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World's Finest Comics 96
"The Super-Foes From Planet X!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND September 1958; DC Comics (National Periodical Publications);
Whitney Ellsworth, editor of record (though Jack Schiff was probably doing the hands-on editing); featuring Superman, Batman and Robin versus "The Super-Foes From Planet X!"

The cover, which looks like Curt Swan pencils and Stan Kaye inks, depicts our three heroes held by force-fields emitted by a big machine, and a purple-headed alien looking on, as Batman laments, "We're trapped in some strange force-- and even SUPERMAN can't break out of it!"

I picked up on impulse this weekend the first issue of DC's new SUPERMAN/BATMAN title which resurrects the old "World's Finest" team-up on an ongoing basis, though not the WF title. I was only mildly impressed; the art was pretty good, and fan favorite writer Jeph Loeb has an interesting take on the contrasts between the two heroes and the interaction between them, but the actual story plot seemed pretty thin and I'm not sure if I'll be coming back for more. Nonetheless, I was inspired to pull out one of the earliest issues of WORLD'S FINEST I own for my next review.

The lead story is drawn by Dick Sprang, who was born to draw these Supes/Bats tales; writer unknown to me, though didn't someone mention that Jerry Coleman was writing a lot of WF stories around this time? On the splash page, Superman flies downward to tackle a pinkish whirlwind, as Batman and Robin race for the Batplane and Batman warns, "Hurry, Robin! If Superman fails to stop the STORM-TOP and tidal wave, they'll wipe out the mainland!" Flying over Metropolis, Superman hears a voice in his head directing him, "Go to Metropolis Beach! Danger threatens from the SOLAR SPONGE!" Arriving at the beach Supes finds Batman and Robin, who heard the same voice (and somehow managed to arrive from Gotham faster than Superman could get there at super-speed from right in Metropolis). The Solar Sponge is, you guessed it, a sponge-shaped object that glows like the sun and devours objects on the beach. Robin is trampled by fleeing crowds and knocked into the Sponge's path, but Batman rescues him, leaving Superman to take on the Sponge-- but his super-punches have no effect. "If that thing is a miniature sun, there's only one way to destroy it-- turn it into a NOVA!" Personally I think having a nova go off in Metropolis might be even less desirable than having a big glowing thing wandering around melting beach furniture.... but Superman thinks Bats has a great plan, and he flies into space where he builds a giant solar mirror. Luring the Sponge into the path of the mirror with "handfuls of fiery solar matter" he gathers from the sun, Supes overloads the Sponge with energy until it explodes, thankfully without taking Metropolis and maybe the whole Earth with it. But there's no rest for the super; the heroes start hearing voices again, and this one urges them to travel to "Barren Island" to stop the "Storm-Top", a spinning top that generates tornados.. Superman thinks no one is in danger since Barren Island is uninhabited except for a mechanized radio relay station, but the Strom-Top's whirlwind whips up a tidal wave that threatens to overwhelm the island and then travel to the mainland. Superman tries to stop the Storm-Top but is hurled back by the tremendous centrifugal force it generates. Once again the Man of Steel is at a loss and it is up to Batman to develop a plan. He directs Superman to build a giant upward ramp and then sprays the ramp with the Batplane's reserve supply of oil. The Top spins up the ramp at such tremendous speed that it spins out of control and flies harmlessly into outer space.

Next, the voice calls Superman, Batman and Robin to "the wasteland near Colossal Caverns! The Crawler is on the loose!" Searching for the Crawler, they find only a tiny, odd insect-- but then, the heroes themselves shrink in size until the Crawler dwarfs them. "The Crawler's vibrations must alter the genes of tis victims! It shrinks living things small enough for it to prey on!' Yet again Superman's brilliant response is to try to punch out the Crawler, but as he moves closer to the creature's vibrations he shrinks still more, and Batman warns him away lest he "disappear altogether!" Fleeing from the Crawler, the tiny heroes are nearly seized and eaten by a bird, but Batman picks up a penny and hurls it like a discus, driving the bird away with an offended "Awk! Awk!" Taking refuge in a shed, the heroes find an old cigar box and again Batman comes up with a risky plan. He has Superman lure the Crawler into the box, slam the lid and then use his super-breath to suck up all the air in the box, creating a vacuum. With no air to carry the Crawler's "vibrations", it is helpless, and Supes is able to snap off its antennae and disable without killing it. With the vibrations gone, the heroes resume their normal size.

Next, the voice that has been warning our heroes of these super-menaces calls again: "Help! I'm being held prisoner in Colossal Caverns!" Entering the cave, they find the apparently friendly alien who has been telepathing at them in the grip of a giant robot. But as they rush to his rescue, the heroes are caught and held like flies in amber by the alien's force-field device. "Put me down now, J-47! They walked into the trap just as I planned!" Superman's super-strength and X-ray vision are of no help in escaping the cylindrical force-fields, and neither are any of the objects in Batman's utility belt, until he finds that the small lead container that holds a gas capsule can penetrate the force-field (because, as we all know, lead is resistant to radiation). Embedding the lead capsule partly through the field, Batman hurls a Batarang at it, causing it to pop out of the field and strike the "off" button for the force field. (Good aim, Bats, and good guess as to what the off button for the alien device was.) "Good thinking, Batman! Now let's clear up this mystery!" Superman declares, and the heroes charge to confront the treacherous alien (who in in interior story is orange-skinned rather than purple as on the cover). But when they crash through a door, the alien and his comrades are delighted; "Congratulations! I knew you wouldn't fail us!" "What? You imprisoned us, and now you're glad to see us free? Why?" Why? Well, it seems that the highly advanced aliens of "Planet X" have suffered a fate common to denizens of scientifically advanced planets in sci-fi stories; they have become lazy, helpless, and dependent on their machines and robots. (Paging Magnus Robot Fighter.....) But now nearly all of their machines have broken down and the Planet Xians find themselves without the knowledge of how to fight their "natural enemies" on their planet. They have, however, the ability to travel to Earth, unleash super-weapons on our planet, and call the galactically famous Superman and Batman to fight them-- just to observe our heroes' self-defense techniques. "Now we shall train our minds and bodies like Batman and Robin-- and with the help of our remaining robots who have super-strength like yours (Superman's), we shall survive, thanks to you!" As the aliens blast off, Superman muses, "You know, I can't even be angry with them for what they did to us! They were desperate!" "Yes-- and I'm glad we were able to help them survive on Planet X!"

Hmmm.... after reading that story, Jeph Loeb's plotting on the new SUPERMAN/BATMAN book doesn't seem quite so weak. But anyway, there are two backup stories in this WF issue, and the first is "Tomahawk's Pony Partner!" I don't know the artist-- I don't think it's regular Tomahawk artist Fred Ray, though it looks a bit like it might be Jack Abel. On the splash page, Tomahawk swims his Indian pony across a river and overturns an Indian canoe; "C'mon, Wildfire! Now that I know you're a trick pony, there's a chance to prevent the Indian uprising!" Visiting a backwoods settlement, Tomahawk and sidekick Dan Hunter learn of a local crisis; "You mean, the Mohawks and the Oneidas are preparing to don the war bonnets against each other? But they were real friendly when we passed this way last month!" (In real history, the Mohawks and Oneidas were firmly allied as members of the Iroquois or Six Nations Indian confederacy.) Fearing that any violence will spill over onto the white settlers, Tomahawk and Dan resolve to stop the Indian hostilities, especially after they meet a wounded Mohawk brave who has been halted from delivering "peace papers" to the Oneida chief. (Indians of that time might have used beaded wampum belts as peace symbols, but probably not written papers.) On the way to deliver the papers to the Oneidas, Tomahawk's horse is lamed, but an "old Indian trail rider" whom Tomahawk has rescued offers him the use of his pony, Wildfire. Trying to swim their horses across a river, Tomahawk and Dan are attacked by renegade Oneida warriors, but Tomahawk is startled when his pony ducks under the water, swims underwater to the enemy warriors' canoe, and tips it over, enabling the frontiersmen to escape. Tomahawk realizes that the Indian pony must be a "trick pony" trained by the old Indian. Trying to ride through a gorge to reach the Oneida camp, our heroes find the way blocked by more renegade warriors, but Tomahawk utilizes another of the pony's "tricks"-- he causes the pony to prance and dance until it starts a rockslide, driving the warriors out of the way long enough for Tomahawk and Dan to ride by. Finally, the "trick pony" helps Tomahawk clear more warriors out of the way by nudging them off their horses with his nose, and Tomahawk reaches the Oneida chief with the "peace packet" of proof that the war between the tribes has been falsely incited by treacherous braves. Tomahawk returns Wildfire the "wonderful pony" to its Indian hermit owner with praise; "Without Wildfire I could not have reached the Oneida camp!" A few issues later, oddly enough, Tom Hawk from the past would be replaced in WF by a Tom from the future-- Tommy Tomorrow.

Finally we have a Green Arrow story drawn by an obscure artist named Jack Kirby....wonder what ever happened to him after DC let him go a while later? The splash panel to "Five Clues to Danger!" depicts Green Arrow and Speedy shooting arrows to halt a car that is escaping after the Arrowcar is blocked by a raised drawbridge; "We've got to stop them, Speedy! The CLUES are in their car!" Green Arrow and Speedy fly the Arrowplane into the midst of a raging storm at sea, near Whale Island, in an attempt to locate a lost friend of Oliver Queen's, Professor Anderson, but all they find is the wreckage of his boat. Anderson, we learn, was a genius scientist on the verge of discovering a method of creating artificial diamonds. When his will is read, Oliver Queen receives some of his personal belongings; "An odd array-- a harmonica, a watch, a packet of old letters, a copy of the almanac-- and an elephant statuette!" Late that night, Oliver and Roy Harper hear burglars in stately Queen Manor and pursue the fleeing crooks in the Arrowcar, even though they're not sure what was stolen. The thieves nearly make their escape over the drawbridge, but GA and Speedy use the catapult seats in the Arrowcar to hurl themselves over the bridge gap, and on landing shoot arrows at the getaway car's tires to halt it. The thieves abandon the car and escape, but GA discovers their loot consists of the five odd objects he inherited from Anderson. Speedy notes again the oddity of the collection of personal effects, and GA comments, "So odd, in fact, that I think we're on to something!" He thinks the objects may be clues to some secret that the crooks hoped to discover. As GA mulls over the secret, the escaped thieves arrive at their hideout, where they confess to their boss that they obtained the loot they sought but then lost it to Green Arrow. "You fools! You should never have let the Professor make out the will in the first place!" For it seems that Prof. Anderson is not dead, but held captive. The boss (who looks something like Loki, of the later Thor strip, in civvies) warns Anderson that he had better give up the secret of his artificial diamonds; he will not be rescued, for no one except the boss is smart enough to figure out the clues he left in his will. But as the boss warns, "I'm becoming impatient!", Green Arrow and Speedy crash through a skylight as GA shouts, "And so are we!" The amazing archers use Boomerang Arrows to round up the fleeing henchmen, but the boss threatens to explode a bomb if he is not allowed to escape with Anderson. GA defuses the bomb by sprinkling it with a "rain arrow", however, and the police arrive to finish off the job of rounding up the gang. "The next arrow you'll see will be pointing toward prison!" GA explains the code he figured out from the professor's "bequests"; the names of the objects-- Watch, Harmonica, Almanac, Letters, Elephant-- spell out "WHALE", which led him to the criminals' hideout on Whale Island.

Two of the stories in this issue have been reprinted. "The Super-Foes From Planet X!" appears in WORLD'S FINEST #161, 1966, an 80 Page Giant issue; I calculate that it should also appear in Volume 2 of the WORLD'S FINEST ARCHIVES, though I can't say for sure since I don't own that volume. "Five Clues to Danger!" appears, along with all the other Kirby-drawn GA stories, in the GREEN ARROW BY JACK KIRBY TPB collection published by DC in 2001.