Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne have been on a first name basis for decades now, but what amazing turn of events revealed Batman’s and Superman’s secret identities to each other? Going back 65 years to Superman #76, cover date May–June 1952, prepare yourself for a thrill-a-minute tale of when Bruce met Clark… on a luxury cruise?
When Bruce Met Clark… Unlikely Cabin Mates
Experiencing one of those brief moments when he’s temporarily rid Gotham of crime, Batman takes a vacation, deciding to go on a cruise aboard the luxury liner Varania. But, as fate and Superman writer Edmond Hamilton would have it, Bruce Wayne would not be the only crime-fighter aboard, for Clark Kent is also going on vacation aboard the very same ship. And to make things even trickier, Clark and Bruce must share a cabin.
There’s no time to arrange other accommodations, though, as a thief dressed in an asbestos suit fires incendiary bullets at a gas truck. The resulting conflagration allows the thief to steal a diamond shipment from the pier’s customs office. And, of course, Lois Lane, who has come to see Clark off on his cruise, gets trapped in a ring of fire while trying to get a scoop.
When Bruce Met Clark… “What Light Through Yonder Porthole Breaks?”
Bruce and Clark both see the crime and the imperiled Lois from their shared cabin but are reluctant to change into their super-alter-egos in front of each other. Bruce, feigning exhaustion, offers to turn out the light so they can both turn in early. Clark similarly feigns tiredness, and both men use the cover of darkness to strip down to their super-skivvies.
But, the light from the inferno on the pier comes through their cabin’s porthole, and both men learn the other’s alter-ego — yay! Both heroes agree to discuss this revelation after dealing with the truck and rescuing Lois. Superman grabs the truck and flies it a safe distance away while Batman saves Lois from becoming a flame-roasted reporter. Superman then returns, having welded the bullet holes shut with his heat vision, and blows out the remaining fire with water vapour from a cloud he inhaled … show-off.
When Bruce Met Clark… Cruise Buddies
The heroes organize a pier-wide manhunt for the diamond thief but are unable to find him. They determine that the thief must be aboard the Varania, but before continuing their search they agree to keep each other’s identity secret. And, so no one is able to determine their secret identities by looking at the passenger manifest, Batman and Superman book passage aboard the Varania as Batman and Superman. Ouch! Two tickets each.
A further twist of fate sees Lois Lane booking a last-minute ticket aboard the Varania as well, so in order to keep their identities secret from Lois the mighty partnership rush back to their cabin seconds before she comes to check on Clark.
Clark pretends he’s seasick and Bruce tells Lois he’ll look after the ailing reporter, providing both him and Clark with alibis. Lois has little sympathy for the perpetually wimpy Clark and, slamming the door as she leaves, goes off to find Superman and Batman.
When Bruce Met Clark… Super-Wingman
Realizing that the intrepid and persistent Lois will make it difficult for him to track a diamond thief, Superman, seeking to distract Lois, asks Batman to act as if he’s falling for her. Unfortunately, Lois overhears the entire exchange and, seeking to make Superman jealous, pretends she’s falling for Batman.
With Lois out of his hair, Superman does an x-ray vision sweep of the Varania. He notices a man carrying a concealed pistol, but is unable to find any diamonds aboard. Superman uses his x-ray vision to read the gun-toting man’s ID through his wallet. It identifies him as an electrical engineer named John Smilter, but when Batman questions Smilter he determines that the man is a fraud and no engineer at all. The heroes are relatively certain they’ve found their diamond thief, but without the diamonds they can’t be sure.
When Bruce Met Clark… The Macho-est Show on Earth
At Lois’s request, Batman and Superman take some time off from crime-fighting to put on a show for the passengers. During this show of agility and strength — Batman does some acrobatics and Superman juggles icebergs — Lois only has eyes for Batman. Superman admits that the “best man won,” and during this bit of romantic entanglement Smilter sabotages the Varania’s turbines, leaving the ship dead in the water.
After the show, the Varania’s captain relates the news of the ship’s mechanical issues to the ship’s super-passengers. Smilter takes this opportunity to lure Lois on deck and then takes her hostage as he tries to make his getaway in a waiting helicopter.
Superman and Batman make short work of Smilter’s getaway, Supes hurling Bats at the helicopter. Smilter refuses to shoot the caped crusader when Batman lands on the helicopter’s foot-rail, instead instructing the pilot to try to shake him off. But, the caped crusader makes his way inside and knocks the pilot and Smilter unconscious. Batman then flies the helicopter, with a very grateful Lois aboard, back to the Varania.
When Bruce Met Clark… The Diamond Bullet
During the wrap-up, the reader learns that Smilter hid the stolen diamonds inside the bullets loaded in his gun. Superman’s inability to see through lead made the bullets a good hiding place, but unfortunately for Smilter he couldn’t fire his gun at Batman when he needed to.
And, unfortunately for Bruce and Clark, Lois showing uncharacteristic insight realizes that Batman and Superman are never around when Bruce and Clark are. So, in an effort to keep Lois ignorant of their identities, Superman flies Batman back to Gotham. Batman makes an appearance fighting some crooks, and then Superman flies Batman back to the Varania.
The next morning, Lois reads of Batman’s exploits in Gotham the previous night and, since Bruce is sitting across the table from her enjoying some eggs and bacon, she figures Bruce must not be Batman. So, Batman’s identity appears to be safe, but what about Superman’s?
When Bruce Met Clark… Fattening Frogs for Robins
As Lois and Clark disembark the ship, Superman greets them. A confused Lois figures she must have been mistaken about both her companions’ identities, and, as Superman and Clark duck behind a couple of crates, Clark pulls his face off, revealing that he’s actually Bruce in disguise. Bruce does a quick change into his Batman duds, and the two heroes have a private conference.
In a final bit of comic relief, Batman and Superman decide to let Lois decide once and for all whom she prefers by asking her out to dinner on the same night. But, the early bird catches the worm, and Robin, who appears out of nowhere, wins a date with Lois instead. And, as creepy as that may seem since Robin is somehow still a child in 1952, keep in mind that he would have been 20 in 1952 if people aged regularly in comics.
When Bruce Met Clark… Final Thoughts
Allowing for anachronistic plot points — such as Batman taking a vacation, Lois’s surprising incompetence and childish temper, and Robin’s inexplicable appearance at the end of the story — this one is alright. It’s always fun when the real tension in a comic is the result of something aside from the crime-fighting element of its story, the outcome of which is basically a foregone conclusion — the heroes will win. And, although I often felt bad for Lois while reading this story, it’s fun to watch Batman and Superman squirm in an effort to keep their identities secret.
In addition to the plot, this is an interesting story in that it sets up devices that modern-day writers and artists of Batman and Superman tales still use, the most obvious example of this being Bruce Wayne’s Clark Kent disguise.