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The ’80s Revisited: Worlds Finest #323


worlds_finest_comics_0323Afraid of the Dark

Writer: Joey Cavalieri
Penciller: Jose Delbo
Inker: Alfredo Alcala
Letterer: Duncan Andrews
Colorist: Nansi Hoolahan
Editor: Janice Race
Cover: Denys Cowan, Dick Giordano, Tatjana Wood
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 1986
Cover Price: $0.75

I don’t know that I know exactly what I expected from this issue…but this sure wasn’t it!

Metropolis finds itself in the grips of a magical darkness…which means that even Superman can’t do anything about it–though he still tries to at least help, even if he can’t solve anything with it. but he quickly gets taken down by Nightwolf and his magical darkness-wolves (werewolves? dire wolves? magic-wolves, whatever). Nightwolf then parades around proclaiming himself king of the world (essentially) with the beaten Superman as a symbol of his own power and abilities. Meanwhile, Batman does the detective leg-work of the piece, tracking down the origin of this Nightwolf, learning a weakness he can exploit, and ultimately saving the city (and Superman) from the magical threat. In the aftermath, Batman rejects Superman’s attempted thank-you, lecturing him on how he could’ve been killed, and can’t just rush into stuff with FORCE. Batman leaves things at the fact that he’ll SAVE Superman any time, but will not help write his epitaph. And thus, the World’s Finest team has broken up, paving the way for the adversarial (despite mutual respect) relationship of the later 1980s and 1990s that pretty much remains in 2016, 30 years after this issue saw print.

The art is not bad, as Superman and Batman both have a very familiar look, very much what I associate with them for the early to mid 1980s "bronze ange" and such (so much so that as I read Batman’s lines, I heard the voice of the actor from the Untold Legend of the Batman comics-on-cassette!) By extension of THAT, I got a bit of Superman’s voice from the Man of Steel comics-on-cassette stuff as well. My only real problem with the art stems from the time this was published: Superman vs. magical wolves that leave him beaten, costume shredded, and basically unconscious…yet there’s no blood. I don’t need to see a bloodied, shredded almost-corpse, but for the level of threat this supposedly was, it’s odd as a mid-30s adult to read this and see Superman just so "simply" taken down but the only thing INDICATING any harm is holes/tears in the costume with nothing but clean, unmarred skin beneath.

Story-wise, again, this isn’t bad, but it’s certainly DATED. For one thing, someone successfully taking over even a city, and Superman going down, and Batman having to track down the villain’s origin and figure out a weakness and actually take the guy on and such–this would CERTAINLY be a 6-issue arc in terms of contemporary deconstructed/padded/written-for-the-trade comics. And with as much as I have read of modern-day contemporary comics published in the last 15-some years, the "modern sensibility" being drilled into me constantly for all this time–this issue feels ultra-compressed to the point of there being no real character to it…and I’m disappointed at how "filler" and ARBITRARY it felt. I mean, there’s a lot of potential here, but as a now-2016 reader reading this cold some 30 years after it was published, even the hints of characterization and depth that could be picked up on just doesn’t "work" for me as a single issue.

This does not feel like it’s picking up from a cliffhangered previous issue, and as the final issue of the entire series, there’s no cliffhanger (at least not in the "To Be Continued…" sense, though it leaves the Superman/Batman relationship hanging to be developed from its now-broken pieces). As such, it feels like it could be set "whenever," and has no real hook on a specific point in continuity, based on the story itself. And for the flimsy/abrupt splintering of the "partnership" between Batman and Superman, that comes outta nowhere–no internal narration or thought balloons of Batman wishing Clark hadn’t rushed in, and that he’s always doing this and never thinks ahead, whatever. As such, the final couple pages could have been tacked on as "epilogue" to virtually ANY story in which Superman "almost died" and Batman got to "save the day."

The cover as well is a bit out of sync with my personal expectations as well. It seems to indicate the split, a farewell between the two heroes, but no real indicator of cause nor actuality. Given Batman’s small wave, it seems more a casual thing between old friends than any real split or breakup or animosity.

Perhaps adding to my feelings on this issue is also the modern day sensibilities in comics–something as "crucial" as the friendship between Batman and Superman, their partnership, the way they’ve been the best of friends (to this point) coming to an end? This would have been hyped and hugely played-up, with an extra-sized issue with at least another short story following each character and exploring their feelings on the matter and where things are likely to go, etc. (I think of Cyclops vs. Wolverine with Prelude to Schism as its own mini-series to set up the conflict, then Schism itself as another mini to have them actually fight, and then the outcome split into an entirely new ongoing series and a renumbered version of a 48-year-old series).

Something this big just seemed like the issue should have FELT bigger, felt more important, felt Earth-shattering…but instead, it feels like a whimper, or like some tv show that was told it was getting another season, is preparing to film a season finale, but gets told the pre-finale episode is their last, but they can film another minute or two’s worth of story to "wrap things up."

I was quoted $2 for this issue, minus a 20% discount, so figure I paid roughly $1.60 for this…and its cover price is $0.75, so 30 years after its publication, as a "key issue" (final issue of a longrunning series, the "breakup" of the Superman/Batman team), I barely paid more than twice cover price, which itself STILL made it half the cost of a current Dc Rebirth issue, and only a little over 1/3 the cost of a contemporary Marvel issue. The reading experience took longer than contemporary comics, and I’ve sunk however much additional time into typing and preparing this review, so I certainly got my money’s worth out of this for time-to-expense considerations (and I was "prepared" to pay around $6 for this, too!).

Aside from having some desire to read it for yourself, to "experience" the issue as a whole for yourself, this was a real letdown and not something I’d recommend seeking out. Still, there are worse issues, and if you’re (like me) a huge fan of Superman, and even the Superman/Batman stuff, this is worth picking up if you can get it cheaply.

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