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Subj: Worlds Finest #29 - In Warm Remembrance.
Posted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 at 11:27:48 am CST (Viewed 836 times)
If I knew how awful that would be I might have been more careful.
I don't have time to recall all of those days. But I need to share some memories with posterity. Like the time I finally met HIM..."
The choices facing any purchaser and fan of the medium in a comic shop as they look across the shelves of the latest product are both bafflingly nebulous and in the end all too often sadly (self) limited.
The Independent sector turns out a rich and varied array of choices for the connoisseur, but sadly you will meet few on message boards who have an interest in buying, much less discussing them. At Marvel and DC the options are channelled more and more to following franchise books - no longer is it possible to just follow one Green lantern or Superman book, not without regular crossover events demanding a commitment to all, and inevitably from such poor management and consumer choice the marketplace suffers. Even the most open minded of comics fans will be forced to choose their favorites and have neither the money nor the time to follow material outside of that small sphere of interest. The blame is largely on the reader of course as they all too often lack the curiosity to even dare to try something new, but with anything ip to a dozen X-Men or Batman books alone choking the shelves publishers encourage the ennui among the readership.
Independent and hidden away on the shelves though there is usually the exception to be found swamped between these bloated mini-empires, the quiet forgotten stand-alone book which no one notices and which no one takes much time to even acknowledge. One example of this hidden underdog is Marvel's All-New Invaders, and its counterpart at DC might be Worlds Finest. As both are books with fundamantal conceptual weaknesses to them. And both are books with surprising and warm human touches to them.
Sharing the strengths and weaknesses of Marvel's All-New Invaders Worlds Finest is a charming title perpetually struggling for its direction and purpose in life. The adventures of The Huntress and Power Girl, exiles from an alternate earth working in secret on the earth of the Justice League. Their aim? Vague. Purpose was gradually found in the detection of New God Dessaad, like them stranded on this earth and a perpetrator in the War against Apokolips. But other than Dessaad there has been little actually driving this books two leads. Perhaps the lack of an agenda can be laid at writer Paul Levitz door, but lack of direction aand purpose for new title launches is nothing exclusive to this book, look to the problems with Legion Lost and you see an identical book. Superboy shared the problem. So too did Stormwatch and Captain Atom. Unlike them though Worlds Finest survives, thans to the popularity of its two leads just popular enough to keep the wolves from the door. But perhaps not popular enough to last much longer without radical change.
Signalling a shift in its direction and content Worlds Finest #28 & 29 presents a departure to what came before as the title follows the lead of Tom Taylors Earth-2 and switches content, in this case books moving its focus to a welcome look back at the early years of Earth-2, starring Superman & Batman. Here is a story where all of the cast, brought so vividly to warm three-dimensional life by Paul Levitz, are actually dead. They are all longsince dead.
Following a tried and tested method seen last month and in the Worlds Finest Annual of earlier this year writer Paul Levitz uses the absence of The Huntress and Power Girl
to go back in time and once again expand on the early Earth-2 mythos, an ever more interesting world to look back on as it offers a view of the past which shows a whole different world from the ravaged one we now know and has it safely protected by the ever reliable trinty of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. The worlds greatest heroes, and all dead for at least five years now. But having already had lengthy carrers before any strike from Apokolips shattered their worlds complacency and safety theirs is a legend that was already made by that turning point. We as readers know them only as being dead however. As that is how we were introduced to them - in their dying moments.
In a medium saturated with machismo and angst ridden leads these occasional looks back by Paul Levitz to an Earth-2 before the War offer such a contrast to the horror of the presentday state of affairs that they are tales all but effervescent with humanity and passion. Open the first pages of Worlds Finest #29 and the warmth emenating from the Red Tornado, Lois Lane, as she relates her first meeting with the original Batman many years ago, is only intensified at the sight of the reader then drifting back in time with her to see her in her prime - chasing a story in the seedier parts of Metropolis, and at night. This is Lois in full reporter mode, in her element and afraid of nothing.
It is another world, the past. On Earth-2 the normal world and its humdrum day-to-day reality and peace ended some Nine years ago, as Parademon shock troops poured onto the earth in legions. Four years of carnage later and the war is won at the cost of a generations greatest heroes... life goes on, but the world in a sense had forever changed and ended. A golden-age of heroes ceased to exist, only the memory remained.
Lois Lane was one of the many millions who died in the opening stages of that war, a war that destroyed much of earths cities and including her and her husbands home - Metropolis. But fate and the gods of Olympus gave Lois Lane no rest as she found herself unwillingly reincarnated into the android shell of the Red Tornado.
One would expect the succession of tragedy of her life to be too much, too much pain to bear, but thus far the reincarnated Lois curiously shows no bitterness or pain at all. And perhaps this courage is the essential appeal to her character, Superman's wife, as he would freely admit her strength was his strength. And now all she has is memories of her life. A fulfilling life. And one she is tellingly only to willing to talk about...
The theme fuelling Worlds Finest #29 then is certainly the fond memory of the past, and where Lois in particular is concerned the memory of the past is all that exists of her old life anymore. Clark and Superman are gone, Metropolis is gone, her friends are gone, her parents are gone, and most surreal and horrifying of all her very own body is gone. Is she capable of accepting the reality of all of this? Does she instead see her new robotic body in her own self image?
Following the Batman into one of the darker and more dangerous parts of the city of Metropolis Lois is observer to the to the Dark Knights pursuit of a terror cell he has tracked here to Metropolis, who and where these paramilitaries hold their loyalty to is not answered, but as he and Lois enter his targeted warehouse they are greeted to a scene with the bubbly and wicked Catwoman already taking care of this problem. Levitz' deft hand for character has always been his most accomplished talent, and here in just two pages he has brought Lois Lane to convincing life. We experience her willfulness and see her courage, unimpressed by the Batman's brusque demeanor and warning-off she is here chasing her own agenda, which just happens to cross into his. A centre piece of the visual Batman is not immediately the actual focus of this opening sequence, this is Lois' story, but Lois' presentday narration lends him a respect and power which gives him a persona all of his own. Catwoman has made light work of the Batmans targets and has eyes for their looted diamonds. Interestingly It isn't clear whether she was after the diamonds all along or whether she too was concerned about this gangs terrorism connection. Either way the teasing between the two is her clearly both tauting and daring him. This is a game, and one can imagine Batman's conflicting feelings at this charming and mischeivious imp. To him this is his first meeting with her - we know how it progresses and ultimately ends some fifteen year later - but for him the adventure is still beginning.
The fact the reader knows the future in this narrative is a part of the appeal of these flashback tales, all of these people are long dead now, but in the chance to glimpse them in their prime and in more peaceful moments the feeling of loss and fond remembrance is a powerful attraction to the characters. James Robinson used the technique to great effect in 'Times Past' segments during his acclaimed Starman series, and here in his Worlds Finest series Paul Levitz shows equal skill in presenting a world and people now gone, but one which we will always long to see more of.
As the Batman pursues the diamond thieving Mystery-Woman Lois' tale moves to Superman's actions at that same moment, far above the earth and intercepting what he initially suspects to be rockets from Krypton. An interesting admission, Superman even at this early stage in his career, and presumably well before his cousins arrival, knows about the other rockets which escaped Krypton?
As he eventually discovers these approaching objects are nothing at all Kryptonian, but immensely dangerous probes. His interception triggers an explosion which sends him unconcious to earth and landing, in all places, on the supposedly hidden Paradise Island. Where a suspicious but familiar Princess has questions of this intruder...
From the story so far of Earth-2's first generation Super-heroes the point has been well seeded that this was an earth of which Apokolips had long been watching. Paul Levitz' stories skillfully seed the dark omens of the future in such a subtle way that despite the cleancut optimism and innocence of these days the three heroes are slowly becoming aware of just how overshadowing a threat there is building up out there beyond their perception. Last issue we saw how Wonder Woman was sent by her Gods to protect the young Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent from aan early death, Clark's at the hands of an Apokoliptian emmisary. Making it very clear that the New Gods had a special interest on this earth not seen elsewhere... the question yet to be satisfatorily answered is Why? Why is Earth-2 so interesting for them?
A writer has many tools open to them by which to tell a story. For this issue the choice of using Lois Lane to narrate a tale from the past is a very effective and impressive technique as she both has the firsthand connection to these events and a unique perspective on how they unfolded - we see Superman having to negotiate with wary Amazons but it is Lois who layers on how Superman reacted to the Princess demands. We see the Batman pursuing the balletic Catwoman across the darkened rooftops, Daily Planet in the far background, and thanks to the very talented Jed Dougherty the flow of both movement and pacing brings Lois' impressions to a vividly alive context. We can feel the Batman's determination and likely excitement as he falls behind the grace and agility of his Mystery-Woman. We believe Lois narration of the events and players implicitly as we trust her ability to read both character and true motives. When Superman unexpectedly arrives to assist the plodding Batman in apprehending his suspect the twist in the tale does not feel at all unnatural or unwarranted - Batman knows who she is. Selina Kyle. And from their cryptic exchanges with a bewildered Superman we can discern that she was in fact working with the Batman in some capacity? Certainly whatever the truth Batman doesnt consider her a priority, rather something... captivating. Superman's naivity at deducing such subtleties in the events around him is a charming tic of the character, in this is character has been a consistent one, whether it be the farmboy of Greg Pak's Batman/Superman title or the much missed husband remembere by Lois as an Evil-Superman ravaged the earth in the presentday. Here is a more innocent time, a time when Batman can afford to entertain a flirtatious romance across the rooftops, when Superman can still look to the stars and hope to find others of his own kind. But the clouds are building - showing Batman one off the surviving probes the technology is like nothing either have seen, far beyond even Kryptonian scince, and in an explosion of power arrives the New God we saw last issue to collect the probe. Intri as she calls herself appears to be something of a watcher on Apokolips behalf, and her talk of prophesy suggests some degree of caution towards the two heroes on their behalf. That one agent of Apokolips can flagrantly then dismiss the two bodes badly for th future but as yet neither of the two heroes has truly grapsed the scale of this threat as yet, still innocent, still learning. As the sun sets Batman is gone and Superman sits alone on the same rooftop, lost in deep thought on the events and unaware of Lois' arrival. Her support of him and his strong arms around her reinforce the sense of fond friends now lost which Paul Levitz builds these flashback stories upon, and as much of a better world we have just exprienced so too do the clouds continue to build somewhere over the horizon... the shadow of Apokolips slowly falling over the unsuspecting earth. The past is open to individual interpretation, and yet as we, the omniscient reader, now know Earth-2 was never as safe a place as the surface impression suggested. Lacking the strength of Earth-1 this more optimistic and liberal society was hit full force by what Apokolips rained down upon it. But then when the very world and its ground rules changes around them of what use are a mere Superman and Batman...?
Points of consideration -
*We learn here that Superman is Kal-El, not Kal-L as has been the traditional spelling for Earth-2.
*Was there a Lex Luthor for this Superman? Previous word from the writer and editorial was a firm "No", however that decree which fobade the use of characters seen on Earth-1 has now completely been discarded and the rules broken down. We know there was a Joker for Batman to contend with, we have recently met Dick Grayson and Jimmy Olsen, and in this issue we see a tantalising poster in the background shot of Batman's pursuit of Catwoman that indicates Luthor and his company may well have been in existence.
*Lois Lane is aware that Superman is Clark Kent very early on and they share a bed. The sight of a Lois and Clark/Superman working in harmony is an engrossing one. Love and trust, loyalty and mutual support. The dynamic for the two is a world away from the aimless Superman we read of on Earth-1...
*So far absent from any book has been any reference or appearance from Granny Goodness - Head of Apokolips' military academy and brutaliser of children. Granny might not seem to have a thing to do with Worlds Finest on the face of it but with the last two issues featuring the interference on New God Intri as she tried to collect the young Clark Kent from Smallville the question as to whether Granny exists, and whether she is the one sending Intri, is a relevant point.
*What brought Wonder Woman to Mans world if there was no Steve Trevor?
Could it be Superman stealing away with the Probe which landed on the island this issue?
*On page 2 we see Catwoman taking apart the terror cell who, we find out later, stole diamonds from her in Gotham. Present there is a woman bearing a striking resemblance to The Tigress - daughter of the Golden-Age villains Sportsmaster and Tigress, ironically also originally known as The Huntress. Brought back to prominence in Geoff Johns' JSA revival the similarities betweenwith the woman glimped with Catwoman are so great as to be identical - he penned the debut of Helena Wayne and her subsequent meeting with the original Huntress/Tigress, so is this a knowing wink from Levitz or purely an unintentional similarity used by the artist?
Stand-alone and largely passed over Worlds Finest holds a certain appeal if you are a reader looking for a softer and less committing read than a Batman or X-Men book. As with Marvels All-New Invaders this is not a book which gains much attention at the moment, but while the underlying identity and sense of purpose of these two series is flawed it is the strength of the writing and characteriasion which makes the two worthy of the time.
Paul Levitz is an old hand in the medium, much like the similarly underappreciated Tom DeFalco his is a contribution that is regularly looked over and not given its fair due when worthy of it, and yet when the material is read on its own merit this is where the quality will stand out and last beyond the convoluted mega-events which now stifle the bulk of DC and Marvels output. Old hands proving their experience and understanding of the mediums strengths can still produce exceptionally good reading material - which is what this latest installment of Worlds Finest managed to show with aplomb. Filled with warmth and humanity this is an excellent escapist read. All but flawless in fact.
As a first page introduction it is just about perfect, it uses all the right storytelling techniques to create suspense and curiosity to hook the readers interest and keep it, and watching Lois as she spots and chases after the shadowy Batman on foot one feels this could be a story taking place in the days of Prohibition, of dark alleys and sleazy docklands. The isolated pools of light cast the Batman's shadow across the walls and rooftops, and as he drops to streetlevel unexpectedly in front of his pursuer we fully share her momentary fear at this urban myth....
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