This was the oldest issue of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS that I got in among my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988. The title was another one that serious collectors didn’t much bother with for the most part, so back issues were both plentiful and relatively affordable. There were a few issues of WORLD’S FINEST in the box that I bought, as a result. This, as it turns out, was a moment where teh series was about to undergo a turning point. The “New Look” Batman was about to come in, and editor Jack Schiff was going to be pivoted to other titles. Mort Weisinger would be taking over WORLD’S FINEST with the next issue, bringing the contents more in line with the rest of his Supermanled titles.
The main story co-starring Superman and Batman in this issue was written by Dave Wood and illustrated by Jim Mooney. In those days, each editorial office largely kept a stable of talent that worked exclusively for them, and Wood (along with his brother Dick) was one of Jack Schiff’s go-to writers when he needed an assignment executed. Mooney had been in the business since the Golden Age, and made his mark on the Supergirl back-up feature running in ACTION COMICS at around this time–he freelanced for both Schiff and Mort Weisinger. It has to be said that crafting story after story in which the mortal Batman and Robin team up with the impervious Superman and yet somehow contribute meaningfully to the action and the story was hard. In this instance, however, Wood was able to square that circle by making the villain a member of Batman’s enemies list, but one whose shape-changing powers also made him effective against the Man of Steel; Clayface.
The story opens with Matt Hagen, Clayface, making his escape from Gotham prison. Earlier, he had buried a vial of the synthetic formula that gave him his shape-shifting powers in the prison yard, and here he digs it up and re-empowers himself, allowing him to escape with ease. The synthetic formula only works for five hours at a stretch, but that’s plenty of time for Hagen to use it to pick up his villainous career. Of course, it isn’t long before Batman and Robin are hot on is trail. But he’s able to elude them in their first encounter without really working up a sweat. And the Dynamic Duo have an appointment on the following day that is going to make pursuing Clayface impossible.
Because it’s Batman Day in Gotham City, and the entire city is turning out at Gotham Stadium to honor their beloved crime-fighter. Clayface, of course, can’t resist striking in the midst of this pageantry, and Batman and Robin are hampered by the crowds in their efforts to stop him. However, Superman is in attendance, a special surprise guest for the Gotham Guardians, and Clayface wasn’t expecting him. Undaunted, Clayface transforms himself into a duplicate of Superman, with all of the Man of Steel’s tremendous Kryptonian powers. Evenly matched, Superman attempts to get Clayface to change form again into something less formidable, but the criminal is one step ahead of him, and imperils the crowd in the stands, causing Superman to divert his course to rescue them, allowing Clayface to go free. Batman and Robin go after Clayface and stop his latest heist midstream by exposing him to Green Kryptonite, which weakens him just as it would the real Superman. but Clayface simply switches to another form and eludes Batman again.
A pause here for this excellent ad promoting the first Sgt. Rock Annual put together by ace letterer Ira Schnapp. While Rock was teh headline character, the assorted Annuals he hadlined actually featured stories from across the whole of DC’s “Big Five” war comics.
Back in the story, Clayface continues his crime spree over the next few days in the identity of Superman. Batman and Robin hang back, as Superman has told them he has a plan. He brings a chunk of Red Kryptonite to which he was once exposed and bathes Clayface in its radiations. The Red-K causes Clayface to go zany–which is a bad bounce for Batman, as Clayface uses his x-ray vision to peer beneath his cowl and learn his true identity, which he attempts to reveal. Fortunately, the synthetic serum that empowers Clayface wears off just then, and as a side-effect of the Red-K, Hagen has lost all memory of what he got up to while driven nutty by its influence. So Batman’s real name is still a safely-guarded secret.
Despite this already being 1964, editor Jack Schiff still wasn’t running a letters page in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, preferring instead to publish text features such as this one from this issue. They might occasionally have some relevance to one of the stories in the issue, but just as often they were just random facts of interest. It’s been said that absolutely nobody read these text features, and that’s probably true. This one is pretty dull stuff if you’re not part of a very select audience.
As a back-up strip, Schiff had been alternating between Green Arrow and Aquaman, both of whom had been hold-overs from ADVENTURE COMICS. This would wind up being the last solo Green Arrow story produced until the 1970s–the character would still be featured in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, and he’s occasionally be a guest star in places like BRAVE AND THE BOLD–but his time as a headliner, even a back-page one, was over for the moment. This story, like so many before it, was written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Lee Elias.
The story concerns Green Arrow and Speedy pursuing a gigantic ant-creature, the Gnorl. back through a mysterious fog and finding themselves in another world–a sargasso with people and items from periods scattered all throughout time that have come to be waylaid there. The people have gone to war over the twin fragments of a meteorite that fell from teh sky, and are also imperiled by the menacing Gnorl, which consumes energy. Green Arrow kills two birds with one stone by stealing teh two halves of the meteor and attaching them to a giant arrow which he fires at the Gnorl. The energies of the meteors overload the Gnorl, killing it (bloodlessly–it just kind of disintegrates in a burst of light) and bringing peace back to the land before returning to Star City. At a length of 10 pages, it’s an epic by Green Arrow standards.