My Misspent Youth — World’s Finest by Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

As devoted reader of the heady sci-fi superhero series Nexus beginning fairly early in its run, I was determined to follow its two primary creators, writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude, just about anywhere else they ventured in wilds of comic book publishing in the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties. It required a little more diligence to follow Baron around. As a scribe, it was more likely that he’d be able to balance multiple gigs, such as an independently published superhero series that carried some regional interest for me and a spin with a speedster. Rude could only stretch his drawing hand so far, especially because he rendered his art with high detail and obvious delicate care. So there was no doubt I’d be turning over dollars to the local comic shop proprietor when Rude got a turn with the two biggest characters in DC’s stable, arguably the two biggest characters in all of superhero comics.

The three-issue, prestige format series World’s Finest paired Rude with writer Dave Gibbons (who was coming off handling art chores on a monumentally important series). Published in 1990, the limited series adhered to the model of the historic title of the same name and teamed up Superman and Batman. If those particular good guys were side by side, the bad guys who were similar entangled weren’t difficult to guess.

Rude’s art was exactly what I hoped it would be. It was rich and densely packed with information, some of it cheerfully silly, such as the Pee-Wee Herman calendar at Clark Kent’s workplace desk, and some of it clearly meant to slyly provide a fullness of imagery. As a college kid flush with introductory film class knowledge (and occasionally Point Specials), I couldn’t stop yammering to my bored, accommodating roommates about the andirons that looked like the Joker’s warped visage. Every page of Rude’s artwork practically vibrates with the joy that clearly went into its creation.

Gibbons was having a good time, too. He revels in working with these icons, orchestrating a switch with Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne each sleuthing around the other’s municipal home base and hanging out with their counterpart’s supporting cast. When its the two characters together, Gibbons writes their friendly, gently gibing familiarity that emphasizes their kinship.

Compounding that feeling of brotherhood, the story is set at Christmastime. Gibbons and Rude don’t overdue it with the tinselly trappings, but the holiday does afford some especially nice moments. Of course, Superman remembers to bring a gift.

World’s Finest is a real pleasure, an example of time when the showcase offerings from the big two superhero publishers could be grounded in craft and grace rather than spectacle. As the nineteen-nineties wore on, grim and gritty storytelling overtook the mainstream superhero genre. At the cusp of that turn, Gibbons and Rude reminded attentive readers that light and lively was a better approach.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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