Wednesday, August 6, 2014

World's Finest #141 (May, 1964)

Originally, World's Finest Comics had presented multiple stories of multiple heroes, including both Batman and Superman, in various adventures. But a reduction in page count beginning with World's Finest #71 led to a momentous occassion - a team-up between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight in the same comic!
And so World's Finest became the Batman/Superman team-up book. Edited initially by Jack Schiff, when Julius Schwartz took over the Batman books with the "New Look", World's Finest was put under the purview of Mort Weisinger, editor of the Superman line. 
Unfortunately, it seems Mort was a little late to the whole "new" part of Batman's new look, so the Caped Crusader is in his old costume on the cover, while sporting the yellow oval within.

"The Olsen-Robin Team versus the Superman-Batman Team!"
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Pencils: Curt Swan
Inks: George Klein
Synopsis: Our story begins in the offices of the Daily Planet, when a crackpot inventor shows up with a computer he claims can predict the future and demands the Planet write a story on it. Lois pawns the guy off on Jimmy Olsen, who says he will have to keep the device at the Planet to test it before he'll write a story. The inventor agrees, and soon Jimmy thinks that if it works he'll be able to get scoops before anyone else!
He asks the machine what the next big news story will be, and it replies that a high-wire walker will almost fall to his death! Well, turns out there is in fact a wire-walker doing an advertising exhibition down the street - dressed in a big yellow bird costume advertising the "Bird of Paradise" club. 
Jimmy heads down with his camera and sure enough the big yellow bird guy takes a fall, but luckily he catches himself and so there's no need for Superman to spring into action. The next big story the computer predicts is that a flying saucer will buzz Metropolis. Clark declares that this is "just silly" (how many times have aliens visited Metropolis by now?), but sure enough the UFO buzzes the city.
However, the third prediction of the computer is that Jimmy Olsen and Robin WILL DIE, and so now Jimmy's freaking out. Lois and Perry can't find any record of the inventor in the phone book, so they can't get a hold of him to find out anything more from the machine. So Superman shows up to fly Jimmy to Gotham since this prediction involves Robin as well (with Jimmy wrapped up in Superman's cape so he doesn't discover the location of the Batcave).
So Superman and Jimmy tell Batman and Robin what's up, and Batman's all "this is a hoax, scan the computer with your X-ray vision". Turns out the device is sensitive to x-rays, and dissolves when Supes investigates it. Convenient. Batman then tries to get Jimmy to identify the inventor from a line-up of mad scientists, but no go. 
So Jimmy and Robin go back to their lives, but they are seriously freaking out at everything that happens because they think they might die. So Robin suggests they take the Daily Planet's helicopter to a deserted island where no one can find them, and the World's Finest are cool with that, although it seems like no one asked the Daily Planet about this misuse of company property.
But the second Jimmy and Robin get to the island they begin digging their own graves and planting lead coffins in them and talking about how they're going to trick Superman and Batman into thinking they're dead! WTF? Weird Silver Age dick move? Or weird Silver Age hoax for contrived reasons? Or both?
The sidekicks call their friends with their signal watches and belt radios, and our heroes respond to the SOS to find two graves with their friends names on them. Superman can't verify they're dead because of the lead lined coffins, so Batman dares him to dig them up "if you can stand it", and Supes wusses out.
So Batman and Superman head off to find the "killers", while Jimmy and Robin are like "lewlewlewl."
So while Robin and Jimmy fly away in the helicopter and flashback to why all this is fucking happening. Turns out Robin had invented a monitor that can see through lead (what?!) and so Jimmy and Robin decided to test it and acidentally stumbled upon two crooks talking about how they had belts that could turn them invisible (what?!!) and they were gonna kidnap Jimmy and Robin and hold them hostage against Batman and Superman.
So Jimmy and Robin follow them but the crooks slip away because invisibility, and while they were gone some petty crooks broke into Jimmy's apartment and stole the lead monitor because we can't have something useful like that lying around for future stories.
Jimmy and Robin decide the only way they won't be liabilities for Superman and Batman going forward is to fake their own deaths, so Jimmy comes up with the whole complicated ruse of the computer that tells the future, and Robin was the dude in the bird costume, and also flew the Batplane dressed up as a UFO, because this long con was clearly the least complicated way to fake the death of a cub reporter who hangs out with Superman and a child in a yellow cape who gets shot at all the time.
The helicopter arrives at an abandoned observatory halfway between Metropolis and Gotham that they've decided to make their headquarters. They're going to watch both cities on two radar sets to try and detect the crooks despite their invisibility. And sure enough Robin detects a helicopter flying way too low over "Gotham Bank".
So using Robin's radio belt, Jimmy calls in an anonymous tip, claiming to be the "murderer" and mocking Batman and announcing the intent to invisibly rob the Gotham Bank - y'know, as a Batman villain does.
So Batman and Superman follow the crooks from the Gotham Bank using Superman's super-hearing to track their invisible helicopter, while Robin and Jimmy follow their heroes as well. 
So Superman and Batman track the crooks to their weird secluded valley hideout, and that's when it turns out that their invisibility devices were invented by another scientist who is dying of radiation poisoning and decided to devote what little life he had left to inventing stuff to help mankind, and decides the first thing he'll invent is an invisibility machine, and then he's immediately kidnapped by criminals to use the device for evil.
So Superman cures the scientist by bringing him counter-radiation elements from a distant galaxy, and the crooks are arrested. And this is when it'd be natural for Jimmy and Robin to pop out and say "JK, we're alive!" the two decide to carry the charade a little bit longer to be dicks, and instead pop out during their memorial.
So Batman and Superman head back to the island to grab the caskets so they can be properly buried, followed by Jimmy and Robin. But when Superman and Batman open up the caskets... Jimmy and Robin are in them!!
Jimmy and Robin burst from their hiding places all "WTF" and Jimmy gets the hilarious line "Maybe we are [dead]? I'm confused..." At which point Batman explains that they knew Jimmy and Robin were faking it all along, that they pulled this final gag just to fuck with them, and figured it out because Jimmy's fingerprints were on the casket so clearly the two buried themselves which is impossible.
The wax figures of Jimmy and Robin end up in the "Eyrie", the headquarters of the Olsen-Robin team, as the first installments in a joint Superman-Batman hall of trophies.
My Thoughts: Ugh. So, I know that Silver Age DC has a lot of fans. And I can certainly say that I myself have come to admire these stories much more than I used to when I was a teen and deep in my "Watchmen/DKR/Year One Gritty Comics" phase. 
That being said, from a storytelling perspective a lot of these Silver Age stories, Mort Weisinger edited stories in particular, rely exceptionally heavily on contrivances. Things happen for the purpose of happening. Basically you can tell all these stories get structured around the cover, which is almost always a kind of "what the fuck is happening here and why?" And that's on purpose. It's designed to be the kind of insane non-sequitur that websites like thrived on, because the idea is that you want to read the story behind that crazy cover.
But then it almost always turns out the cover is a cheat of some kind, and that the story is full of insane contrivances to get us to that point. It's one of the reasons why, although I understand why the Mort Weisinger edited DC books are a big deal and solidified Superman's mythos and are fun and full of boundless imagination, I personally find them tough reads sometimes.
The Art: Speaking again on the topic of stuff I know is good, I understand why it's good, but personally don't really like -- Curt Swan art. So, I know it's sacreligious to dislike Curt Swan. But I do. I understand that for a lot of people he's THE Superman artist, like Neal Adams is THE Batman artist or Steve Ditko is THE Spider-Man artist. And that's fine. I also understand that he's really talented and draws really, really well. I mean, compared to Sheldon Moldoff, Curt Swan is amazing. But when World's Finest was a Jack Schiff edited book, it was mutha-fuckin' Dick Sprang on the book, an artist as awesome as his name. And frankly the problem I have with Curt Swan's art is the same problem I have with Ed Hamilton's story - Mort Weisinger. Mort had this particular style he imposed on his artists, and it makes sense because it unified the look of the Superman line of books, but the point of the look was to give the appearance of static illustrations of scenes, like in a children's book, rather than anything with a sense of movement or pizzazz. You begin to see why Jack Kirby over at Marvel was such a huge deal artistically when you put his stuff against this style.
That said, Curt Swan does a great job on this book, as usual, even if I don't like his style. The most awkward thing artistically is in fact "New Look" Batman himself, because it's pretty clear that they basically drew the whole thing with Batman's old costume, then went back over it to match the new Infantino version before it hit the printers, forgetting to change the cover too. It's like the reverse of Brian Bolland's revised "Killing Joke" hardcover - the yellow oval has been hastily and poorly added instead of hastily and poorly removed.
The Story: Do I have to say it? It makes no sense, and is just full of those WTF moments that Silver Age DC is famous for. I mean, on the second last page of this story we get the introduction of a dying scientist who invents invsibility, purely as a contrivance to explain invisible criminals, which is purely a contrivance to have them be a credible threat to Superman and Batman. Earlier in the story we have Robin inventing a device to see through lead, which is purely a contrivance to allow the discovery of invisible criminals, and becomes obvious as a contrivance when it's conveniently stolen so that it'll never be mentioned again.
And then there's the fact that this story, like so many Weisinger stories, is predicated on the idea of one of our heroes lying to the other characters for a contrived "greater good" reason. Here it's Jimmy Olsen and Robin concocting the ridiculous "computer that sees the future" long con so that everything else in the story will happen. And this is just insane. It's an insanely convoluted way to kill yourself, and it's also insane to think they had to fake their deaths to begin with. I mean, fuck it's Batman and Superman, the two greatest superheroes EVER. If you guys were kidnapped, I think they could handle it -- it happens like every second issue in their solo books.
And of course the story uses a bunch of cheats - like thought bubbles for Jimmy Olsen that seem to indicate that he doesn't know the computer is a hoax and that he's the one doing the hoaxing.
But all this is kind've moot, because the point of a Mort Weisinger comic is to have a story so insane and crazy that you have to keep reading to find out what the fuck is going on, and Ed Hamilton definitely succeeds there, even if he wades us through a ton of open bullshit to get us there. 
I'll be interested to see if the Eyrie ever reappears ever again, since it's a clear attempt to imitate the Batcave and the Fortress of Solitude and their respective trophy halls, but this time as a headquarters for the sidekicks and a trophy hall devoted to both their respective heroes.
Notes and Trivia: First Mort Weisinger issue of World's Finest, debut of "The Eyrie" 

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