Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I have a vague idea, that a lot of the old team-up comics, like DC Comics Presents, Marvel Team-Up, and the Brave and the Bold; used to select characters so their logos could be trademarked. I've sometimes wondered how the characters were selected: if the writers had any input in who they would be writing about, or if they got a list every year or so of who they had to use. Wait, that doesn't necessarily follow, since I'm pretty sure today's guest-star definitely wasn't in any danger of his copyright lapsing...then.

When some thugs get the bright idea of robbing Superman's charity fund while Supes is in space, they don't do themselves any favors by hiding out in Gotham. Unwise...Batman tracks them down easily, and although he could quite easily pummel the hell out of them himself; Superman made Bats promise to call him so he could get in on that. Bats uses an ultrasonic signal, shades of Jimmy Olsen, to summon Supes, who arrives in seconds, but glowing. As Batman watches, Superman disappears, to be replaced by Superboy.

Superboy and Batman make short work of the thugs, and Superboy decides Batman must be on his side, even if he doesn't know how he got there. (Superboy had been with the Legion of Super-Heroes for years, so it's not a stretch for him to show up in a strange time and fall in with the first person he sees in a costume.) Batman introduces himself, but he and young Clark Kent had met before: Clark is dismayed to see an older Bruce Wayne, who should be his age. Bats knows Superman's secret identity, and where he keeps his civilian clothes, in a pouch in his cape. The clothes are those of young Clark Kent, meaning this Superboy isn't a de-aged Superman, he's from the past. In the DC Universe, you have to check this sort of thing, since there's gotta be like a dozen possible explanations to sort through when this happens.

At that time in the DCU, a person couldn't exist twice in the same time period: if you travelled in time to an era you already existed in, one of you would get bounced out. In this case, Superman finds himself in the far-flung year of 1967, in his old bedroom at the Kents' place. Unable to bear seeing his adoptive parents again, Superman tries to get back to 1982, and hits a barrier. Superboy can't get back either, and Batman reasons that the barrier must've been put up by someone.

Before they start working on the case, Batman tips Superboy on how to reduce property damage, by using other powers before smashing through walls. At first, it seems like Batman's control freak nature is coming out, and if left unchecked he'll have the young Superboy in a black mask and cape; but there's a different ulterior motive in play.

Batman and Superboy begin investigating, looking for the manufacturer of the electronic components one would presumably need to put up a time barrier. (Assuming that whoever did this was operating out of Gotham...) Bats gives Superboy some detective tips, and a particularly yellow bellied thug nearly craps himself...over the sight of Superboy. Makes you think Batman may not have had to try too hard to scare that superstitious, cowardly lot...

As Batman puts the pieces together, Superboy makes a search of Gotham City. He takes a quick peek back home with his x-ray vision, only to find the graves of the Kents. (Batman's tips and advice to Superboy had been more to keep him from thinking about his parents than anything, since he knows all of Superman's moves from working with him.) Despondent, Superboy wants to quit, crying that even with all his powers, he can't save them. Batman snaps at Superboy, that grief is no excuse. Bucking up, Superboy explains that the only areas he couldn't see were lead-shielded, like labs, and an apartment penthouse. Batman points out that wouldn't need lead shielding...unless the culprit was there.

And he is: longtime DC Comics Presents bad guy Ira Quimby, a.k.a. I.Q. (He first appeared in Mystery in Space #87 as a Hawkman villain, but I think I.Q. had like three appearances in this series.) I.Q.'s deal was, he would gain intelligence from solar radiation; sunlight being good, solar flares being better. Unfortunately, he only ever got smart enough to cause some trouble, and not smart enough to check his math: his time barrier was supposed to send Superman back to the prehistoric past, not 1967.

Batman signals for Superboy, but overeager, he smashes in. I.Q. sighs as he realizes he 'dropped another decimal point somewhere,' but he did have the foresight for a Kryptonite trap. But, the Kryptonite doesn't stop Superboy; and Batman makes short work of I.Q. Superboy, taking Batman's advice, took some of the lead shielding as long underwear. (If you're wondering why Superman doesn't wear that all the time, make yourself a pair, and see how you like them.) He also blocks another solar flare from giving I.Q. any more smarts, and that also knocks out the time barrier.

Saying goodbye to Superboy, Batman explains he won't remember any of this when he gets home, but that he and Superboy made just as good a team as Batman and Superman. A confused Superman (who barely shows his face all issue!) then appears, and Batman offers to explain the whole night.

The bad guy's scheme, and I.Q. at all, don't really matter much in this one. It's all about the interaction between Superboy and Batman: Batman not only knows exactly what Superboy's going to go through, but also how he's going to turn out. I'm glad this story featured a much more gentle Bats than is sometimes seen; told today, a lot of writers probably would have Batman throw his own parents' death in young Clark's face. He's a lot more understanding here, and I'm glad for it. From the Brave and the Bold #192, "You Can Take the Boy out of Smallville..." Written by Mike W. Barr, art by Jim Aparo.

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