Monday, June 6, 2016
World’s Finest #82 Review and **SPOILERS** - Just For the Hell of It Mondays
All For One and One For Beating the Snot Out of Frenchmen
Art By: Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye
Cover Price: 10 cents
Cover Date: May-June 1956
**NON SPOILERS AND SCORE AT BOTTOM**
You know what I hope to see from DC’s Rebirth? Superman and Batman as friends. Not familiar acquaintances, not uneasy colleagues, and for goodness’ sakes, not freaking enemies. I want them to be friends. Pals. Chums. They give each other some good-natured ribbings now and again, but in their hearts they possess the same values and have each other’s backs. In my DCU, Batman doesn’t possess Kryptonite as part of a program to exploit the weaknesses of every superhero in case of emergency, but Clark gives him the Kryptonite to use in case he is mind-controlled or otherwise compromised. See the difference there? In the first version, Bruce Wayne is a paranoid fascist who determines when his crime-fighting compatriots live or die. In the second scenario, Superman trusts Batman. Because they are friends. If you don’t believe they were ever BFFs, then read my review of World’s Finest #82 and see for yourself!
Because comic books back then were much more awesome than they are now, World’s Finest #82 contains three separate stories, each one completely independent of the other. A book like that, it’s got to cost five or six bucks, right? Nope. One thin dime. The mid 1950s was such a great time, except for the segregation and Red-baiting and generally repressive cultural attitude. Because I got the digital version of this comic, however, only the first story, featuring Superman and Batman, is available. Which is actually a good thing because I didn’t really feel like reviewing some stupid Western story and a Green Arrow backup.
So this story is called “The Super-Musketeers” and begins with Clark Kent covering a historians’ convention because he must be the worst reporter working for the Daily Planet. There, Dr. Nichols, a guy who built a time machine that’s sent Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson into the past in previous stories, announces that he will soon solve one of the great riddles of seventeenth-century France: the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask. Hmm, I wonder how he will go about solving this riddle? Do you think he’ll use his time machine? I mean, shouldn’t his first and probably only announcement at the historians’ convention be “I have built a functioning time machine?” Clark knows about Dr. Nichols’ connection to Bruce and Dick so he flies to Gotham to visit them at Wayne Manor by swooping down their chimney and emerging from the fireplace. It’s just about the cutest darn thing you ever did see. Superman tells Bruce that he wants to go along to the past too because he doesn’t like feeling left out, so Dr. Nichols agrees to send all three of them to 1696, because what, he’s gonna put his own life in peril? No way.
After a panel depicting time travel, they wind up just outside Castle Pignerol (actually a prison) in what would today be Pinerolo, Italy. So let’s be clear here: this is a time traveling and teleportation machine. Is discovering the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask really the best use for this thing? Just then, d’Artagnan and the other two Musketeers (of the Three Musketeers) roll up on their horses, looking like death warmed over. Clark, Bruce and Robin have naturally changed into their superhero costumes so of course d’Artagnan is quick to tell them that they are being pursued by the evil Bourdet, who doesn’t seem to turn up in any research of the period and locale, so let’s just say he’s “the bad guy.” Batman suggest that the Three Musketeers give up their garish clothing and then he and his two hero pals put on these duds over their own costumes. With all the velvet they used to use back then, it must be hot as balls under there. Our newly-garbed heroes, of course, won’t kill Bourdet’s men, because they are heroes, so they set to completely and totally humiliating them: Batman deftly disarms about five of them with little trouble, since naturally he is an expert at fencing, and Superman fuses three of them into one long super-sword and disarms the rest of them with a look of smug satisfaction on his face the whole time. D’Artagnan is so grateful for their help that he asks for more help, and tells them that the Man in the Iron Mask is Count Ferney, who it turns out is not the character Don Knotts played in the third season of Three’s Company. After dumping the two lame Musketeers off at some random house for recuperation, they head off to Castle Pignerol to make fun of its name.
At the prison, Superman steps in view of the guards, who assume he is the brawny Musketeer Porthos, who brags that he has the strength of iron. Being the dickheads they are, the guards fire two cannonballs at Superman, which bounce harmlessly off of his chest. He then picks up the cannonballs and hurls them with precision to break the chains holding the castle’s drawbridge up. No matter, think the guards, for there is still an iron gate securing the gro…no, wait, Superman is ripping that apart like so much tissue paper. Think you might be a little less conspicuous when hanging out in the past, Supes? I mean, it’s bad enough you’ve got a flapping red cape and a spit curl, if there’s no mention of the guy who chucked cannonballs like peach pits in twentieth century French history after this, then I really wonder about historical accuracy in general. And why are Batman and Robin here again? If Superman is willing to tear through castles and make its guards look like nincompoops, then why bother hanging around? They run into the prison just in time to see Superman making Bourdet’s men look foolish. Seeing that he’s about to get his ass kicked six ways to Sunday, Bourdet comes down from his penthouse apartment with Count Ferney in the mask as a hostage, and is able to chain up the Super-Musketeers and d’Artagnan and take off, after lighting a fuse in the castle’s arsenal. Wait…isn’t this a prison? Why are you keeping an arsenal at a prison? Superman waits until Bourdet is out of sight before breaking the chains that bind and snuffing the fuse before the whole place blows sky high. Oh, now he wants to hide his powers from historical figures, but not ten minutes ago he was balancing five guards on the ends of their pikes.
Using his super ability to recall high school history, Batman says they’ll be taking the Man in the Iron Mask to the Bastille prison where, incidentally, he died. Never one to let historical accuracy stand in the way of justice, the team zips over to Paris and spy Count Ferney being held in a dungeon. Superman could just bust in and break Ferney out in a New York minute, but Batman points out that they must also prove Bournet is the guilty party and exonerate Ferney because there’s still five more pages to fill. So while Superman and d’Artagnan endeavor to break into the Bastille to free Ferney, Batman and Robin head off to Versailles to petition King Louis the XIV himself over the matter. The Dynamically Flamboyant Duo are immediately trailed by Bournet’s men, so they pull ahead far enough to fashion rudimentary wooden dummies made from sticks, clothe them in the billowy garb stolen from the Three Musketeers, and swing up into a tree—all out of sight of Bournet’s men—so that the men chase the horses carrying dummies, leaving Batman and Robin to descend on the last two riders in the group and steal their horses. If you can get that much done without being seen by your pursuers, then I think you can safely say you’ve gotten away. When they arrive at the king’s crib, Batman notices some flagpoles flying the fleur de lis on a pink background jutting out from the palace, so they loop some rope over, tie the ends to their stolen horses, and send the horses a running while they held the other end, creating the first ever express elevator. Up in King Louis’ boudoir, he charges at the intruders and knocks himself out on a door—a French door, at that—so Batman dresses the king in his bat-togs and makes himself up to look like the king, then directs some footmen to pile them into a carriage headed for Bastille. He just sort of brushes off the fact that there’s a young boy in a leotard and a man dressed as a bat unconscious on the floor, I guess that’s your prerogative when you’re king.
Back at the Bastille, Bournet receives word by carrier pigeon that the king is coming to visit, so he freaks out and floods the cell that holds the Man in the Iron Mask. After the water has been drained, they open the door to find the prisoner, standing, intact—though still with an iron mask on and his hands tied behind his back. Why don’t you just kill this guy already? You think he’s going to be rehabilitated or something? I guess Bournet could be hoping he’ll get Stockholm Syndrome. Really freaking out, Bournet orders his men to brick up the cell, but the prisoner busts through the wall and is unaffected by weapons and…okay, it’s Superman. He pulled the ol’ switcheroo hours past and was just standing around the cell with the iron mask on for funsies. D’Artagnan shows up with Count Ferney right when Batman and Robin arrive with the king—Batman still impersonating King Louie XIV, mind you—and the whole ruse comes to light. The comic book is careful to explain that the king and Batman step into another room to change clothes, lest we think they disrobed in front of everyone, and then the real King Louis exonerates Ferney and sentences Bournet to life imprisonment in the Bastille—wearing the same iron mask he imposed on Count Ferney! Back in the present, Bruce, Dick and Clark explain their story, leaving out the attendance of Batman, Robin and Superman, which is really some bullshit. You’d think the history books would at least say, “…and then the Man in the Iron Mask busted through the goddamned prison wall and laughed when the guards tried to prod him. Just as he peeled off his mask to reveal some guy no one had ever seen before, this little kid in a circus costume and this guy dressed like a vampire show up with the king. Except the vampire was dressed as the king as first so they had to switch clothes. Anyway one of the Musketeers walks through a hole in the wall with some aristocrat and it wrapped up pretty quickly after that.” Yeah, I guess that would sound a little silly.
Dick Sprang is known for his contributions to Batman’s lore and his iconic linework, but I wonder how many know what a meticulous, exacting artist he was. Though there are some coloring choices that are sensible only on a pulp press—a wondering rendering of nearly every crevice on the king’s palace, for instance, awash in a singular blob of light blue—there are no shortcuts taken as a romanticized version of the Age of Enlightenment is rendered in full detail. The story is…good enough, though modern audiences can poke a lot of holes in it (as I did throughout the recap), but it does exhibit the fact that Batman and Superman trust each other enough not only for each to allow the other to enter their homes via the chimneys, but to know which one should let cannonballs bounce of his chest and which one should point out the obvious.
Bits and Pieces:
Superman, Batman and Robin are whisked back to the seventeenth century to change the course of history—with no repercussions to the present! Just three dudes, hanging out in feathered hats and velvet jackets, swashbuckling their way across Central Europe in order to solve one of its oldest mysteries. And it’s a real good time. The tale is silly yet engaging, and the art by Dick Sprang is masterful and worth the price of admission itself. Which, at the time of this comic book’s release, was ten cents. And it included two other separate stories!