Review: 'Showcase Presents: World's Finest Comics Volume 4'

Showcase Presents: World’s Finest Comics Volume 4

DC Comics

$19.99, b/w, 520 pgs.

Writers and Artists: Various

Reprinting World’s Finest Comics #174-202 (Mar 68-May 71)

 

I consider the Golden Age of World’s Finest Comics to be the issues of the mid-1960s, with stories by Cary Bates, Leo Dorfman, Ed Hamilton, and especially superstar Jim Shooter, and art primarily by the Super-team supreme, Curt Swan and George Klein. Superman and Batman were unquestionably BFFs, with battles full of mysterious, masked strangers; swapped identities; and exciting battles against the likes of Brainiac, Composite Superman, and the Anti-Superman, Anti-Batman team.

 

Unfortunately, that was the previous volume. World’s Finest Comics Volume 4 is the wheezing end of the original WFC concept, featuring stories where Superman and Batman are still BFFs, but for one reason or another primarily fight each other.

 

I have to point out to modern readers, who are accustomed to friction between Superman and Batman, that none of that existed in the 1960s. Superman and Batman (and Robin) were the closest, most famousest, just bestest friends in the DC Universe. This was the tail end of the Silver Age – before the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams makeover of the Dark Knight, and in the final days of the campy Batman TV show. Batman was no more a creature of the night than Aunt Harriet; he was a duly deputized officer in the Gotham Police Dept., swinging into Gordon’s office every day with a hearty “Good morning, Commissioner!” In fact, not only is Batman Superman’s inoffensive best friend, he acts in many of these stories as the get-along but lazy best friend – it is usually Superman who comes up with the clever plans and disguises, while the Darknight Detective calls himself Superman’s “Bat-buddy” and waits to be rescued. In an era of Batmania, World’s Finest was clearly considered by the editors a Superman book.

 

When the duo aren’t fighting each other, that is – which happens 17 times in the 28 stories here, for reasons involving amnesia, imaginary stories, hoaxes, and (on one memorable occasion) Batman and Robin battling crooks equipped with Superman’s surgically removed hands, ears, eyes, lungs, and heart (don’t ask). This gimmick becomes so overused that DC feels compelled to blurb on the cover (and splash page) of World’s Finest #202 (the final issue in this volume) that a scene of Superman strangling Batman “is not an imaginary fight scene! Nor a symbolic picture! Nor any other sort of cop-out!” (Which isn’t quite true, since “Superman” is a robot. In the famous words of Texas Gov. Rick Perry: “Oops.”)

 

If you’ve labored this far into the review, you might begin to wonder why on Earth this reviewer labored to the end of WFC Vol. 4. And that’s because there’s still some yummy Silver Age goodness to be found here. For example, while most of the stories are by the inevitable Ross Andru-Mike Esposito team (who apparently have at one time or another drawn every comic book on planet Earth), there are occasional Neal Adams covers or interiors, and some Curt Swan work (with far inferior inkers than before, as Klein had moved to Marvel by 1968, only to die in 1969). Most of the stories are by a young Cary Bates, whom you can see mature as a writer before your eyes.

 

And the most intriguing part is where new Editor-in-Chief Carmine Infantino dumps the Superman-Batman concept, and turns World’s Finest Comics into a Superman team-up book, which happens in the final five issues of this volume. Not only was this the first change in WFC’s format since 1954, but Infantino also dumped most of the men who had handled the book previously, turning with issue #198 to Denny O’Neil as writer, and Dick Dillin and Joe Giella on interior art, with Adams and Infantino on covers. The shift in quality, tone, and subject matter is breathtaking, as DC and World’s Finest abruptly plowed head-first into a Marvel-esque Bronze Age.

 

So bring on World’s Finest Comics Volume 5 already!

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...That era didn't last cery long , however , the " Superman Team-p " period...Just as the sand-creature/de-Supered Schwartz/O'Neil Superman basically ended withe 48-page Bigger & Better period , so did Superman Team-Up .

  At least it'll guarentee two partyly good Captain reviews !!!!!!!!!!!!

  I should know - I was there . I mean , having a Late Silver Ager/EWeird Ager like me around serves a purpose...........

The Superman/Batman team wasn't totally abandoned. The Man of Steel rejoined with the Caped Crusader a couple of times during this phase. Still they didn't really do anything that radical, usually teaming him up with a JLAer. The only true surprise was when he teamed up with The Vigilante, and Batman was in that issue too!

The Superman team-up issue period was also editor Julie Schwartz's time on the title. In 1973 Action Comics was given to Schwartz, and Murray Boltinoff, who had been editing it, took over World's Finest. The first Boltinoff issue was the first Bob Haney issue, and introduced the super-sons.

I hadn’t really ever considered buying Showcase Presents World’s Finest, but it sounds as if I might need to consider the third volume, if any. Personally, I’m holding out for the resumption of the various DC Archives series. Speaking of which, Superman: Man of Tomorrow (Silver Age Superman/Action Comics) Vol. 3 has been advance solicited for July 24 release.

And it's about time!

It occurs to me that the Archives may be loss leaders -- that DC spends the money to restore the comics for the Archives, so that it's dirt-cheap to later do Showcases and Chronicles with the same material. That makes a certain amount of sense, but if so, that means the Showcases and Chronicles will never reprint more than the Archives do, and the Archives are really slowing down. Which is maddening, as all the Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman material is finally hitting that mystery decade, the '50s, which I've waited for all my life. World's Finest lacks only the remaining solo adventures of Superman and Batman to be available in reprint through 1970, but I haven't seen one of those in quite a while.

Also upcoming from DC:

Dark Knight Archives Vol. 8 - Jan 23

Wonder Woman Archives Vol. 7(?) - Feb 27

Metal Men Archives Vol. 2 - Mar 6



Emerkeith Davyjack said:

...That era didn't last cery long , however , the " Superman Team-p " period...Just as the sand-creature/de-Supered Schwartz/O'Neil Superman basically ended withe 48-page Bigger & Better period , so did Superman Team-Up .

At least it'll guarentee two partyly good Captain reviews !!!!!!!!!!!!

I should know - I was there . I mean , having a Late Silver Ager/EWeird Ager like me around serves a purpose...........

True enough, the Superman Team-Up era only lasted two or three years, but I remember being relatively excited about it at the time. For one thing, as I mention in the review, World's Finest had fallen on hard creative times and I wasn't enjoying it. For another, I was curious to see how the writers would handle Superman teaming up with anyone else, since he doesn't really need anyone else. (For example, the incongruous pair of Superman and Green Arrow, which they did at least once.) And finally, the art took a notch up, with Dillin/Adams/Infantino a definite improvement (at least for me) over Andru/Esposito, whose work I never liked. And when the Superman/Batman team-ups returned, it was under different auspices -- Batman had entered his Dark Knight phase, which changed the relationship to one more familiar to modern audiences. So World's Finest #200 got a big ol' thumbs up from me then and now; it closed the door on the what I consider the weakest period in WFC history, or at least one of them, and I was glad to see it go.

Also, the fanboy in me was kinda glad to see Superman get some attention. It had been Batmania for the last several years at DC, and I was a little sick of Bat-everything. Superman was still their big gun, at least historically, and he had been overshadowed for too long. As it turned out, the Boomer writers entering the field then didn't really know what to do with him -- and most writers still don't, IMHO -- and he has stayed in Batman's shadow ever since.

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