God bless Ian Brill. After looking after our house and cat (not necessarily in that order) while Kate and I were away in the UK on an unexpected and not entirely enjoyable trip, he left me with a welcome home present: WORLD'S FINEST #283 and 284 from the halcyon days of 1982, knowing that the only thing more helpful in killing any rose-tinted nostalgia for my childhood than a trip home to see family would be comics from when I was eight years old.
Don't get me wrong; I actually enjoyed these two books, but not really thanks to writer Cary Burkett or artist George Tuska. I mean, sure, good for them for bringing back the Composite Superman (the villain in these stories) in the first place, but there's absolutely nothing inventive, fun or even that interesting about what they do with him - Pretty much, he could be any powerful, generic supervillain considering what he actually ends up doing in the two-part story. He's not even visually impressive, which is all the more impressive considering the fact that his outfit is half-Superman, half-Batman, and he glows green, Tuska's worst sin no matter how many times he makes Superman look as if he is overweight with a receding hairline (Didn't they have any editors back then who'd point this out?). Even a guest-appearance by the Legion of Super-Heroes, which feels as if it really should be impressive - Superman has to go to the future to bring back an army of superheroes to kick the bad guy's ass! - is presented in such an underwhelming way that you have to wonder whether the creators cared about anything other than a paycheck when thinking this stuff up; it's literally "Oh, whatever we have to do to fill the pages" translated onto the page.
There's actually something kind of wonderful about how crap the whole thing is. I can imagine the 1982 version of Savage Critic complaining about how half-assed the stories are, complete with "It's Okay but just imagine what Len Wein could've done with the idea" or something similar. You get the feeling that these really were paycheck books done to meet deadline, which just isn't there in comics anymore; these days, even the crappy comics leave you with the feeling that someone really did think that their work was more than just a job at the time. Also gone in these days of sincerity and pretension is the other saving grace for the two-parter: The fact that the lack of ambition means that the genre template is followed to the very letter: The bad guy says things like "Fool! Your stupidity is as great as your size! Haven't you learned by now that nothing you do will hurt me?" while the heroes wisecrack and have each other's backs in between having no discernible personalities whatsoever. There is punching, sure, but no real damage to be seen, and it's old-fashioned ingenuity that saves the day via an out-of-nowhere deus ex machina... Pretty much everything that you want from a comic like this, which manages to be both comfortably familiar and depressing at the same time.
It's reading things like this - which is twenty-five years old, and now I feel old - that make you realize that comics have been pretty shitty for years, thanks very much (and say what you like about Jeph Loeb, but his stuff is much better than this. Well, except his Wolverine run). I'm not sure if that's the greatest moral to take from the whole experience, but it's the one I'm sticking with right now, at least.