is set to complete the task of destroying both Superman and Batman.
The next day, museum security alerts the authorities and press of the vandalism to the museum. Clark Kent decides to change into Superman and head off to the Fortress of Solitude to check his files for any clues on who the culprit might be. There he finds an amalgamation of the Superman S-Shield and Bat-Signal carved into stone. He immediate heads to the Batcave to warn Batman and Robin. As he does, their rendezvous is interrupted by the Composite Superman, who uses a combination of his Legion powers to humiliate the three heroes before flying off to gloat. Secretly, Xan watches with glee from some camera apparently hidden in the Batcave.

Superman and Batman agree this has to be related to the vandalism at the Superman Museum and head there to search for clues. Realizing that Composite Superman was using the power of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and that the Legion display in the museum has a strange energy emanating from it, Superman takes a statue and heads to the future to discuss the problem with Brainiac 5.Meanwhile Batman deduces that the likely alter ego of Composite Superman is the missing janitor, Joe Meach.

In the future, Brainiac 5 confirms that Composite Superman’s powers do in fact come from the Legion statuettes, which imbued the statues of each Legion member with their powers when the statues were created by the Duplicator Machine. They simply needed a strong electrical charge to release the dormant powers to a host. So Superman heads back to present day and uses his heat vision to destroy the statues, preventing Composite Superman from ever having a way to recharge his powers. Meanwhile, the Composite Superman has captured both Batman & Robin, much to Xan’s amusement.

The Composite Superman doesn’t waste anytime ambushing Superman and capturing him. Then he decides to combine his amazing powers and use them to split the bodies of Superman and Batman in half, then merge them into an actual composite form of both, killing each of them in the process. Luckily, such a daunting task drains Composite Superman of his powers. With no source to recharge them, he reverts back to Joe Meach. Joe's hatred and contempt for the World’s Finest team fades with his power. Xan appears, ready to finish off the work Composite Superman started. Just as Xan is about to execute the Man of Steel and Caped Crusader with his Magna-Gun, Meach dives in front of the ray. In an act of true heroism he saves the two heroes, but pays for it with his life. With Joe’s sacrifice buying them vital time to recover, the World’s Finest team makes short work of Xan and his deadly ray gun. Xan is imprisoned, and a statue is built in Joe’s honor, as we’ve seemingly seen the last of the Composite Superman. The End.


Thoughts:
It’s really neat to take a look at this story and see how much more “grown-up” it is compared to Composite Superman's first appearance from World’s Finest Comics #142. I mean this in the sense of the writing, the art, and the characters in the story themselves. We have the same art team in both stories, but it’s amazing how much more refined and dynamic Swan’s artwork is here in WFC #168 compared to the story from #142. DC, driven by the dynamic and amazing layouts of Infantino, Anderson, Kubert, and Cardy (not to mention the eye-popping and attention grabbing art style from rival Marvel Comics) had finally moved away from what I refer to as their seemingly house style of the “6-Panel Grid” page layout. This results in much more engaging and interesting page layouts that lend themselves to more dynamic story telling. That more dynamic style under Swan's pencils really pays off nicely here.

And speaking of grown-up, when Superman heads into the future to find out more about the Legion Statuettes, he speaks with the Adult version of the Legion of Super-Heroes (Brainiac 5, Cosmic Man, and Saturn Woman). This marks just fifth appearance of the Adult Legion of Super-Heroes (Superman #147, Action Comics #289, Adventure Comics #354-355).
Once again we see Composite Superman torment Superman & Batman with the full power of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He uses Chameleon Boy’s shape-changing power to make his half-Superman, half-Batman form. He uses Lightning-Lad and Sun Boy's energy powers to destroy the giant Superman & Batman statues in the museum. When he confronts Superman, Batman, and Robin for the first time, he uses Triplicate Girl's power to split into three bodies and then uses the combined strength of Supergirl, Mon-El, and Ultra Boy as well as Star Boy’s weight induction power to make short work of the World's Finest team. We also see Composite Superman use the individual powers of Saturn Girl, Bouncing Boy, Ultra Boy, and Elastic Lad before finally focusing all of his Legion powers at once to begin to cut Superman and Batman’s bodies in half and merge the two.

Under the pen of writer Cary Bates, the story itself isn’t as "Silver Age silly" as the previous installment by Edmond Hamilton. Joe Meach, the Superman Museum Janitor and civilian alter-ego of the Composite Superman, had also grown as a character. No longer was he the bitter man that hated Superman & Batman and wanted petty revenge. He had grown to be quite happy with the job Superman gave him at his namesake museum, and Joe now admired all of the good the World’s Finest team did in the world. It isn’t until he’s hit by the artificial lightning produced by space criminal Xan and once again transformed into the sinister Composite Superman that he becomes obsessed with the demise of Superman, Batman, and Robin. Once his power fades, we once again see Joe return to being a good honest man who makes the ultimate sacrifice and lays down his life in order to save Superman, Batman, and Robin, dying a true hero. Of course this is still the Silver Age, so it still has it’s fun and sillier moments, reminiscent of the Super Friends cartoon. For example, there are a couple of jokes by Superman, and Xan’s seemingly omnipresent camera that is able to peer into the Batcave. There must have been drones in the 1960's DCU, because everyone always seems to have camera access to the most remote & secure places on the planet.

One final note, the plot element that really gets the ball rolling in this one is the mysterious space criminal Xyl and his final request of revenge on Superman and Batman for imprisoning him. As far as I can tell, no such adventure was ever chronicled. This is Xyl's one and only appearance, so there is an untold tale of the World's Finest team capturing Xyl just waiting to be told. Maybe if DC ever brings back the "Retroactive" books they published in the Summer of 2011, we'll get to see that story told in a 1960's style World's Finest special.
As much as I enjoyed the first chapter, this second outing of the Composite Superman is even better. It’s great to see the better art, a more impressionable story, and some serious character growth out of Joe Meach, which makes this World’s Finest Comics story a  true gem when compared to a lot of other stories from that title in this era.

Now with Joe Meach dead and the Legion statuettes destroyed, surely this must be the end of the Composite Superman, right? Wrong! Spoilers, we haven’t seen the last of the Composite Superman, or of Xan. We’ll catch more of them in World’s Finest Comics #283, which went on sale 15 years after this adventure! Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait that long before we cover that story here on the Legion of Super-Bloggers.

3 comments:

  1. The first of only two appearances by Aunt Harriet in WF.

    --jbs

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  2. I'm not sure if I like this story more than his debut appearance. His origin story has a weird appeal to it that I don't feel is in this return story. I do like how Joe sacrifices himself at the end, though.

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  3. Well, I didn't like the inscription on his monument. "Lived a villain........." He was a villain TWICE. Lived a schlub, maybe.

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