April 3, 2009

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Showcase Presents World's Finest Volume 1

Written by Edmond Hamilton, Alvin Schwartz, Bill Finger, Dave Wood, and Jerry Coleman
Illustrated by Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye, Charles Paris, and a few others
DC

Long-time readers will know I am a huge fan of DC's (and especially Marvel's) decision to reprint their classic comics in an affordable format that lets me read the fun that was the 1950s and 1960s without going crazy trying to buy fifty dollar hardcovers or crappy copies of the originals. The stories generally range from the surprisingly good to the pretty interesting to the "Oh my God That Saw Print?!" (which was my reaction to the awful treatment of Batgirl in her trade).

This particular collection falls under the surprisingly good category, as the World's Finest Trio of Batman, Robin, and Superman are given adventures that, while a bit hokey at times, really are stories that require three heroes to solve. (This is a big problem with a lot of Superman and stories--when one man is so gosh-darn powerful, what do you need anyone else for?)

Though we tend to think of "World's Finest" as Batman and Superman together, every one of these stories also has Dick in them, with his role varying depending on need--he gets to star in one of them for example, when he gains part of Superman's intellect and has to direct the efforts against the master criminal. (An honest Bruce tells him he was giving him a complex!) Robin also serves a mediator whenever there's the inevitable Bats-Supes fight and, here and there, as the damsel in distress. You might think in such short stories (they only run about 12 pages each) the action would be too cluttered with three protagonists, but it works pretty well most of the time.

As far as the stories go, we get several time travel tales, a fair share of aliens, ordinary criminals trying to outwit Superman or Batman or both, and of course a few Luthor stories, one of which even gets Batwoman into the action. Best of these, however, is by far the Luthor-Joker team up (the first? I really don't know) where they put their criminal brains (and comical looks) together to try and outsmart the World's Finest team. It's a winning pair that DC still uses--right up to the amazing end piece of Infinite Crisis--to this day.

The artwork here is mostly Dick Sprang, with Sprang and Swan almost certainly drawing the heads of Bats and Superman for each other, because even when they're not doing the pencils, the headshots look identical. A common DC practice (they even overdubbed Kirby for God's sake), which is a shame, as I've love to see a Sprang Superman head. The other artists aren't bad, but they lack the distinctive stylings of Sprang and Swan, two great artists of the time period.

If you only like comics with "real" plots, you'll hate this tome, but then again, you're unlikely to read it. If you like old comics where you just sit back and enjoy the story rather than obsess over its ability to actually happen, then there's not much finer than World's Finest.