Stew’s Reviews: World’s Finest
It’s been a while! I mean, not for you. The nice thing about writing these in bunches is that even though it’s been a few weeks since I penned (boy, that’s an archaic term. Computed, maybe? But that means something else. Computered? Going with “computered”) volume nine of this series, it will presumably come out to you right on schedule.
So what have I been doing while not reading enough comics lately? Well, honestly, my friends and I play a little Dungeons and Dragons, and I have volunteered to DM for a few sessions. I’m not much for using templates or pre-existing modules or anything, so I tend to write my session from the ground up, and that’s been taking up most of my time as of late. Not that it matters… sometimes you write a part of a session that is supposed to be as easy as “enter a village, befriend the leader of the village, borrow his magical item”, and the folks you play with turn it into an all night affair of becoming wanted kidnappers, getting into a fight they can’t win, and then burning a village full of innocent people down. We’re generally an incompetent lot of adventurers, and I might be better suited to go in with a session outline of “Try not to die tonight. Maybe fight an owlbear?”
Look, I just assume if you’re here to read about comic books, you won’t mind if I meander on for a few minutes about D&D. We’re all chums here. ANYWAY…
TITLE: Batman & Superman: World’s Finest
Writer and Artist: Karl Kesel, Dave Taylor, and Robert Campanella
Protagonists: Batman. Also, Superman.
Antagonists: Oh, everyone. There’s some Lex Luthor, some Joker, some Two-Face. And some one-off characters (as far as I know) like Illuminata, Erik Stang, and the Riven brothers.
I love this comic, and for the weirdest reason: I know virtually nothing about it. I’ve owned it for years, and I’m not entirely sure where it came from. I have the vague notion that I got it as some kind of present from my family just because they know I like comics, but I’m foggy on if that’s true. I’ve never heard of this book. I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere. According to the copyright date, it’s not particularly old (2003). But it feels like it just popped into my collection years ago, and I’ve had the only copy nationwide ever since. And I’ve read it just so many times. I mean, it’s not Kingdom Come or anything, but it’s a neat little hidden gem.
It’s a shame this book hasn’t ever received more press because it’s not bad at all. At its core, it is the reimagining of a first (or, at least, very early) meeting between the Dark Knight and the Last Son of Krypton, and how such a meeting could impact their lives for years to come. It’s also written by Karl Kesel, who was the man behind the first DC books I started collecting consistently as a kid, Adventures of Superman and Superboy, and I have generally enjoyed his work ever since. The opening arc sees Superman and Batman together in New York City for a gala hosted by a world famous plastic surgeon, Harrison Grey (and I’m proud of myself for not calling him Harrison Wells by accident). The surgeon is kidnapped by the ludicrously facial hair’ed Erik Stang, a criminal who wants the surgeon to make him unrecognizable, and it’s not long before the not-yet-world’s-finest team intervenes to save him. Superman and Batman are hardly a well-oiled machine, however, and their inability to work together results in a panicked Grey being struck down and killed in traffic.
Thus the plot of the story is set in motion where the guilt-riddled duo meet up every year on the anniversary of Grey’s death to work together and make some good come out of the whole ordeal. So World’s Finest takes place over a decade’s worth of time, and that’s the joy of it. The reader sees the annual progression of the dynamic between Bruce and Clark as they move from virtual strangers to a powerful alliance. Not only that, but they get to interact during the various stages of their lives (perhaps the most interesting of which sees Superman come to Batman not long after he convinced Batman not to kill the Joker and admits he himself had just killed the pocket universe Zod and his cohorts). So while everything is on a sped up scale, there is some exceptional character growth and development here.
Individually, some of my favorite chapters include Year Three (which sees Clark Kent get himself locked up in Arkham Asylum for “pretending” to be Superman so he could write an expose on the facility), Year Seven (the aforementioned story that takes place in the aftermaths of the separate deaths of Jason Todd and the Kryptonians… which should totally be a band name), and Year Nine (where Batman comes to Metropolis and encounters the four replacement Supermen after Kal’s passing, with a second story of Superman going to Gotham and meeting Jean-Paul Valley as the new Batman). All-in-all, as with most anthology style works, this has some ups and downs along the way, but I can’t think or any particular chapter that I felt was extraordinarily weak… save for, perhaps, the conclusion in Year Ten. The climax of the story seems rather forced, like Kesel had just written himself into a corner and wanted to tack on a happy ending that, frankly, makes about no sense. It choppily repeats some of the mirrored storytelling that is executed so well in chapter one and throws EVERYTHING at the wall… including just about the whole of each character’s rogues gallery and supporting cast all running around in a citywide battle royal. It’s a disappointing ending to be sure, but if you’re of the belief that the journey is more important than the destination, then the book’s still well worth a read.
Talking Point: Some of these are so obvious, that I fight against the idea of going to first Talking Point that springs to mind, which would obviously be “What are some of your favorite comic character partnerships”. So let’s bypass that and go in another direction: I’m always fascinated by how little I hear about this comic, and even looking up pictures to use here was a bit of a chore. That in mind, are there any hidden gems—preferably of major characters, but don’t marry yourself to that—that you enjoy that not many other readers seem to know about?
World’s Finest is a fun book that is hardly ground-breaking in any way. If you like Kesel’s writing, you’ll probably dig this. The art is okay, and a lot like the writing in that it is enjoyable and inoffensive, if not deeply remarkable. It’s OK+. Like I said, I’ve read it a few dozen times at this point and still like it.