Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's 100th installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. 100 of these! In celebration, I've decided to cover the comics-to-cartoon pairing most requested by readers. And if you have any suggestions for the future, just contact me on Twitter.
This isn't a comprehensive listing of everyone who asked, but looking at my notes I see Gravity Falls Poland, Antonio Canales and Matt Re have all asked for this pairing. And, going back to the debut episode of Batman: The Animated Series, it was the most-requested storyline from fans of the era. Naturally, I'm speaking of the animated Batman's first meeting with Superman. Oct. 4, 1997 marked the debut of "World's Finest" as a primetime movie ... even though it was, in fact, three continued Superman: The Animated Series episodes.
The story comes from Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, with Rich Fogel, Steve Gerber and Stan Berkowitz contributing teleplays. Animation was contracted to Japan's TMS-Kyokuichi Corporation, with Toshihiko Masuda assigned as director. TMS won an Emmy Award for the animation, a more prestigious primetime Emmy, thanks to the WB Network airing these episodes as a movie at night.
The Emmy is well-deserved. It's very possible this is the best the Superman and "New Adventures" Batman characters ever looked. "World's Finest" actually marks the debut for the redesigned Batman and his supporting cast, as the three-parter was always intended as the introduction of the revamped Batman episodes. (WB paired new episodes with Superman to form the hour-long The New Batman/Superman Adventures.)
The sleeker, simplified designs are fairly controversial, and while some of this might stem from the basic fan skepticism of anything that's different, it's also possible viewers were simply disappointed that "new look" Batman's subsequent appearances aren't as impressive as they are here.
The story opens with the Joker stealing the Laughing Dragon, an antique Chinese effigy made of Kryptonite. It's killed all of its previous owners with radiation poisoning, which doesn't concern the Joker and Harley Quinn. They strike a deal with Lex Luthor for a billion dollars to kill Superman, just as Bruce Wayne arrives in Metropolis to negotiate a business deal with Lex.
After charming Lois Lane, Bruce hunts the Joker as Batman. That leads to a confrontation with Superman inside a nightclub, which ends with Superman using his x-ray vision to discover Batman's identity (followed by a scene of Batman hiding a tracking device on Superman's cape to discover his).
The nightclub sequence is likely the most visually compelling scene in the three-parter ...which is a shame, as it occurs in the first chapter. The rest of the episodes honestly look great -- TMS's use of lighting, shadows, dramatic angles, and their exquisite character animations, are unparalleled in TV animation. They use so many of their tricks in this nightclub, though, including the club's flashing strobe lights and the glow from the radioactive Laughing Dragon; there's really no way to top this in the subsequent chapters. Still, it's fitting that the first official meeting between Batman and Superman in this canon just looks so cool.
Initially, Batman and Superman don't get along, an acknowledgement of the comics canon, following John Byrne's 1980s reboot of Superman. The producers say they didn't wish to dwell on the two heroes feuding, however, so the second chapter has them joining forces to save Lois from the Joker. We also witness Lois and Bruce possibly falling in love, an angle invented by the producers.
The final chapter has Lois discovering Bruce's secret as he rescues her once again, this time from a Lexcorp robot that's targeted the Daily Planet's printing press. (It's a testament to the story's wit and solid structure that none of these continuous unmaskings feel cheap.)
She's justifiably upset, leading to a memorable sequence in which she tends to his wounds while also lamenting her dumb luck, landing the story of the year but not being able to report it. Kevin Conroy and Dana Delaney are fantastic here, once again playing doomed lovers (following Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), but in a very different context.
The big finale has Joker and Luthor predictably double-crossing each other, which ends with Joker and Harley Quinn commandeering one of Lex's experimental aircraft and taking revenge on Metropolis.
The heroes save the city, Joker has another vague death scene, Luthor's public image takes a hit, and Bruce and Lois are forced to break up. In the end, Batman and Superman part as allies, setting the stage for a few more crossovers ... and, unknowingly to the producers, the upcoming Justice League series.
Three years before the producers presented fans with what they demanded, writer Kelley Puckett and artist Mike Parobeck of the Batman Adventures comic beat them to it. The November 1994 issue just had to be called "Super Friends."
Working under the assumption there never would be an animated Superman/Batman team-up, and looking for a concept worthy of an anniversary issue, the 25th issue presented the animated Batman's first encounter with Superman. Sort of.
Turns out, the Batman and Superman of this world already know one another. They even know each other's secret identity! And if you're assuming their first meeting occurred in the era's Superman and Batman Magazine, which often featured stories from this creative team ... nope! Batman and Superman didn't appear in the same story until the spring 1995 issue (which also served as an "animated Justice League" origin). And even in that story, from writer Roger Stern and artist Ty Templeton, they've known each other for "years."
The creators were attempting to meld the cartoon's canon with the current-day comics, meaning Batman and Superman have been at this for years, and have no need for introductions. That would also explain Superman's luxurious Richard Marx hairstyle, and the presence of the early-1990s Luthor ...with the beard and thick, red hair.
Interestingly, both stories involve Bruce Wayne and Luthor creating technology with potential military applications. In the cartoon, they're business partners who disagree on using the tech to create weapons. Here, they're rivals, with Luthor pitching an army of robot drones to a General Turgidson (a nod to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove), while Bruce is selling surveillance tech. Their first meeting with the general is interrupted by a team of bombers, easily stopped by the Batman/Superman team.
We later learn the bombers aren't truly terrorists; they're flunkies hired by the mad industrialist Maxie Zeus, who promises to trigger an earthquake with his next bomb if his ransom isn't met. As Batman and Superman search for Zeus, Luthor sends his drones on the case, hoping to impress General Turgidson. Amazingly, when they encounter Superman, they decide he needs to be taken out as well.
After Zeus is defeated, Batman discovers Luthor has been Zeus' secret benefactor the entire time (posing as the mythical Hephaestus). Batman confronts Luthor with this information, blackmailing him into withdrawing LexCorp's bid for the military contract. When Superman confronts Batman on this, he promises WayneTech will also withdraw its bid. He chose to confront Luthor alone, however, aware that Superman doesn't always agree with his methods.
It's another concept the cartoon addresses in their first meeting, when Superman prevents Batman from terrorizing a thug in the nightclub sequence. Personally, this has always seemed a forced attempt to differentiate the heroes. Is Superman really above intimidating a criminal into getting what he wants?
Before DC's attempt at modernizing Superman's look in the '90s, Mike Parobeck did his own take on Superman in the first issue of Superman and Batman Magazine. He's clearly extrapolating on what a Bruce Timm-designed Superman will look like, but his John Byrne influence is also evident.
Also appearing in Adventures #25 is comics legend Dave Gibbons' attempt at an "animated" Superman, two years before the show premiered.
In addition to the cartoon's incredible animation, the World's Finest comics adaptation also featured a nice painted cover from Bruce Timm.
Less impressive would be the VHS cover, which was apparently farmed out to someone working in Warner Bros.' licensing department -- perhaps just given to anyone at random, because, boy, is this ugly.
Among fans adamant the tie-in titles shouldn't be considered DC Animated Universe canon, Batman Adventures #25 is their main defense. The only real way to hammer it into the show's continuity is to assume there's some untold tale where Luthor's status quo matched the '90s comics before reverting back to what we know.
Kevin Conroy's new Bruce Wayne voice debuts here. It's remarkably close to his Batman voice, but when he switches between the two on a dime in a few scenes, you can hear the difference. (Reportedly, Kids WB! thought younger viewers would be confused by Conroy's lighter tone as Bruce from the earlier episodes.)
Another cameo appearance from the redhead who looks a lot like Marvel's Mary Jane Watson-Parker can be found in the nightclub sequence. She's the go-go dancer in the cage that's used as an ad hoc weapon by Batman.
I LOVE THE '90s
It's amusing Luthor's proposal to use drones in the Adventures story is presented as purely villainous, while Bruce's innovations in surveillance tech are clearly meant to be preferable. Public sentiment today seems more opposed to government spying than the use of drones (no longer science fiction).
APPROVED BY BROADCAST STANDARDS & PRACTICES
Batman literally punches Luthor's female bodyguard Mercy in the face, a bit the FOX Kids' censors would've never allowed.
It's easy to imagine the long-awaited team-up not living up to expectations; striking an odd tone that doesn't work, attempting to cram in too much lore, disappointing fans of both heroes. Why, that's what happened with a tent pole film, with around $300 million to play with, only a few years ago. But "World's Finest" is a carefully constructed story that not only respects both heroes, but also includes memorable moments for the supporting cast. (There's even a Harley vs. Mercy Graves fight!)
"Super Friends," conversely, is more of a novelty. It seems the creators don't really want this team-up to be that big of a deal; in the context of this universe, it's presented of just one of dozens of times they've worked together. It isn't, though, and disregarding the world of the cartoon in order to obey the rules of already forgotten "real" continuity does the story no favors. Still, it carries much of the charm of the ongoing Adventures series, and some fantastic Parobeck art. Speaking of which, how cool would that Byrne-inspired design from Parobeck look in animation?
So that’s all for now. Until next time, check out the G. I. Joe novels I wrote for the Kindle Worlds project for free over at Smashwords.