Originally, the World's Finest team was a three-handed game consisting of Batman, Superman and Robin. The aegis expanded to include Jimmy Olsen, Batgirl and Supergirl. I look upon the World's Finest as the Batman and Superman Families combined. These are ten moments from the Bronze Age that allowed me to emotionally invest in characters that I still love.
10. Detective Comics #491
"Riddle of the Golden Fleece" starring Batman & Maxie Zeus
Maxie Zeus was a criminal mastermind who suffered from delusions of grandeur. He believed himself to be Zeus. A modernized, more sophisticated version of the television villain King Tut, Zeus based his traps and crimes on the Greek myths. To further distinguish Zeus from typical crazies and his campy source, writer Denny O'Neil bestowed to Zeus an adorable daughter named Medea, whom he loved above all else.
In Medea's debut story, Maxie Zeus intends to give his daughter the gift of a valuable bolt of gold fabric, stolen of course. Batman cannot allow that, but he also cannot let the little girl go away empty handed. This moment where Batman buys Medea a doll demonstrated that the Darknight Detective had a heart and was indeed human.
9. Detective Comics #472
"I am the Batman!" starring Batman, Robin & Hugo Strange
When Professor Hugo Strange kidnaps Batman, learns his secret identity and then usurps that alter-ego to pillage the Wayne fortune, there's one person Hugo cannot dupe. Silver St. Cloud. The love of Batman's life, Silver calls Dick Grayson and tells him that something's seriously wrong with Bruce. Dick plays dumb, but when Dick hangs up the phone, his demeanor sharpens.
After deducing where Bruce might be held captive, Robin goes on a rampage. Robin blows the door, tosses gas bombs and plows through Hugo Strange's Monster Men. Robin then takes down Magda, Strange's henchwench who, after battling with Alfred, accidentally injects herself with the Monster Formula.
I was never a big fan of Robin. I liked him well enough as a side-kick and junior partner to Batgirl inBatman Family, but I never thought he could possibly fill Batman's boots. This is the only moment that I saw Robin as an inheritor of Batman's cape and cowl.
8. The Brave and the Bold #150
"Today Gotham–Tomorrow the World!" starring Batman & Superman
When kidnapers abduct Jimmy Olsen, Superman goes undercover as a thug named Karns. This occurred in Brave and the Bold #150. The creators of the story did their best to keep Superman's identity secret. The cover featured Batman smiling before a backdrop of the past 149 covers and a question mark standing in for Superman's name.
What makes this moment memorable, in addition to Jim Aparo's awe-inspiring artwork, is that Superman wasn't known for his intelligence. Lex Luthor perceived a deficiency in every one of their encounters, but Superman keeps Batman guessing for half the story. That's almost too much to hope for, when attempting to fool the World's Greatest Detective.
7. The Brave and the Bold #160
"The Brimstone Connection" starring Batman & Supergirl
Superman was never a boy scout in the Bronze Age. Neither was Supergirl a Brownie. When Linda Danvers' adopted father, a STAR scientist, is kidnapped over a new rocket fuel he developed, she goes to Batman for help. In the process, readers see a side of Supergirl they never have seen before.
Gotham General Hospital must have been packed the day Supergirl soared into Batman's city. During the investigation, the Maid of Might tosses around thugs as if they were throw pillows.
Backed by Batman's detective skills, Kara uses her Kryptonian powers to unravel a complexity of spies. When the story winds down and the World's Finest locates Fred Danvers, Supergirl actually lands a glancing blow against the Big Bad's head.
Superman does not hit humans. One slap from Superman's hand is lethal. Supergirl is just perhaps a hair shy of Superman's level of power, especially during the Bronze Age. Thanks to Jim Aparo's art, it appears that Supergirl's blow fractures Sulphur's skull and pieces of bone are flecking off. At that moment, I fell in love with Supergirl.
6. DC Comics Presents #28
"Warworld! " Starring Superman, Supergirl & Mongul
Kara's raw power is put to the test in DC Comics Presents #28. A creature called Mongul has been threatening the galaxy for a good four or five issues of Len Wein's and Jim Starlin's run. The art and writing lent weight to Mongul's menace, and you received the impression that this character was more dangerous than all the despots that Superman and Supergirl thwarted over the years.
To accomplish his goals of intergalactic tyranny, Mongul created a planet-sized death machine called Warworld, and it was up to Supergirl to destroy it. Supergirl attains the greatest velocity she has ever achieved and uses her invulnerable body to act as a pin-point laser.
The result is devastating. Supergirl bores right through Warworld. The tactic destroys Mongul's terror mech and knocks her unconscious. In a superb display of Newtonian Physics, Kara continues to travel roughly at the same speed she attained. She travels so fast that it takes a creature more powerful than Superman to stop her flight.
The next issue, we discover that Supergirl did her job so well that had the Spectre not manifested when he did, Supergirl would have breached the very gates of heaven.
5. The Brave and the Bold #182
"Interlude on Earth-Two" starring Batman, Batwoman, Robin & Hugo Strange
One realm played heavily in the Bronze Age. Earth-Two. It all started with the Silver Age story "The Flash of Two Worlds," and the writers and artists of the Bronze Age took the concept farther. They considered the dramatic consequences in a parallel earth.
On Earth-One, the Bronze Tiger brutally murdered Kathy Kane, who had recently resumed her crimefighting career as Batwoman in Batman Family. Batman found Kathy's body. Her murder sent Batman on one of his fiercest vengeance crusades. Eventually he tracked down the Bronze Tiger and slapped Kathy's mask at the Tiger's feet to challenge the assassin in a duel to the death. I have no doubt. Batman was ready and willing to kill.
On Earth-Two, this event never happened. Batwoman lives, and that brings me to this memorable moment from Brave and the Bold #182. A "freak" lightning storm pulls Batman from Earth-One to Earth-Two. There he meets up with Robin of Earth-Two, whom he met briefly in Justice League of America, and for the first time Kathy Kane.
Batman's encounter with Batwoman, again beautifully illustrated by the woefully underrated Jim Aparo, is unparalleled. This is the moment that delivers the promise of a parallel earth.
The drama of Batwoman's death is still valid, yet the Earth-Two Batwoman lives on. Batman recognizes Kathy as a different person, an echo of the woman he once knew. Batwoman sees the similarities. She feels she is in danger of falling for the Earth-Two Batman's counterpart. The story isn't just about stopping the bad guy. It's about two people who lost somebody and the remembrance of those loved ones' lives, not their deaths.
The story ends with Batman stating how much he missed Batwoman and how glad he was to be reminded of her again. He kisses Kathy good-bye on the cheek, and Starman sends Batman on his merry way. This leaves the trio of Earth-Two heroes wondering exactly what brought Batman to their planet in the first place. The implication is that Batman's spirit still guards Gotham.
4. DC Super-Stars #17
"From Each Ending…A Beginning!" starring the Huntress, Batman & Catwoman.
When Paul Levitz and Joe Staton decided that Batman and Catwoman should have a daughter, they forged history. In DC Super Stars #17 Helena Wayne's mother is falsely blackmailed into becoming Catwoman to pull off one last heist for her crew. The semi-retired Batman intervenes, and the tragic events fall like dominoes.
Catwoman sacrifices her life to save Batman. In the process, she calls out his true name, and Batman knows that the woman in Catwoman's costume is no imposter. Selina dies in Batman's arms. Bruce Wayne hangs up his cape and cowl for good. Helena don's her father's cloak. Huntress, the first super-hero legacy daughter, is born.
Helena Wayne was the toughest super-hero on Earth-Two. After avenging her mother, Helena trashed gang lords, super-villains and psychotics from Batman's rogue's gallery. She challenged the original Huntress–Wildcat's foe–and won the right to use the name. She in addition put an end to the Earth-One Catwoman's final crime spree.
Helena began as a vengeance-driven vigilante just like her father, but as time passed, she softened. Not on crime. Never on crime. Reflecting the Batgirl/Supergirl bond, Huntress became a friend to Power Girl. She in fact helped Kara establish the secret identity of Karen Starr, software entrepreneur. Huntress became close to Batgirl and Batwoman. At her most engaging, Huntress viewed the Earth-One Batman as her "Uncle Bruce," and he welcomed the orphaned Helena whenever she visited. In a way, Huntress symbolized the cohesiveness of the Multiverse and the Batman Family.
3. Superman #336
"A Rose By Any Other Name" starring Superman & Rose and The Thorn
I first encountered the Thorn in Superman # 336. I had no idea who she was, but through this story, I learned. Not just the superficial information; such as she being a distinct persona of Rose Forest and that she emerged after The
100 murdered Rose's father. I learned that the Thorn was astoundingly gutsy and aptly named. Her moxie matched her skill. She actually used an I-Beam like a lever to deck Superman. That impressed me.
Thorn is like a human buzz-saw. In the issue, a necklace that Rose's psychiatrist hopes will bury the Thorn for good turns out to affect Superman as well. Superman tracks down the source of his dilemma, and he asks to borrow the necklace. Rose with some trepidation hands over her chain. The anxiety in Rose awakens the Thorn. The Thorn carries out the wishes of her "sister." She wants the necklace back and continuously attacks Superman. About this time, a motorcycle gang that Superman was trying to kibosh zooms down the street. Thorn forgets about Superman and literally pounces on the criminals. She'll take care of Superman later.
After this issue of Superman, I located back issues of Lois Lane and Thorn's guest-appearances in Kal-El's titles. Thorn also showed up in Brave and the Bold. She saved Batman's life in a battle against the Fourth Reich, and despite Batman hypnotizing her, she only divulges this fact: "I…am…the Thorn."
2. Detective Comics #492
"The End of Batgirl!" starring Batman, Batgirl & General Scarr
There's a myth associated with the Batgirl/Batman dynamic. Many people believe that Barbara Gordon became Batgirl because she wanted to be close to Batman. In truth, Batgirl wasn't romantically interested in Batman. Many people also think that Batman did not welcome Batgirl and chauvinistically tried to deter her career as a crimefighter. This is also false. Batman in fact recognized Batgirl as an ally, an asset and a friend. Nothing better reinforces Batman's attitude toward Batgirl than Detective Comics #492.
Batgirl starred in an enduring back up feature in Detective Comics. It was in one such short that an assassin lured Batgirl into a trap. The cliffhanger of the tale suggested that the assassin's bullet felled Batgirl.
The story continued in Detective Comics #492. A dejected Alfred brings Bruce his Batman uniform. One look at The Gotham Gazette answers Bruce's question, and it seems that Batman will be doing unto the assassin what he intended to do to the Bronze Tiger.
A call to Commissioner Gordon dispels Batman's rage. Batgirl is alive. The assassin's bullet wounded her arm. She fell, but the figure that dropped to the pavement was the assassin's unliving bait. This brush with death has impelled Babs to make a decision. She will no longer be Batgirl. She will no longer risk her life. She will stay safe. Instead of agreeing happily, which is what you expect Batman to do, Batman tries to talk Babs out of resigning. He wants Batgirl on the team.
Batgirl retires very briefly. In the next chapter of the feature-length story, she gradually conquers her fear and saves Batman's life. Batgirl has rescued Batman on several occasions, but this time it's special. The story conveyed a real possibility that Batgirl was gone for good, and that's why Batman's compliment is so much more meaningful and poetic.
1. Superman #268
"Wild Weekend in Washington!" starring Superman & Batgirl
Batgirl seldom needed protection. She was a capable dete
ctive, gifted with a photographic memory. She was an adept crimefighter and an honorary member of the Justice League, whose lives she saved in the Silver Age. Perhaps that's why this scene always sent a shiver down my spine.
Batgirl infrequently guest-starred with Superman, and those team-ups were always something to look forward to. This one displays Superman's invulnerability in a way that's more resonant than usual.
When a group of goons try to use lasers on the heroes, Superman wraps Batgirl in his invincible cape and takes the hits. He just stands there, and the beams reflect off his chest. The blasts do not move him an inch.
I'm sure Superman has performed this feat scores and scores of times. The difference lies in the novelty of Batgirl. You sort of expect Superman to protect Lois Lane, Lana Lang or Jimmy Olsen, but this is Batgirl. She's one of the most resourceful super-heroes on Earth-One. If Batman were to die, she would be the World's Greatest Detective.
Maybe Babs could have found a means to avoid being on the deep end of a laser barbecue, but maybe, just maybe there was no way out of this death trap. Maybe this was the moment where Batgirl would have died had not Superman changed her destiny.
This is the moment where I started to understand how a character like Superman would actually affect the evolution of the planet and its contingent history. This is the moment that shaped my philosophy of super-hero literature.
Super-heroes would not make the world a darker place. Super-heroes would improve life. They would prevent disasters. The deeds of the Bronze Age heroes would accumulate. There would always be evil and madness, but the forces of good would eventually succeed. The World's Finest team would inexorably turn the earth into a Utopia, and that is why I regard the World's Finest of the Bronze Age with my highest esteem.