Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: World's Finest #256

Way back in May, we first read about Supergirl Rebirth #1, a prelude to the upcoming Supergirl written by Steve Orlando. The Rebirth special has art by Emanuella Lupacchino and a variant Adam Hughes cover and should re-establish Supergirl as a hero within the reimagined and reenergized DCU. We are just a few weeks away from a new Supergirl title.

But the thing that really caught my eye in the solicit for the issue was that the villain would be the Kryptonian werewolf Lar-On. That is a pretty deep cut by Steve Orlando and makes me think that fans of Supergirl and the DC mythos are in good hands.

Lar-On first appeared in World's Finest #256 way back in 1979. From the cover, drawn by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, you get a sense of just what a threat Lar-On will be. A giant pink werewolf crawling out of a dimensional portal?? Just fantastic.

This story is a whopping 20 pages in this dollar comic, the size of a regular comic today! There is plenty of padding in this tale. Batman gets a mostly unnecessary subplot to give him something to do. The fight scenes are rather pedestrian and go on for quite a while. But the tragic ending to the story gives it a nice impact. I wonder if Orlando is going to play up that tragedy as a sort of prologue to the sad reality of Zor-El being tranformed and mutilated into the Cyborg Superman.

But all that said, calling back on Lar-On alone is fantastic!

"The Werewolf of Krypton" was written by Denny O'Neil with art by Murphy Anderson. That is a pretty fine creator list. Both are legends in the field. Obviously O'Neil is well known for his work on Batman. But he and Anderson were both part of the famous Kryptonite No More arc (along with Curt Swan).

The opening splash page appropriately conveys just how formidable a Kryptonian werewolf would be to fight. I somehow think that Batman isn't going to be able to pull this creature off of Superman.

But already in this splash we hear how this tale involves someone with a tragic life.

We start out in Gotham City where Professor Jeremiah Terry is about to start a grand experiment. His daughter Sandy is also present as a witness.

She isn't sure just how safe this all is but the Professor is determined and maybe a bit haughty. He talks about how he will savor the triumph alone when his machine works, allowing humanity access to another dimension.

When he throws the switch, the polished surface in the panel opens up a portal. We only see the outline of the thing which crawls through but we see it is large and monstrous. Unfortunately, it seems wild as well, killing Professor Terry (in silhouette) while his daughter looks on.

Meanwhile, Batman has been staking out the laboratory, on the trail of a couple of hoodlums. It turns out that the crooks had heard that the Professor was on the verge of a great discovery and hoped to kidnap his daughter to cash in on some ransom.

Batman is about to corral the kidnappers when he is interrupted by the huge pink werebeast which crashes through the lab's window. It lashes out at Batman, knocking him out. And in all the confusion, the crooks grabbed Sandy and disappeared.

On the other side of the world, in the Fortress of Solitude, Superman sees the Phantom Zone projector come on line automatically. Out of its ray steps General Zod. Luckily as Superman was there, he is able to tackle Zod and send him immediately back. But right after Zod is re-imprisoned, the Phantom Zone Projector shorts out. Superman knows this whole crazy event could only happen if somewhere else something else opened up a doorway to the zone. Using the Fortress computer, he pinpoints to breach to Gotham.

Okay, there is a lot of comic book science here. Why the projector should start up on its own and then short out on its own is beyond my comprehension. But it brings Superman into the story.

In the Batcave, Superman hears the details of Batman's encounter and realizes that Batman encountered Lar-On. Lar was a brilliant scientist and good man. But he was afflicted with a sickness, a form of Kryptonian lycanthropy. The day after his wedding, he was under the rays of a full Kryptonian moon when he changed.

Transformed into a huge pink werewolf, he went on a killing spree. Uncontrollable in that from, he even killed his wife.

Now I'll talk a little about pacing in a bit. But this seems like an area of the story that could have used more page space.

How did he get the disease? Why did it manifest on that day? Do both moons need to be in a certain phase? Does only one need to be full?

As for timing, given the panel with both moons seemingly intact, this must be before Jax-Ur blew up Wegthor.

As a reputable scientist, Lar-On is brought before Jor-El to answer questions. It is clear that until a cure is found, Lar-On cannot be free. So until that time, the werewolf is imprisoned in the Phantom Zone.

Of course, Krypton exploded before that happened.

Again, this part of the story feels rushed. Couldn't they put him in the Phantom Zone on nights with a full moon? Put him in an impenetrable prison on those nights? If he is really an upstanding person, isn't a full time sentence for an issue that occurs a couple of days out of the month seems unfair.

Lar-On doesn't want to potentially hurt anyone else. He willingly goes.

But seriously, this origin deserved a bit more story space.

But instead we get more of the Batman subplot.

The Dark Knight knows that Sandy may know some more about the experiment that brought Lar-On to Earth. He frees her from the kidnappers. She tells him that Professor  Terry was trying to open a portal to Earth 2. Unfortunately, he accidentally opened a rift to the Phantom Zone.

There is one tasty hook in the scene. Sandy has a scratch on her hand.

But still, this seems a little bit like a stretch to give Batman something to do. Superman has already figured out that the breach was to the Phantom Zone. Other than the scratch, this didn't add too much to the story.

As for Lar-On, he has been wandering Gotham in his human form. The full moon went behind the clouds and without active rays, he will revert to normal.

Unfortunately, the clouds disperse just as a couple of Gotham thugs try to rob him. And with the full moon in view, he transforms.

I actually like this panel progression. By stuffing the werewolf form in a narrow panel, it implies an even larger, more ominous presence.

But it does beg the question about this lycanthropy. If just keeping him out of the moonlight (for example, by blocking the moon with clouds) couldn't they control the transformations? Put him in a basement?

Anyways, the moon is out. So Lar-On transforms.

The World's Finest duo intervenes. They try to keep Lar-On from injuring anyone, including themselves. But if a Kryptonian on Earth is super-powerful, a Kryptonian werewolf is immensely super-powerful. Superman and Batman can only skirmish and delay.

But it is pages of this fight. Eight pages.  Out of 20!

Give me one less page of the fight and one more page of Lar-On's origin.

In fact, they defeat Lar-On through some quick thinking.

Superman leads Lar-On on a chase and gets the werewolf to realize he can fly. He then brings Lar-On to the other side of the planet where the sun is still shining. Without the moon, Lar-On reverts.

Not bad.

But then things get a little wonky.

Everyone agrees that Lar-On should be sent back to the Phantom Zone!

Couldn't he come out when it isn't a full moon? Couldn't he stay on Earth an use his powers to always be on the sunny side of the planet? Wouldn't Superman want him to be around on the days he could? Isn't this an opportunity to correct this?

Instead, Lar-On is sent back to the Zone and Superman can only say that he feels great pity for him.

So grading this story is a little difficult for me. In general I like Murphy Anderson's art. But it seems rather thick-lined for him as opposed to the more feathery style I equate with him. The pace of the story seems odd with the Batman subplot and the over-long fight taking up valuable page space. And the idea that Lar-On must simply be sent back to the Phantom Zone seems cruel.

Still, my favorite monster is the werewolf. So I have to be enamored of a Kryptonian one, especially a magenta one at that. And the story does evoke some feelings of sympathy for Lar-On, a good and innocent man who is cursed.

I guess the bigger question is what is Steve Orlando going to do with the character?

Overall grade: B-


Anonymous said...

I have a recommendation of a story to review for the comic box blog. It's called "Elseworlds Finest: Supergirl and Batgirl"; It has a great characterization of Kara.

Martin Gray said...

Oh, I love the pink hair so much on Lar-On. I wonder if he hung out with Mon-El?