Long before Batman and Superman met in Superman: The Animated Series, but World’s Finest duo actually met years before in a DCAU comic book.
For fans around the world, the DC Animated Universe is considered the best adaptation of the DC Universe ever put to screen. Debuting with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, this universe featured multiple animated series and dozens of comic book spin-offs.
One of these comics, The Batman Adventures, even included the first team-up of Superman and Batman in the DCAU, years before its first canon appearance in Superman: The Animated Series. These comics introduced the World’s Finest animated duo with some key differences from the team-up that fans already know and love.
Unlike their eventual team-up in the cartoons, 1994’s The Batman Adventures #25 by Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck and Rick Burchett establishes that the two heroes already know each other, even having already worked together closely enough that they know each other’s secret identities. When WayneTech and LexCorp compete for the same military contract, Bruce Wayne and a red-headed Lex Luthor both attend a banquet in Gotham City in hopes of securing the bid. The Daily Planet’s Clark Kent, equipped with his signature 90’s ponytail, was also in attendance.
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But when a bomb is planted at the banquet, Wayne and Kent both notice something is off. Right before the bomb detonates, Superman appears and flies it into space while Batman deals with the thugs who set it up. A televised broadcast from Maxie Zeus reveals his responsibility for this attack as he threatens Gotham with an earthquake generated by bombs set up all around Gotham’s underground.
The World’s Finest team up to take him down, and while the heroes conduct their own investigation, Luthor uses this opportunity to demonstrate his LexCorp hunter-seeker drones for the military brass. He sends them after Zeus with the promise that they’re the only thing that can stop him. When Superman and Batman initially have trouble finding the bombs, even with Clark’s x-ray vision, they interrogate a couple of Maxie’s henchmen, leading them to Zeus’ base of operations.
Soon, Batman and Superman arrive at Zeus’ location. Superman swipes the bombs’ transmitter from the Athenian archvillain to deduce the locations of the remaining explosives before Lex’s drones arrive, sending the whole sting spiraling into chaos when Luthor orders them to “accidentally” fire on the Man of Steel. The World’s Finest manage to foil both Zeus and the drones, with Maxie leading them to the man who really built and supplied the bombs: Lex Luthor himself.
Luthor devised the entire situation to secure the military contract, but after Batman threatens to reveal his involvement in Zeus’ plans, he backs out to maintain his benevolent image as a leader and businessman. After threatening Luthor, Batman tells Superman that WayneTech will be dropping their bid for the contract due to a conflict of interest and the two heroes part on good terms.
This first team-up remained in the DCAU for years until the three-part “World’s Finest” story arc in the second season of Superman: The Animated Series. As in their comic debut, Lex Luthor was at the heart of their team-up. When the Joker is hired by Lex to kill Superman, Batman comes to Gotham, using a temporary business collaboration with Luthor as an excuse to visit the City of Tomorrow.
But unlike the comic, the duo doesn’t exactly start off on the friendliest of terms. Not only does Superman disapprove of Batman’s methods, he uses his x-ray vision to learn Batman’s identity, only for Batman to learn his in turn by planting a tracer on the Big Blue Boy Scout and tracking him back to his apartment. Meanwhile, in their civilian identities, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne were both vying for the affections of one Lois Lane, leading to plenty of friction between the two.
They eventually manage to set aside their differences to take down Luthor, the Joker and Luthor’s deadly drones, but the playful rivalry between these two heroes set the tone for the World’s Finest throughout the rest of the DC Animated Universe. While it may have differed from the duo’s introduction years later, their team-up in Batman Adventures #25 proves that in any medium, the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel really are the World’s Finest.
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