Robot 6

Women of Action | Huntress/Power Girl: Worlds’ Finest

I debated about whether to include the current Worlds’ Finest as part of this project. According to the rules I set up for myself, I was only going to cover comics that were named after their female leads. I decided that because Birds of Prey was an all-female team, that would qualify, but for a lot of fans, Worlds’ Finest conjures images of Batman and Superman, not Huntress and Power Girl. Then I looked at the book’s actual logo. Although the official name of the comic is Worlds’ Finest, you can’t tell that by looking at the cover. It looks the way I’ve written it in the title of this post: Huntress/Power Girl: Worlds’ Finest. That qualifies, as far as I’m concerned.

But is it any good?

Worlds’ Finest corrects the biggest problem I had with its predecessor Huntress, also written by Paul Levitz. That miniseries had some fun stuff in it, but my complaint was that it wasn’t really about anything other than Stop That Generic Villain. The Huntress could have been switched out for any other hero without changing the story in a meaningful way. In Worlds’ Finest, Levitz makes the comic about his two heroes. As much as being about fighting bad guys, this is the story of Huntress and Power Girl’s friendship and their attempt to adjust to the new world they’ve landed in. That’s a huge improvement.

As a reflection of that, there’s a lot of banter between the two women. Unfortunately, it’s not up to the standard for that kind of thing set by Gail Simone on Birds of Prey. I’m tempted to let Levitz off the hook for not being able to perfectly replicate what worked about Black Canary and Oracle, but I don’t know if I should. As much as I realize it’s not completely fair, it’s also impossible to read Huntress and Power Girl’s quipping without comparing it to the easy relationship in Simone’s series. Black Canary and Oracle felt like real friends and their conversations felt like a natural part of their relationship. Huntress and Power Girl call each other “BFF” and say things like, “You go, girl.” I appreciate the effort, but even without the Birds of Prey comparison, their dialogue doesn’t feel real.

Something else I like about the series is another one of its biggest weaknesses. Because of what the series is about, Levitz needs to do two things with it and God bless him, he’s trying to balance opposing goals. At its core, the story of Worlds’ Finest is about two women who’ve been torn from their world and tossed into another that’s similar to theirs, but just different enough to be confusing. It would be a shame to gloss over that to get to the fighting. On the other hand, it’s a superhero comic. There needs to be a certain amount of the women in costume battling a supervillain.

There’s a way of balancing those two things, but Levitz doesn’t pull it off. He’s essentially telling two different stories in the same series. There’s the current-day story of the costumed heroes fighting a radioactive baddie who ultimately turns into a giant, Tokyo-stomping monster. Cut into that are extended flashbacks to the women’s early days on this Earth as they set themselves up financially and begin the process of becoming superheroes in their new home. I admire the ambition of doing the series this way, especially by having each time period drawn by a different artist. George Perez draws the modern scenes, while Kevin Maguire does the flashbacks. The problem is that – four issues in (five, if you count #0) – neither story is very satisfying.

The flashbacks are the more fulfilling of the two. That’s where the real character work is happening as the women acclimate to their new surroundings. The problem is that there’s not a lot of plot going on there; just scenes of them getting set up. The current-day stuff, on the other hand, is mostly plot – including the heroes asking some provocative questions about their new world – but it doesn’t pay off. The villain is defeated at the end of Issue 4 (just in time for the zero issue), but none of their questions are answered. I don’t expect everything to be wrapped up by the end of the fourth issue, but I do expect the heroes to have a lead by then; something to investigate and keep the story moving.

Without that observable movement in the plot, it looks like the series could continue indefinitely with no real answers and that’s discouraging. There’s nothing wrong with splitting the issues into two stories for each time period, but the Year One stuff needs more plot and the Year Five stuff needs more promise that this is all leading somewhere. Fix those things and Worlds’ Finest has the potential to be something really special.

Panels rearranged from the original page to isolate a particular sequence, but the reading order is unchanged

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Maybe the problem is that the flashback portions don’t really jibe with the main story being told. I never felt like there was a particular “theme” that cued why the story flashed back to a particular moment. Consider any episode of LOST: each episode revolved around a character, and that person’s conflicts in the present tended to mirror something from their past. So the cutaways to the flashback broke up what was happening in the present, but in a specific way to amplify the part of the story in the present.

WF #1-4 almost felt like two books that were sliced up and reassembled together, like a deck of cards mixed with a sandwich. The sandwich parts made sense, and so did the cards, but they didn’t meld together into anything useful. Maybe if the present day had been issues 1-2 and the flashbacks had been 3-4?

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