Friday, April 3, 2020

World’s Finest #81 Review and **SPOILERS**

I’m Calling a Do-Over

Written By: Edmond Hamilton
Art By: Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye
Cover Price: 10 cents
Cover Date: March-April 1956


I’ll bet you’re wondering why I reviewed issue #82 of World’s Finest a couple of weeks ago, but I’m reviewing the issue that preceded it now. Well, I’ll tell ya: quit asking! I picked that other issue pretty much at random, and only after nosing around a little bit did I find that issue #81 had one of my all-time favorite Superman, Batman and Robin stories from the cusp of the Silver Age. It’s got everything! Time travel, reckless use of public property, misogyny and general mistrust of women—all the components of a great comic book! So let’s dispense with the preamble that you stopped reading two sentences ago and dive right into World’s Finest #81! Read On!

Explain It!

As previously mentioned: Since comics in the 1950s were awesome, they used to contain three chapters that were often three separate stories, all for a thin dime. Since DC’s digital store only offers the Superman, Batman & Robin chapter from their store, I’m only recapping and reviewing that. Which is just as well, since the Green Arrow story is really stupid. Though after you read about this adventure, you may question my tolerance for stupidity.
The first instance of the Bat-Submarine?

Superman, Batman and Robin are behaving very strangely, even for three men that dress up in garish costumes and fight crime: Superman takes all the animals from a zoo that he built, herds them onto a hastily-constructed replica of Noah’s Ark, and then sails them into Metropolis so they can be returned to the preserve that, again, he built in the first place. Batman and Robin are behaving even weirder, by re-enacting their rescue of an abandoned plane the previous day—but instead of guiding it away from Gotham Harbor, they allow it to crash into the sea, and then fold the wings of the Batplane back and dive into the water as a submarine so they can tow it back to shore. What could be making Superman and Batman behave in this manner? Why would they re-perform stunts they’ve already achieved? Do you think they’re on drugs???
The Time Thrust Projector pounds and pounds away at time until it is satisfied and makes you a sandwich.

No, it’s nothing as crazy as that. Turns out they were merely visited by Ka Thar, historian from the year 5956 and very snappy dresser, who materialized in the Batcave using the Time Thrust Projector. He demands to see Superman at once, so Batman paints the silhouette of Superman on one of the headlights of his Batmobile and shines it into the sky so it can be seen from Metropolis, which is totally a better and more secure way to communicate than making a goddamned phone call. Ka Thar needed to assemble the World’s Finest in a hurry to let them know something dire about the future: he’s written a book about their exploits, which he’d like to read aloud to them! When he’s finished, Superman and Batman point out that many of the events being recounted are incorrect, which is literally the number one wrong thing to tell a historian. Ka Thar won’t be the laughing stock of the future’s historical community, so he insists that the superheroes perform some key acts again, but in the way he’d written in his book—if not, he will expose their secret identities of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne! Oh, and Dick Grayson, too.
Plus we'd hate for all those students to fail their state-wide history exams.

Four thousand years into our past, mankind was just emerging from the Bronze Age, and Egypt had yet to be displaced by the Roman Empire as a world power—and what we know about these people is largely conjecture and supposition. Why are historians in the distant future such unrelenting cocks that they would make fun of Ka Thar for getting some specifics wrong? Why is anyone even recording history when time travel is something that can be achieved on a meager Academic’s salary four thousand years into the future? Why isn’t Batman, the world’s greatest detective, asking these questions? And to place even more suspicion on Ka Thar, he won’t let anyone else read his book because there’s a bit of information in there that he claims they simply cannot see. Why are they helping this dope anyway? Just incinerate the book with heat vision and boot this guy’s ass back to the fifty-first century, then go on about your day. But no, the super team sets to re-enacting some of their exploits recorded erroneously by Ka Thar, though they worry about the last item on his list: the reversing of a tornado, really done by Superman flying in opposition to the whirlwind with wind-vanes in his hands, while Ka Thar wrote that it had been contained by a barrier. The team worries of the danger of creating a new tornado and the feasibility of containing it within some kind of structure—what a conundrum!
"After I level this other mountain and deforest the area, it might even be livable!"

So first, Superman has to rebuild a dam he already built, except this time using a single slab of rock he fist-whittles out of the side of a mountain. Lois Lane sneaked to the spot and spies Superman’s strange behavior, then sees Ka-Thar supervising nearby. Instead of having a series of heart attacks and questioning the fabric of reality, Lois Lane sidles up to him and asks to read his keen book. Ka-Thar refuses, but allows her to tag along for the rest of the historical retcons, cuckolding Superman by making him carry them on a plank of wood like some enslaved genie or something.
This feat would be impossible today since Pluto is no longer a planet.

At the planetarium, Batman and Robin are going to re-do their feat of stopping a gigantic, out-of-control spinning model of the solar system, but by hopping from planet to planet as described in Ka-Thar’s book. How much money does this planetarium have, they can showcase a huge, moving model of the solar system? I mean their endowment must be from Carl Sagan himself. Batman and Robin do some impressive acrobatics and achieve their goal, while Lois asks to read Ka-Thar’s book and is still rebuked. There isn’t time! They’ve got to go to the next historical change!
Batman is also a Notary Public and deputy dog-catcher for Gotham City.

Superman drops the couple off at the Gotham City Jail, where they’ll wait to see Batman recapture mobster Shark Slaney in the required way, meanwhile Superman goes off and carries an orphanage around town on a sight-seeing tour in order to fulfill Ka-Thar’s demands and also because he’s Superman, goddammit. Then Batman appears to release Shark Slaney from jail, because apparently Batman has that authority, to the shock of onlookers including Lois Lane. Later, Slaney shows up at the penthouse apartment of his old gang, but he’s been traced by Batman who rounds up the whole crew in one fell swoop! Slaney tries to run away, but Batman chases him in the Batmobile and lassoes him into submission. Then we see that Slaney was actually Batman in disguise, while Batman was actually being played by Robin, wearing a dummy bust of Batman in order to make himself appear larger and, uh, more Batman-like. Lois asks to read the book again, and Ka-Thar declines, saying that it contains secrets that can’t be known to anyone in this age. And that’s where he fucked up!
I've heard first-time authors can be shy about their work, but this is ridiculous.

Only the difficult matter of containing a tornado within a barrier remains, but Batman tells Ka-Thar he won’t be his trained monkey anymore, because he knows that Ka-Thar is bluffing: he won’t reveal their secret identities as it would contradict something in his history book that says their identities came out later! Foiled by his own bizarre version of historical fact, Ka-Thar admits that he was only foolin’ around, but he would sure appreciate it if they could pull one more dangerous re-enactment of their life-saving feats to satisfy his doctorate thesis. Superman says that, in a way, they did create a barrier because blah blah blah who really cares, this whole thing stinks on ice. Why did they acquiesce to this kook in the first place? In what reality is it more sensible to make facts conform to their retelling rather than the other way around? What is the nature of empirical research in the sixty-first century, I’d like to know?
"And what you did wasn't public endangerment and blackmail, it was just a future prank!"

And won’t people of the future know that he had Superman and pals remake history for his dumb book, just as they would ostensibly have known that his version was false in the first place? Why does everyone believe this guy in the first place? Won’t this cause time paradoxes that could change the outcome of future events, and therefore past events as recounted by historian Ka-Thar, and therefore render the history book worthless anyway? I’m clearly overthinking it, as did Batman when he chides Lois about not discovering their secret identities. “Oh—you men!” she exclaims, “I didn’t care who you are…I only wanted to find out whom Superman will marry!”
"I was also interested to know if they still use tampons in the future."

Bits and Pieces:

Some sweet and highly-detailed art by Dick Sprang carries this absolutely ludicrous and hilarious story to its height, as depictions of Superman, Batman and Robin in action are absolutely wonderful. This tale definitely falls into the “so bad it’s good” category, so those who don’t understand sarcasm or irony will not be amused. Those of us who get a kick out of the idea that the World’s Finest would team up to change the course of history by performing relatively banal retcons should give this book and comic book era a closer look!


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