Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: Worlds' Finest Annual #1

I have chided the Worlds' Finest comic almost monthly, so much in fact that I have started to wonder if I should continue reading the book. It is some sort of loyalty to the historic characters of Huntress and Power Girl, as well as the revelation of Power Girl having been the E2 Supergirl that has kept me coming back.

One part of this book that hadn't let me down were the flashbacks to Earth 2 when the characters operated as Robin and Supergirl. There was something more classic about the characterization there, especially with Kara.

I was, therefore, looking forward to Worlds' Finest Annual #1 which came out this week. It is a called a prelude to the First Contact arc where Huntress and Power Girl meet the Prime Earth doppelgangers of their E2 mentors. That meant an entire annual of the adventures of Robin and Supergirl.

Writer Paul Levitz continues his unprecedented streak of writing books which are fine. I desperately want to love this book and, like other issues, there a pieces of this Annual which I very much love. But those moments are mixed with off characterization and a feeling of inertia. In particular, there are parts of Kara's story that are cringe worthy.

Diogenes Neves handles the art and brings a nice kinetic feeling to the action scenes. I have always liked Neves work whether it is Demon Knights, or Supergirl, or here, his art has a nice feel of both precise and rough. I wish I could describe it better ... but it works.

I just thought I would post the opening splash page.

I always like this sort of set-up of a comic page. We have a crisp action shot of Huntress and Power Girl in the foreground. The art here by Neves feels like current Worlds' Finest artist RB Silva which gives the book a feeling of continuity.

But in the background, in more muted tones, we look into the past. The costumes are different. But the feel of the characters is different too. Robin is smiling. Supergirl is looking upwards, optimistic, arms open. It shows where these characters were and where they are now.

The book is split into three chapters. We have a Robin story, a Supergirl story, and then one where the two characters team-up. One of my problems with the title is that Levitz seems to have a hard time writing a story where the two main characters are working together. He often has them separate which diminishes the draw of this book.

The opening chapter has Robin and Batman heading to a high end brothel in Gotham, hoping to get some closure on Catwoman's death. We witnessed Catwoman's death way back in Worlds' Finest #0. There is some fine give and take between Helena and Bruce as he sits back a bit and watches her pound her way through the bad guys while giving her some tips.

This felt pretty natural.

The battle takes the two heroes into the catacombs of the place where Robin takes out all the men who have basically enslaved the prostitutes.

Now call me old fashioned but I don't know if I want to see Helena Wayne kill someone. Here she is, a teen, skewering a criminal with a fireplace poker. While we don't hear it implicitly, this looks like a lethal wound. Did she just kill this man?

Batman explains it away in his head as Helena being Selina's daughter, that this is her nature. But we are talking about Batman here ... someone spurred into action by the death of his parents. Someone who vows not to kill. And his adolescent daughter either killed or almost killed someone. And he doesn't say a word ...

That seems wrong.

Now I was much more willing to accept a more murderous inclination in Helena Bertinelli given her history. And even then I wasn't happy. I was glad when Batman chastised her about those actions.

But this is Helena Wayne. She carries the weight of that name. And she should be above this.

So overall ... some good and some bad in this chapter.

The Supergirl chapter is a true mishmash of just about every odd corner of the Supergirl mythos. I think Levitz really struggles with her character.

I think he wants her to have the innocence and optimism of the Silver Age Supergirl. So the Earth 2 Kara is trained by Superman and is a 'secret weapon', all of which smacks of the earliest storylines.

And this opening panel of a young Supergirl, crying, surrounded by child-like things like a teddy bear and a fuzzy pillow, really feels like early stories ... and not in a good way.

She is crying because something bad has happened and she feels responsible.

But an innocent Kara in Silver Age mode doesn't jibe with what people want out of Power Girl. Power Girl is supposed to be strong, brusque, fiery and feisty, opinionated, and proud.

I don't know if I have felt a true Power Girl vibe at any point in this title. Instead Levitz thinks the best way to show a Power Girl personality is to have her be a party girl and sexually voracious. I wouldn't mind her being independent and confident in that way if it was an aspect of her personality. But Levitz has it simply dominate.

So in the story, Levitz has Kara 'sneak out' and head to a New York bar. Again, this is a young Kara, a teenager, sneaking into a bar, drinking, and dancing the night away. I wouldn't mind this as a sign of an adolescent exploring her freedoms except this aspect of looking for the next man (in this case, the first) has become the one personality trait that Levitz keeps hammering.

Not so Sliver Age Supergirl innocent. But not 'Power Girl-ish' either.

At the bar, Kara meets a Barbie-doll like boy called (ironically) Ken.

The two become instantly smitten. Kara shares a kiss under the moonlight, feeling the exciting rush of first love. That really sounds like a seventies Supergirl story, not the kind I necessarily embrace.

Turns out that New York is hosting a World Government meeting that night and Ken is the son of the Gammoran consulate. The WorldGov center suddenly explodes, the building being torn apart from the top down.

Kara slips off and changes into her Supergirl costume, trying to save who she can by managing the falling debris. Unfortunately, Ken thinking Kara is in danger goes looking for her and dies. It is a tragedy and Kara blames herself. Had she not been there, Ken would not be looking for her, and would not have died.

Well, that really feels like a Silver Age Supergirl romance where her boyfriends were either bad guys, magic horses, or dead by the end of the issue. That said, I don't know how guilt and early tragedy is a good motivation for Power Girl.

Shades of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 in this panel.

Kara spied a super-being in the building and calls upon Helena to help track down the villain.

Finally, we get to see the two characters together. And one thing that I like is the interplay here. We have that feel of innocence in Supergirl as she nears the blast site. And I love how Helena channels her father, bringing his wisdom into the mix.

But my favorite part of this last chapter is seeing Superman and Batman discuss how their charges are growing up, rebelling, and becoming their own person. This Batman has never felt like he has some control over his daughter. And he knows Supergirl wasn't going to stay in hiding forever.

I wonder if this is the hook for First Contact. Maybe this Batman didn't put limits on his daughter thinking it futile. Maybe the Prime Earth Batman will feel different, will demand Helena not kill, will hold her to that higher standard. That would be good storytelling fodder.

And this Superman thinking that Supergirl will just march along like a good soldier sounds like the Superman in those old Action Comics stories.

The investigation leads them into a battle with the Earth 2 Fury. Initially they brawl at the WorldGov site. Fury escapes to the mountains and Worlds' Finest duo track her down.

During the fight, we see a smidgen of the old Power Girl fighting spirit. She screams she is the strongest. She won't back down. And here in the mountains, she proudly shouts her credentials ... she is Kara from Krypton.

If only she followed it up with 'I don't scare easily' instead of 'I am royally pissed off'.

I would be just fine if the 'pissed off' phrase was never used in conjunction with Supergirl again.

Very nice art here by Neves. Fantastic action shots.

And I talk about Supergirl being a hero on a journey, sometimes doing the wrong thing when trying to do the right thing.

Here, Wonder Woman shows up to try to get her 'daughter' but Supergirl isn't going to be denied her ... I guess revenge is the best word for it. And so, in order to get to Fury she has to get through Wonder Woman. So she punches Diana.

I have seen Supergirl punch Superman, Superboy, Dr. Light, Martian Manhunter, and many others. This actually felt right. This Supergirl is just starting the life of a hero. This lapse in judgment could happen. Again the art sparkles.

So some nice moments. And some odd moments. Sounds like Worlds' Finest.

I will say the overall feeling for this issue was better than most. I especially liked hearing the thoughts of this world's Batman and Superman. It will be interesting to contrast those thoughts to the Prime Earth counterparts' thoughts. There is some good stories here to mine.

Overall grade: B-


Martin Gray said...

Yeah, the poker scene is appalling, this sort of thing should never happen in connection with a supposed hero, no matter their dark edges, or the stage of their career - it is not heroic.

And Ken, is that what passes for a hip look on Earth 2? Are they stuck in the New Romantics era? As for his name - no man under 90, outside of the US, is called Ken

I liked the art a lot. That panel with the S-shield actually pulling at the cape is an unusual approach.

I do hope you're right, and that the regular Batman will persuade Huntress to go non-lethal.

Starsaber said...

When you said it was broken into 3 parts and the first part was Huntress/E2 Batman, I was hoping the second would be Supergirl/E2 Superman. I think that would have done a lot to set up the First Contact story.

I'll be getting this tonight after the next Smallville digital issue comes out, so I'll probably have a more informed opinion then.

By the way, I noticed that the physical release of Smallville: Titans is out now. I think you'll enjoy it.

AndNowInStereo said...

I just can't feel any enthusiasm for this series. Until they change the writer I don't think I'll be buying it again - it's just so bland and dull, and so much of it raises annoying questions in my head. Initially I had planned on getting the Batman/Superman crossover with this but now I'm subbing to a lot more Marvel books and I'll be subbing to Red Lanterns as well - a book with actual personality and narrative momentum that I genuinely look forward to reading, unlike this one - I don't think I want to spend my money on it unless the coverage here tells me it's massively improved.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments -

Mart, I do hope that the current Batman does take Huntress under his wing and try to influence her darker tendencies. It would harken back to the prior DCU.

Adam - I did like Titans and might do a bullet review.

Thomas - I'll be here. Let me know what Marvel books floor you!