Following on Monday’s Bat-post, there are a couple more Batman stories from 1964 I wanted to talk about. First, from World’s Finest Comics #143, we have a story that asks the question some fans used to ask — in partnering with Superman, what on Earth does Batman bring to the table?
In the opening of the Edmond Hamilton/Curt Swan “Feud Between Batman and Superman,” a bullet bounces off Superman’s body and hits Batman, leaving him in critical condition. Shaken by the experience, he tells Superman their partnership is done, kaput, over — he and Robin can’t play in the same league as the world’s mightiest hero. Superman doesn’t need their help; all they can do is slow him down. Which is a thought I had more than once as a teen.
Superman then does what a lot of superheroes do when a super-friend has lost their mojo, come up with a trick to restore Batman’s confidence. He invites Batman and Robin to join him and Jimmy in Kandor, where there’s a mystery Batman can help him solve (Hamilton wrote several stories in this period treating Jimmy as Superman’s Robin). Back on Krypton, a band of criminals once transformed themselves into unstoppable Metalloids. Now, Superman’s friend Than-Ar tells the Dynamic Duo, the Metalloids have reappeared, launching a Kandorian crime-wave. Can Earth’s greatest detective help out?
The Metalloid is actually Than-Ar, creating a fake menace for Batman. Superman figures in Kandor, where Clark is powerless, Batman won’t feel overshadowed and will regain his confidence. Unlike any other time a superhero’s tried this trick, Batman sees through it — not by brilliant detection, just by hearing Jimmy discuss it with Superman. The implied condescension infuriates him, leading to the two heroes working out their feelings as shown on the cover.
Of course it all works out in the end. It turns out someone has stolen the Metalloid tech from Than-Ar and is pulling real thefts; Superman, without his powers, is no match for them. It’s up to Batman to save the day for real, which restores his confidence. And of course, he forgives the Man of Might for gaslighting him. In showing its heroes so human and fallible it’s an unusual story for the time (but not unique, as I’ll cover in another post).
Then in November, 1964, nine months before Lee and Kirby gave us Marvel’s legendary Hydra, Bill Finger (with rather bland art by Bob Kane [as noted in comments, probably Sheldon Moldoff ghosting]) gave us Hydra in Batman #167, “Zero Hour for Earth.” I knew Batman had faced Hydra — okay, a Hydra — first but I’d never read the story before last weekend.
In the opening, Hydra guns down an Interpol agent arriving in Gotham City. Commissioner Gordon informs the press Hydra is an international crime syndicate named after the Greek myth. Batman announces he’s going to devote himself to avenging the agent, slaying Hydra like a “modern-day Hercules.”
Batman heads off on a round-the-world trip hunting Hydra agents but reveals to Robin it’s just a smoke screen. Before he died, the agent warned Batman that Karabi, an international criminal mastermind, was plotting to plunge the world into nuclear war. Karabi’s shooter killed the Interpol agent but by pretending otherwise Batman can keep Karabi off-guard.
With Karabi unaware the Dynamic Duo are on his tail, they’re able to thwart his scheme. At the end of the story, Dick points out to Bruce that they’ve done so much damage busting Hydra’s leadership they may have beaten that crime cartel too. Time will tell, Bruce replies — time will tell.
Apparently Dick was right. Like Big Shot and Patricia Powell (see Monday’s post), Hydra never returned. It’s tempting to think Stan got the name from Bill Finger — though the hydra’s been a metaphor for evil forces since the 1700s — but I honestly don’t care. Much as I love Finger’s writing, his Hydra is just another of the clever gangs Batman ran into during the New Look period. This Hydra steals stuff but they’re nowhere near as ambitious in their plans as Karabi is. Even if Hydra had returned, I can’t imagine they’d have been as interesting or memorable as the epic melodrama Lee and Kirby developed in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
But of course, I’m still glad I finally read this one.
#SFWApro. Covers by Swan and Infantino.