The film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t be the first time the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel have met for the ‘first’ time, and be assured it won’t be the last either. I’m going to talk about one of those first times, one that dates back to when Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne were teenagers. It’s not in continuity now, and quite honestly, probably wasn’t then either, but join me after the jump for a tale of fate and destiny, and what happens when you mess with it – Batlad v Superboy: Silver Age Dawn of Justice.
Back to the Future
Back in the days when Superboy was Superman as a boy, rather than a clone or an extradimensional cosmic villain, there were a few different types of stories he appeared in. There would be lesson stories, straight up superhero adventures, and then there would be tales completely consumed with his future as Superman. Superboy seemed aware of his future career as Superman and was obsessed with making history occur as it should, as were the folks writing and editing his stories.
Even his friends in the 30th century’s Legion of Super-Heroes were concerned with this obsession and placed a mental block so that Superboy would forget any details of his own future when he returned to his own time. In hindsight, perhaps that’s what fueled his obsession. In this story, from Superboy #182, the boy of steel has a machine, a ‘time-scope,’ that can see into the future… so that when he meets young Bruce Wayne for the first time, he knows in the future Superman and Batman will be best friends.
Batman would not be the first of Superman’s future friends or foes he would meet while he was young. Superbaby (yeah, there’s a nugget from the Silver Age that John Byrne and Crisis were happy to erase) met a toddler named Oliver Queen who played with a toy bow and arrow. As Superboy he met Aquaboy, as well as Hal Jordan and his brothers. If memory serves he may have even met Princess Diana but I can’t recall if it was as Wonder Girl or Wonder Tot.
While a member of the Legion, the boy of steel served alongside Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen’ Elastic Lad years before he met either as an adult. Once he even teamed up with Dick Grayson as Robin in a time travel adventure. He even trained his Earth-Two counterpart in one extradimensional story. Superboy frequently battled a younger and red headed Mr. Mxyxptlk and we all know that the feud with Lex Luthor dates back to their Smallville days. And then came Bruce Wayne.
Notably young Bruce Wayne and Superboy had met before Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered in a case that happened when the family visited Smallville, but weirdly, and perhaps showing some of his Superdickery early, hypnotized Bruce into forgetting it. You see, sometimes Superboy wants to not mess with destiny, and sometimes he does. It’s like he’s channeling his own personal Zack Snyder decades early.
Here’s the catch. Superboy sees an old newspaper article about Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered which prompts this issue’s visit to Wayne Manor, but Superboy has seen the future and knows this is the inciting incident that creates Batman, he also knows he can easily travel through time and save the Waynes, so why doesn’t he? No murders, no Batman. The least he thinks he can do is help shape the boy into becoming that great hero later in life… for better or worse…
Young Bruce Wayne
Bruce Wayne doesn’t come off well in this issue at all, or at least in the point of view of batman readers of the time. I do however imagine that this unrestrained, vengeance-obsessed reckless young man might be the darling of those who loved Batman v Superman, but I prefer my Batman to be a hero. This young Bruce is a vigilante, and close to being a criminal, and definitely is a threat to others as well as himself. We are shown Bruce controlling bats (which is kinda cool actually), electrocuting criminals, and running around in a black jumpsuit in pursuit of a serial murderer called the Zodiac Killer.
It’s hard to imagine that writer Leo Dorfman couldn’t know of the real Zodiac Killer, but still here it was, a murderer in a supposedly kids comic with the same name. As Bruce pursues the Killer, Superboy seems to just get in the way. Granted, he’s trying to mellow Bruce and mold him into the future Batman, but shouldn’t he be more concerned with the real crime. After all, he already let the Waynes die, right?
To push young Bruce in the ‘right’ direction, Superboy gives him the gift of a new costume, and calls him Batlad, the lad bit obviously a carryover from his Legion buddies. The costume is kinda rocking, a purple and blue version of his future costume, with magnetized boots and gloves for climbing, and pockets in the scalloped cape. Bruce poo-poos the Batlad name, calling himself the Executioner instead. Yeah, Zack Snyder would love this guy.
The Zodiac Killer turns out to be far less sinister than at first thought, and Superboy has to correct the Executioner when he tries to harm the suspect, but that part of the story is rather reasonable. Bruce still has a lot to learn, and maybe Superboy helped a little. What bothers me is the amount of time Superboy spends gazing into that time scope watching the future. He even manages to tamper with it to show what if scenarios like he and ‘Batlad’ helping out Superman and Batman. It seems to me that this time scope might be similar to the device the World’s Finest duo would use in the future to imagine what their sons would be like.
This comic was one of the first I was able to read on my own, so while it’s probably not canon, it holds a special place in my heart. I remember trying to piece together the story with what I had heard on the TV news about the Zodiac Killer. I remember the amazing Bob Brown artwork which I would immediately recognize later when he began a lengthy run on Avengers. I remember the powerful cover by the late Nick Cardy, who graced so many wonderful DC Comics covers back in the day.
I also remember the back-up stories in Superboy #182. One a reprint of “The Amazing Tots of Smallville,” my first exposure to Superbaby, which also featured a baby Pete Ross, Lex Luthor, a Krypto wannabe, and started Lana Lang’s suspicion that Clark was hiding something. Another back-up, this one new, was called “Album of Unsung Heroes” and told brief tales of young heroes who were lost early, including Supremo, Dworn, and the Krypton Kid. This three pager was so enthralling, I have always wished they would return someday. Unlike the ‘heroes’ of Zack Snyder…