WORLDS’ FINEST #24 (Paul Levitz & Scott McDaniel) is preparing for some kind of send-off; I’m just not sure what kind it’s going to be. The issue proudly announces itself on the cover as the penultimate issue before we send Karen and Helena off to the place they come from – though with how DC stories work out lately I’m sure nothing is going to happen as promised.
The focus of this book is classic Batman/Superman drama, where we see just what our non-powered superhero can do. When you spend so long focusing most of the drama on two characters as a duo, a smart storytelling move is to split them up and give one of them circumstances where they would usually rely on the other to pull them out of whatever hot water they’ve fallen into.
I mention this as classic Batman/Superman because that’s what the original crossover comics we’re all about. Batman is considered a superhero not because of what he can do in a world where Superman exists, but because of how Superman existing never stops him from pushing his limits. That’s the approach that we see embodied by WORLDS’ FINEST. Kara and Helena are a team, and a lot of the actual suspense comes from situations where one needs to rely on the other but can’t.
This is less true of Karen, because she’s well, Power Girl. Huntress doesn’t embody the same kind of hero archetype that Batman does because of how quick she is to resort to violence, knowing that it’ll get results faster. WORLDS’ FINEST, even though it doesn’t feature them, offers a great look into the Superman/Batman dynamic, because it shows us how the same dynamic works when two similar heroes come together but operate differently.
Through much of WORLDS’ FINEST Karen is incredibly single-minded in her pursuit of a way home. For her, crime-fighting and evil-busting is more of a means to an end, as every villain she faces usually directly embodies some kind of aspect related to her travel back to Earth-2. Helena has taken a more holistic approach; Earth-1 has just as many people worth saving as Earth-2 and that means that she carries on her pursuit of injustice. Even in this issue, where the tension is focused on a situation Helena deals with, it’s not the situation that dictates that tension. What’s observed is how Helena deals with a ‘terrorist’ in an almost step by step fashion.
Helena’s dogged pursuit of the antagonist of this issue paints a picture of a not-quite Robin in an almost procedural format. We’re literally with her just about every step of the way – starting in the middle of the night in a dust up where she pulls one of Batman’s oldest tricks. The issue moves to a rapidly approaching dawn as Helena hustles to take care of something she’s written as seeing out of her depth. In an odd coincidence, this is happening at the same time DETECTIVE COMICS is trying to move Batman back to the streets of Gotham as a force who doesn’t always resort to violence to bring people in.
So we have the daughter of Batman from Earth-2 who’s biggest takeaway from being a Robin is the most immediate way to get results being violence; a sure notion that WORLDS’ FINEST has used her friendship with Karen to highlight. Karen herself in this issue is an almost silver-age Superman homage. Her portions take place in a cluttered laboratory where she helps a group of scientists build a way home. While Karen spends her time helping the progress of science march on, Helena is out trying to stop a man using a dirty bomb – effectively weaponizing scientific theories, from destroying a large section of a city.
I wish WORLDS’ FINEST #24 would’ve done more to put Helena in actual danger. There’s a part midway through this book where she has to leave one woman with a bullet wound to lay without help while she pursues the villain. If you’ve read EARTH-2 you know that their world was sacrificed by its heroes because in many cases, they weren’t willing to make their own sacrifices. Helena never attempts to find a third way out of the situation she’s partially responsible for.
It makes you wonder if, in her time on this Earth, has she really learned anything? That’s an important question to ask because so far the problems with WORLDS’ FINEST are things that plague a series, not individual issues. Inconsistent character depictions, low stakes, dropped plot threads. Why tease Desaad again last issue, only to drop the matter entirely? Even as a manipulator he seemed to have a role in the story, but now I guess we’re supposed to forget for a few issues.
In a few months, WORLDS’ FINEST will no longer about the misadventures of Karen Starr and Helena Wayne; Grayson prepares to bring the Earth-1 version of Helena Bertenelli back into the fold.
Maybe it’s too soon, maybe the book needs it – I don’t know. WORLDS’ FINEST is continuing on with preparing what looks to be a decent send off of these characters for now, but the pacing of all of this can’t help but feel a little premature.
Maybe if it was more willing to juxtapose how Huntress was taught by Earth-2 Batman with how ‘our’ Batman operates this issue could have been more interesting. Until there’s a writer that makes that choice though, the best things about WORLDS’ FINEST this week are unintentional storytelling.