10 Mar 2016

From The Vaults: BATMAN AND SUPERMAN: WORLD'S FINEST #1-10

While we spend a great deal of time engrossed in the current crop of comic books, let us not forget those fantastic tales from the past that still sit in amongst our collections and are always worth revisiting...

BATMAN AND SUPERMAN: WORLD’S FINEST #1-10
Writer: Karl Kesel
Art: Dave Taylor, Robert Campanella, Peter Dpherty, Alex Sinclair, Graham Nolan & Sal Buscema
DC

Matt C: Debuting in 1999, Batman And Superman: World’s Finest attempted to essay the evolving relationship between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel in the post-Crisis DC Universe over the course of a decade, tying into the anniversary of a friend’s death that could have been avoided if only they’d worked together (an incident that takes up the first issue). I have fond memories of reading this when it first appeared as it came at the perfect time for me and my connection with these particular characters. Having grown up on a strict diet of Marvel with an occasional side helping of Batman, the late-‘90s saw me invest in the DC Universe wholeheartedly, particularly Superman, an icon I’d resisted up until that point (for reasons perhaps a bit longwinded to get into here). The opportunity to see these apparently dichotomous creations interacting was too enticing to pass up.

Nearly 17 years on, this doesn’t hold up quite as well as I’d hoped. The hook of remembering a dead friend sort of works to a point, but does feel gimmicky on occasion as the departed’s importance for both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne gets a bit lost in all that follows. On the one had that’s understandable as we are dealing with a fairly long passage of time, and what does follow proves to be somewhat distracting for the heroes, but on the other hand building the narrative around a specific incident, you kind of want to be reminded why this individual mattered so much. Also, having it spread across 10 years (in a genre were characters age at an almost undetectable crawl) seems like a misstep, as it’s probably too long a period to shine a light on how both their friendship and working relationship develops, considering we’re obviously assuming they do cross paths far more frequently than once a year.

The set of 10 issues runs through a who’s who of Batman and Superman’s respective galleries of friends and foes, with Lex Luthor, the Joker, Lois Lane and Catwoman all getting a look in (as well as a mildly humorous instalment featuring both Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk). While most episodes feature unique adventures, a few do touch on pivotal moments in the lives of the titular heroes, the most prominent being the aftermath of the ‘Death of Superman’ and, perhaps most effectively, a reflective bonding session following the demise of Jason Todd. But, for all the admirable work in attempting to bring a coherent throughline between Kent and Wayne, there is a lack of real insight into how these supposed opposites actually complement each other. It skirts over depth in favour of highlighting the more obvious comparisons and differences, which is perfectly fine but often feels like it makes way for a succession of missed opportunities.

From a purely visual standpoint it’s a bit a mixed bag, primarily because series artist Dave Taylor goes AWOL halfway through (the reasons are documented here) which is a shame as he brings a kind of poised mix of more classic comic book artistry with some modern superheroic staples, even managing to incorporate homages to Chester Gould and, rather bizarrely in one specific instance, Alberto Uderzo. Peter Doherty (no, not that one!) is a competent replacement, but he goes more for the ‘house style’ which inevitably leads to a more generic aesthetic, before things get entirely ropey for the final issue.

Yes, the last chapter of the series is a huge misfire, with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, a half-baked twist and some substandard artwork (Taylor briefly returns before making way for some rather amateurish visuals from Graham Nolan, no doubt compounded by the absence of series’ inker Robert Campanella). The way it ends suggests these two icons have barely progressed their relationship over the decade, which is patently ridiculous and seems to ignore that membership of the JLA would have resulted in a much closer bond. There was clearly an opportunity for something far more profound, and even though it had been wildly uneven in quality through the course of the preceding nine issues, the finale squanders any potential that had been building up.

In summary, World’s Finest is a passable look at the connection between the two most recognisable superheroes in the world but there’s far superior material that covers similar ground in more depth available, and while it’s not exactly a foolish purchase if you were to find it going cheap in a back issue box, it doesn't really stand the test of time (or removal of rose-tinted spectacles), and if you want to get to the core of why the primal friendship/rivalry between Batman and Superman is so endlessly appealing, you need to look elsewhere.

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