Reviewer: John Babos
Main Story Title: “The Mystery of the Super-Batman!”
Written by: Craig Boldman
Pencils by: Alex Saviuk
Inks by: Karl Kesel
Colored by: D’Angelo
Lettered by: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Batman created by Bob Kane
Days of Future Past
As I put together a recent Near Mint Memories column on the classic Alan Moore scribed, Curt Swan pencilled and Julius Schwartz edited “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”, I found myself looking back at many of my old early 1980’s Superman comics. 1984’s Superman #400 to 1986’s Superman #423 are one of my favorite runs of continuous issues in my collection. With the exception of a handful of issues, legendary artist Curt Swan pencilled this last great pre-Crisis run.
So, to exorcise the taste of the recent Superman #200 anniversary issue mess, I went back and plucked Superman #405 from the hallowed ground of my comic-collecting youth, and am pleased to bring it to you today, almost 20 years later. (Its also one of the few issues not pencilled by Curt Swan.) This two-story issue is infused with an energy that is lacking in many of the Super-titles today. Today’s DC editorial team needs to harness that same type of energy from today’s top creators and I hope the big changes on the horizon for 2004 deliver that kind of excitement.
A One-Hero World’s Finest Team?
This classic pre-Crisis issue of Superman begins ordinarily enough. Two thieves, in broad daylight, are in mid-robbery of a museum, clutching their prize – a golden flute. As they are running to their get-away car, they almost trip over a panhandler on the museum steps. The crooks speed off, but their get-away car’s hood is crushed by the force of a… batarang? The captions for this action are quite the page-turners too…. “Criminals in Gotham City soon learn to fear the dread Batman…but this isn’t Gotham City! Actually, it’s Metropolis… home of the amazing Superman.”
Wow, I didn’t know Batman could throw one of his boomerang’s with such force… I mean, to demolish the front of car? Wow. Oh, wait a second. This is a Superman title… what gives? Fear not, intrepid reader, I’m getting to that.
I also must say that this issue opens with one of the coolest comic images of my youth – the second page displays the image of the Super-Batman – a hero garbed with Batman’s cape, cowl, and utility belt with Superman’s traditional emblem and costume. Fantastic – a fanboy’s dream, fondly remembered almost two decades later!
Starting from the Beginning
We leave the foiled heist mid-action, as writer Craig Boldman takes readers back earlier in that same day to cast some light on the origins of this amalgam Super-Batman super-hero. Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, recalls the day as starting out smoothly with a visit with his boyhood sweetheart and adult co-worker Lana Lang. They went to the Metropolis museum where her archaeologist father unveiled a new acquisition. the golden Pipes of Pan (also known as the Syrinx of Arcadia). The Lang patriarch tells his guests that “The artifact was created by an ancient cult who worshiped Pan, the Greek Forest God!”
As Lana often did, she couldn’t control her curiosity, and played the flute… causing a severe pain to shoot through the head of Superman’s alter ego – the mystical nature of the artifact revealed to readers, if not to the Langs! However, as Clark wobbles, he realizes that “neither Lana nor her father seemed to hear the piercing noise which had nearly rendered me unconscious…” Our hero is dropped off at home by Lana to rest from the odd day’s occurrence and is continued to be bothered by the throbbing of his head. He stumbles into the bathroom, looks in the mirror and is shocked to learn that he has…. grown horns?!
To get to the bottom of his horny day, Superman flys off to his winter-wonderland Fortress of Solitude. His super-computer quickly reveals all….“Pan — God of the Forest has a goat-like appearance… cloven hooves and small horns on his head, [and] this [Pan] cult had been looking for a leader… a superior being! One who would be worthy to serve as a liaison between them and the deity!”
Superman then puts two-and-two together by surmising that the Pan cult “… must have had some knowledge of sorcery… because the syrinx was created to magically brand a potential leader for their cult with a telltale sign — the ‘Horns of Pan’!”
As Superman is leaving his Fortress he realizes that another magical blast of the flute will cure his “condition”. He uses his telescopic vision and discovers that the Metropolis museum is being robbed and the flute is being stolen – a la the images the issue opened with.
Wanting to keep his “condition” a secret, Superman grabs the Batman apparel from his Fortress’ Batman exhibit, dons the cape and cowl, and uses his super-aim and strength to hurl a batarang from his arctic hideaway to Metropolis… crushing the hood of the thieves’ getaway car.
Cool. Now we’re caught up. We know why Superman has donned part of Batman’s costume, and why the museum robbery opened the issue. Now, we get to see this Super-Batman in action!
Criminals in Metropolis are not a superstitious cowardly lot!
Super-Batman sped to Metropolis and foiled the crooks, delivered them to jail, and “borrowed” the flute. In the privacy of his apartment, Clark blows and blows on the flute, but nothing’s happening. He notices chips on the flute, and when the gold starts flaking off, he realizes he’s got a fake flute!
After a brief visit from Lana Lang who insists that their TV station boss Morgan Edge wants Clark at work the next day or else, he flys off to clear his head. In his travels, the Super-Batman foils another robbery in a scene reminiscent of Batman’s origin – a wealthy couple being robbed. To contrast this pivotal moment, a scowling Super-Batman, intending to scare the thieves straight, is jeered by the crooks instead who think he’s some clown in a costume playing games! Realizing that Batman’s spooky costume just wasn’t scary enough – our hero uses his heat vision to crack open a fire hydrant, releasing water to encumber the fleeing robbers. He follows up with blast of super-breath to freeze the water and the crooks in the their tracks. Continuing his public property destruction spree, Super-Batman uses his super-strength and rips up the pavement with the frozen thieves and flys them off to prison.
Clark Kent… fearless flyboy?
Having horns also causes problems for Super-Batman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent. To keep them hidden, Clark decides to end a televised report on a sky-diving club by taking a plunge out of an airplane – wearing a helmet to conceal his “condition” throughout his story. His boss, Morgan Edge, is shocked that the “scaredy-cat” Clark Kent took a literal flying leap!
After his airplane stunt, Kent saunters off, dons his Super-Batman costume and flys off to solve the mystery of the stolen Pipes of Pan. Our hero uses his super-memory and recalls the museum heist, that he spied earlier with his telescopic vision, in live Technicolor. That’s when it hits our hero – the museum thieves were double-crossed by their boss – he had actually hired an expert pick-pocket to pose as a panhandler and switch flutes during the thieves’ getaway!
Super-Batman visits the incarcerated thieves who eagerly give up the name of their boss once they learn that they’ve been duped. Our hero flys across town and confronts the thieves’ small-time boss, Wesley Wood, who is marveling over his prize – the Pipes of Pan. As Super-Batman subdues Wood, in a last ditch effort, the crook blows the magical flute and brings our hero to his knees – a searing pain ripping through his head. A momentarily super-powerless Super-Batman must resort to Batman’s toys, and uses a lasso from his utility belt to capture the fleeing crook.
Gotham City Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot!
In subduing Wesley Wood, our hero learns that this whole affairs’ nefarious benefactor, the “big fish” if you will, is Roderick Forest – a Pan / Forest God aficionado and Gotham City kingpin of the “Big Crime Wheel” who just expanded operations into Metropolis.
Trying again, yet again, to be menacing, the Super-Batman decides to call it a day (sort of) and confronts Forest simply as a horned… Superman. Forest knows the significance of the “Horns of Pan”, cowers before the “deviled” Man of Steel, who is clearly no super-actor as he delivers an over-the-top “spooky” performance to scare the Gotham City import. B-B-BWAAA!!, indeed.
Tying up lose ends… in a bow
In his support of prison-justice, Superman delivers the two-timing small-time crime boss Wesley Wood into the same Metropolis jail cell as the thieves he double-crossed – there were beatings in his future no doubt. The “big fish”, Forest, is deposited with the Gotham City authorities. The cops remark that they prefer Superman’s “devil-horns” to his Batman suit – sweet.
The issue ends nicely with Clark Kent explaining to Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego, the events of the day over the phone… “… and the best part was… the blast from the pipes that Wood gave me set off the ‘healing process’! The horns disappeared moments after I left the police!”
On a more humorous note, Clark asks Bruce, “How do you ever manage to scare anyone in that get-up of yours?” That running gag through the issue is tied up nicely with a bit of, um, super-humour.
The next day, as Clark is handing Lana the Pipes of Pan to return to her father, and to resolve one other dangling plot thread, Morgan Edge calls Clark Kent into his office to talk about his airplane stunt. Edge explains that, “I watched you make a spectacle of yourself on the tube yesterday! It threw me at first, but I finally figured out what it was all about!”
Of course Clark Kent is worried now that Edge may have discovered his super-hero persona, but is quickly relieved when Edge continues with, “You’ve never been known for your back-bone — but you decided you’d rather risk your neck for a story than to simply come to me and ask for a raise! I like that!…. You’ll see how much I liked it in your next paycheck!… But lay off the grandstand stuff! A good newsman is hard to find!”
The Final Cut
All plot threads were tied in a nice tight bow giving readers a sweet satisfying gift of a read. This story’s scribe, Craig Boldman, delivered solid charaterization, well-timed elements of humour, and, you know, its just cool to see a Super-Batman exist, even if only for a short time. However, he uses way too many exclamation marks !!!!!!
You’ll also notice that I’ve emphasized the many super-powers on display in this issue – unlike today’s Superman, in yesteryear, you knew this hero was super every time you opened an issue. When was the last time Superman used much more than his super-strength or flight in an issue recently? Few and far between sadly. This tale, conversely, in Superman #405 is super-written.
Penciller Alex Saviuk’s work is just stunning. While I’ve always loved Curt Swan’s classic Superman look, Saviuk’s pencils really made Superman look contemporary, hip, and powerful – needed ingredients for a story that delivers a fanboy fantasy – a tale about a Superman / Batman two-in-one hero.
Inker Karl Kesel rocked – he remains one of my all time favourite inkers (and pencillers for that matter too).
And, what can be said about Editor Julius Schwartz that hasn’t been said by many others before? This story really shows the benefit of solid editing with all plot threads tied up and a consistency in how the story was told. His choice of the writer and artists were bang on as they complemented on another quite well and delivered an excellent tale to readers.
Wow, this is an example of what comics should be! And… it as only the first of two stories in this issue. This 16-page Super-Batman tale is followed up with an 8-page simple Christmas tale.
Do you believe in super-heroes?
Back-up Story Title: Yes, Lowell, there is a Superman.
Written by: Bob Rozakis
Art by: Kurt Schaffenberger
Colored by: D’Angelo
Lettered by: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
This 8-pager revolves around Perry White’s holiday guests. Perry’s Canadian friends are visiting Metropolis and their son Lowell doesn’t believe in Santa Claus or Superman. Clark Kent was walks in to wish Perry a “Merry Christmas” (at a time when it was ok to do so, unlike today where “Happy Holidays” and “Season Greetings” are the culturally-blind / bland salutation) and overhears this young boy doubt that the Man of Steel is real.
Clark decides to pop in to visit Perry’s guests, as Superman, but is side-tracked by super-heroing:
– preventing a car-bus accident
– making sure two children aren’t electrocuted by dangling wires
– explaining to those same children the dangers of snowball fights
– smothering a Christmas tree fire
– taking a senior citizen who collapsed while shoveling snow to the hospital
– delivering an ambulance with a pregnant woman in labour to the hospital
All the while Perry White is trying to convince Lowell that Superman is real to no avail.
The issue ends with Superman finally meeting Lowell and taking him for flight on his shoulders over the Metropolis skyline.
Illustrating the traditional soft humour of the day, Lowell exclaims: “I believe… I believe in Superman! But I’ll tell you something else — I still don’t believe in Santa Claus”. To which Superman responds “Ho Ho Ho” as they continue their flight over Metropolis.
This was a nice, simple, and tender story that was well written and drawn. It had a heart that I miss in today’s Superman tales.
Happy New Year
I hope you enjoyed this stroll through time and I’d like to wish you and yours a very prosperous New Year.