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.
Thankfully, no one has to wait to read this story thanks to the back-breaking, heroic efforts of The Comic Treadmill, who, utilizing the complete play-by-play so thoughtfully included by the comic's authors, has analyzed the entire game in this 12-part, inning-by-inning breakdown. It's the kind of thing Pulitzer's are made of and something every baseball fan should read.
It's a long piece, though. It will almost certainly take you more time to read the game's recap than it would to read the whole story. So, rather than giving you a blanket link to the piece and saying "read this", I've gone ahead and recapped the recap, breaking it down into smaller chunks while also giving everyone a chance to see all 12-pieces of the Treadmill's genius. It really is worth seeing in its entirety.
Pre-game & Top of the 1st
The game stems from, what else, a domestic dispute between married supervillains Sportsmaster and Huntress.
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.
Bottom of the 1st
Superman takes the mound for the Superheroes in front of a solid defensive arrangement, with Batman behind the plate, Plastic Man at first, and Wonder Woman at second. The Man of Steel makes quick work of the first two batters, but gives up a single to Felix Faust. And then…
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.
It's a bad inning for Superman. First, the pride of Smallville strikes out to end the top half of the frame with a runner on second.
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.
Two runs score for the Superheroes following a string of hits from Wonder Woman, Batman, Robin, and Green Arrow. It probably should have been three runs, but Batman failed to score from first on Green Arrow's double. The Comic Treadmill offers compelling evidence for Batman's poor display of athleticism, but you'll have to click over to read it.
In the bottom half of the inning, Felix Faust hits a one-out double, followed by:
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.
A big inning. The Superheroes get on the board with a home run from Black Canary.
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.
Two runs score for the Superheroes as Sportsmaster has himself a bad inning. Not only does he walk two batters in a row, but one happens to be a bases-loaded walk to his wife. Is he intentionally letting his wife win the game so she can leave him for a life of crime-fighting? As the Comic Treadmill points out, the psychological implications are endless. Superman knocks in the other run with a base-hit.
In the bottom half, the Supervillains hit into a couple of force-outs at third and go down quietly. They do, however, manage the third bunt base-hit of the game:
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.
A dud of an inning, as neither team scores and only Batman (now 4-for-4) gets a hit.
More bunts and more runs. The Superheroes extend their lead after a double, a bunt (Plastic Man beats the throw!), and a base hit from Superman. The rally is killed when Wonder Woman hits into a double-play.
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.
The Superheroes extend their lead in the top half of the inning on three straight singles from Kid Flash, Batman, and Green Arrow, but they can't stretch it beyond a run. It's 8-5 as the Supervillains come to bat.
After a double and sac-fly, Supervillain captain Sportsmaster comes to the plate with one out and a runner on third, down by three. Now, Sportsmaster has already hit two home runs off Superman today, so what does he do? He bunts, of course! The run scores, but Sportsmaster is out at first, leaving the Supervillains down by two with two outs and the bases empty.
This drama won't end, though. A double from Dr. Polaris and a home run from Tattooed Man ties the game up at 8, setting up an inning for the ages in the ninth. How will it end?
Top of the 9th
The rules were clearly stated at the start of the game: no superpowers were to be used in this contest. Of course, when you're dealing with a bunch of supervillains, expecting everyone to keep to their word is pretty silly.
The Superheroes lead off the inning with a line-drive over shortstop Tattooed Man's head, but, with cheating now in full-force, he doesn't need to abide by any rules. Tattooed Man launches one of his living tattoos – a giant baseball mitt – at the ball. The mitt catches the ball, but Tattooed Man drops the mitt, allowing the ball to roll free and Black Canary to reach second. (Of course, if the umpires – Uncle Sam and Amazo – knew anything, they'd know that it's illegal to throw a glove at a live ball and the penalty is three bases to the runner.)
Sportsmaster makes it runners on first and second with no out when he intentionally hits Superman.
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.
As the Supervillains come up for their final at-bats, they trail 11-8.
Bottom of the 9th
Down by three and only three outs left to work with? You know these supervillains are going to pull out all the stops as they try to cheat their way to the win. Let's take a brief look at how each one does:
Lex Luthor leads off. The scientific genius uses a vibrating bat to keep the ball out of the strike zone, earning himself a free base.
Weather Wizard hits a slow grounder to second-baseman Wonder Woman. He immediately calls for a miniature blizzard to blind Wonder Woman, but she uses her own powers to deflect the blizzard and nail the lead runner.
Joker lays a bunt down the third base line. His laughing gas keeps Green Arrow from fielding it cleanly and Joker gets to first with no problem. (Is that the ninth bunt?!)
Chronos hits a grounder to short, but uses his power over time to slow down the Superheroes while speeding up the Supervillains. Kid Flash, however, is able to beat Chronos to first with his super speed. There are now runners on second and third with two outs.
Matter Master uses his magic wand to turn his fly ball into a *winged* fly ball, hoping to launch it over the fence. Green Arrow has now time for this silliness and shoots the ball down with one of his arrows. A runner scores from third and Matter Master reaches first safely when the ball falls in fair territory.
Sportsmaster uses his superpower of being awesome at sports to launch a ball to the wall. Joker scores from third and Sportsmaster himself gets a stand-up double, but Matter Master stops at third for some reason. It's 11-10 with two outs, runners on second and third, and Dr. Polaris up.
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.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to wait by my mailbox for this comic to arrive.
Thank you for reading
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Somewhat off topic, but I read Summerland (a kid's sci-fi tale) recently and was pleased by the baseball theme throughout. I highly recommend it.
Those were the days, when neighborhoods would stop, hold a BBQ and watch a game around a black and white TV.