The Daily Comic Book Coffee, number 12: Thank you to Michael Powell for suggesting this one on the Why I Love Comics group. “The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!” from World’s Finest #173 was penciled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein. The writer was a young Jim Shooter. This issue was released by DC Comics with a February 1968 cover date.
This one is a real doozy… but you could say that about many of the stories published under the auspices of editor Mort Weisinger during the Silver Age. Mad scientist Dr. Aaron seeks revenge on Superman and Batman, who recently put a stop to his illegal experiments. Aaron manages to secretly drug both of them, via bottles of soda pop no less, with “Psyche-Distorter chemicals” that he has developed. This chemical causes both heroes to take on the evil identities & personalities of the enemies they fear the most.
In the case of Batman that is Two-Face, aka former District Attorney Harvey Dent, who the Dark Knight fears because “I can never predict whether he’ll act good or evil… because he always lets a flip of a coin decide!” For Superman, the enemy he fears more than any other is Kralik the Conqueror, a powerful, ruthless alien criminal who nearly defeated the Man of Steel in hand to hand combat.
Wait a second… Kralik the Conqueror?!? Who the hell is that? According to the Grand Comics Database and other sources, it turns out that Superman’s “most dangerous foe” never appeared before this issue, and hasn’t been seen since. Yeah, they just pulled this Kralik the Conqueror guy out of thin air… or maybe somewhere else I won’t mention!
To ensure maximum mayhem, Dr. Aaron drugs the heroes a second time. This he accomplishes by… discovering the location of the Batcave and spiking its water supply. Yes, really. This time Batman and Superman unwittingly ingest the drug via the coffee that Alfred brewed for them in the Batcave.
This story somehow even manages to get even more ridiculous after this, ending in a genuine WTF moment that left me totally boggled. I recommend reading World’s Finest #173 simply for the sheer nuttiness of this story.
So, what about the art? Curt Swan worked regularly on various Superman-related titles for three and a half decades, from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s. I’ve always found Swan to be a solid, reliable penciler. My appreciation for his work has often varied greatly depending on who happened to be inking him, though. At certain points in his career I feel Swan was given inkers who were not a good fit for him, and I disliked the finished artwork.
On the other hand, I definitely regard George Klein as one of the absolute best inkers to have ever worked with Swan. Klein inked Swan’s pencils regularly in the 1950s and 60s, always to wonderful effect. The art by the Swan & Klein team in World’s Finest #173 is definitely high quality, and that plays a major part in this crazy story working as well as it does.