Batman and Superman have met for the first time many times. They met for the first time in movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and World’s Finest, where they battled each other before deciding to be friends. They’ve met in alternate universes like Superman: Red Son, and battled each other before deciding to be enemies. They met for the first time after DC rebooted its universe in 2011 (battling, then friends), and after it rebooted its universe in 1986 (battling, then friends).
But what if Batman and Superman met each other without immediately throwing hands? That’s exactly what happened, in the very first first time the Dark Knight and the Man of Tomorrow got to know each other.
How do you build a meet cute between titans?
Nine times out of ten, when you look up a superhero’s first anything, it’s not particularly interesting. At best, these moments are low key in an ironic way, given how important they became later on. In Wolverine’s first appearance, he was just a Canadian operative trying to take down the Hulk. Darkseid’s first appearance was in an issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. The Venom symbiote was an alternate costume from a weird head dome in a space building.
Original Firsts like Wolverine’s debut don’t reflect their later importance because nobody could have known that they were going to be important in the first place. Original Firsts like the Venom symbiote’s first appearance don’t reflect their later importance because they were intended to be mundane, and their importance was retroactively created later, by other creatives.
It’s easy to assume that these rules would also apply to the Original First meeting between Batman and Superman. We’ve seen it in movies, and in modern comics. It’s probably pretty pedestrian. Nothing to report except that Superman and Batman sure did meet each other, and they sure did foil a crime of some sort.
Yeah, that’s wrong.
The time Batman and Superman met on a double-booked cruise
The thing about Batman and Superman is that they predate the idea of a shared superhero universe. And they were both huge before that idea began to take form. DC doubled down on their popularity by giving them a whole extra book to share, World’s Finest, and even then, every issue was an anthology featuring one solo Batman story and one solo Superman story.
So when writer Edmond Hamilton and artist Curt Swan (a duo also responsible for the Batman Slapping Robin meme) took it upon themselves to craft the supermeet in 1952’s Superman #76, they knew it was something momentous.
And yet they still made a story where Batman and Superman are double booked in the same room on a cruise, which is hilarious.
Hamilton and Swan kicked the whole thing off with Batman and Superman going on vacation at the same time. The Dark Knight taking time off! What a shocker! But as the first two panels of the comic explain, Batman and Robin just mopped up the last criminal on Gotham’s wanted list. Batman did it! He eliminated all crime in Gotham!
So he goes on a cruise.
And it’s a crowded cruise. So crowded that mild mannered reporter Clark Kent and well-off but not particularly famous bachelor Bruce Wayne have to share a double.
The tension of the situation is cut almost immediately when a crime occurs on the dock outside the ship, and the two superheroes ... well, let’s let Hamilton and Swan tell it:
The issue then becomes a classic farce. Batman and Superman must board the ship as their superhero selves in order to ferret out a diamond thief — but also have to maintain the pretense that their civilian identities are on board — all under the investigative eye of Lois Lane, who will be damned if she lets Clark walk away with a headline while he’s on vacation.
Things get messy as Superman and Batman decide that Batman should flirt with Lois to distract her, and Lois realizes that Batman is fake flirting with her as a distraction — so she decides to fake an interest in him to annoy Superman. But eventually the crime is foiled, the instant super-bros help each other maintain their secret identities, and Lois gets her headline and even a bit of revenge by letting Robin take her out to dinner instead of either of them.
It’s nice! It’s cute! It’s kind of oddly mundane, and clearly for a kid audience. But can we do better? Can we revitalize this story for a more modern audience?
This is comics, so, of course we can. In 2006 writer Joe Kelly (Deadpool, Spider-Man, Superman) and a team of artists (Ed McGuiness, Ryan Ottley, Sean Murphy, and Carlo Barberi) got together for Superman/Batman Annual #1, a bombastic retelling of Superman #76.
This time there was only one bed
Ironically, Superman/Batman Annual #1 doesn’t hold up as well as Superman #76. It’s littered with off-color jokes that were tired even in 2006. But where Kelly and Ottley clearly improve on 1952 is in the actual scene in which Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent discover their superhero identities, as they both desperately try to get the other to just leave so they can spring into action.
And so the strangest thing about Superman #76 is not that it’s the exception to the Law of Unmemorable Comic Book Firsts, but that it was, by complete accident, a shockingly modern conceit.
Most readers of Superman/Batman probably didn’t put it together that the series’ first annual was lifting so directly from a 54-year-old story (not to mention that the average fan did not have a simple way to track down 54-year-old issues, in an era before digital back issues). “There was only one hotel room” is such an established romance trope — of course it would be funny to apply it to a couple of scions of masculine friendship. It’s not the sort of thing one would expect had cropped up in a mid-century story that was also the very first time these two massive characters had ever met.
And yet it is. Canonically, the very first very first time that Batman and Superman met, it was because they were double-booked in the same hotel room.
Your move, Hollywood.