Worlds’ Finest 4

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.

God damn it. There’s also Huntress’ super-weird threat to the captain of the ship she hi-jacks: “You don’t want to make a crazy woman man.” Yikes that’s dumb writing.

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?

23 comments on “Worlds’ Finest 4

    • It’s more of a “Shelby’s good humor with Patrick” budget. The more of it we have, the more I can ask you to do in photoshop. I may have maxed out our credit with the NotO Talon playing cards.

      Don’t worry Peter, I’ll start saving up again.

  1. I can’t get over the stereotypes of dumb blonde and bookish brunette. What year is this, why are stories still being written this way?

  2. I don’t think I can let you off with liking the tit-window Peter. I get that it represents decades of history for the character, but it’s also tasteless and sexist and embodies that I-don’t-care-just-show-me-some-titties mentality that we just shouldn’t support anymore. It’s a feature that you literally cannot show to anyone that’s not reading comics and not be IMMEDIATELY judged for.

    And beyond that, it just shows a total lack of coordination between authorial and editorial intention. The powers-that-be decided no more tit-window – and whatever you think of that decision, it’s insane that twice in four issues, we’ve gotten tit-windows.

    • I think that if done right, the tit window can be not such a big deal. Yes, I don’t agree with the all too common sexist depictions on women in comics. BUT, at the same time, it’s been going for years and years. I have more of a problem with artists destroying a woman’s spine to show off all her business. Boobs happen. Wonder Woman has been fighting crime in a corset since 1942. Huntress wears a stylized nun’s habit. In fact, when Power Girl first came on the scene, she wasn’t rocking the window, but just a deep/wide v-neck, with no turtle neck. Obviously a lot of things have changed over the years.

      Even Batman has been rocking some risque, albeit functional attire lately. The Batman Inc costume has him wearing a GIANT metal cup to shield his junk. Superman wore red underwear on the outside. Hawkman doesn’t wear a shirt, just belts across his chest.

      All I’m saying is that yes, it’s sexist and terrible, but at this point in time, if done well and tasteful, Kara could show some skin. Obviously, it embodies the ‘show-me-some-boobs’ mentality, but considering things like Fatality, and the Star Sapphires, characters like Vampirella and Witchblade, it could be a lot worse.

      • Peter, it looks like your arguing that something you agree is bad should get a pass as long as it has been going on for a long time. Also, that it’s not that bad since there are even worse things going on in other comics. Neither of those arguments really hold any water.

        I do think you have a point about physicality in comics in general. Sure, we associate “Power Girl” with “boobs,” but I think we’re just as quick to associate “Superman” with “muscles.” Female AND male comics characters are often defined and characterized based on their physical attributes, which is to some degree objectifying.

        HOWEVER, it makes sense to me that Batman would have big muscles, since he works out, and is supposed to be really strong. There’s no in-universe reason for Karen to have a big rack, or for Diana to have a tiny little waist, which leaves only the objectifying intentions of the artist. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, the boob window isn’t as tasteless as it could be, but I think it represents a kind of tastelessness that any self-respecting artist should make a point of avoiding.

        That symbolic meaning, I think, is what really makes the boob window so bad. It’s kind of like a confederate flag — sure, it can mean something that isn’t so horrible, but since everyone associates it strongly with something that is horrible, why not just avoid it altogether?

    • They’ve put us between a rock and a hard place with this: tit-window, or super uggo costume. I don’t mind the tit-window when we’re talking a tongue-in-cheek reference to how ridiculous women’s costumes are in comic books. I’m not well-versed in Power Girl lore, but didn’t the tit-window start out as almost a joke? Someone with more knowledge help me out! For that reason, I can see using it in the dress she was wearing last issue: I didn’t like it, but i recognized it as a nod to her past costuming.

      But having her suit’s wear and tear reveal a tattered tit-window? Come on.

      • Yeah, it’s more like a rock and an unattractive place. At least the ugly costume doesn’t make me FEEL BAD ABOUT MYSELF for reading a book with this character in it. Drew’s point above about how there’s no in-universe reason for Karen to a) have breasts that size and b) a handy window through which to view them, reinforces the idea that the whole character is sexual wish-fulfillment. Fold that in with what we’ve learned about her “character” in these last 4 issues (boy-crazy, thoughtless, irrational) and you’ve got a recipe for shallow comic book wankery.

        Also, doesn’t matter if the window started off as a joke. If a character ran around in black face as a joke back in the day, would you want to see them wear the face paint again, just for the purpose of nodding to an ugly past?

        • If I could get Karen Starr as a sassy, fiesty, intelligent character but she had to put on the tit-window again, I would take that in a heartbeat. Let’s be honest, EVERY comic book hero/heroine is sexual wish-fulfillment. Maybe not Nelson.

          This whole discussion just makes me want to read Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s take on Power Girl with Amanda Conner on pencils; knowing what I do about those folks’ work makes me think I could really get behind their Karen Starr.

        • I don’t care. Karen Starr as a blonde bimbo tease is way more offensive to me than any ridiculous amount of cleavage.

        • I agree with Shelby. I would probably be more okay with tit-window if Karen wasn’t a huge tease already.

        • Sexualization or not, you’re right: the old Power Girl was a great character who could hold her own with both Batman and Superman. This new version is awful. For the record, I like the boob window, but even if they just closed it, the old costume would still be waaay better.

          Also for anyone interested, here is an artist’s re-imagining of the costume that is pretty cool too.
          http://eschergirls.tumblr.com/post/28682558692/rag-doll-witch-submitted-not-an-echer-girl-but

        • It’s amazing how much more I like the tit-window when it’s just a little bit higher. It looks elegant when it reveals a bit of her collar bone – makes it seem like it’s not just there to show of teh bewbs. Thanks for sharing that link – I like Eschergirls a lot; I don’t know how I missed that one.

          And we get a little hung up on arguing about the breast-issue here in the comments, but it’s all really part of Levitz’ inability to give us a fully realized, interesting character. Like he couldn’t flesh out the character so he was like “oh, shit – what do we have that we know works and is easy? SHOW ‘DEM TITTIES!”

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  4. I’m way late in responding to this but I’m going to anyway. I’m also a fan of the boob window. I understand why it needed to go, but it just looked good coming from a hetero male perspective. Amanda Conner’s illustrations of PG are breathtaking and I’m sorry that the costume is gone. On the other hand, my fiancee absolutely hated the boob window and refused to read anything featuring PG. It was always so frustrating to me because she’s simply more than her window. The last PG series was simply one of the best comics I’ve ever read but she’ll never read it because of one costume element. I think the solution is to go back to her classic look but replace the boob window with something…less revealing.

    As for this book, yeah, it’s mostly shit. Give it to Gail Simone.

    • Did you see the link that Jack posted above from Esher Girls? It’s a really nice compromise between the history of the character and BOOBSBOOBSBOOBS.

      What’s really strange to me is why this series bothers to call itself “Worlds’ Finest” with that careful attention to punctuation, making sure to remind the reader that these characters are of two different worlds. Like if the flash-back structure showed us the adventures of Helen-Robin and Karen-Supergirl on Earth-2 mashed in with the current adventures of Helen-Huntress and Karen-Powergirl, I could understand both the need for structure and the wonky title. as it stands, the flashbacks are pointless and the characters are wretched.

      I’d got nothing invested in these guys, but it breaks my heart to discover that there are so many real PG fans being let down by this title. For me, it’s just been empty shit – I can’t imagine how disappointed I’d be if I liked these characters.

  5. I just took a look at that link and that is exactly what I’m talking about! I prefer that look to her current one. And yes, this book is certainly sigh inducing for long time fans of these characters and you make an extremely valid point about what the flashbacks SHOULD be about. The only thing I can think of is that Levitz is trying to not step on Robinson’s shoes since he’s writing Earth 2. I don’t know, I just pulled that out of my ass. There is no reason Levitz can’t have Earth 2 flashbacks!

    • Yeah, it seems like it wouldn’t be too hard for them to sit down with their editors and hash out what the past of Earth 2 is like. Robinson is very focused on the “present” of Earth 2, so it seems like flashbacks to before the events of the first issue shouldn’t really be stepping on his toes at all. Moreover, Levitz is going to be revisiting Earth 2 for the zero issue, anyway, so why not pepper the action with flashbacks to before they arrived on Earth 1? That would be far more interesting than totally pointless flashbacks that rehash what we already know about the characters.

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