Superman, or Change - Part I
World’s Finest #142, "The Composite Superman!"
Writer – Edmond Hamilton
Pencils – Curt Swan
Inks – George Klein
Colors – Gene D’Angelo
Editor – Mort Weisinger
DC Comics, 1964
by Kyle Minor
Being a comics reader of a [ahem] “certain age”, I can say that the recycling (and re-recycling and re-re-recycling) of old ideas and characters holds a certain irresistible and guilty charm to me. Hell... anyone who’s lasted through three (and by some counts, six) reboots of the Legion of Super-Heroes and still remains a fan can’t be bothered all that much by, say... yet ANOTHER new version of Princess Projectra or Lightning Lad or Starfinger. Girl, Snake... one arm, two arms... crazy bubble-headed non-threat who is really a mesmerized Legionnaire in disguise, crazy bug-eyed ACTUAL threat who is really a different mesmerized Legionnaire in disguise—we DC readers are really used to stuff like this. Some of us actually enjoy it!
That’s why, based on recent events in the new Justice League of America (hereafter referred to by its much-easier-to-type name ‘JLA’), and Justice Society of America (‘JSA’... same same), I have decided to officially lobby The Powers That Be - or at least The Powers That Read This Column – to re-recycle another character we’ll have trouble explaining to our non-comics-reading loved ones: The Composite Superman!
I don’t think I’m spoiling much by saying that, in the aforementioned JLA and JSA – two books locked in the throes of a good, old-fashioned summer cross-over – we visit Superman’s arctic Fortress of Solitude to find that he has a life-sized collection of statues of the pals of his youth, the 1970s Legion of Super-Heroes. That’s right! Dawnstar in all her fringy glory. Wildfire in his expressively reflective face visor. Element Lad with that killer white-boy fro. Far out!
And... being of a [ahem] “certain age,” I of course can clearly recall having read (in reprint, of course... how old do you think I am, anyway?!?) the original 1964 appearance of a very similar set of statues; “The Composite Superman” in World’s Finest #142. In a story that only a 12 year old could truly love, we get a new, dramatically over-powerful super-villain, Superman, Batman and Robin all forced out of action, a nod to the Legion of Super-Heroes and one really over-the-top costume. That sure got my attention off of the physique magazine I found at that one drugstore downtown!
Here’s how it goes down: in a move that I suppose is supposed to show that Supes has yet to develop his Super-Human Resources power, he hires Joe Meach, a down on his luck high-diver (I swear I am not making that part up) as a caretaker (read “janitor”) at the Superman Museum. You know... because all a high-diver really needs is a chance to dust off a Krypton diorama to get back in his feet.
It soon becomes obvious that Superman opted to have Joe skip the psychological test part of the hiring process, because Joe does nothing but obsess about Superman and Batman and what great high-divers they probably are (now THAT part I made up), while he’s now cooling his heels sweeping up furballs in the Legion of Super-Pets exhibit.
One of the first museum exhibits Superman shows Joe during his orientation tour is a collection of statuettes of the 1960s Legion of Super-Heroes, made by a “scientific Duplicator Machine” invented by Brainiac 5 to create exact life-model replicas of each of the Legionnaires as mementos for Kal-El to take back to the 20th Century with him. No word on whether or not Superman warned Joe not to use lemon Pledge when cleaning the statuettes. Warm soapy water only may have prevented what happened next.
Locking up later that night, an errant lightning bolt (yes... another one of THOSE) shoots through an open window, as errant lightning bolts so often do in the DCU, and strikes the statuettes. This in turn releases a strange radiation that washes over Joe, instantly filling him not only with all the combined powers of the Legionnaires, but also a complete knowledge of these powers. Perhaps the fact of all that knowledge stuffed into his brain all at once pushed out any last semblance of fashion sense he had, because the look he goes for is completely unexplainable... a split-down-the-middle version of Superman and Batman’s uniforms, with all exposed skin glowing a verdant chartreuse. Take THAT Vivienne Westwood!
I for one never understood why the green skin. I mean, sure, it’s harder to show that he has Brainiac 5’s 12th-level intelligence, than it is to show, oh say... lightning bolts coming out of your hands, but still... it’s not like he was constantly stretching or bouncing or growing or shrinking. And it couldn’t have been ONLY so no one would mistake him for Superman or Batman... even from the side! Maybe he just wanted to look sinister. Or seasick. He chooses the name Composite Superman, which is obviously meant to be a dig at Batman, don’t you think?
At any rate, now full of all these powers, Joe, for some reason, doesn’t decide to finally do those incredible high dives he always dreamed of. No... that goal vanishes quicker than you can say “Lyle Norg.” Instead, he fixates on becoming a replacement for both Superman and Batman. He blackmails the boys and Robin by threatening to reveal their secret identities, which he has easily gleaned thanks to the convenience of Titanian telepathy.
Forcing them to accept them as a new partner in crime-fighting, he sets up several disasters that he handles easily, especially now that he can split into three bizarrely dressed triplicates. Our heroes then turn the tables on him by setting up a fake Kryptonite bombshell attack. When Compy (which is what I’ve now decided to call Joe) refuses to help save a Superman robot, leading a pair of Batman and Robin robots to perish in the attempt as well, they know for certain that he is NOT the friend and partner he purports to be. I guess the whole blackmailing thing wasn’t definitive proof enough. Hm.
(But Compy is too clever for them! How? You'll have to wait till next week to find out, kids. Meanwhile, make your own Compy costume and threaten to reveal the true identities of those around you. You'll see how fast they buckle and beg for mercy—Editor.)
San Francisco comics reader Kyle Minor was thrilled when his West Virginia high school friends gave him a set of tiny statuettes of each of them as keepsakes when they all graduated, but his college roommates always thought they were pretty creepy, so he ended up selling them all at a garage sale. Ah, memories.
All images and characters TM and © 1964 of DC Comics, Inc. Review © 2007 Kyle Minor.
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