Saturday, November 8, 2014

Everybody Loves Kryptonite

Yes, the original is in here.


Showcase Presents World's Finest featuring Superman and Batman Volume 3: written by Edmond Hamilton, Jim Shooter, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates, and Bill Finger; illustrated by Curt Swan, George Klein, and Al Plastino (1965-67; collected 2010): An often gloriously loopy example of DC's superheroes in the late Silver Age. Superman and Batman team up, often with Robin and Jimmy Olsen along, to face a variety of menaces that range from the sinister to the ridiculous.

The great Curt Swan, for many people The Superman Artist, draws all but one of the stories collected here, giving even the craziest of events a grounding in reality. Edmond Hamilton, a science-fiction writer who started his career in the 1930's but also wrote a ton of comics for DC in the 1950's and 1960's, writes about the first half of the book. It's Silver Agey super-science and sketchy characterization throughout. And comics were for kids, so that's fine.

Superman and Batman get a little more psychologically complex once the young, Marvelesque Jim Shooter starts contributing scripts, along with long-time-to-be Superman scribe Cary Bates and Leo Dorfman. The heroes show more doubt and have more problems, sometimes to a ridiculous extent. The final story in the volume features an astonishingly underwhelming villain who nonetheless figures out the location of the Bat-cave in about two minutes...and gets inside. It also features Batman and Superman telling a Q&A group what villains they most fear and why. Really? This is not a particularly good thing to get all carey and sharey about!

The 1950's and 1960's were also a period when everyone on the planet seemed to have several pounds of Kryptonite lying around the house. It's a good thing these were stories for children -- otherwise, Superman would have died a thousand times over. One can see by the rote use of Kryptonite by every bloody criminal on the planet why the editors tried to wipe the Kryptonian menace out during the soft Superman reboot of 1970.

Or John Byrne's hard Superman reboot of 1986, for that matter, which initially reduced the amount of Kryptonite on Earth to one fist-sized chunk. Having learned nothing from 63 years of Superman history, the producers of Smallville re-introduced Kryptonite in mass quantities and upped the ante by having it give human beings super-powers as well. Because as Bizarro-Superman (who also appears here) would say, Hollywood am smart!

In order to introduce non-Kryptonite-centric drama, the creators of World's Finest resorted several times in the three years spanned by this collection to two recurring story models. One is the 'Imaginary Story', in which out-of-continuity events such as Bruce Wayne being adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent and being raised as Clark Kent's brother could occur. These Imaginary Stories often represented the best DC stories (for adult readers, anyway) of the 1950's and 1960's, as people could actually change and even die in them.

The other old stand-by involved the magical pair of transdimensional tricksters Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite getting up to magical shenanigans to test the character of Superman and Batman. Because the effects of their magic -- up to and including mass death -- would cease to exist once they were banished back to their magical other-dimensional worlds, their stories could also involve a lot of danger and humiliation for the World's Finest team. Cartoonist Evan Dorkin took the Bat-Mite/Mxyzptlk stories to their logical conclusion in 2001's World's Funniest, which I thought was pretty funny.

All in all, this volume is a weird delight. Is it sophisticated graphic entertainment for adults? No. But it's more fun than a barrel of Kryptonite. And barrels of Kryptonite must be fun because everyone's got one! Also, King Arthur and his knights had super-powers in the DC Universe at this point! And the Superman of the 30th century can be brought low by... sea water, all of which is now deadly radioactive! Because Kryptonite wasn't pervasive enough! Highly recommended.

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