Thursday, May 6, 2010

Review - World's Finest

World's Finest
Written by Dave Gibbons; Art by Steve Rude
1991 Eisner Winner for Best Artist

For the past twenty-five years comic creators have built a mythology around Batman and Superman being opposite ends of the vigilante spectrum. It's easy to build some superficial comparisons but I've never been completely convinced by the argument. Still mixing the two of them together has resulted in a lot of fun over the years. World's Finest was one of the most significant mixing of the two characters in years when it was released. Unfortunately as an adventure story it's dense, impenetrable, and uninteresting. The writing's opposite number is the artwork which is superb.

This story doesn't make a lot of sense so bare with me. There's an orphanage opened halfway between Gotham City and Metropolis which is replacing an orphanage in both of those cities for some reason. The Joker and Lex Luthor buy the old orphanages for some reason. Then Luthor buys the Joker's orphanage in exchange for a Metropolis vacation. There's a subplot about a guy who taught orphans to be thieves thirty years ago that never amounts to anything other than a vague plot twist that completely lacks meaning. Superman goes to Gotham City to follow Luthor buying land there and Batman goes to Metropolis to see what the Joker's doing. No one actually does anything until the Joker and Luthor decide they can't stand the sight of each other any more at which point they start blowing things up.

Here's what I wanted going into World's Finest: Superman and Batman to have a big adventure in which they join forces to deal with a threat. I wasn't expecting anything brilliant, just an excuse for some fun. What I got was a lot of talking about an orphanage, a "threat" that consisted of a land grab and acting goofy on the street. The villains had no motivation or even a clear concept which made the heroes seem less important. The heroes are barely in contact with each other anyway as they spend three-quarters of the story apart as they investigate a plot that is so ephemeral it doesn't seem to exist. There's little action and what action can be found isn't interesting.

Gibbons also makes a half-hearted stab at exploring the characters without really doing anything. The villains get the worst of this as they come across as almost identical mafia dons. When there isn't a lot of difference in methodology between the Joker and Lex Luthor there's something very wrong with their characterizations. Superman and Batman are at least differentiated but there it seems Gibbons goes too far in the other direction. There's one comically bad scene toward the beginning where the two meet at a party and have to act exactly opposite of each other. It's just after midnight so Batman says "Good evening" while Superman says "Good morning" for example. It's about as ham fisted as you can get without having your extremities grafted from a pig.

So instead of dwelling on the story which I can't stand and could pick apart for hours I'm going to jump straight to Steve Rude. Rude is easily my favorite comic book artist due to his sense of design. He creates these whimsical spaces for characters to occupy that look incredible on the page. And the characters that Rude draws have a sleek look to them that I enjoy. In World's Finest Rude indulges in a golden age look to the setting which just makes the whole thing more stylized.

I don't recommend World's Finest (at least this version of World's Finest; there have been dozens of things to use the title for Superman/Batman team ups). It's not even good as a superhero comic. It's only saving grace is the artwork and I'd recommend looking for Rude's art elsewhere. I've read worse but not often.