Despite a notable recent film that famously pitted the two against each other, Batman and Superman are the best known superhero pairing in comic book history. Through World’s Finest Comics and Superman/Batman, they have shared well over 300 team-up comics together. However, while they have have been teaming up regularly for over 60 years now, they were not always paired with each other. In fact, the two spent the first decade of their respective careers with only a couple of minor interactions.
That changed in 1954 when National Comics (now known as DC) first paired the two together on a regular basis. The impetus behind that first pairing, though, is a strange one. You see, Batman and Superman were effectively forced to team up due to inflation!
When the comic book industry debuted in the 1930s, the initial publication plan revolved around the idea of giving a lot for a little. For a single dime, readers of Famous Funnies would get 68 pages of their favorite comic strip compiled together into a single comic book.
After a couple of years, Major Malcolm Wheeler=Nicholson decided to try a new approach to the burgeoning comic book industry with his National Allied Publications, which was to put out a magazine called New Fun Comics, which was 44 pages of a tabloid magazine filled with original comic strips.
The magazine was successful enough that Wheeler-Nicholson pivoted to the Famous Funnies format of a 68-page comic book for a dime, only still with all-new material. That was the same format that Action Comics used when it launched in 1938.
The dime price point was seen as a key aspect when it came to the marketing of comic books during the Golden Age. All of the various comic book companies settled on charging a dime for their comics. However, National tried a new format in 1939. When Wheeler-Nicholson was pushed out of his company in 1938 by Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz, the new owners inherited two editors from Wheeler-Nicholson. One, Whitney Ellsworth, quickly left the industry to go find work in California. The other, Vincent Sullivan, was the key editorial figure in those early days. It was Sullivan who purchased the Superman feature in Action Comics and bought the Batman feature in Detective Comics #27. It was Sullivan, too, who came up with the idea of doing an almost 100-page comic book, starring Superman, with special cardboard covers, to tie in with the 1939 World’s Fair. The price point on that comic was a whopping 25 cents!
National published the comic and it was a big hit. However, since the comic was his idea, Sullivan had arranged to be paid a special royalty from Donenfeld and Liebowitz on the comic. The royalties never came about, and so when National did a second World’s Fair Comic in 1940 (this time with Batman and Robin along for the ride), Sullivan quit the company entirely (Ellsworth returned from California to take over).
The 1940 World’s Fair Comic was also 96 pages, but with regular covers, so it cost 15 cents.
The World’s Fair Comics were successful enough that National decided to repeat the formula on a new quarterly series called World’s Finest Comics (originally World’s Best Comics).
100 pages for 15 cents, with stories featuring Batman and Robn and Superman in every issue. The heroes, though, would not interact within the stories at all. They would each have their own feature. The covers, though, would be designed so that Batman, Robin and Superman would interact with each other. Often, the covers would show the heroes playing sports or doing other fun activities together.
As the decade continued, production costs naturally increased. However, the comic book companies were still dedicated to the 10 cent price point for their comics. So instead, the companies would simply reduce the size of the comics. Instead of 68 pages for a dime, in 1943, it became 60 pages for a dime. The following Summer saw it become 52 pages for a dime. Similarly, World’s Finest Comics went from 100 pages to 92 pages to 84 pages in 1944. All while maintaining the 15 cent price.
The 1940s were a volatile time for the U.S. economy. Once World War II ended, there was a boom period as price controls established during the war were lifted. This boom soon led a bit of a bust in 1948, and there was a period of deflation that lasted until roughly around the time that the Korean War began, at which point the country went back to a wartime economy, which, in turn, led to price controls again by the government. Following the Korean War, the United States saw its first sustained inflation period of the 20th Century. Before this point, there was a continual shift between inflation and deflation, with wars mixed in to muddy the waters. After the Korean War, though, prices began to follow a consistent era of inflation.
This, naturally, had an effect on the comic book industry. Costs were beginning to rise. Companies were still dedicated to their 10 cent price point, though, so their answer was to reduce the page counts in the comics. In 1951, National’s regular titles went to 44 pages, while World’s Finest fell to 68 pages in 1953. Of those 68 pages, Batman and Superman would each get 12 page stories in every issue, with Green Arrow and Tomahawk getting 10 pagers themselves.
In 1954, though, inflation was hurting costs once more, so National decided to no longer make World’s Finest an over-sized comic period, and instead go all the way from 68 pages to 36 pages, which is where the rest of DC’s regular line of comics went by the end of 1954. Cutting the size of the comic nearly in half meant that there was no longer room for Batman and Superman to each have their own 12 page story. Instead, then, the two heroes came together for a 12-page story in World’s Finest Comics #71.
The heroes had had their first real team-up two years earlier in Superman #76….
and now they were sharing the lead feature in World’s Finest Comics. Outside of a break from #198-214 (where the series briefly became Superman teaming up with other superheroes, as a counterpart to Brave and the Bold, which had become a Batman team-up series), Batman and Superman would share World’s Finest Comics together until the series ended with #323. They’ve starred together in a number of Batman/Superman team-up series in the years since, as well.
1961, by the way, was a key turning point for the comic book companies. Once the companies had hit 36 pages, there really was nowhere else to go, length-wise. Anything smaller than 30 would be just too thin. So in the Summer of 1961, DC finally raised their cover price from 10 cents to 12 cents. The other companies all did the same and we were on our way to regular price increases, which have continued ever since.
Batman and Superman had been around for over a decade before they began regularly teaming up. Learn the suprising reason for their team-up series!