My father never showed any particular interest in religion, but my Mom came from a family that had strong Catholic traditions, and so she still went to church every Sunday, dragging me and my younger brother along with her. This would eventually lead to years of “Church class”, where our young minds would be indoctrinated after school one day a week in the wonders of God. None of this ever worked on me as anything more than an annoyance–i can clearly remember not being able to watch the second part of “The Unknown People” on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN one afternoon because I had to go to religious class.

The one upside to all of this is that, after church, my Mom would then usually go to this neighborhood candy store, to pick up the Sunday paper and whatever other knickknacks might be needed. And she would buy us something by way of bribery–I can remember a line of demolition derby cars of the SSP variety that got picked up over the course of a few weeks. But that candy store, at least for a while, had a comic book rack, and so many of my earliest books were bought there.

This issue of WORLD’S FINEST was the first. As with SUPERMAN #268, I think I chose it as a safe bet, as it featured the comfortable and familiar Superman and Batman, both of whom I knew from television and from that earlier comic.

The art by Dick Dillin is ably embellished by powerhouse inker Frank Giacoia. This is very much the “look” I came to associate with the DC comics of the period that I liked. Bob Haney’s story is typically absurd and overwrought, but nonetheless has a certain charm if you can get into his mindset. Haney never seemed all that comfortable writing about super heroes, and rather than putting them up against costumed villains, he would typically have them tackle some problem in the real world, albeit it plussed up. So here, Superman and Batman embark on a search for lost Nazi gold, along the way helped by El Monstro, a swamp creature in the mold of Man-Thing or the Heap (or, really, Theodore Sturgeon’s It, which is probably what Haney was thinking.)

There was a renewed interest in swamp creatures at this point in comics history, for reasons that remain vague. Maybe it’s as simple as the loosening of the restrictions of the Comics Code a few years earlier now permitted such horrors. So El Monstro tells batman his story: how he had been framed for the death of his father, and sentenced to imprisonment in Rogues’ Rock, a notorious prison. In attempting to escape, he was thrown into a polluted river and changed by the sea slime and jungle herbs into the horrifying El Monstro.

Oh, and El Monstro is actually a beautiful woman–which makes it a bit strange that they’d imprison her in Rogue’s Rock sharing a cell with another male prisoner. But that point gets overlooked. The story also ends in this pseudo-cliffhanger, the first I would encounter. I had no way of being sure that I would be able to find or buy the subsequent issue, so these continued stories were bothersome to me. This first one, though, is so low-key, I don’t know if I even realized that it WAS a cliffhanger. Again, at this point, I tended to not read the caption boxes, feeling that they were “boring.”

The issue also included an 8-page Metamorpho story, my first exposure to teh character. Unfortunately, it must not have made much of an impact, as I don’t really remember anything about it. It concerns Metamorpho trying to track down a mad bomber who is planting explosives in Simon Stagg’s various holdings. Turns out that the Element man himself is the mad bomber, having developed a split personality after an attempt by Stagg to cure him went awry. Metamorpho’s mentality is corrected–but then he needs to rescue Sapphire from the last bomb he planted, and which he no longer recalls the location of. It’s a lot of plot to cram into 8 pages, which may be why the characterization of this typically light, fun series is at a minimum.

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