Sunday, 5 September 2010

World's Finest #4

Hey guys. I'm a very tired writer tonight, having spent the day riding around Central London on my bike as part of the Mayor of London's Sky Ride. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the day, with thousands and thousands of fellow cyclists of all ages riding through what are normally some of the most congested streets in the city. I think the highlight of the day was either riding through the tunnel along Victoria Embankment, just south of St Paul's Cathedral, where a Samba band greeted the cyclists along with a huge banner proclaiming 'Make Some Noise' (which we did), or queuing up by Westminster Bridge, waiting to move into Parliament Square, just as Big Ben struck midday.

In other comics-related news, the second of my two guest appearances on Teenage Wasteland: An Ultimate Spider-Man Podcast went up over the weekend. Covering issues #75-#78, it's my favourite of the five podcasts I recorded recently. You can hear me summarise Spider-Man in poetry, reveal my true feelings towards Joe Quesada, and get very angry at the presence of a full moon. No, not because I'm a werewolf, but for a far more insidious reason.

Year Four: Underworlds

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Dave Taylor
Inker: Robert Campanella
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Clem Robins
Associate Editor: Joseph Illidge
Editor: Darren Vincenzo
Cover Artist: Dave Taylor and Robert Campanella
Cover Date: July 1999
Release Date: 19/05/1999

Four Years Ago. Batman has been hacking military surveillance satellites, discovering that he is not the first person to do so, and that whoever has been before him has focused them on Suicide Slum in Metropolis. With the anniversary of Harrison Grey's death only a few days away, Batman smells a rat, and he heads to Metropolis.

Superman saves a young mother and her child from an inferno in Suicide Slum. He discovers that another child is trapped inside, but before he can save the child, Batman appears, saving the kid. The fire chief shows Superman a high-tech incendiary device that has been found at two previous fires, and Superman prepares for a long night. He meets up with Batman, surprised to discover that his presence in Metropolis is seemingly unconnected to Grey's death. As the two heroes examine the device, Desaad presents more of the devices, along with a powerful technological gauntlet, to Bruno Manheim and Intergang. As one of the gang checks their monitoring of Superman, he and Batman make an appearance, taking out the crooks despite their advanced weaponry. Desaad tests Superman to see if he is a New God by opening a Boom Tube. Superman is transfixed by what he sees through the tube, the war between New Genesis and Apokolips, and inadvertently allows Desaad to escape. Batman brings Superman back to the present, where Superman states that despite not knowing his origins, he is not from that world.

Superman rounds up the rest of the crooks, whilst Batman goes to check out a hunch. He had interrogated the technician monitoring Superman, discovered that he was just taking advantage of pre-existing monitoring, realises that he hadn't seen anyone enter or exit the building, and discerns that there must be a hidden entrance. He soon locates it, discovering underground tunnels that lead to a vast, hidden pseudo-military complex, called Cadmus. As Cadmus soldiers contain an escape of DNAliens, Batman discovers the cloned body of Jim Harper, undergoing memory implantation. Digging further, he discovers the truth of the complex and confronts Director Westfield with the fact that the facility is trying to clone Superman. Westfield admits this, and that they have had trouble doing so. Batman leaves, promising to keep an eye on the project.

Afterwards, Superman shares dinner with survivors of the inferno, whilst Batman returns to Gotham, determined to see Dick Grayson's school play.

So, this is pretty much the Batman and Superman meet the crazy world of Jack Kirby issue, introducing the New Gods into the series (despite Superman having met them twice already, reaching an understanding of their nature and conflicts in Jack Kirby's Fourth World #20) as well as giving us our first glimpse of Project Cadmus, a Kiry concept that would be a key cornerstone of the Superman stories in the first half of the 1990s. It's a chaotic issue, relying on the reader's pre-existing knowledge of these concepts and offering up highlights (Desaad, Boom Tubes, DNAliens, The Guardian) without really touching on why these are important. The Cadmus pages in particular feel more like Batman being given a 'best-of' tour of the facility rather than constructing a coherent story with these elements. Sure, there's the running thread concerning the monitoring of Superman, but once Batman arrives in Metropolis, this takes a back seat to the more pressing need to show off the work of Jack Kirby.

There's a wonderfully surreal moment, where Batman is sneaking through the corridors of Cadmus, and we see a guard who appear to be Obelix from the Asterix series. The posing of the other guard, especially his face, is very reminiscent of the art of Albert Uderzo. The panel is very obviously an homage to these comics, but for the life of me I cannot work out why this would be. It may be Dave Taylor's way of honoring the 40th anniversary of the publication of the first Asterix strip (in October 1959). Normally I like homages to other works, and I'll happily get behind Asterix, one of my favourites as a child, but I have to say, seeing Obelix in Cadmus did derail my reading of this issue as I sat there for a few moments wondering what was going on.

I really wanted to like this issue. Project Cadmus was one of my favourite things about the Superman books in the 1990s (even the Mickey Cannon era), and I was genuinely sad when the last remnant of the project, Dubbilex, died at the start of the World of New Krypton storyline.However, the rushed nature of how the concept is presented to us leaves me cold to the issue. In fact, this issue is the first of several in the World's Finest series that don't quite do it for me. Up to this point, the references to specific continuity have been fun, minor elements. However, with a few exceptions, from here on in the continuity will drive the story rather than flavouring it. At times, it can and will distract from the core purpose of the book, examining the relationship between Batman and Superman. For example, I would happily have not had Desaad in the book if it meant that we could have dealt with the frosty ending to the previous issue.

The Geeky Bits: If I've got my issues straight, then this is the third meeting between Superman and the New Gods. And if I've got my issues straight, then we won't see them again until Darkseid takes center stage in the Legends crossover. Project Cadmus, however, stays out of sight until 1998's Superman Annual #2.

Obelix's next appearance will be in 2001's Asterix and the Actress.

Next on World of Superman: As this is World of Superman, not World of Obelix, I must reluctantly put down my Asterix volumes. Instead, I'm going to see how much of a blog post I can get out of a three-page story with no dialogue. If it takes me a week to write, then I really have gone to live in Lazy Town, and you all have permission to throw rotten fruit at me.

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