Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest (November 2000)

Superman and Batman: World's Funnest

Dave Gibbons does the most art on World’s Funnest. It’s not exactly the standard Dave Gibbons art, either, it’s Dave Gibbons doing Silver Age and it’s awesome. What writer Evan Dorkin taps into with World’s Funnest is the experience of being a Batman and Superman fan in the late eighties and early nineties; it’s practically a companion piece for those Greatest [insert DC character here] Stories Ever Told. The hardcover ones with beautiful reprints of the old stories, which weren’t cool in any modern sense, but you had to do the work to appreciate them because you want to be a good fan. You want to understand. And Dorkin’s trip through the DC multiverse is all about understanding, both the multiverse and the way it presents to the reader. Even though the first eighteen or so pages are all set in the Silver Age, Dorkin’s observations about the tropes make it all very modern. It never feels wrong to the characters, but it’s rather self-aware, from injured villains to Robin’s constant need for approval; Dorkin could’ve stopped World’s Funnest with a Silver Age riff and done something awesome, but then he keeps going.

Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.
Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.

I didn’t know what to expect from World’s Funnest. I missed it when it first came out, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to open it to discover an impressive list of creators. Unfortunately, it’s an alphabetical list of creators. So I sorted them out in order of their contributions.

First up after Gibbons is Mike Allred, who also comes first alphabetically, so he’s a terrible example. Oh, wait, I probably need to at least acknowledge the premise of the comic, which I wasn’t familiar with either. Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battle across the DC multiverse and its various time periods and dimensions within universes. Dorkin doesn’t get into the science, which is both awesome and surprising. I can’t believe they got away with some of this stuff.

Allred handles the Phantom Zone, but an Earth–2 Phantom Zone? Like pre-Crisis Earth–2 Phantom Zone. Or maybe just a Silver Age Phantom Zone. Again, Dorkin’s not interested in the locations for narrative purposes, just for homage. It’s a violent, pseudo-cynical homage, but it’s never mean-spirited. World’s Funnest is enamored with the comics it comments on. With the possible exception of some nineties references.

Mxy isn't sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.
Mxy isn’t sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.

Then Sheldon Moldoff handles the actual Earth-Two visit, Stuart Immomen and Joe Giella on Earth-Three. Frank Cho’s got some lovely art for the Quality Comics universe. Jaime Hernandez does Captain Marvel’s universe, which is a hilarious visit for the battling imps. Dorkin never directly contrasts the different universes, but lining them up and inspecting each does reveal a lot of amusing details. Scott Shaw gets Captain Carrot, Stephen DeStefano does some fumetti, then Jim Woodring gets to do the trip to the Fifth Dimension.

Now, it’s hard to imagine not being familiar with Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite as a DC Comics reader, but it gets more possible with each passing year and each rebranding and each reboot. Dorkin approaches the story with just the right mix of nostalgia and commentary; there isn’t time for introducing the various worlds though–which might actually make World’s Funnest a great primer for DC Comics history. There’s a familiarity curve to the comic book. A daunting one.

Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD'S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!
Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD’S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!

After Woodring, David Mazzucchelli does an amazing Jack Kirby trip to Apokolips. I didn’t think it was Mazzucchelli when I was reading it. I’m even more impressed now and I was rather impressed while reading it. Dorkin and Mazzucchelli match Kirby’s enthusiasm and outlandishness without letting it go absurd. Darkseid’s one of the best supporting players in the comic.

Jay Stephens does “Super Friends,” Glen Murakami and Bruce Timm do a storyboard for the animated series, then along comes Frank Miller to do a Dark Knight bit. It’s freaking amazing. And really good art from Frank too; I think the good art from Frank Miller in 2000 was what surprised me the most about it. Doug Mahnke and Norm Rapmund do the nineties flashback, which is the closest the comic gets towards being nasty about its reference points. Then Phil Jimenez does an awesome Crisis section, very Perez. Ty Templeton does a few pages of general universe transporting before the Alex Ross finale. It’s only a few pages, a few panels, but it’s awesome to see what a “Batman: The TV Show” Bat-Mite would’ve looked like (albeit in superior lighting to the show).

It's Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.
It’s Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.

And it’s funny. All of it’s really funny and really smart about how it’s being funny. Dorkin doesn’t have one joke not connect, even the handful I might not have fully appreciated. It’s a lovely tribute to a lot of comics and a lot of comic creators. I’m embarrassed not to have read it until now.

CREDITS

Last Imp Standing!; writer, Evan Dorkin; artists, Dave Gibbons, Mike Allred, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Cho, Jaime Hernandez, Scott Shaw, Stephen DeStefano, Jim Woodring, David Mazzucchelli, Jay Stephens, Frank Miller, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton and Alex Ross; pencillers, Stuart Immomen, Glen Murakami and Doug Mahnke; inkers, Joe Giella, Bruce Timm and Norm Rapmund; colorist, Chris Chuckry and Mazzucchelli; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

World’s Funnest (April 2016)

 worldsfunnestMr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite are arguably DC’s greatest creations. As respective foils to Superman and Batman they’re perfect critiques of the characters: Mxy the childish trickster-god to a godlike man, and Bat-Mite a child playing god with the man he worships…who is still a child inside, at least emotionally. They’re both insanely powerful and also stand-ins for any precocious young comics readers, trying to imagine the most impossible situations to challenge these men who can do virtually anything. Bat-Mite’s version of the routine underscores the irony with an ill-fitting fan costume – he’s the original comicon cosplayer. World’s Funnest collects Evan Dorkin’s one-shot of the same name from 2000 along with the imps’ first Golden Age appearances and several other quality stories, and it’s a nearly perfect greatest-hits showcase for these uniquely irreverent characters.

The titular story alone is worth the price of admission. With a stunning list of guest artists doing either parodies of their own style (Frank Miller re-creating The Dark Knight Returns) or perfect imitations of classic styles from DC history (David Mazzucchelli doing Jack Kirby’s New Gods), Evan Dorkin sends Mxyzptlk on an apocalyptic death hunt for Bat-Mite across the DC Universe, offhandedly obliterating continuities and timelines with all the slapstick ferocity of Milk and Cheese filtered through an Eltingville Club level of inside-joke comics geekery. Arguably the only flaw is how some of his best jokes rely on the reader’s familiarity with obscure DC references like Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew, but Dorkin goofs on so many other, better known targets like Superfriends and Kingdom Come that there’s something for everyone Like Eltingville Club, this is Dorkin spinning his fanboy self-hatred into comedy gold, subversively under the official DC banner – Batman and Superman are literally murdered within the first few pages, and then murdered several more times before the story is finished, as the Brian Bolland cover promises. It’s a breathtakingly hysterical, once-in-a-corporate-lifetime event that seems even more audacious sixteen years later.

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Note the early alternate spelling

This is followed up by the first appearances, with Siegel and Shuster’s “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” from 1944 and “Batman Meets Bat-Mite” from 1959, written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. These stories have been reprinted a lot over the years but are obviously essential to an official Bat-Mite and Mxy compendium. Joe Shuster’s original design for Mxy is the most adorable he ever looked, as if a 1920s newspaper comic strip character came to visit Superman’s (slightly) more realistically-rendered world. Bat-Mite skirts the uncanny valley a little closer, resembling a midget in a Batman costume rather than a child – which is technically correct, since as he points out, he’s not an elf but comes from a dimension where all men are his size. This explanation is preceded by one of the greatest panels in comic book history:

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HI!

Their debuts are followed by another oft-reprinted but essential landmark: Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s first crossover story together from a 1960 issue of World’s Finest with art by Batman luminary Dick Sprang, by which point Mxyzptlk was redesigned to be an uglier imp, something more akin to Coiley the Spring Sprite. The story by Jerry Coleman is an inconsequential spectacle, but established the dynamic between the two pests for every subsequent meetup: Bat-Mite as the annoying goody-two-shoes to the more malevolent Mxy. Sightings of either character were pretty scarce afterwards, as the collection’s next story is plucked from nearly 20 years later – an odd six page back-up story from a 1979 Detective Comics entitled Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure! In what’s basically just an excuse for some DC staff to put themselves in a comic, Bat-Mite poofs into the offices of, yes, DC Comics and cajoles the vintage 1979 nerds (not a one without glasses, several with sideburns) to put him in Detective Comics. Which is the comic you just read. Get it? While the joke fails to have a punchline, at least the art by Michael Golden features a disgustingly cute version of Bat-Mite. And to give credit writer Rob Rozakis, while his story fails to be funny it may be the first to realize the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking possibilities of Bat-Mite as a fifth dimensional imp, and by corollary Mr. Mxyzptlk.

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Michael Golden’s Bat-Mite is just too adorbs

DC wasn’t yet ready to full dive into post-modernism, however, as Bat-Mite’s sole appearance in the 80s was a one-page cameo in a 1983 anniversary issue of The Brave and the Bold. Just as in his prior outing, he demands recognition from the corporate overlords (this time breaking the fourth wall outright by addressing the reader) only to be erased by a giant pencil a la Duck Amuck. The art is by Stephen DeStefano, although it’s such early work in his career that his personal style isn’t yet recognizable – unlike the page he contributed 16 years later to Dorkin’s World’s Funnest. While not quite a hidden gem, the inclusion of this forgotten rarity is definitely the kind of bonus indicating the volume’s organizers relished their task. The next two stories are Mxyzptlk tales from the late 80s era of Superman, first with writer/artist John Byrne’s re-introduction of the character and then a later appearance by writers Roger Stern and Tom Peyer, with art by Paris Cullins. Byrne’s story is as exemplary of high quality mainstream superhero comics as anything else he was doing during the 80s, while Stern & Peyer pit a fun novelty matchup of Mxy against Lex Luthor for a change. Cullins, whose art I wasn’t previously familiar with, has a style similar to John Byrne’s only more unhinged – he gets some wild expressions into his human characters, while Mxyzptlk often looks like a demonic gremlin. In other words, cool stuff.

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The gloriously gross 80s: Paris Cullins’ Mxyzptlk

The second best comic in the collection after Dorkin’s is Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s post-Crisis reintroduction of Bat-Mite from 1992, Legend of the Dark Mite, which I cajoled Andrew into reading and reviewing here. Surprisingly, generously also included is Grant & O’Neill’s perennially unpopular follow-up from 1995, Mitefall (it’s great, but shops are still trying to get it out of their discount bins to this day) which continues the adventures of Bob Overdog and Bat-Mite in order to take the piss out of Knightfall storyline. Between this and Dorkin’s story, Bat-Mite really achieves his full potential as an avatar for writers seeking to mock DC from within. Sandwiched between these tales is a more sedate 1999 World’s Finest meeting of Bat-Mite and Mxy, which actually isn’t out of order thanks to an opening caption declaring it to take place “five years earlier” so the continuity commissars can’t complain. The Imp-Possible Dream has a humdrum plot but a surprisingly wry and snarky script by Karl Kesel – only Mxy could really get away with a Batman/Robin gay joke, right? Artist Peter Doherty’s versions of the imps kind of resemble Sylvester P. Smythe of Cracked magazine, while his human figures and faces are unfortunately stiff by comparison. Overall, it’s okay. Really, the book’s sole offensive inclusion is the concluding two-parter from 2008, Lil’ Leaguers, from the series Superman/Batman. In what Mxyzptlk admits to be a sales-generating gimmick (the most crass use of fourth wall breaking), superdeformed chibi versions of the DCU invade Batman and Superman’s world to run around being cuter, more marketable versions of them. Bat-Mite shows up for two pages at the conclusion to explain his collusion in the prank. It’s not a Mxy story, it’s not a Bat-Mite story and there’s a creepy lolicon vibe when lil’ Catwoman jumps on regular-size Batman. While not a bad comic – Rafael Albuquerque’s art is certainly appealing – it feels like unnecessary filler.

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Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s Legend of the Dark Mite: comics in the 90s assumed you’d read the classics

Born of the era in comics when superheroes excelled at flights of fancy, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s history is almost as long as Superman and Batman’s. In 1986, the year of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when superheroes were being put to bed, Alan Moore’s revelation of a malignant Mxy as Superman’s ultimate nemesis in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow spoke slyly to the genre’s sea change; that powerful forces once joyful and innocent were degenerating into something sinister. Bat-Mite has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, with media such as the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold employing him as a post-modern mouthpiece for multiple generations of Bat-fans, with the inspired casting of Paul Reubens. As superheroes are ultimately creatures of the comics medium no matter how many movies and cartoons are shoveled out for the illiterate masses, Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk are creatures representing the medium’s unlimited possibilities for pure anarchic imagination. The talents who contributed to this book are many of the greatest in the industry. World’s Funnest  both the Evan Dorkin story and now the expanded collection bearing the same name, is an absolute must-have.

CREDITS

World’s Funnest; writers, Evan Dorkin, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Bob Rozakis, Stephen DeStefano, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Tom Peyer, Alan Grant, Karl Kesel, Michael Green, Mike Johnson; artists, Mike Allred, Frank Cho, Stephen DeStefano, Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, Stuart Immonen, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Glen Murakami, Alex Ross, Scott Shaw, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton, Jim Woodring, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Michael Golden, John Byrne, Paris Cullins, Kevin O’Neill, Peter Doherty, Rafael Albuquerque; collection editor, Robin Wildman; publisher, DC Comics.

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics 1 (May 2015)

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1

What’s Grant Morrison doing with Ultra Comics, a Multiversity tie-in issue? Well, he’s giving Doug Mahnke a lot of great stuff to draw. If you ignore all of Morrison’s breaking the fourth wall (but not really–it’s not like it’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure”), the comic just gives Mahnke a chance to realize this quick superhero story in the apocalypse.

What’s caused the apocalypse? A Cthulhu-like monster. It might not come across as a big Alan Moore knock if Ultra–he’s the protagonist of Ultra Comics–if Ultra didn’t look like Miracleman. The issue has a credit to Siegel and Shuster and there’s a Shazam reference; but what isn’t clear is if Morrison likes Miracleman or not.

There’s lame stuff about the reader interacting and generating the life of the comic (and protagonist) and Internet whining. But it’s thoughtless.

Except the Mahnke art makes it all worthwhile.

CREDITS

Ultra Comics Lives!; writer, Grant Morrison; penciller, Doug Mahnke; inkers, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Keith Champagne and Jaime Mendoza; colorists, Gabe Eltaeb and David Baron; letterer, Steve Wands; editor, Rickey Purdin; publisher, DC Comics.

Green Lantern 3 (January 2012)

Green-Lantern_Full_3.jpg

Once again, Sinestro is the best thing about Green Lantern. Johns really ought to consider redoing the book with Sinestro as the lead and Hal Jordan as his flunky. Maybe because of the movie (and Ryan Reynolds playing the role), it’s hard to take Hal seriously. Maybe it’s just because Johns makes Hal out to be a complete moron.

Not sure if that development’s new DC Universe or whatever.

Johns has been so successful at making Sinestro a force through the narrative, the focus on him works. Hal’s just a tool. He’s the comic relief. Regardless of Johns’s intention, he’s made Lantern better for making the expected lead a toadstool.

There’s very nice art from Mahnke and company. Occasionally, the differences in inkers–they’re close, but not exact–become clear. But it’s never disjointing.

The issue’s third act is just a great time. Johns manages a predictable, but deft cliffhanger.

CREDITS

Sinestro, Part Three; writer, Geoff Johns; penciller, Doug Mahnke; inkers, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin and Tom Nguyen; colorist, David Baron; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Darren Shan and Brian Cunningham; publisher, DC Comics.

Green Lantern 2 (December 2011)

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Yuck to Johns’s pacing. This issue features Sinestro showing off to Hal Jordan how much of a bad Lantern Jordan’s always been.

It’s lots and lots of talking, which the occasional action sequence or something ring-related.

For the most part, Mahnke and the inkers do a fine job. There’s sci-fi action, there are monsters, there’s superhero disaster stuff. The art never bests what the artists do in the first few pages, when they show how pissy Jordan gets over Sinestro having the ring.

I think the issue takes place in about twenty-five minutes, which is about six times longer than it takes to read the comic. And Sinestro is so much stronger, as a character, than Hal Jordan. Does Johns always write him this way?

He’s turned Sinestro into the Dr. Doom of the DC Universe; “evil” or whatever, but right about how to fix the world.

CREDITS

Sinestro, Part Two; writer, Geoff Johns; penciller, Doug Mahnke; inkers, Christian Alamy and Keith Champagne; colorist, David Baron; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Darren Shan and Brian Cunningham; publisher, DC Comics.

Green Lantern 1 (November 2011)

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I thought Sinestro had a big silly head. Doug Mahnke gives him a big forehead, but no big head.

Not being a Green Lantern reader, this issue sort of confuses me. But what frustrates me is Geoff Johns. He can plot out the issue, get all the beats down, even write good dialogue half the time… but the other half is weak. It’s not bad dialogue, but it’s all declarative statements.

Johns needs to work on letting his characters listen.

I’m surprisingly impressed with the comic. Though the cover suggests Sinestro will play a big part, he takes a back burner to Hal adjusting on Earth without his ring. Johns knows how to split the comic between the two.

And even if it does read pretty fast, the plotting suggests some things have happened in the pages.

I’m not exactly an immediate Green Lantern supporter, but I’m suddenly rather hopeful.

CREDITS

Sinestro, Part One; writer, Geoff Johns; penciller, Doug Mahnke; inkers, Christian Alamy and Tom Nguyen; colorist, David Baron; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Darren Shan and Brian Cunningham; publisher, DC Comics.

Dark Horse Presents 29 (May 1989)

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I remember when Homicide started it was all right. It finishes here (I hope) and Arcudi’s dialogue is so laughably bad, I can’t believe I ever had a nice thing to say about it. While my inclination is to pause and mock it, I think I’ll move on.

Murphy’s back with another prose story with some brief illustration. He tries for potential fiction here, like Borges sometimes does. Murphy’s no Borges and the whole thing feels like some kid in high school wrote it. The art isn’t special, so I assume he knew someone at Dark Horse.

Bob the Alien is the best yet, with a constant stream of faux pas. They start minor, with Bob acclimating to living with a human girl, but then they just go crazy. Rice gets in some great lines.

The Duckman strip closing the issue is funny enough (though it can’t compare to Bob).

CREDITS

Homicide, Blood Storm; story by John Arcudi; art by Doug Mahnke; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Pressed for Time; story and art by Andrew Murphy. Bob the Alien, Bob, the alien, Moves In; story, art and lettering by Rich Rice. Duckman, The Mime Murders; story, art and lettering by Everett Peck. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 28 (March 1989)

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The Concrete story goes on forever. It has some of Chadwick’s better art in a while, but also some Liefeldian body mechanics. It’s metaphysical nonsense about the environment. These Concrete stories are best as time capsules–things haven’t gotten any better in the last twenty years.

Zone debuts this issue; Kraiger’s illustrating is fine. The story’s harmless and uninteresting. It seems like it’s going to follow in Concrete‘s footsteps in terms of passivity.

Hedden and McWeeney do a wordless Roachmill. Great art, mildly amusing story. The art’s what’s important here.

Gilbert and Beatty do a Mr. Monster story all about EC Comics and censorship. It’s incredibly well-intentioned but boring and poorly illustrated. The inks on these Mr. Monster stories are hideous.

Then there’s the Homicide. Arcudi… it’s… I don’t know where to start so it’s probably not worth talking about.

Oh, and lame Black Cross pages litter the issue.

CREDITS

Black Cross; story and art by Chris Warner. Concrete, Stay Tuned for Pearl Harbor; story and art by Paul Chadwick; lettering by Bill Spicer. Zone, Of a Feather; story, art and lettering by Michael Kraiger. Roachmill, The Terror of Canal St.; story, art and lettering by Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney. Mr. Monster, Inklings; story and art by Michael T. Gilbert and Terry Beatty; lettering by Ken Bruzenak. Homicide; story by John Arcudi; art by Doug Mahnke; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Edited by Randy Stradley.

Dark Horse Presents 27 (February 1989)

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Duranona wraps up The Race of Scorpions here and threatens a second series. The story’s mostly nonsensical, partially due to the lack of perspective but mostly because of the writing. The conclusion relies on the reader being able to identify a character from the first chapter when he’s drawn in miniature. At least it’s over for now.

Homicide has gone off the deep end into sci-fi here. Arcudi doesn’t seem to realize how ludicrous and absurd his stories are getting, which makes them painful. I think Mahnke’s big influence here, in terms of figures, is Jaime Hernandez. I keep seeing Speedy in one of the protagonists.

Thankfully, this issue features a wonderful comedic story from Hedden and McWeeney. They’ve got these lush inks and it looks a little like Mike Ploog. It’s a fantastic story, mixing horror and sci-fi and romance. Their entry puts the others to shame.

CREDITS

Race of Scorpions; story and art by Leopoldo Durañona; lettering by David Jackson. For Better or For Worse; story, art and lettering by Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney. Homicide, A Gift of Life; story by John Arcudi; art by Doug Mahnke; lettering by Pat Brosseau. Edited by Randy Stradley.

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