Who’s Who Presents – Who’s That? #8: Composite Superman

BECAUSE PATREON DEMANDED IT! For the eighth episode of WHO'S THAT?, Shag and Rob discuss WORLD'S FINEST #s 283 and 284, where Superman and Batman face off against The Composite Superman!

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17 responses to “Who’s Who Presents – Who’s That? #8: Composite Superman

  1. This was my era of World’s Finest. I had a few issues of the anthology format, but it was the Superman/Batman format I remember most. I too like Superman and Batman as friends. Hanging out, asking each other if they saw the game last night, and going to grab a burger and a milkshake once the adventure is over.
    Composite Superman is an absolute disaster of a concept! Even as a kid I thought this was one of the dumbest looking characters I’d ever seen. Nothing works or makes sense. Why isn’t he called SuperBatman? Why the green skin? The costume is just dumb. The origin is absolutely ridiculous. Of course this guy is from the Silver Age! Sometimes I think it should be called The Quicksilver Age since mercury poisoning would explain the insanity of these concepts. The question of Composite Superman isn’t “who’s that?” but “WHY!?!”
    Finally… if Atom had used Hostess Snack Cakes, he’d have wrapped that story up in a single page.

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  2. So if a composite podcasting villain of you two guys is ever created, I think that – rather than Shrob – he’d be called Rag…

    Otherwise, count me among those who really didn’t like the transition of World’s Finest from a dollar comic to the normal format – I recall being so upset that I skipped these two issues. The change in format wasn’t the only thing that kept me away: I recall thinking Composite Superman was a goofy concept ever since I read his origin in a digest a year or two earlier. (I did pick up WF #285, lured by the Frank Miller cover and it’s bombastic “all new” claim, but was unimpressed and permanently dropped the title after that.)
    Enjoyed the discussion, though: although – as a child of the Bronze Age – I very much sympathize with Rob’s enthusiasm for the story, based on the recap and the art samples on the gallery page, I’m inclined to think that Shag’s assessment is more on the nose.

  3. 1. LOVE the cover
    2 thought it was gonna be a really werid two-face story
    3 Superman and Batman not being friends starts with Darkkight returns where a very bitter Batman with 25 years to the think about it take’s on a Superman who does’nt care about the fight too much. I’m sorry in their prime? SUPERMAN BETTER like Batman or Batman wakes up in arkam wondering what day it is and why his teeth are in his ear
    4 all that said statues of the LEGION IN 1981 FEELS like something some time cop should be worried about.

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  4. I first read about the Composite Superman as a kid in Fleisher´s Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, and being a sucker for all things Legion, I was intrigued. Did not see the actual character until I came back to comics, way after Crisis and only on Who´s who type of publications. So I do appreciate the podcast and the issue, and I sit on the fence aboout the storytelling styles, being anphibious myself when it comes to it.
    I was not aware of the Giffen cover, a shame being a fan both of creator and characters.

    As a side note, it was kind o unsettling/funny to have Shagg act as the bitter old man, a role mastered by Rob historically…

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  5. I really enjoy these deep dives into specific characters. It’s nice to hear discussions on some of the more obscure corners of superhero comics. Yes, Composite Superman is goofy, but the older I get the less I enjoy the sturm & drang of most current comics. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t find the recent DC & Marvel stories more sophisticated than what I was reading in the Bronze Age. Finally, if I were to recommend 3 characters worthy of a Who’s That episode: Anthro, Gnarrk, & Crazy Quilt.

  6. I bought these comics right off the rack, and I enjoyed them. I had met the Composite Superman just a year or so earlier in DC Special Series #23, a digest comic! It reprinted his first appearance, and he gets to show up on the front AND back cover. You need to cover this on Digest Cast!

    I was disappointed the guy in this issue WASN’T the REAL Composite Superman, because I liked him! He’s the type of fever-dream character that appeals to young kids…which was the intended audience of the World’s Finest comics. Not jaded middle-aged men. 😉

    And it was always cool to see adult Superman team with the Legion. I missed the Dollar Format though. I really hated to see DC abandon it. That was the early days of my personal Golden Age.

    And I will point out that the World’s Finest series Mark Waid is writing, and that grumpy old Shag recommended, has Supergirl and Robin just time-traveling under Kara’s own power, willy-nilly, just like this. I get the point that if it was that easy to time travel, well, it would be utter chaos. But Shag is a huge Doctor Who fan…

    I didn’t care for Tuska’s art much back in the day, but I appreciate it much more now. He had been drawing The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes newspaper strip for several years by this point, and this is right around when it morphed into a Superman-only strip. Am I the only one who thinks the Mego 12″ Superman figure looks more like Tuska’s Superman than the intended Christopher Reeve?

    Mego 12

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  7. This was a (com)positively super-fun episode, Rob and Shag! My thanks to you both and also to Ted for requesting it.

    I want to add my two cents on Superman and Batman’s working relationship. I agree that the immediate post-Crisis creators got the initial stages correct. They have too many differences to quickly gel, especially when they’re both young and their worldviews are not as sophisticated as they will one day be. However, in the best versions I’ve seen, they eventually grow into mutual trust, admiration, and respect, even though they still frequently disagree over methods.

    Over at Marvel, Captain America and Nick Fury have a similar relationship. So do Jack Ryan and John Clark in the original Tom Clancy novels. (Come to think of it, so do my brother and I.) In all those cases, it makes sense that they would often disagree. They not only have different formative experiences, they have different daily experiences. The world doesn’t work the same for one as it does for the other, so they have different expectations. I remember a nineties comic where Batman was struck by the fact that many people — even some criminals — would help Superman just because he’s Superman. He inspires that in people. Batman has to get cooperation through manipulation, appeals to duty, or fear. And for all his power and intelligence, Superman can’t do some things Batman can do. He can be scary, but it doesn’t come as easily to him. And Superman is far from naive, but he doesn’t have the same insight into evil that Batman does. Few do, really. So, the differences in their abilities extend far beyond Superman’s powers and Batman’s money and gadgets.

    One of my favorite moments in comics happens in Morrison’s JLA when Superman is being held and tortured by the Hyperclan. The Hyperclan realize Batman is hunting them, and the Hyperclan leader orders the others to hunt him down, noting that he’s only one man. Superman hears them and grins, despite his pain, and remarks that Batman is the most dangerous man on Earth.

    The Franklins have covered similar moments on JLUcast. In a Justice League episode, when Superman disappears and is presumed dead, Batman refuses to believe it. It isn’t just wishful thinking. He has so much respect for Superman, he just doesn’t believe he can be killed so easily. On Justice League Unlimited, one episode has Batman falling to his imminent death in the middle of a battle. Superman appears and saves him. They both consider this so expected, so commonplace, so unremarkable that they make no note of it, and immediately begin discussing strategy in mid-air.

    So, while Superman and Batman are initially wary of one another, they quickly grow to accept that they have different strengths and limitations. Even in Byrne’s Man of Steel, young Superman accepts that young Batman’s methods work better in Gotham than his own would. I think it’s these differences, along with their own self-awareness and mutual appreciation, that make them the World’s Finest team.

      1. Not in the least. And the podcast was pretty entertaining too. I too am a post-Crisis baby (I began reading comics with Who’ Who), but I have come to enjoy the zany stuff that came before.

  8. Great episode! What could be better than podcasting’s World’s Finest duo tackling one of my favorite characters!

    I adore Composite Superman. Before you call for men to escort me to a padded room, let me explain.

    A lot of my love for Composite Superman comes from nostalgia. When I was little, one Christmas I got a box filled with 50 to 60 Silver Age DC comics. There was a smattering of comics featuring almost every main DC superhero, but the majority of the comics were Flash, Adventure Comics starring Superboy and the Legion and World’s Finest. Some of the issues included were the 1st half of the Sun Eater story, the 1st appearance of the Adult Legion and the 1st appearance of Composite Superman.

    As I grew up, I realized that the Composite Superman was also a really great concept. Let me explain.

    In the Silver Age, Marvel Comics were created by a tiny team of overworked creators. Because of this, Marvel characters made cameo appearances in other Marvel comics all the time.

    In comparison, DC Comics was a cutting edge company. They had a team of managers who each oversaw their own set of properties and those managers each had their own team of freelancers working for them. One side effect of this is that each comic book had its own cast of characters.

    I LOVE the Legion, but Flash and Batman never teamed up with them in the Silver Age. Since Superboy was in the Legion, Superman didn’t interact with the Legion that often. That’s part of the charm of the Adult Legion story. I don’t know if the Legion ever appeared in World’s Finest during the Silver Age. If they did, it was probably only a tiny cameo.

    Composite Superman was a way to crossover the Legion with Superman and Batman. And, they got to fight each other!

    Why the name? Superman had a TV show, cartoons, a newspaper strip and a radio show. Batman was cool, but Superman was DC’s #1 character. You had to call him Superman.

    Why the odd costume? He was created specifically to appear in a Superman / Batman book, so of course he would look like a mashup of the two. Besides, splitting him down the middle looked a lot cooler than him having Superman’s top half and Batman’s bottom half.

    Why is he green? So if you see a profile of him, you can instantly tell that he isn’t Superman or Batman.

    Hopefully that explains why I love this extremely silly character. Thanks again for a great episode!

  9. The episode I never thought would be recorded! I think this entire community needs to extend a big thank you to Mr.Kilvington!

    As goofy as Composite Superman is, his look is so strong, as Rob pointed out, that it transcends all the wackiness of his origin and power set. And, when he was created, this Silver Age silliness was common place. He’s struck by lightning and gets super powers? Sure, why not. His powers are from Legion statuettes that had power imbued in them by time travelling teenagers? Say no more. He has Legion powers but decides to be half Superman, half Bat-Man? No explanation needed. Now make with the punchy punchy!

    As much as I enjoy seeing Composite Superman, I think I would have first encountered him in the original Who’s Who. And he gets a full page so he MUST be important! I’m not sure that I’ve read that many stories he’s in, but look at the entry. I enjoy how he is flexing his Superman muscles while cloaking his Batman groin. Power and mystery combined into one!

    I wish I had been following World’s Finest at this point so I could have read this when it came out, but my World’s Finest finds on the spinner rack were spotty, at best. But I’m not sure I would have picked it up as I would also have been bummed out that it was no longer a Dollar Comic and didn’t feature any more Captain Marvel stories. This seemed like a fun, nonsense story and it was great to hear your views on it.

    Shrob? Would that be the Composite version of you two? Or would it be more a Firestorm version? Who gets to be the floating head?

    Well done on highlighting this excellent (?) villain! I’m looking forward to Who’s Next! Keep up the great work!

  10. I always liked that Trek TOS episode where Composite Superman showed up to do battle with Composite Batman (who is different because he’s Superman on the left and Batman on the right). My favorite part is Shatner’s deadpan reaction of “I fail to see the significant difference” right before proceeding to cook a moister, tastier turkey. There might be parts of the episode I haven’t remembered quite right, it’s been a while.

  11. Wow, when Shagg really decides to not find his joy, he really digs in his heels! It made me wonder if this had been a Bob Haney-scripted character if he would have been more open to it. Which reminded me that Bob Haney HAD taken a crack at a similar story in the pages of Brave and the Bold, as seen here: https://dc.fandom.com/wiki/The_Brave_and_the_Bold_Vol_1_56
    Having read that story, I can say there must have been something really wonky in the NYC water supply in 1964!

    That said, I love the Composite-Superman! Clearly Mort Weisinger was asking younger readers what they wanted to see in Worlds Finest and this is what he discovered they wanted. I bet some young fan even drew a picture in crayons that Weisinger gave to Curt Swan to show what was needed for comic book immortality!

    Looking back on this story, it was fun to hear you gents cover it and great to see the George Tuska art in the gallery section. As a Bronze Age Kid, I loved Tuska’s work. I enjoyed his Iron Man work, and even though it was often inked by either Jack Abel or Vince Colletta, Tuska’s style still shown through very strongly. Just looking at the confrontation between Batman and the Composite-Superman, Tuska had a different way of showing combat than Kirby or Buscema would depict; Tuska’s combatants seemed to go at each other like football or rugby players, with lunges, tackles and shoulder shoving that almost begged for bowling pin sound effects to be added in.

    One thing about Amalgamax: I’m pretty sure that by this time, DC had already introduced the new look for Brainiac and the warsuit for Lex Luthor. When I first read this Worlds Finest story, I was under the impression that DC editorial was trying to update the Composite Superman for the new era, giving him a new look so that he could stand alongside Luthor and Brainiac as viable 80s threats for the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as successful as they might have hoped; maybe because the new look wasn’t designed by George Perez or Ed Hannigan (or even John Byrne, who updated Metallo’s look from his cool orange and green armor). Which is funny because the end of the Worlds Finest era is peppered with new opponents created by Dave Kraft and Ed Hannigan (who was fresh off of having helped create Cloak and Dagger for Marvel).

    I was also curious about the appearances of these different characters that featured the combined powers of different heroes, and compiled a little list:

    – Amazo, first appearance in Brave and the Bold #30, cover dated July 1960
    – Super-Skrull, first appearance Fantastic Four #18, cover dated September 1963
    – Composite-Superman, first appearance Worlds Finest #142, cover dated June 1964
    – Argon android, first appearance in Brave and the Bold #56, cover dated November 1964
    – Metamorpho, first appearance in Brave and the Bold #57, cover dated January 1965
    – Ultra the Multi-Alien, first appearance in Mystery in Space #103, cover dated November 1965
    – The Mimic, first appearance in X-Men #19, cover dated April 1966
    – The Super-Adaptoid, first appearance in Tales of Suspense #82, cover dated October 1966

    I also included Ultra and Metamorpho just to see the timing on these split-design heroes and their relation to Composite-Superman.

    ….which bring me to my own idea of how they could have explained Composite-Superman for the modern era. If DC had taken a hint from Marvel and had a villain who loved making life hard for the Man of Steel by giving special abilities to people who had a grudge against Superman. Much like Loki would give the Wrecker (and the Wrecking Crew) and the Absorbing Man, there could be a power broker who could give Superman a rough time. I think in the post-Crisis DC tried to make Luthor be that guy with him being behind Bizarro and the new Metallo with multiple bits of Kryptonite to bedevil the Man of Steel, but I think they missed the really obvious choice, especially for the Composite-Superman with his crazy look and powerful set of abilities. I think the real character for making Composite-Superman an ongoing concern would have been Mr. Mxyzptlk.

  12. The story *I* picked when I did a “Who’s Composite-Superman?” post was the middle one (WFC 168), so it’s fun to hear about a different one. Full disclosure: http://siskoid.blogspot.com/2022/06/whos-composite-superman.html

    Shag mentions that if he were a Legion villain, he’d be a lot better. Well he WAS! The Reboot gave us the Composite Man, who is essentially this dude with the Batman/Superman overlay – first appearance Legionnaires #25. Shotgun and I covered the storyline at the Legion of Super-Bloggers

    Hey, I don’t know about anyone else, but if the Who’s Who Podcast would go back and do one story per entry this way, I think it would be a great second life for this corner stone of the Network.

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