by Robert Greenberger
Superman and Batman have been crossing paths almost since they debuted at the dawn of the DC Universe. As a result, they have battled their arch nemeses Lex Luthor and the Joker with startling regularity. By 1990, it would have to take something – or someone – special to get fans to sit up and pay attention.
Wisely, DC did just that by combining Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude for the Worlds’ Finest miniseries, which has withstood the test of time as one of the best loved team-ups of the Gotham Guardian and the Metropolis Marvel. At this time, Gibbons was best known for his work first on Green Lantern then, of course, Watchmen. But few knew he could also write so this got people curious while Rude had made a splash with Nexus. The Dude had been working on his co-creation for some time but rarely did work for a major publisher. He was coaxed by me into his DC debut with 1988’s Mister Miracle Special and this was his next big project for the company.
Long out of print, this story returns as an affordable trade collection and by all means you should be checking this out. Gibbons was one of the first to really explore the differences in approach between Superman and Batman, which didn’t seem necessary until both characters received the reboot treatment in 1986. But the combination of light and shadow was too appealing to leave unexplored and Gibbons does a nice job here. He creates a scenario that has the two swap cities for their case and exploring a Dark Knight in the city of tomorrow while the Man of Steel trolled the alleys of Gotham allowed for some fresh perspectives.
That concept of opposites is not only in the story and dialogue but it seeps into every panel of the artwork. Rude played with visual contrasts especially noteworthy on the three covers and accompanying retail poster that came out at the time. His sense of composition and design is just brilliant.
His Superman is a streamlined, modern day descendant of Joe Shuster’s lush line work with a fluidity not really captured since the Fleischer Bros. cartoons of the 1940s. His wink and smile are classic while the flying is powerful and graceful at the same time. His artistic influences beyond Shuster are clearly Alex Toth and Doug Wildey for design simplicity but at a glance, it’s easily recognizable as Rude. Gibbons made certain Rude would have a chance to draw his own version of iconic moments, including exchanges with Luthor and Batman.
Rude’s Caped Crusader owes just a hint of the earliest Bob Kane drawings, notably the cowl, and the figure is powerful and lithe, not the overly muscle-bound crimefighter seen in his own title at the time. There’s more David Mazzucchelli than Kelley Jones in the figure work.
His takes on the villains are just as iconic and just as menacing, pure fun to look at.
Making the clean work stay pristine is courtesy of inker Karl Kesel who is a perfect companion for Rude’s pencils.
But the purty artwork is all in service to Gibbons’ story, which doesn’t necessarily trod new ground but effectively explores why each hero works best in their hometown and how their diametrically opposed methods actually work well together when necessary.
The World’s Finest heroes against their deadliest foes, written and drawn by two of comics’ top talents? How could you pass this up?