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Subj: Worlds Finest Annual #1 - Modern Nostalgia.
Posted: Thu Feb 06, 2014 at 03:08:05 pm EST (Viewed 411 times)
With the arrival of another batch of Annual releases it is at this stage rather surprising to consider the transformation that the comicbook Annual has undergone in recent years, once seen as utterly disposable ephemera by publishers and the rest place of D-list talent the Annual has in recent years slowly undergone rehabilitation and now emerges as a worthy extension of the very monthly title it owes its existence to.
Whereas once it was quite rare for that books creative team to play a role in the Annual's creation now it has become an essential part of selling it, and writers will gladly use the additional generous space provided by this special release to supplement and support developments in their ongoing book. And so Tom Taylor used the Earth-2 Annual as a venue to reveal the identity of his new Batman, while Green Lantern Corps' Annual is devoted to fleshing out the ongoing difficulties seen in the Green Lantern titles, and for Worlds' Finest writer Paul Levitz opts to explore more of the background to the early lives of Power Girl and The Huntress....
As a title Worlds' Finest has had mixed blessings. Initially supported by the prodigious talents of Kevin MacGuire and George Perez the book has struggled to find a firm direction and purpose for its two main leads, leading to a growing sense of ennui. On the art front a succession of different artists have added to the mood of uncertainty with the title and helped to somewhat erode the books identity. On the positive side though while his plots are lacking Paul Levitz does write character well, his dialogue is very very good and he understands these two characters completely, and it is these two characters who keep readers coming back. So when DC comics solicited the first Worlds Finest Annual and released preliminary cover art that showed this would be a flashback to Earth-2 the book looked rather appealing. But... what was the plot?
As it turns out the plot is simple - a hunt for a mystery terrorist, the identity of whom comes as a surprise, a rather tragic surprise, and the involvement of Wonder Woman isn't just for the sake of it either.
There have been some terrific Annuals theses last few months from DC and Marvel - Aquaman, Indestructible Hulk, and the Earth-2 Annual, which despite its flaws added a good deal of value to the unfolding new Earth-2 mythos and acted as a powerful building block for the future. Now the Worlds Finest Annual does the same to a lesser degree, but in real terms I found this Annual a superior product to the Earth-2 release as this one is largely character driven and sees Paul Levitz at his very best. Character building and supplying strong dialogue to match is his greatest strength as a writer, and here he chooses to take us back to the early days of Helena and Kara when they were still new to the Superhero game, lived in the shadow of their legendary mentors, and retained at least some of their youthful innocence.
Along the way Levitz drops portentious omens for the oncoming War with Apokolips, this adds a background atmosphere to the story that comes to a satisfying and powerful conclusion with the closing final page. However the full timeline of the invasion really does need spelled out by now. Reading this story was somewhat confusing as we cut away to scenes with Superman and Batman mentioning their awareness of Parademons and Apokolips but we have no idea what the extent is that they have found out and how. This tale does take place after Catwoman's death so there at least is some means of placing this tale, it is very much a sequel to the 'Zero' issue of November 2012 and sees Robin and Batman returning to finish the case that he and Selina were working on when she was killed, read back to back these two issues dovetail extremely well, filling in the early backstory to Huntress and Power Girl's relationship and history and reminding us of who the Earth-2 Batman was.
Seeing Helena as Robin is always a treat, especially as she works alongside Dad. But why Selina and Bruce would expose their daughter to this lifestyle and constant risk is something that really does need explaining, from the little we have been told it was actually Selina's prompting that saw Helena begin her training, she may have chosen the Robin name in tribute to Robin Hood, and given her costume and swashbuckling attitude it is an appropriate inspiration! Catwoman herself was something of a Robin Hood figure, so right there is an additional inspiration too.
Bruce was reluctant but supportive. On face value the Earth-2 Bruce Wayne doesn't seem all that different to his Earth-1 counterpart, sometimes he is presented with all of Batman's worst character traits that have attached since the 80s, the the controlling aspect to his personality combining with vigilante self-righteousness. The result can be sometimes unsettling, especially given his wife died in action and yet still he will take his daughter into a room where guns are blazing away. On closer examination though Paul Levitz has been careful to show his deep concern for Helena, there is the strong sense this is not the life he wanted to expose her to, but Selina pushed for it and events since have conspired to almost take the matter out of his hands. In the 'Zero' issue and this Annual the faint but unmistakable threat of an alien war is very much in the thoughts of Batman and Superman, they know something is coming... and since this earth has virtually no heroes apart from themselves, Wonder Woman, and Terry Sloan, the pressure building on them is growing. Batman may not want to put Robin into such a confrontation with an unknown and vastly powerful enemy, but the darkness is encroaching and fate seems inevitable.
Nevertheless the chemistry between the Father and Daughter is terrific to watch, Batman the protective but methodical father, Robin slightly over-confident and keen to show she can handle herself.
As they enter the warehouse complex where Selina lost her life however it is notable that Robin kills a man, throwing one of her blades right through him. Even if this can be argued as self defence it is extreme, is it artist error perhaps? Or did her mothers death open up something ruthless within her? Perhaps this is simply how the Batman operates? But approving of his daughter killing one of their adversaries seems out of line with his shown attitudes. It seems of of place in the story.
Kara's story on the other hand is atypical to her free-spirited character these last two years, clubbing, blind dates, naÃ¯vity.
When the venue she lands in for a part ends up bombed and her date dies in the process the grief is too much, so she heads off to console to Helena at Wayne Manor. Helene deduces there is a metahuman responsible for the bombing and they set off to investigate, but again it isn't the plot that's particularly engrossing, it's the characters. Two friends with opposite personalities but a lot to live up to. Helena is in awe of her fathers aura of brilliance, Kara fears she will never live up to her cousin Superman and his expectations.
Arriving at the bomb site Robin and Supergirl quickly find traces of the explosive and speculate on an Apokolips origin. An interesting verdict, but it raises the question as to how they know of Apokolips. The more detail that is slowly being added to the early Earth-2 mythos the more it seems and feels like this is an earth that is defined by the threat of constant invasion and war. We know that the Apokolips War officially started roughly ten years before issue #1 of Earth-2, but what we are also learning thanks to these flashback stories is that incursions and build-up were happening for some time before that day when they finally arrived en-masse. It raises the question as to why Earth-2 was such a specific target, and why is Apokolips invading once again in the present day..?
As Robin and Supergirl ponder the evidence the actual culprit announces herself - Fury! Steppenwolf's protÃ©gÃ© whom we met in the Dheraini invasion a few months ago. She gives no time before attacking, and only Supergirl can possibly match and stop her, and so to an impressive and fairly intense fight as an angry and determined Kara surprises the hellion by giving as good as she gets. But compassion for her trapped friend comes first and Fury retreats while she can. Via a spy-drone Batman watches from the Batcave with Superman, and more ominous talk about the oncoming storm from Apokolips... Again this is sharp dialogue from Levitz, Batman and Superman are really no different from their Earth-1 counterparts but the addition of family makes for the same sort of compelling twist that made the original Earth-2 concept so popular back in the day. Here the concept of legacy heroes who pass from one generation to the next is alive and well, and today it is the Batman family who are supplying this conceptual weight.
As the duo catch up with Fury in a hidden mountain cave the fight continues, with Supergirl again in thunderous form and setting about showing that Fury is rather mistaken on her claims of superiority. But as Fury begins to crumple an unexpected intervention from Wonder Woman stops Kara from delivering the knockout to this terrorist. Wonder Woman is terse, stating not to question her as she is the last of the Amazons... an interesting point. Did they die recently? How? Wonder Woman, despite being one of the only three heroes in the world, is a character whom we know little to nothing about as yet. A sad testament given the space given to Batman and Superman. Levitz doesn't add much here but he does make the brief appearance count, as we get to see some genuine emotion from her, and so while she remains an elusive character in the Earth-2 mythos she does finally get some depth thanks to Levitz and Neves' fine partnership in this Annual. It is to be hoped that someone down the line will finally shine the spotlight on her and give us her side of the equation finally. Presumably thanks to Apokolips' early incursions she lost the Amazons, while Superman lost Lois, and Batman lost Selina - all before the War even started. And yeet thanks to their mentors protecting them from it Supergirl and Robin are barely even aware of the full scale of the threat that has been building. Two soon to be orphans.
Wonder Woman is here for Fury, and not surprisingly Supergirl is having none of it. But while she struggles with Wonder Woman Fury picks herself up and escapes, calling to her 'Father' to open a boom tube, and as a despondent Diana stands in the dust we have the final page admission that this hellion is in fact her daughter...
A touching and rather powerful last page. The despondency and barely contained despair from Wonder Woman is a finely crafted scene from Levitz and artist Diogenes Neves, Neves's work on this book is impressive in its ability to translate emotion and the subtext of Levitz' scripting. Wonder Woman's manner is subtle but unmistakable, we also see it in the brief moments between Superman and Batman, the implicit knowledge that dark days are on the horizon. They have done everything to shield them from this reality and the true scale of what is occurring outside their awareness, but soon Robin and Supergirl will lose their innocence as their parents can no longer shield them from what it is they have secretly been dealing with for quite some time now. It begs the question as to what it is they have seen, what secret war with Apokolips have the three been fighting, and did it cost the Amazons their lives as it did Lois Lane? Certainly the admittance that Fury is her daughter is raises more questions, just how long had Apokolips been visiting this world and laying their plans? Who was Fury's father?
But more than the emotion of Wonder Woman's despair over her daughter is the significance of her admission to the girls. For what is probably the first time they learn of just how serious the situation really is. It isn't just Fury weighing on Wonder Woman's mind, it is the gravity, the toll, and the stress, of the secret war against Apokolips. And the certainty that they are failing in their effort to stop the imminent invasion of an overwhelmingly powerful race of nihilists...
The seeds are laid here for future issues to delve into, but in the meantime this is a fine Annual to read and one that cements the importance and simple values of friendship. Kara's physical protectiveness of Robin, Robin's supporting of Kara's vulnerable emotional side. Kara might be the most powerful girl on the planet, but Paul Levitz makes sure her heart is very vulnerable and her compassion is what makes the friendship with the reserved and disciplined nature of Helena really work. Polar Opposites in some ways yes, but with a lot in common on an emotional level. Kara's deep insecurity is something that is more evident at this younger and more innocent age, the shadow of her cousin looms large and having been kept hidden by him from the world can't have helped with that. In a real sense Superman is guilty of transferring his own burden onto her, badly scarred (physically and Mentally) from the unseen attack that cost lois her life, and having fought Apokolips' troops for the first time, he and Batman are facing an unprecedented problem. Their losses, the struggles, and the resulting pressures they keep hidden from their younger protÃ©gÃ©'s, are unintentionally feeding them insecurity. As seen in this very story Batman's own fears and anxiety are seeing him use his resources to remotely monitor Robin's every move from Wayne manor, the fear of losing her drives him into exercising some of his worst personality traits, but given what he has lost already and the nature of Selina's death this obsessive control he seeks is understandable.
The irony is that in trying to control and discipline her he has ultimately transferred over a good deal of his own paranoia and discipline, and she has manifested it as The Huntress. While her mother taught her well he is in fact her fathers child completely. Kara on the other hand retained her free spirit, optimism, and independence, Superman is important to her, but not in any way her master.
With a spectacular cover from Emmanuela Lauppachino complemented by the equally talented Diogenes Neves' interiors, World Finest Annual works extremely well on all fronts. It entertains as a part of the Earth-2 tapestry but also satisfies on an emotional level. Like the best Annuals this last year this isn't just plot & action - it is a very good character piece. And as such, like the Annuals of yesteryear, Eminently rereadable.
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