World's Finest Comics #283 September 1982 "Prologue"
Written by Cary Burkett
Pencilled by George Tuska
Inked by Frank McLaughlin
Lettered by John Costanza
Colored by Gene D'Angelo
Len Wein Editor
Cover by Rich Buckler & Frank Giacoia
The seemingly dead Composite Superman (as chronicled in World's Finest Comics #168 covered HERE) who hates the World's Finest Team so much that he cosplays as an amalgam of them, has returned to menace Superman & Batman in the pages of 1982's World's Finest Comics #283 in the first part of a two part epic, appropriately titled "Prologue."
After a gorgeous opening splash page, our story gets rolling on page two of the comic where we watch a mysterious prisoner in a galactic hazmat suit escape from the cold, desolate clutches of an icy prison-colony planet.
A few weeks later in Gotham City on a hot summer evening, Batman's patrol is interrupted by a visit from Superman. However, something seems amiss. Superman remains silent, his only greeting for Batman a blast of Super-Breath that sends the Caped Crusader tumbling towards the pavement below. Thankfully, Batman is able to use his acrobatic skills to tumble in the air and grab a flag pole to save him from sure death.
A few hours later in Metropolis, Superman is greeted by a silent Dark Knight, whose only message for the Last Son of Krypton is one of death, courtesy of a giant chunk of Kryptonite. Superman manages to muster the strength to crawl to the edge of the rooftop and plummet to the ground below, getting him out of range of the deadly Kryptonite radiation.
Moments later, a fully recovered Superman bursts through the floor of the Batcave to confront Batman for the previous attempt on his life. Batman is naturally puzzled by the accusation, and in turn questions Superman's motives for nearly killing him earlier on patrol. But their accusations are interrupted when the Composite Superman finally reveals himself to the World's Finest team. But how can this be? The Composite Superman died with the heroic actions of his human alter ego Joe Meach! That's a question for another day (and the next issue), and so the Composite Superman showcases the entire power-set of the Legion of Super-Heroes, humiliating Superman & Batman. After the Composite Superman wipes the floor with the Last Son of Krypton and Caped Crusader, he flies off gloating, as the pair reminisces about their past encounters with the Composite Superman & the source of his powers.
Batman & Superman realize they must take the fight to their mysterious enemy, before he can use his vast power to destroy the world, or use his Chameleon Boy powers to do dastardly deeds disguised as them. So Superman patrols Metropolis, making himself a visible target for the wrath of the Composite Superman, in hopes of luring him within striking distance of Batman with the Phantom Zone Projector. The Composite Superman reveals himself, appearing to step right into the World's Finest Team's trap, but with Saturn Girl's mind reading powers, he easily avoids the super-team's plan, and pounds them both into the ground for a third time just for good measure. It seems his superiority has finally broken the Man of Steel's resolve, as Superman turns coward and flies off in retreat, leaving Batman to fend for himself.
This of course is all an act, one that took all of Superman's concentration to prevent the Composite Superman from reading his mind and deducing his true plan. Superman knows his only hope is to journey into the future to recruit a little help...for the only way to defeat a mad man with the combined powers of the entire Legion of Super-Heroes is to journey into the future and recruit the Legion itself to aid him!
Next issue, Superman, Batman, and THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES take on the Composite Superman!
Starting with the glorious cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia, it's a simple but incredibly effective & iconic design, as we see the Composite Superman lunging menacingly at the World's Finest Team, whose shadows paint the background. It's essentially the reverse camera angle of the big reveal of the villain inside the issue. And speaking of the reveal inside of the issue, due to the cover, it all falls flat! As much as I love the cover, and as iconic as it is (it's certainly the first image that pops to mind whenever I think of the Composite Superman character) it wrecks what otherwise could be a real stunner inside the pages of the story! The Composite Superman was seemingly destroyed in World's Finest #168, a comic published a whole 15 years before this adventure! Readers would have never expected him to be the villain if it hadn't been spoiled on the cover! But that is really my only issue with this otherwise fun & action-packed Bronze Age romp!
The story inside is a blast! While the Composite Superman mopped the floor with Superman & Batman in their prior encounters, this time around it's different, you can just feel that the stakes are higher and the situation more dire. The Composite Superman is more cold, ruthless, and calculating. This is no doubt a combination of the more advanced storytelling of the time (Legion publishing wise, this is the same time that The Great Darkness Saga is hitting stands) and the stronger, more fluid art, compared to the two previous Silver Age adventures.
Speaking of the art, I absolutely love it! George Tuska is one that I've seen (or heard) get an unfair rep in the blogging and podcasting community. While there are certainly instances where his work in the twilight of his career, particularly in the super-hero genre, and especially when inked by Vince Colleta, is stiff and less dynamic than say a George Perez, Keith Giffen, or John Byrne, here in 1982 he is still a very competent, talented, and downright fantastic craftsman, as we see here. His style is perfectly complimented by Frank McLaughlin, one of the legendary inkers at DC in the 70's and 80's, who is probably most famously remembered as Dick Dillin's inker on Justice League. This story has a great balance of fast-paced action & a wide-array of power sets and super feats, contrasted with some great character beats and out of costume panels, and for the most part, the art is pretty stunning, just look at that opening splash page!
While this story's primary role is setup leading into the next issue (and the first time we'll actually get to see the Legion outside of a cameo revealing the source of Composite Superman's powers), it still is definitely my favorite of the three Composite Superman stories I've covered so far! I can't wait for the next issue when Superman returns from the future as the World's Finest Team & the Legion of Super-Heroes take on the Composite Superman in "I....ALMAGAMAX!"