When the Star-Spangled Kid met the Caped Crusader

In the Golden Age of Comics, it was a real rarity for the stars of any two comic book features to meet one another. It happened occasionally, but outside of the regular get-togethers of the Justice Society of America in ALL-STAR COMICS, it was rare to see two different super heroes occupy space in the same strip. Oh, they’d sometimes get name-checked, and there were occasional stories that paired heroes up, such as the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner battled, the fight between Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher (which seems like it should have been over in five seconds but which lasted for three whole issues) and Daredevil teaming up with the other stars of SILVER STREAK COMICS to take on Hitler. But there is an early crossover story that’s been almost entirely forgotten–and it saw print in this random issue of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS. It wasn’t between Superman, Batman and Robin, though. Despite sharing cover images for many years, the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader would have to wait for the Superman radio show to pair them up in 1945 (though there was a small appearance together at the end of ALL-STAR COMICS #7 before that. But the Flash was there too.)

The Star-Spangled Kid was the creation of writer Jerry Siegel, best known as the co-creator of Superman. It was a strip that DC/National pretty clearly had some high hopes for, making it the lynchpin of the launch of STAR-SPANGLED COMICS. The shtick of the strip is that it was the reverse of most other super hero set-ups, in that the kid was the main character and the adult, Stripesy, was the sidekick. It was also obviously overtly patriotic–in that WWII post-Captain America era, every company trotted out a few guys wearing red, white and blue to help the cause. The Kid and Stripesy would get multiple stories in the early issues of STAR-SPANGLED COMICS, but wound up getting pushed off the cover by issue #9 and the arrival of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America’s creators, from Timely. But the Kid hung on to a back slot in the series for a good long while, and also got featured irregularly in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, as in this instance.

This particular story was illustrated by Hal Sherman, who wasn’t really the best suited to be doing a super hero strip. His figures are often stiff and lifeless, his environments crude and unconvincing. He’d also swipe occasionally–that movie frame of the Kid and Stripesy fighting on the splash page is a clear lift from an earlier Batman panel. The author of this particular story can’t be identified but it likely wasn’t Jerry Siegel simply because his byline didn’t run on it, only Sherman’s did. If Jerry had written it, they would have shared the byline as they typically did on the strip. It is a bonkers story, even for the time.

The story is about a bank teller, John Adams, who decides to steal a cash deposit made by Sylvester Pemberton, secretly the Star-Spangled Kid. Adams bets the money on a horse race, but the crooks behind the betting racket refuse to pay him off or return his cash–and what’s more, Adams is coerced into helping them rob the bank where he works. The Kid and Stripesy show up in time to drive off the crooks, and Adams is filled with regret. Fortunately, Stripesy, the Kid’s mechanic and chauffeur has just completed his latest invention: a working time machine. Well, actually, it’s a time cannon, and the pair decides to shoot Adams back into the past to rectify his original mistake, thus eliminating the horrible things he’s done along the way. It’s madness, but presented as though it’s all perfectly reasonable.

So the teller goes about his day, and this time, he doesn’t swipe Pemberton’s cash. But still he winds up involved with the bank holdup, coerced by the crooks. But this time he’s aware of how he’s been framed and is able to rescue the Kid and Stripesy who wind up trapped in the vault. And then it happens–as the trio heads out in the Star-Rocket Racer, who should race across their path than the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime! This event comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t have any particular impact on the story proper. But a second later, Batman and Robin drive up to greet the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy as though they are old pals.

The scene is a completely unexpected cameo and doesn’t add anything to the story in question, apart from maybe giving the Kid Batman’s endorsement. Anyway, as they are both in the middle of separate cases, the two costumed teams say their farewells and get back to the business of criminal-catching. Batman and Robin do mention that they ought to get together with Stripesy and the Kid at some future point and “talk shop.” And that’s the entire crossover right there. The whole thing takes only four panels. Sherman’s depiction of Batman and Robin can charitably be described as sloppy–he seems to barely be able to get their likenesses across.

Anyway, the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy chase down the crooks and polish them off within another page. And somehow, despite time having been reset, they’re aware of what they had done for Adams and how this has all turned out. Solid storytelling logic just wasn’t a real priority in these early comic book adventures. And that’s it! This story would have been as completely forgettable as most of the outings of this duo if not for that momentary appearance of Batman and Robin. But even they couldn’t really save this turkey story.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS in these days was a big book of 96 pages with cardstock covers, showcasing features from across the DC/National line. It would bookended with a Superman story at the start and close with a Batman adventure at the finish, with a number of other series carried over from other anthology titles in the line such as Green Arrow and the Boy Commandos. It also cost 15 cents at a time when the standard comic book retailed at a dime.

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