Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

World's Finest #323

World's Finest #323

Cover date: January 1986

"Afraid of the Dark"

Writer: Joey Cavalieri
Penciller: Jose Delbo
Inker: Alfredo Alcala

Cover: Denys Cowan and Dick Giordano

Reviewed by: Tom-EL

Click to enlarge

It is 9:00am in Metropolis, but it's totally dark in the city. Not the dark of night, but a black, inky darkness for which the light of torches and lanterns doesn't extend very far. Superman is out on patrol, and he senses that this darkness is not natural, but magic in origin. Even his telescopic vision will not penetrate this darkness with any distance. He is concerned that if this unnatural darkness continues, people will become fearful. Superman continues his patrol, on the lookout for vandals and hoodlums trying to take advantage of the darkness. He stops some thugs from preying on innocent people while he continues to search for the source of the pervading darkness. As soon as he rounds up one group of hoodlums and turns them over to authorities, he flies off in a direction that appears to be the heart of the darkness.

As he gets nearer to that point, he sees two small points of light, a moment later there are more pairs. Superman thinks "Maybe I've come TOO close..." as the pairs of lights turn into the glowing eyes of a pack of phantom-like wolves, but Superman can clearly feel their teeth tearing at his costume and cape. He knows he can't defend himself if they truly are magic. As Superman succumbs to the attacking wolves, the one responsible for the darkness comes into view. He calls himself "Nightwolf", and he's working for a mysterious person called Powerbroker.

Somewhere in Metropolis in a boardroom, the board of a corporation is in communication with a faceless person on a wall monitor. The members of the board around the table all have concerns about Powerbroker's choice of Nightwolf to achieve their goals. They are concerned that his continued darkness will put the world's ecosystem at risk of permanent damage. Powerbroker tells them to end their alarmist talk, telling them that Nightwolf is under the reins of the corporation, and it has the means to deal with him if the need arises.

At the Metropolis train station, a large number of people are trying to take the train to leave the city. A female spokesperson of the railway service assures the panicky crowd that the trains will run on time, and requests that they stay calm. She hears something down the track and moves closer to investigate. It turns out to be another phantom wolf, who moves to attack her. A second later, Batman swings by on the batrope, picking her up and out of the reach of the wolf. Batman throws one of his new smoke batarangs, and the wolf runs off. Batman tells her to stay above where she is needed, then he heads for the Batmobile.

From the Batmobile, Batman receives a call from Alfred. There was a telephone call to Bruce Wayne from a woman named Monica Zehringer, who once received an archaeological grant from Wayne. Alfred patches it through. She has information on who is causing the darkness that covers not only Metropolis, but also it turns out, Gotham City as well. Thinking she is speaking with Bruce Wayne, she informs him the man responsible for the darkness is doing it with Wayne's money. Monica lives in Metropolis, so Batman goes to her apartment, telling her Wayne sent him. She tells Batman that the man he wants once accompanied her on a Wayne-funded dig in Mexico. On his own, he took a belt they uncovered and went deep into the hills, where he met an old magician who told him about the belt's purpose. The belt has the power to bring the darkness of night and even command over the creatures of the night. She had dismissed the story of the belt as legend until now. Then she gave Batman a picture of the belt and the old shaman.

Nightwolf has now appeared to the public, showing them Superman lying on the ground with his phantom wolves holding him at bay. Nightwolf was about to give the wolves permission to destroy Superman, when he and the wolves sense the presence of another with them. Out of the darkness, a light glows until it finally reveals the old shaman. Nightwolf wants to know what he wants and why he's here. Sensing he's there to recover the belt, Nightwolf says "You can't have it, do you hear? I wield the power... I control it... and soon will control... EVERYTHING!" Nightwolf sends his wolves to attack, but as they are about to pounce on the old magician, he disappears. Nightwolf yells at his wolves "Track him down, he could be anywhere!" Right behind Nightwolf, the shaman re-appears and gives him a whack on the neck as he says "You got THAT right!" He grabs the belt from Nightwolf and the wolves vanish. A moment later the shaman is revealed to be Batman. He realized that even though the wolves were magical, their vision could be blinded with smoke, that he created from chemicals in his utility belt. Nightwolf's reign of darkness and chaos has finally ended.

A little while later, an unconscious Superman wakes up in the hay-filled stall of a stable. He remembers the smell of hay growing up in Smallville. He mentions that he spent a lot of good times living around places like this this, when a voice from the darkness says "You almost died in a place like this". It's Batman. Superman starts to thank him, when Batman cuts him off saying "Save it, I don't want to hear it!" He then proceeded to reprimand Superman for the way he handled this situation. "You wouldn't have to be thanking me if you'd handled the situation a little differently than you ALWAYS do! You're faster than a speeding bullet... SLOW DOWN... and use that super-brain once in awhile. The night, the shadows, those are my domain. The backstreets and back alleys... they're MY territory. Leave them to an expert". He ends the scolding by saying "I'll save your neck anytime, but I won't write your epitaph. Think about it!"

The final page shows Superman flying off in one direction, while Batman swings on the bat-rope going the opposite way. The story ends with these words:

"The bonds of a friendship are forged of the mightiest steel...

tempered in a flame that burns brighter than a thousand suns.

For half a century, no man, no war, no cause,

has ever shattered those bonds...

But this day, they have discovered a crack in the metal...

We can only hope... it is not beyond repair."

2Story - 2: Evidently, the crack in the metal was beyond repair, because this story was the last issue of World's Finest, and the Superman-Batman post-crisis relationship was never the same again. I quote from Sean Hogan's 3-part special report of World's Finest (I recommend reading it):

    "Since Superman continuity was re-started with The Man of Steel mini-series, and Batman became more of a reclusive loner following Frank Miller's redefining work in The Dark Knight Returns, stories have emphasized the contrast between the two. There is respect and friendship of a sort between them, but nowhere near the best pal's status that they enjoyed previously."

Fans of Superman and fans of Batman might debate whether or not Batman's criticism of Superman at the end was justified, I do not intend to address that here, although given how many times each had rescued or helped the other in World's Finest, it struck me as somewhat out of character. What I will say is that it has long been my belief that the ending of this story was intended to lay the groundwork for what the future of the relationship between the two would be in post-crisis continuity. I have no evidence of that, but I will continue to think it until somebody proves me wrong. At the end of this story, after Batman makes his "leave the backstreets and alleys to me" speech, he pretty well dissolves the partnership, one that had lasted for decades. Clearly, the ramifications of that were intended to go beyond just this story alone. To me, this is absolutely not how World's Finest should have ended. A book that ran for as many years as World's Finest did, with DC's two premier heroes, really should have had the kind of send off as was done for Superman in the "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" storyline in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583. Just as those two books brought the silver-age Superman era to a close, this book brought the silver-age Superman/Batman friendship to a close. Perhaps a story bringing back the Composite Superman, or maybe one final pre-crisis team-up of Luthor and the Joker. Again, I quote Sean Hogan "Together, Batman and Superman were icons of friendship and teamwork". For their final story, they deserved better.

Joey Cavalieri was a writer at DC for not only World's Finest, but also The Huntress, and The Flash. He also spent time at Marvel, including the Marvel 2099 series during the mid '90's. That may well be true, but to me, this story probably doesn't represent his best work. This is not a bad story premise and set-up, but there really wasn't that much depth to it. A mysterious darkness shows up. Superman investigates it, gets in trouble, Batman finds out who's behind it, saves Superman's bacon, and then lectures him. As a villain, I thought Nightwolf was not particularly engaging, and Powerbroker was even less so. This was the second appearance of Powerbroker and we never see any more of him after his brief appearance early in this story, nor do we ever find out who he really was. I am still confused about the wolves. They were magic enough to take down Superman, a man who can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel in his bare hands, but a smoke batarang is sufficient to distract them? I just think there's a disconnect there somewhere. This story, with a slightly different ending, might have worked better in an earlier issue of World's Finest, but this was just not the way to bring to a close the greatest working friendship in comic book history.

4Art - 4: To the best of my remembrance, this is the only story I remember reading with art by the team of Delbo, Alcala, and Hoolahan. Aside from this story I was unfamiliar with their art. I discovered that Jose Delbo has done work for DC on Wonder Woman, and for Marvel on the Transformers comic series. Alfredo Alcala has, according to one website, "worked for nearly every company from Marvel to DC to Dark Horse, etc., and has worked on characters as diverse as Conan, Man Thing, El Diablo, Star Wars, and Swamp Thing." Their art was, in my opinion, the bright spot of an otherwise lackluster story. The pencilling uses a lot more thin lines, rather than bolder ones to illustrate facial features, as well as shading, musculature form and movement, and the combination with the inking produced a style that worked very well for me. I may have to go back and see if I can find more of their story art collaberations. I wouldn't quite put it on the same level as Curt Swan's work, but I did like it a lot.

3Cover Art - 3: There are by my count, at least three different ways the artists wanted readers to know from the cover that this was the final issue of World's Finest. First, it says "Farewell Issue" in the upper left hand corner. Secondly, the orange setting sun says in big solid black letters "THE END". And third, the two characters are waving to each other, presumably waving goodbye since they seem to be going in opposite directions. Cowan and Giordano don't just tell you it's the last issue, they practically break a board over your head to get it across to you that there ain't gonna be any more issues of World's Finest. They did a nice job on Batman and Superman, but to me the rest of the cover is kind of bland, and it gives you absolutely no clue what the story is about. In this case, maybe that was a good thing.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




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