This issue of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS was released after a recent editorial shake-up at DC, one which saw editor Julie schwartz taking over the Batman titles from Jack Schiff. The singular exception was WORLD’S FINEST, which instead was delivered into the hands of Superman editor Mort Weisinger. Which makes sense–Mort’s books were the top-sellers in the line, and Superman comprised one half of the lead feature in this series. Mort wasted no time in bringing the series into line with his other Superman books, reflecting the complex mythology he’d been shepherding for the character. Batman and Robin became almost something of an afterthought, at least for a while–though when the BATMAN television series hit the airwaves and was an enormous hit, Mort wasn’t at all opposed to taking advantage of the Caped crusader’s increased popularity.
Still, WORLD’S FINEST often seemed like an afterthought, an unimportant one at that, especially among comic book fans. By the time I got this issue in 1988, back issues of the series were in plentiful supply and hardly valued at all. It was an easy series to collect because nobody was all that interested in it. But there are reasons for that, the quality level on WORLD’S FINEST varied wildly. This issue was released during one of the title’s better period, but it wouldn’t last all that long. The most immediate step-up was in the realm of the artwork. Mort brought in his backbone penciler Curt Swan to handle WORLD’S FINEST, at least for a time. Swan’s appealing and almost effortless renditions of Superman and Batman were very appealing. On this particular issue, he was inked by Sheldon Moldoff, who had been working for DC for 25 years.
This story features Rokk and Sorban, a pair of intergalactic gamblers from the planet Ventura. I remembered them from a subsequent appearance when they bet on the second race between Superman and the Flash. The story begins with a friend of Batman’s having lost a small fortune in charity money at the newly-established Gambler’s Island. Leaving Robin behind (because as a minor, he’s not permitted on Gambler’s Island) Batman investigates the place and its amazing games of chance. But none of them are rigged as far as he can ascertain. While he’s there, Batman attempts to win back the lost charity money. But in his final game, he’s forced to accompany his hosts wherever they wish after a losing roll. The two owners are revealed to be Rokk and Sorban, who have encountered Superman before. And this whole affair has been a ploy to lure Superman back to Ventura in order to gamble with him. The atmosphere of Ventura is slowly poisonous to human beings, so superman will need to win his friend’s freedom in gambling competitions before he perishes.
A quick pause here to show of this advertisement for the release of the very first G.I.Joe action figures. The line was a huge success and pretty much created the category of action figures–prior to this, no boy would be caught dead playing with “a doll”.
I should probably mention that this story was written by Edmond Hamilton, a science fiction author who did a bunch of work for Weisinger on his different books. Accordingly, his script here is direct and to the point and, while not scientifically accurate, at least plausible in its nonsense. Anyway, heading into the second part, Batman is pretty much luggage from this point on, as Superman must engage in contests in order to beat Rokk and Sorban and secure the Masked Manhunter’s release. And Superman is forced to put his own liberty up as the stakes–if he fails, not only will Batman die but he’ll also be honor-bound to remain on Ventura. Rokk and Sorban turn Superman over to Lurala, a woman who gives the Man of Steel a guided tour of their society. Along the way, Rokk and Sorban induce a dream into Superman’s sleeping mind as a form of psychological warfare (and as a way of justifying the cover image, which is only a part of this dream–the sort of cheat that Mort and his fellow DC editors employed with annoying regularity)
Still, with the need to justify the cover image out of the way, the story is now ready to move into its conclusion. Rokk and Sorban propose a gamble about which player can cause a planet to fall into the Sun first–and the du chooses to use the Earth as their “marble”. Superman, meanwhile, selects a small asteroid–which I wouldn’t think would qualify as a planet, but if the Venturan gamblers accept it, I suppose I must as well. The asteroid is made of a super-magnetic ore–Superman created it earlier in the issue, in a plot point that Mort seems to have been afraid that readers would have overlooked, so he calls it out in a pair of editorial notes–one when the event happens and another when it comes back into play. Having won his wager, Superman and Batman leave Ventura, with the gamblers being good sports about their loss. The whole story is weirdly passive for all that the stakes involved are often massive. And poor Batman might as well have been Jimmy Olsen or Perry White for all the role he played in the back half of the plot. But Superman was Mort’s guy.
Also during this period, Mort began running a “surprise feature” as the back-up story in every issue. This feature, sometimes referred to as a “demand classic” or a selection from the “Editor’s Round Table” was actually a reprint, a cost- and labor-saving effort. I don’t know that WORLD’S FINEST COMICS’ sales were so poor that they had to resort to such measures–one rather gets the sense that taking on WORLD’S FINEST was seem by Mort as an imposition, and one that he didn’t want to spend all that much time on. This particular issue reprints a six year old Congorilla story by Robert Bernstein and Howard Sherman from the pages of ACTION COMICS.
A brief pause here to showcase another great house ad crafted by letterer Ira Schnapp. Dc had by 1965 ceased publishing Annuals and instead worked them into a recurring 80 Page Giant format that would first be released as stand-alone specials and later worked into the ongoing numbering of their host title. Picking up on the numbering of the Superman Annuals, this 80 Page Giant is the 11th collection of such classic tales, and is devoted to the Man of Steel’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor.
The Congorilla story is a potboiler in which Congo Bill is trapped in his gorilla form after he loses the mystic ring off his finger. He’s captured by Nell Saxon, who intends to use him as a sideshow attraction, not realizing that he’s actually got a human mind and soul. But a series of bad luck makes it seem as though Congorilla is stupid and untrainable. In the end, though, the Golden Gorilla is able to save Nell and the carnival and secure his freedom. And once he recovers his lost ring, he’s also able to reunite with his human body. It’s all done in seven pages, the kind of inoffensive entertainment that DC specialized in after the advent of the Comics Code abolished any overt excitement from the pages of the comics.
Finally, the issue closes out with a letter page. By 1965, Mort’s letters pages are a shade less juvenile-focused than they had been. There is some genuine feedback and criticism evident here, not simply requests for particular story scenarios and boo-boo spotting. It’s still aimed a bit more youthful than Julie Schwartz’s LPs, but the difference is no longer so marked.
7 thoughts on “WC: WORLD’S FINEST COMCS #150”
I had always thought Ventura was a Legion of Super-Heroes creation. I guess it’s just more of Weisinger’s world building then.
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G.I. Joe was known in the UK as Action Man and was, essentially, the same “doll”, but without the US military emphasis. Every time I saw the G.I. Joe ads in the few American comics I could lay my hands on in the late Sixties, I would show them to my parents in the hope of their getting me an Action Man. Eventually, I was successful and received one at Christmas 1969.
This isn’t up to Rokk and Sorban’s first appearance, but I do enjoy them as adversaries. A shame nobody brought them back in later eras.
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Just read the story and yeah, they’re extremely creepy, willing to destroy Earth purely for kicks.
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One correction: the 80 PAGE GIANT series began with #1, which was advertised as SUPERMAN ANNUAL #9. 80 PAGE GIANT #6 would have been #10, because the SUPERMAN and BATMAN “Annuals” were actually semi-annually issued. So this was 80 PAGE GIANT Magazine #11, but it also–quite coincidentally–would have been SUPERMAN ANNUAL #11. Nobody, I’m certain, planned it.
I’d guess that they had this issue’s cover first and Edmond Hamilton had to write a story around it.
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That was a typical approach at the time.