Thursday, 20 May 2010

World's Finest #1

Year One: Different Worlds

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Dave Taylor
Inker: Robert Campanella
Colorist/Separator: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Editors: Darren Vincenzo & Scott Peterson
Cover Artist: Robert Campanella and Dave Taylor
Cover Date: April 1999
Prestige Format

Night in Gotham, day in Metropolis. Batman and Superman apprehend a duo of thugs each, their actions and reactions mirrored yet different. Donnie in Gotham, attempting to rob Wayne Enterprises,  and Lonnie in Metropolis, breaking into LexCorp, both attempt to escape, thinking that Batman and Superman would both be focused on crime lord Eric Stang, who has just busted out from prison. As they independantly make plans to switch cities, the heroes force their cars into the water and finish the chase.

The next day, Perry White approaches Clark with an event to cover - noted plastic surgeon Harrison Grey is opening a clinic in New York. Clark notes that Grey is backed by LexCorp, providing a local angle. Lois want the assignment so she can expose how Grey's work on Hollywood actresses has imposed an impossible standard of beauty. Clark has a trump card - he grew up with Grey in Smallville and is close friends with him. Clark wins the assignment, and calls his parents to tell them the news, prompting Ma and Pa to reminisce about the night they found their son.

Bruce Wayne is flashing back to the murder of his parents. He is brought back to the present by Jim Gordon, who has arrived to provide a report on the break-in at Wayne Enterprises. After he leaves, Alfred reminds Bruce that as his company has invested in Grey's clinic, he should attend the opening. Bruce has been set up with a date by Grey, a leading actress named Savannah Summer, who is put out when Bruce doesn't recognise her.

At the reception, Lex Luthor is boring Bruce Wayne when he unexpectedly runs into Clark Kent, who has been given access to the VIP area by his old friend. Bruce and Clark meet for the first time, noting that the other has a strong grip in the handshake. The four discuss Superman and Batman. Savannah is getting on very well with Grey, giving up her seat next to Wayne to allow Clark to sit with his friend. Clark warns Bruce, who tells him that he has noticed everything, and that he is being used as cover to allow the two to see each other in public without causing gossip.

Harrison starts his presentation, using the different examples of Batman and Superman to illustrate the work he wants to do at the clinic. After praising the staff, he announces that their skill means that he will be retiring. Moving backstage after his speech, Grey is approached by one of his staff. Clark hears a gunshot, just before Savannah runs on stage screaming that Grey has been kidnapped and his bodyguard killed. Clark and Bruce both disappear, and seconds later, both Batman and Superman bear down on the kidnappers. They quickly realise that the Grey they have saved is a dupe, having had surgery to look like the real Grey. Batman quickly gets Alfred to start tracing Grey. Superman overheard the name of a militant group, called the Independent Citizen's Militia, who are rumoured to have broken Eric Stang out. Now that they have a lead, Superman asks how they will handle it. Batman wants to work alone, not be in charge of a team effort, and the two part company on bad terms.

Harrison Grey is brought to Eric Stang, who wants Grey to give him a new face. Suddenly, Superman bursts through the roof, shrugging off gunfire. Then, Batman bursts through the window, tackling more of Stang's goons. Whilst the two of them take out the henchmen, Stang grabs Grey and activates a dead man's switch in his hand - if he lets it go, the building will explode. The heroes attempt to negotiate with Stang, but get nowhere. Stang activates the switch, but nothing happens - Superman had smelled the fertiliser used in the bomb earlier and defused it. Stang jumps for the window. Batman leaps after him, telling Superman to look after Grey. Superman ignores the instruction, and flies out to catch Stang before he hits the ground, eager to ensure that Batman doesn't do anything to Stang. Whilst they do so, Grey runs out in a panic, and is run down and killed by a delivery van.

At the funeral, Savannah suggests to both Clark and Bruce that if Superman and Batman had worked together more then Grey would still be alive.

World's Finest was a maxi-series focusing on annual meetups between Batman and Superman, taking into account changes in each character across the corresponding years. As we slowly work our way through the series, we'll meet the replacement Supermen and Batmen, and watch these two iconic heroes forge a relationship out of the ashes of their failure at the end of the issue. But this is all to come.

The first issue really runs with the seeds sown by John Byrne in Man of Steel #3, that Batman and Superman do not really like each other, and certainly don't trust each other. It makes for a frosty relationship that ultimately ends in tragedy with the death of Harrison Grey. There are two great in-costume moments where this relationship hits the skids - when Batman tells Superman that he doesn't want lead a team-up, and Superman replies that he hadn't thought of Batman leading it, and when Superman dives out of teh window after Stang, concerned over what action Batman might take against him. There's also a lovely moment where Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor (who, by the way, looks very off-model for some reason) and Harrison Grey debate the differing approaches to crime-fighting employed by Batman and Superman. As it doesn't take much longer for the Daily Planet to earn Lex's complete animosity, this scene is one of the very few civil interactions between Luthor and Kent without any subtext to their remarks.

As with many team-ups between Batman and Superman, the book opens with a clear presentation of their differences and similarities. The first twelve pages are split directly between Superman and Batman, with near-identical actions and dialogues. What is fun is the subtlety of the differences. On page 5, a building behind Batman has a condemned sign hanging off it, whilst the corresponding Superman panel has a bright, catchy sign for a hair salon. Superman hands his crook into the authorities, whilst Batman trusses his up for the approaching policemen. There's a wonderful moment of confusion after both heroes survive a hail of bullets, where Batman's gunman believes that Batman is more than human, whilst Superman's is convinced that the Man of Steel is wearing kevlar. Of all the contrasts in this section, the one that doesn't come across so well is the Lonnie/Donnie one. Both men are drawn to be similar in appearance, and the reader expects there to be a follow-up with their similarities, but after the opening sequence neither are heard from again.

What doesn't come across well in this book is the artwork. For most of the time, it's fine. Taylor does a creepy Batman, and I really quite like is Clark Kent. But his Lex Luthor is so off-model that if he wasn't identified in the dialogue then I wouldn't have recognised him. And his Superman is just... well... wrong. Especially on the opening splash page, and in the panel to the left. The face is far too slim and out of proportion with the rest of his body. It gets better throughout the issue, but never reaches any noticeable heights. But blowing the two big reveals of Superman at the start of the issue sets me against the artist, and these panels should have been done better and been images worthy of Superman.

The Geeky Bits: The second post-Crisis meeting between Batman and Superman, after Man of Steel #3.

The first post-Crisis meetings between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor and, despite Luthor recognising Clark, this is the first time they meet on-panel.

This isn't the only time Karl Kesel will get involved in a post-Crisis World's Finest series...

Next of World of Superman: There's a part of me that really wants to cover the first Superman/Batman annual, but as that's very clearly not of this continuity, I'm going to have to reluctantly put it to one side. So what's next? Oh, right, another Year One...

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