During the Silver Age of Comics, there was a prevailing wisdom that it was the cover that sold the magazine, rather than any quality within the book itself. Comics were largely an impulse purchase on the part of numerous casual young readers, so coming up with a cover image that would grab their imagination and compel them to ask their parents for a dime and two pennies was critical. Accordingly, the approach developed where the cover images would be worked out first and then a story would be commissioned to match the exciting cover. This process was often pretty dodgy, especially at DC, where often the cover image was incorporated into some different story that the writer and editor wanted to tell. It made the whole thing seem like a massive bait-and-switch, because the most provocative cover images couldn’t genuinely happen in a story without completely overturning the premises the series was built on.
But this meant that many DC editors, including Julie Schwartz and SUPERMAN editor Mort Weisinger were always on the look-out for exciting cover ideas. This provided a new generation of creators with an entry point into the field, and a number of different future creators such as Dave Cockrum and Mike W Barr sent in their own cover sketch ideas that were purchased and used as the basis for actual stories. Such was the case with this cover concept, which was submitted by future writer Cary Bates. Bates was a college student at the time, but he was able to get a foothold into Mort Weisinger’s editorial office as a writer by pitching him cover ideas such as this one. Eventually, over time, Mort permitted Bates to actually write the story he had dreamed up, and Bates was on his way. But that wasn’t the case in this instance.
Bates had come up with the story premise for this issue of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS starring Superman and Batman, but Weisinger wasn’t ready to let the kid write the actual book. For that, he turned to one of his mainstay writers, Edmond Hamilton, a science fiction author with assorted credits under his belt. The slick artwork was produced by Curt Swan, then in his ascendance as the primary visualizer of the Man of Steel and his world, and inker Sheldon Moldoff, who often ghosted Batman stories for Bob Kane. The story opens with an evolutionary ray from the planet Krypton falling to Earth. Superman summons help from his friend Batman since the device is now composed of deadly kryptonite, having survived the explosion of Krypton. Amazingly, it’s still in perfect working order, and Batman impulsively decides to test it upon himself. He is instantly evolved into a super-intellect of 800,000 years in the future. To prevent Superman from interfering with him, he zaps his former friend with the reverse ray, which transforms the Metropolis Marvel into an intellectually-stunted caveman.
With his future intellect, Evolved Batman intends to take over the world, but Robin convinces the Caped Crusader to help stop Caveman Superman’s rampage in Metropolis. Batman convinces the Man of Steel that he’d be happier in the distant past, so Superman hurls himself through the time barrier and into the past. Batman figures that this is the last he’ll hear from Superman, but in the manner of a Bizarro, the Caveman-of-Steel realizes that he’s been tricked and flies back to the present to have it out with his duplicitous former friend. In the meantime, however, Batman has found the present world too backwards to even be worth taking over, and so instead he’s built himself a time machine to go forwards in time to an era where all men are like himself. Upon learning of this, Caveman Superman pursues him into the future.
There, the two heroes duel. But even with his superior intellect, batman is no match for Superman’s physical might, and so he finds himself dragged back into the dim past. As a last ditch effort to save his own life, Batman tells Superman that they can re-create the evolution machine and restore Superman to normal. Batman intends to devolve Superman completely with the device, not cure him, but his plans are foiled when Krypto, who had been searching for his master, arrives and blocks the beam, turning into a prehistoric dog. In attempting to avoid Krypto, Batman stumbles into the beam himself and is returned to his normal self. Now no longer cold and emotionally distant, he restores Superman as well, and the trio returns to their proper place in time, intending to destroy the machine so that it will cause them no further harm. So it’s a fun story, albeit one without any outside enemy apart from the World’s Finest Duo themselves.
Next up was the Cape and Cowl Comments letters page. By 1965 when this issue came out, the level of discourse in Weisinger’s letters pages had become a bit more sophisticated than it had been in the past, though they still tended to skew younger than most other editors’ similar pages. It’s not impossible, and even likely, that the editorial responses here were written not by Weisinger at all but rather his long-suffering assistant E. Nelson Bridwell.
In the great editorial shuffle that passed the Batman titles to editor Julie Schwartz, Weisinger had taken over the helm of WORLD’S FINEST reluctantly. In order to ease his burden a bit, he instituted a policy whereby the back third of every issue would be dedicated to a reprint of some earlier story, one that he wouldn’t need to create out of whole cloth. In this issue, it’s a Congorilla story from a five-year-old issue of ACTION COMICS. There’s nothing especially noteworthy about this story apart from the fact that it fit the page length and would allow Mort to coast a little bit. It was the work of Robert Bernstein and Howard Sherman.
A quick pause here for another fun Ira Schnapp house ad, this one a 2/3 page promo for an upcoming SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN 80 Page Giant themed around Jimmy’s greatest new scoops.
The Congorilla story is a ridiculous trifle in which Congo Bill accidentally switches his mind into Congorilla’s body during a live performance. The spell can’t be reversed for an hour, and during that time, Congo Bill’s human body runs wild, at the command of the gorilla mind inside it. What’s worse, some ivory thieves with a grudge against Cong Bill have picked this moment to try and kill him. So Congorilla must intercede to protect his human form and keep it alive long enough for him to be able to regain it. Seven pages ought to be long enough to do it. This isn’t a bad comic by any means, but when measured against the sorts of stories that Marvel was fielding by 1965, the whole thing comes across as incredibly juvenile.
2 thoughts on “WC: WORLD’S FINEST #151”
Being Smarter = Being More Evil is an old trope I have grown heartily tired of.
Smart guy, eh? 😁