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How World War II First Brought Batman and Superman Together

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When Batman and Superman come together in this week’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it will be far from the first time that the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel have crossed paths.

Shortly after Batman’s 1939 introduction, the two characters were appearing on comic-book covers together, but they generally stayed apart from one another in the stories inside. That changed, however briefly, in 1941, when they both helped raise money for WWII orphans.

In All-Star Comics #7, that October, the Justice Society of America (a group of mostly lower-level superheroes) makes a promise to raise $1 million for the cause. Though Batman and Superman are not central to the story, they appear in a few panels at the end to help the heroes make their fundraising goal.

Even if the two heroes’ joint participation was unusual, there was a close relationship between the war effort and the American comics industry. The events taking place in the real world quickly trickled down into the stories of superheroes. One 1940 story had Superman preventing the U.S. from having to enter the war by exposing a fictional dictator as a mockery. In other cases, the stories were more directly related to world news—as was the case when the Justice Society addressed the very real concern of children who lost parents in the fighting.

For Superman, at least, that close link between comics and world news caused plot problems, as TIME reported in 1942:

…Superman is now in a really tough spot that even he can’t get out of. His patriotism is above reproach. As the mightiest, fightingest American, he ought to join up. But he just can’t. In the combat services he would lick the Japs and Nazis in a wink, and the war isn’t going to end that soon. On the other hand, he can’t afford to lose the respect of millions by failing to do his bit or by letting the war drag on.

To save Superman from this dilemma, plump, 27-year-old Superscriptman Jerry Siegel patched up a makeshift solution after Pearl Harbor. Superman, rejected for enlistment when his X-ray eyes inadvertently read the chart in the next room, set out to serve his country as No. 1 spycatcher. “Of course,” says Ideaman Siegel, who admits that Superman frightens even him sometimes, “if a sub comes to our shores and shells the U.S. we might have him take time out and administer the proper punishment.”

It wasn’t until 1952 that Superman and Batman appeared in a real story together. In Superman #76, they both appear in a story called “The Mightiest Team in the World”—and it wasn’t exactly war-orphans levels of serious. Bruce Wayne decides to go on a cruise so he can “forget crime, for a change”…and he happens to choose the same ship on which Clark Kent is vacationing.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com