Wednesday, 1 September 2010

World's Finest #3

Don't panic everybody! This isn't the World's Finest miniseries as recently covered on From Crisis To Crisis. This one is much better! It's safe to read on!

Year Three: Light In The Darkness

Words: Karl Kesel
Pencils: Dave Taylor
Inks: Robert Campanella
Colors/Seps: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Bill Oakley
Associate Editor: Joseph Illidge
Editor: Darren Vincenzo
Cover Artist: Dave Taylor and Robert Campanella
Cover Date: June 1999
Release Date: 21/04/1999

 Eight Years Ago...

Illuminata and her two henchmen rob a truck full of money in Gotham City. Clark Kent steps forward, proclaiming that it looks like a job for Superman, before struggling to remove his civilian clothing, confusing the villains. He then threatens to use his heat vision, before struggling to reach a fast sprint. Illuminata uses a flash bomb to blind him, but having been distracted by the events, they are arrested by Commissioner Gordon. In the tussle, a gun accidentally goes off, striking Superman and dropping him to the ground. Policemen come to his aid, and discover a kevlar vest underneath his costume. With Bruce Wayne overlooking, Gordon comes to the conclusion that 'Superman' is just another member of the public who has gone a little crazy and gently escorts him to Arkham Asylum for evaluation.

At Arkham, 'Superman' joins Jeremiah Arkham for an evaluation. His power either fail or he refuses to display them like a performing animal. Jeremiah persuades him to spend the night . As 'Superman' is led to his cell, the various inmates of Arkham react to his presence. Concerned about Superman, Bruce Wayne contacts Perry White to find out what has happened to Clark Kent, telling White that 'Superman' has been locked up in Arkham. After the call, White celebrates with Jimmy and Lois - Clark has gained access to Arkham Asylum for his undercover story.

That night, in his cell, Superman bemoans that he really cannot see through the lead-based paint. Suddenly his door unlocks, and Illuminata is standing there, having assaulted a guard to steal his keys. She has been busy, having already released the other inmates. Flying off, Superman quickly encounters Scarecrow and Penguin, both of who are surprised to discover that 'Superman' is actually Superman. Superman then follows The Riddler through the corridors, before discovering a scene orchestrated by Two-Face where both Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy stand ready to kill two members of staff at the same time, with Superman only able to intervene and save one of them. Superman chooses to melt Mr Freeze's gun, whilst Batman arrives to take care of Ivy. With the villains apprehended, Batman realises that the Joker is missing.

Batman and Superman enter the kitchens, where they are attacked by the Joker. Batman quickly overpowers Joker, but the two heroes are told that the Joker had caught Illuminata in the pantry. Opening the door, Superman discovers that the Joker has cut off her eyelids.

After order has been restored, Batman angrily confronts Superman over his assumption that Batman would act as backup on the anniversary of Harrison Grey's death. Batman insists that they are not partners or a team, and when Superman suggests that Batman's training of Robin is a reaction to their past team-ups, Batman suggests that the reverse is true. He suggests that Superman's night in Arkham was a reaction to his previous comment that he wouldn't last the night in Gotham. Superman denies this - he was originally going to write an exposé on Arkham with the intention of having it shut down, but his experiences have led him to change the focus of his article, calling for more funding and resources. The work being done there is too important to shut down, as is Batman's. Despite reaching an understanding, Superman has taken Batman's original words to heart, and suggests that the next year they try to remember Harrison Grey in their own ways. The two part company.

Ah, it's nice to return to a series that builds a relationship between Superman and a hero whose presence actually affect the Man of Steel. One of the strongest things about these earlier issues of this World's Finest miniseries is that, with large gaps in the history of the relationship between Batman and Superman, Karl Kesel is unafraid to have the heroes make mistakes with each other. The relationship that is in place by the time the two of them are heading up the JLA is one forged through adversity and across the years. Here, Superman makes some assumptions about the nature of his and Batman's working relationship that are wrong. The end result appears to be what he assumed would happen, but the reasons for the result are very different from what he expected, prompting him to re-evaluate his relationship with his most notable ally.

Although Superman has worked in Gotham prior to this issue, this is the first time he is exposed to the true darkness that inhabits the city. Magpie, for all of her showy theatrics, was a troubled woman and therefore elicited sympathy from Superman. The various Batman villains in Arkham Asylum, at their most demented and powerful, profoundly trouble Superman. When he comes across Illuminata, strapped to a chair with her eyelids sliced off so that she can never close her eyes, he is told by her to turn the light off as it is too bright. Instead of closing the door and quietly extinguishing the light, Superman is so shocked and reviled by what he sees that he cries out in shock, ripping the light bulb from the ceiling. Although he denies putting Batman's decree that he wouldn't last a night in Gotham City, this is very much a trial for Superman, one that he passes unscathed, but not unaffected by what he has seen. Although match-ups between Superman and Batman's villains are rare, each of them is taken seriously, with a respect for the potential for violence and loss of life that Superman gets from this encounter.

I really enjoyed the opening of the issue, where Superman pretends to be a well-meaning but deluded super-hero wannabe. Dave Taylor does a great job with the art in this opening scene, presenting subtly wrong images of Superman in action. I particularly like the detail on 'Superman's' hair, which is deliberately almost-but-not-quite right. I'm not so much of a fan of Taylor's portrayal of the Bat-villains, however. His Joker seems too ordinary, his appearance being at odds with the horrific act he commits. He is a lot creepier on the very striking cover that adorns this issue. I particularly like the way that Batman takes up the whole cover, and yet it's possible to not even notice that it's him unless you take in the small element of non-silhouette at the top of the image.

For me, this is one of the strongest issues of World's Finest, building on the first two issues whilst telling its own story, without being distracted by events that would define the later years of Batman and Superman. And in a few days, we'll be checking out the next issue.

The Geeky Bits: I missed out on creator bios the last two issues thanks to some interesting continuity pieces that needed addressing. And talking of those, this is the first time that Superman encounters The Joker.

Karl Kesel is one of the few people to have worked on the post-Crisis Superman as writer, artist and inker, although never at the same time. He is best known as the creator of the clone Superboy, a 67-issue, 6-year run as writer of Adventures of Superman, and as the writer of 59 issues of the Superboy series, in three runs from the first to the last issue. His main work as a penciller was on the Superman issues of the Time And Again arc, and he was the inker for the majority of John Byrne's run on Superman.

Next on World of Superman: Well, it's not the biggest leap in time that we've made (that honour belongs to an almost 100,000 year jump from World of New Krypton #2 to The Kents #1), but we're leaping ahead an entire year to see how Superman and Batman react to the third anniversary of Harrison Grey's death in World's Finest #4.

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