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December 19, 2011
The Greatest Comic Ever
Allow me to introduce you to the single greatest comic book issue ever printed, courtesy of The Comic Treadmill:
To call the plot pure genius fails to do it justice. A team of super-heroes plays baseball against a team of super-villains. This ought to be a series. Or at least a Strat-O-Matic set. … Now make no mistake about it. Although this is the greatest comic book story ever, it is not without faults. The game itself does not start until page 12 of the 18 page story. And even then we really only get to see the ninth inning. If only Rozakis had decided to show us the whole game instead of Batman bowling … Fortunately, Rozakis and Schwartz foresaw the demand for the play by play and provide it on a text page after the story.
The issue is "DC Super-Stars #10 (1976)" and the lead story is "The Great Super-Star Game", which tells the tale of a full nine-inning game between a team of nine superheroes and nine supervillains. Needless to say, when I learned of this jewel's existence, I found and purchased a copy of it as soon as possible. I may never have been more excited in my life to read something as I am this tale.
And what is that dispute? Whose turn is to do the dishes? Whose lipstick was that on Sportsmaster's tennis shirt? Sportsmaster washed Huntress' costume with the whites again? No, no and no. The issue is whether super-villains can ever win. Huntress says they can't and Sportsmaster says they can. Now the observant Treadmiller can see that Comics Code Seal of Approval is on the cover above, so you know where this story is going, but humor us will you, it's the journey, not the destination we're interested in here.
They agree to put it to a test. If a team of superheroes can beat a team of supervillains - without using their superpowers - then Huntress will give up her evil ways and fight for the side of good. If the villains triumph, she'll stay with her husband on Team Crime. To ensure the cooperation of the DC Universe superheroes, Huntress hypnotizes 60,000 innocent people and forces them to come to Crandall Stadium. With the teams set, the game can begin.
Pitching for the Supervillains will be team captain Sportsmaster, who, we shall see, is quite gifted at baseball. His defense is a bit shaky, though:
I like the Joker behind the plate - his heckling is certain to distract the batters, but I don't like the rest of that defense. Chronos may be a master of time, but he's always seemed a bit on the unathletic side. I'd put Starro out there in rightfield myself. And where are the Aquaman bad guys? Guys who run around in the ocean depths are a lot more likely to handle the pressure of the hot corner than Dr. Polaris - sporting his bandanna piece at the time. I'll take Black Manta at 3B thank you. And what's with Felix Faust at 1B? How's a bookwormy old wizard going to handle the stretches required? I'd put Validus there, but I guess if my choices were restricted to the present day of 1976, I'd employ Copperhead as my first-sacker. And, of course, you've noticed that chauvinistic Sportsmaster has no women on his team. Put Cheetah at short instead of Tattooed Man and you've got a major upgrade.
There aren't many fireworks in the top of the first, as the visiting Superheroes get their first at-bats. Robin gets a one-out double and, after he's bunted over to third by Kid Flash (who apparently isn't fast enough to beat it out), clean-up hitter Batman knocks him in with a base-hit. He's left stranded on first.
Next up is the greatest Luthor-Superman confrontation ever as the villains send clean-up hitting Lex to the plate. I imagine this Batman of happier times heckling Luthor for his baldness to unsettle Lex. But Luthor is focused. He slaps a single to right with Faust moving to second. A Luthor victory? I think not. By holding the clean up guy to a single and not letting the run score, Superman scores another triumph over his arch-foe.
Eventually, Joker strikes out with the bases loaded. The Superheroes still lead 1-0.
Now students of the game may wonder why Huntress would bat a heavy hitter like Supes 9th. But Huntress knows her stuff sports fans. There is no joy in Heroville. The mighty Clarky has struck out. Struck out? Superman? It can't be.
It gets worse, as Sportsmaster, also batting ninth, crushes a home run off the shaken Superman. Clearly, this game was before Tony LaRussa's time, but at least it seemed to work out for the Supervillains. The inning ends in a 1-1 tie.
What happens next defies logic. Lex Luthor, the most egotistical villain in the history of comics, bunts! Luthor sacrificing? Heck, he didn't even know the meaning of the word. Even if Sportsmaster had given the bunt sign, the Luthor I knew would have ignored it. And to make it worse, Luthor is the dang clean-up hitter. Bunting with the clean-up hitter down 3-1 in the bottom of the 3rd? This makes Sportsmaster to sports what the Getaway Genius turned out to be to getaways. Charlatans both of them.
Luthor's display of teamwork fails, however, as the team ends up stranding Faust at third. It's 3-1, Superheroes.
In fact, the villains would outhomer the heroes 3-1, which is only fitting if examined closely. The home run is a play of villains – an attention getting play for an egotist who wants it easy by avoiding the need to run around the bases. The single, double and triple – now those are the hallmarks of hard working heroes. Canary was thought to be a criminal at the start of her career, so we’ll forgive her homer and watch the next batter come to the plate with a 4-1 lead for the heroes.
That's it for Superman's squad, however. Sportsmaster's team does a bit better. Joker bunts and Chronos moves him to third with a double (Joker and Batman are on the same page when it comes to scoring from first, apparently). A sac-fly from Matter Master scores Joker and moves Chronos to third, followed by Sportsmaster's second home run of the game. A triple puts Dr. Polaris on third and he scores on a sacrifice (of some kind) from Tattooed Man. The inning ends with the bad guys up 5-4.
Weather Wizard then puts down a bunt that he also beats out for the third bunt single of the game. Scoff if you must fans of today’s long-ball dominated era, but in the 1970’s ballplayers, super heroes and super villains all needed to master the fundamentals of the national pastime.
As we head to the sixth, the Superheroes lead 6-5.
With a chance to bust it open, Wonder Woman hits into the first double play of the game. Picture if you will, Tattooed Man handling the chance, making the quick toss to Mirror Master covering the bag at second, who then guns it to the waiting glove of Felix Faust at first before the amazing Amazon can leg it to the first base bag. Don’t blame her though. Maybe if super square Superman had gotten a little dirty and made a take-out slide of Mirror Master, the relay throw would have been late or wide of the bag.
The Supervillains make no headway, even after Weather Wizard completes another successful sac-bunt (the eighth bunt of the game). It's 7-5 heading into the eighth.
Top of the 9th
So, to prove he’s a bigger dummy than Tattooed Man, Sportsmaster decides that to “keep ‘em from scoring” he’ll throw a beanball at Superman. Whaaaaaa?!?!? To stop the other team from scoring, he’s going to deliberately put men on first and second with nobody out in a tie game? And he beans someone who's invulnerable so he doesn't even get the malevolent joy of putting the hurt on the opposing batter?
A single from Wonder Woman loads the bases with no outs, but neither Robin nor Kid Flash can capitalize. The inning comes down to Batman, who is 5-for-5 so far. After a long at-bat, the Caped Crusader earns ball four, driving in Superman and giving the Superheroes a 9-8 lead. On the next pitch, Green Arrow lines a shot into right to score two more runs, but is picked off between first and second when Felix Faust successfully uses his powers to transport the ball to him.
Except Dr. Polaris doesn't get to bat. Plastic Man tags Sportsmaster at second and the captain is called out. It turns out Plastic Man cheated. Sportsmaster made sure to touch the bag as he rounded first, but what he actually touched Plastic Man's foot, shaped to look like first base. With the tag applied, the game is over and the Superheroes have won. Mag, over at The Comic Treadmill, is none too happy with the results, however.
So what’s the moral of this, the greatest tale ever told? Simple. Good is better at cheating than evil. In other words, if you’re going to cheat, don’t foul it up. I’m looking at you Matter Master, Weather Wizard, Chronos and Tattooed Man.
And how great is Rozakis’ sense of irony? On the final play of the game the villains played fair and the heroes cheated. How did this get past the Comics Code?!?!? Many fans point to the 1990’s as the time when the line between good and evil began to blur in the pages of our beloved comics. Now you know better. This was the hippest story of the 1970’s. It’s not even close. 1976 was when the heroes learned that cheaters can profit. Heck, tie this story in with the retroactive activities of the JLA as seen in Identity Crisis and it’s pretty apparent that the bill is coming due to a generation of heroes who didn’t play fair.
So there you have it. A recap (of a recap) of the greatest comic book ever published. I know this piece is long enough, but I really do suggest you head over and read the individual recaps from The Comics Treadmill (the inning headers each link to their respective recaps). Mag goes into much more detail than I do and even takes the time to analyze different frames (like why did Kid Flash try to get Robin's pants off) and motivations from the book. It's a work of art.