DCAU #173: World's Finest

IN THIS ONE... Batman and Superman team up, as do Luthor and the Joker. (Three-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Rich Fogel, Steve Gerber and Stan Berkowitz; directed by Toshihiko Masuda.

REVIEW: The DCAU's two stars meet for the first time and it is an EVENT! No really, you could tell me this is a feature film like Mask of the Phantasm, and I'd believe it. Once you get used to the Gotham City characters' redesigns (were they necessary?), everything just sings. With three parts to work with, there's more attention to characterization, but even so, the animation sets a new bar, the atmospheric lighting if BTAS is back, and even the acting is better than usual (by which I mean the animation is terrific). This is definitely the most romantic story yet in the canon, where even the Joker and Harley get along better than usual, though the centerpiece is a love affair between Bruce Wayne and Lois, in which Bruce almost seals the deal. Woah! Now THIS is how you do a first Batman/Superman meeting! It hurts in all the ways it should without ever betraying any of its characters.

The two heroes have trust issues, to be sure. But while Batman exposes Superman to kryptonite, he also immediately throws his advantage away, as a SHOW of trust (and hey, he judo-throws Superman even without it, which is a shocking moment). Superman immediately finds out the Bat's secret identity, but doesn't use it against him even if it would cause Bruce problems with Lois, which is wonderfully adult of him. (And again, Batman shows him up by tracking him to Clark's apartment.) The heroes are competing for our affections - many fans will argue whether Batman or Superman is the better character - but it's consistently a draw, both looking good or made to look bad in equal measures. The other team-up, of course, is between the Joker and Lex Luthor, Chaos vs the ultimate Controller, and here, Lex doesn't do too well. He gets in bed with the wrong person, and all he gets to show for it is visits in the night by a certain Caped Crusader (great scene) and media scrutiny. The meeting does give us an excellent fight between Harley and Mercy, tussling in the foreground and background of one particular scene, which is one of my favorite things...

...in a long sequence of favorites. The big action set pieces are of the highest caliber, of course, but it's the small moments I remember best. Superman caught mid-leap. Clark pumping Bibbo for information. How Bruce turns cold and distant when he becomes Batman in front of Lois' eyes. Lois falling under Bruce's charm, and really, everything about Lois in this story. At once strong, vulnerable, and sexy. Just fueling an ongoing celebrity crush on Dana Delaney that dates back to China Beach. Have I lavished enough praise on this three-parter yet? If I have any complaints at all, it's that 1) everyone's a terrible shot in this to the point of absurdity, and 2) the climax is right out of Mask of the Phantasm and could have used a different template (especially with Dana Delaney playing Batman's love interest in both). But neither drives the score down enough to make a difference. If you can only watch ONE DCAU story, this may be the one.

IN THE COMICS: The title refers to the title World's Finest Comics, where Superman and Batman teamed up and co-starred for decades, and by extension, to a nickname for the superhero pair. The uneasy relationship seen in the initial encounters mirrors their less friendly early post-Crisis appearances. Batman #573 (2000) steals some elements from this three-parter, including a scene in which the Bat visits Lex in his room at night and Mercy is told to take care of him (via Bane, in that case). Has Bruce Wayne ever dated Lois Lane in the comics? Sure! They even got married in Lois Lane #89 (1969), but turns out it was an imaginary story. More recently, and in continuity, she and BATMAN (not Bruce) went on a date in Batman/Superman #15 (2014), where she got to dress up as Batgirl.

SOUNDS LIKE: The mobster Ceasar Carlini is played by John Capodice, a character actor you've seen in tons of stuff, Sgt. Aguado in Ace Ventura, for example.

REWATCHABILITY: Sky High - A high water mark in the animation, acting and plotting of the DCAU.


Positronic Brain said...

Warning: watching these episodes after the disaster that was Batman v Superman may increase your contempt for Snyder and Goyer exponentially.

Toby'c said...

My introduction to the DCAU, on a VHS purchased at Northland Shopping Centre around Boxing Day 2001. Still one of my favourite stories, for either character, in any medium.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

This story and Last Son of Krypton actually were released on DVD as edited-together 'movie' versions. I went and tracked them down for our rewatch; I think they're more fun in that format. (And dirt-cheap, too!) ;-)

Anonymous said...

This really does set the standard that DC should be aiming for. The trick would be to take what this movie does right -- which is everything -- without just retelling this exact story.

One recommendation: it's Superman who comes to Gotham, and doesn't understand how Gotham works. So Superman is very helpful in stopping, say, Killer Croc; but that just leaves a vacuum that Bane fills, or perhaps even Lex fills. It's all a big chess game in Gotham, and Batman learns the value of accepting help while Superman learns to take advice from others.

So many favorite moments in this, but perhaps my favorite is when Batman punctuates the Joker's apparent demise with the perfect tasteless joke. I think the Joker would approve and would consider it a tribute.

Anonymous said...

Also, the overly literal nerd in me is thinking about kryptonite, and how it ceases to be harmful to Superman if you shatter it, dissolve it, etc. That's kind of nuts if kryptonite's lethality is based solely on its radioactivity -- atoms of kryptonite dissolved in hydrochloric acid ought to be as radioactive as a chunk of kryptonite.

So, what if kryptonite emits radiation which is only deadly when it can resonate through a kryptonite crystal? This is kind of like how laser beams are light that resonates in a chamber (and also goes thru spontaneous emission) and takes on properties that you don't get just by shining a flashlight at things.

Also, back in pre-Crisis days, kryptonite was not deadly to un-super-powered Kryptonians. What if kryptonite essentially gets its powers from a yellow sun? Maybe kryptonite actually works by taking yellow sun radiation and resonating it into some frequency that is hazardous to beings who are likewise feeding off yellow sun radiation.

This is super fanfictiony, with all the negative connotations that come with the term. Probably the best thing I should do is not think so hard about kryptonite. It is what it is, you can Superman with kryptonite until you "injure" the kryptonite, and that's final.

Siskoid said...

The destruction of the Kryptonite did make me arch an eyebrow. I like your attempt at a No-Prize though. It's the only thing that really makes sense.


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