Where They Went Wrong: Superman and Batman Spend the Night Together
You are about to experience the single gayest comic ever printed.
Before we go any further, a little explanation: I imagine it's like this at a lot of jobs, but when I started working at a comic book store three years ago, my good friends Chad--my boss at the time--and Scott were constantly dropping little bits of knowledge on me that aren't that widely known to the general public. Stories about creators and how certain comics came to be, hidden treasures of the back issues, stuff like that.
World's Finest #289 is one of those gems. Chad told me about it a long while back, and every now and then we'll find one down at the shop, and that's pretty much it for the rest of the day. None of us can resist going through it whenever it pops up, for one simple reason: Superman and Batman spent almost the entire issue about three seconds away from just making out in the Fortress of Solitude. Seriously, if you've ever wondered where the people who write slash fiction get the idea that it's something they should be doing, it all starts right here.
Chad found another one at the store today, and it was like old times as he held court in the middle of the back issues, flanked by customers as he read aloud from the panels. And although it puts my journalistic integrity at serious risk, I'm willing to steal his jokes to bring you another installment of my hard-hitting exposés on where exactly bad comics crossed the line. It's a risk I'm willing to take so that you stay informed, so this one's dedicated to my main man Radical C, along with my respect and thanks.
For some reason, editor Marv Wolfman signed off on this one, which I can only guess means he didn't get past the first couple of pages of Doug Moench's script and only glanced at Adrian Gonzales' pencils. Either that, or it was the result of a drunken night of a little game I like to call How Far Can We Go And Still Get Comics Code Approval.
The story doesn't start off too bad. In fact, it opens with Batman jump-kicking some hoods and then punching another one so hard his head cracks a brick wall, which is usually a pretty good sign. By Page 3, however, Batman witnesses a murder that he fails to stop, and immediately falls to his knee with a big "NOOOOOOOOOO!"
Meanwhile, Superman saves a bunch of rock climbers from being crushed by an avalanche, and then feels bad about being an alien while basking in their praise and adulation. Oh woe is you, Superman. Gee, I sure am glad I'm not universally beloved. What a burden that must be. Anyway, he decides to alleviate his feelings of being a misfit by hanging out with his pal Batman, who has deep psychological scars and routinely punches homicidal clowns in the face. That's when they decide to... help each other out.
And go they do, soaring past a giant phallic glacier to the Fortress of Solitude, presumably to braid each other's hair and watch scary movies. Batman sees some of Superman's crazy dioramas that he likes to build, and the sight of Superman's loving parents depresses him, so he starts talking about the guy who got killed in the alley, which only depresses him more. Superman, however, feels his pain.
At this point, we're still in the realm of melodrama, and you might think that I'm just reading way too much into two pals who are helping each other through some hard times. I'd be inclined to agree with you, too, if not for this:
There really aren't a lot of ways to misinterpret a giant space-phallus plunging towards a circle. The only thing that panel's missing is one of those "For modesty's sake, let's turn our attention elsewhere" captions that used to accompany Peter Parker putting the moves on Mary Jane.
Anyway, back at the Fortress, where we find out that Superman has his own symbol mounted on a brick wall above a fireplace (?), Superman goes into an intense whine-spree, going on for a while about how his childhood was totally awesome, but he still feels bad about his birth parents dying and he's so alone even though everyone in the world loves and respects him. That attitude right there? That would be why Lex Luthor wants you dead so badly, Clark.
Quoth Superman: "And I... I treasure the closeness of someone who has suffered a similar loss ... We're like night and day, you and I, and yet we're closer than we realize, closer than twins because we compliment each other..."
...Get ready for it...
One of the things that Chad always points out is that every time something like this happens in this comic, you think that it cannot possibly get any more gay. But brother, we've got thirteen pages left on this trolley ride, and it just gets better from here.
Before Superman can cram his tongue down Batman's throat, an alarm system goes off and Superman has to go fight some meteors while Batman watches on the monitor, nervously asking if Superman's okay every other panel. As it turns out, the meteors are actually being used as transport for some bizarre wormlike creatures who use their telekinesis to turn the Fortress's weapons against Superman and Batman, who momentarily huddle together before dishing out uppercuts. At one point, Batman gets tagged by a stun ray, and "emotional panic siezes the man of steel" as he gives our second "NOOOOO!" of the story.
Having dealt with the problem, Batman uses a telepathy device to communicate with the worm-aliens, finding out what they want to do. And what, you may ask, do they want to do?
I'll just let that speak for itself.
Having finished whatever it was that was supposed to be, the aliens die, which is so moving for Superman and Batman that they stand there weeping while they watch it. Then the book closes with this, which I swear to you is the actual caption from the story:
"Glowing with the returned auras of emotion, the two men weep... then turn and embrace over the ashes of feeling, the dust of sacrifice. Here, it is warm... outside it is bitterly cold. Perhaps no one else, on any world, would understand."
So, where exactly did this one go wrong? It's hard to point to a single element, since pretty much everything from Page Three on is hard to write off as anything but sketchy innuendo. If pressed, though, I'd have to go with the line about fitting like a hand in a glove. At that point, the metaphor's not doing a whole lot to disguise what's going on, and the aliens inserting themselves into each other just seems like a logical conclusion to the whole thing.
Still, though... That these two guys could come together out of such horrible adversity and find strength and comfort with each other... It sort of makes you a little misty, doesn't it?
Shortly after I originally posted this piece, a contributor who preferred to remain anonymous--Heaven knows why--wrote me an email regarding Doug Moench, who wrote World's Finest #289, but is probably much better known for two-fisted action stories like his long, early-90s run on the Batman titles with Kelley Jones:
"But then, Moench also wrote a crazy homophobic Moon Knight story for Marvel Spotlight in the 70s, where Moon Knight takes sadistic pleasure in beating the shit out of a, to use Moon Knight's own terms, a 'tinkerbell,' 'pansy,' and 'twinkle-toes.'"
For those of you keeping score at home, that's 1976's Marvel Spotlight #29.