Today, Patrick and Peter are discussing Worlds’ Finest 4, originally released August 1st, 2012.
Patrick: It did not take long for the good will this series established in the first issue to wear off. Two months ago we were saying “well, I still remain hopeful” and all those things you say when you feel like you’re witnessing a one-time mistake. But issue three doubled down on its mistakes and reduced its leads to painfully dull stereotypes. This month’s outing is only an improvement in that it commits no new sins, but that’s cold comfort when business-as-usual is boring, unlikable characters.
Last we saw our trans-universe heroes, Karen had just chucked a radioactive Hakkou out into the bay, where she assumed he’d do less damage. But it turns out that he’s just wrecking a fleet of oil tankers, and his potential to cause mayhem (both environmental and otherwise) grows by the minute. Powergirl sets Huntress down on one of the ships that is clear of danger and zips back into the sky to battle an ever-growing monster. Helen takes charge of one of the boats and turns them into reluctant heroes – rescuing all the men overboard. But in the mean time, Karen has ripped an oil tanker IN HALF, spilling its contents into the ocean. For some reason, she determines that BURNING IT OFF is the soundest course of action and she sets the whole fucking bay ablaze with her laser eyes. On Helen’s advice, Karen rips into a nearby US Naval cruiser and hucks a nuclear warhead into Hakkou’s gaping maw. Surprisingly, this only evaporates the bad guy, and all the civvies are saved.
This series has the annoyingly obligatory habit of couching pointless little flashbacks within the main action. This month’s variety include an episode wherein Karen gets mad at some guys that want to party with her while Helen stands bookishly by. Naturally, this ends in violence. And the second episode is Helen learning about this Earth’s Batman and Catwoman. Let’s dig in there, because it’s the only part of the book I liked.
Helen’s doing something here we’ve all done a million times: she’s staying up too late dicking around on the internet reading about Batman. The difference, of course, is that that we’re not sorta-not-really related to Batman. For all of Helen’s talk about adapting to their new world, she still can’t quite get over her past. She plays out their first meeting in her head, “Hi, Not-My-Dad… hope you didn’t mind me stealing a few bucks… got any openings for a lost Robin?” It’s a sad little reminder that she left a real family behind (even if Bruce was killed in that reality). Dissuaded from pursuing her connection to this version of her father, she tries to channel a little bit of her mother by befriending a stray cat. But “good with cats” either skips a generation or doesn’t carry-over between universes, so the cat hisses and Helen and ditches her. Helen bravely tries to apply her steely resolve, but lets a moment of weakness slip out as she laments “I miss my life.”
It’s the one piece of emotional honesty in this whole thing. It’s not earth-shattering, but we all know what it’s like to start over in a new place and how terrifying that can be. This is well-expressed in these two pages. The little vignette about Karen is far uglier and if it’s truth about either these characters we’re getting at, I don’t think I like them at all. They’re touring Rome, and Karen regales Helen with tales of stealing technology from M.I.T. (that’s right, she’s just straight up stealing it), when they’re interrupted by Roberto, a rather unwholesome individual. He offers the heroes some cocaine. Now, you and I know that heroes don’t do drugs (but they can break into student labs and steal their work), so Karen uses her superlungs to blow all of the cocaine away. It was a fairly hefty pile of coke, so Roberto loses his temper and tries to start shit with them. But within moments, Roberto’s car is smashed and his friends are beaten up. Worlds’ Finest, indeed. Clark would have told them not to do drugs and flown away; Bruce wouldn’t have wasted his time or blown his cover by making this scene.
And the non-flashback stuff paints the characters just as shittily. Powergirl’s decision to light the oil on fire is absolutely perplexing. Remember, there are people in the water that are waiting for rescue, and Karen lights the surface of the ocean on fire. Yeah, that’ll make things better in the long run. One gets the sense that Paul Levitz has nothing but contempt for these characters, making all of their actions moronic and careless. He and “present day” artists George Perez and Scott Koblish also seem to love undermining the steps DC editorial have taken to de-sexualize Powergirl. Here, again witness the return of the superfluous tit-window.
The issue closes on Helen and Karen discussing all the lingering questions they have from their encounter with Hakkou. It’s ramps up to the joke “Who gets top billing?” It’s like Levitz turned to the audience and said “yeah, who really cares about this bullshit anyway?” I’m with you, buddy, I’m with you.
So what’d you think, Peter? Would it be presumptuous of me to declare Worlds’ Finest the latest Retcon Punching bag?
Peter: This is officially the new punching bag in the gym. I almost want a photoshopped image and theme music to somehow represent this, like a major news network and a breaking story, but alas, no photoshop or music allocation in my budget for the month.
Other than everything we have been talking about for months, other than trying too hard, I think what this book suffers from is too few characters. Levitz has given himself too narrow of a focus, and cannot find direction for his story. He wants to create a yin and yang-style dynamic between Helena and Kara, but it is just creating characters that are not relatable or likable at all. (I will give you that one scene with Helena looking up Batman, but STILL.)
Also, I’m just gonna get this out there, I ACTUALLY LIKE THE TIT WINDOW. Yes, it’s a terrible, terrible costume design choice, but it has some nostalgia points. Plus, it’s really hard to change 36 years of iconology. Not to mention the fact that I HATE the new costume that Kara sports, only my grandmother is allowed to wear turtlenecks and capes. I say we bring back the tit window, this book can’t get any worse.
If each of these characters were given their own book, (like Levitz’s Huntress) it would probably be better. OR because I already spend too much money on comics, I think that just a restructuring of this whole series is needed. I did like these characters when they were minor characters in issue 1 of Earth-2. Maybe we need to go back to that? I have a sneaking suspicion that when issue 0 of Earth-2 comes out that Kara and Helena may play a role, and best guesses, I will like it. So maybe, I would much rather just read a historical book about Earth-2 leading up to ‘current’ events.
Welcome to gym, World’s Finest. To venture into some cross-franchise limbo, World’s Finest is another in a long line of punching bags that Captain America works out with.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?