My favorite DC comics show superheroes as friends, people who truly understand one another and work together within an elaborate, established DC Universe. Which is why I like DC Comics Presents No. 58, a book you’ve likely never heard of, so much.
DC Comics Presents is a team-up title that starred Superman alongside a rotating series of guest star(s) each month. No. 58 features two guests: Robin (the very best character in comics) and Elongated Man.
Mike Barr, who wrote this issue, knew his readers needed no introduction to Superman and Robin. But he also knew they (like you, dear reader) might not know what the Elongated Man’s deal is. So, using the story’s circus setting to its full advantage, this is how Barr introduces the Elongated Man: by installing him as a human trapeze.
A pretty great gimmick, yes, but also compact. Within the space of a panel, you understand what Ralph’s powers are, as well as that he’s irreverent (and, at times, insufferable). But we also know he’s a good guy, because half a page later, Dick Grayson goes out of his way to tell us so.
Now, Robin’s a professional trapeze artist, but I don’t think Ralph’s a professional trapeze. However, Robin trusts his friend because he KNOWS him, as he says above. I have no idea how he knows him; I have no idea when they’ve worked together. And I don’t need to, because a) explaining it would waste valuable page space, and b) I’m willing to roll with it. This is the DC Universe, where every superhero has every other superhero on speed dial, and all of them are willing to answer each others’ calls. All of them have each others’ backs, and that is a lovely thing.
Which leads us to Superman’s introduction. A gang of hoodlums with bizarre intangibility powers busts up the circus (the CHARITY circus) and spooks the animals. Robin does his best to calm the horses; Ralph is prepared to get stampeded by an elephant. That is, until Superman shows up.
This book is packed full of wonderful gags like the “Ralph as trapeze” bit above and the “Superman casually stops an elephant” bit shown here. Curt Swan, one of the best Superman artists of all time, delivers beautifully on all of them, completely selling the DC Universe’s over-the-top absurdity. Look how little effort it takes Superman to stop an elephant; he can’t even be bothered to use both hands!
But that’s not to say this story devolves into one where Superman solves everything. The best DC writers know how to insert Superman into a situation without having his powers overtake the story, and Barr is a solid DC writer. As the Intangibles flee the circus, the story becomes a mystery and enters an arena where Clark Kent, investigative reporter, has some prowess, but Robin and Elongated Man, professional detectives, have more.
Thanks to Ralph and Robin’s deductions, as well as some help from Superman’s super-vision, our three heroes track the Intangibles to Hollywood, where they’re up to some sci-fi bologna. I won’t spoil the whole thing here, but suffice to say the Intangibles were gathering SOMETHING at the circus, and it wasn’t animals.
Turns out they can use that something to temporarily blind Superman, leading Clark to beat a hasty exit (and not wrap up the entire story on his own). Robin and Ralph show their stuff by taking down the Intangibles before Superman returns, but the story gives Supes his moment, too. After all, it’s not every superhero who could repair a damaged airplane on-the-fly while blind.
That, as well as the friendship between Ralph, Robin, and Superman, is the DC Universe nonsense I am here for. I want comics that are jam-packed with terrible nicknames and crazy feats. Where the heroes care about one another as much as they care about justice. And where they know each other so well that it seems like, after wrapping up the case, they’re going to go out for shawarma.
If those are the kind of superheroics you’re into, I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy of DC Comics Presents No. 58. It’s just a couple bucks over on Amazon, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself re-reading it again and again.