Editor Mort Weisinger wound up inheriting the oversight on WORLD’S FINEST COMICS in the DC editorial shuffle that passed the flagging Batman titles into the hands of editor Julie Schwartz in the hopes that Julie could reverse their fortunes. One gets the sense that, while he was happy enough to have another series that regularly featured Superman back under his direct control, Weisinger didn’t really want WORLD’S FINEST, and so it always felt like a bit of an afterthought in his line of books. He did give it some attention in terms of making it a slicker package and using more of his recurring Superman mythos in its pages. But it clearly wasn’t a huge priority for him.
This issue showcases a rare instance where Mort threw out an already-completed cover in favor of an entirely new piece. Some of that is likely down to the change he wanted to make to the logo area, reducing the size of WORLD’S FINEST and incorporating both Batman and Superman’s individual logos into the space–a canny move given the Batmania that was popping up across the country. Uncharacteristically, he gives Batman top billing, due to the Caped Crusader’s extreme popularity at the moment. But I don’t know why he felt the need to redo the illustration itself. There doesn’t appear to be anything obvious wrong with it. Both pieces were penciled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein.
As you can see, Mort did use the discarded image as the symbolic splash page for the issue–which makes me wonder if the final cover hadn’t started life as the splash page and Mort decided at some point to switch them. The two-part adventure was written by Leo Dorfman and illustrated by the aforementioned Curt Swan and George Klein. It opens with Superman and Batman entertaining children at a Gotham City carnival. While there, they expose the fortune teller “Marvello” as con man “Cash” Carrigan and have him run out of town by the law. But he vows revenge, as all good criminals do. Looking for his next move, Carrigan stumbles across an old book that tells of an ancient astronomer whose ability to read the zodiac saved him countless times. Inspired, Carrigan adopts the alias of Doctor Zodiac, and intends to use his newfound knowledge of astrological signs in his future crimes.
Using an accomplice, Dr. Zodiac is able to get Batman to reveal the date of his birthday, thus allowing Zodiac to create an astrological chart for him that will predict when he will be unfortunate .So Dr. Zodiac stages a colorful crime on the appropriate day and time, making off with a collection of rare animals. Batman and Robin pursue him, but are thwarted in their pursuit by an opening drawbridge. So far, Dr. Zodiac seems to have the best of things.
Buoyed by his success, Dr. Zodiac next contrives to work out Superman’s birthdate and so be able to cast his chart as well. His accomplice dresses up in disguise and vamps Jimmy Olsen, claiming to be a Superman fan who wants to join his fan club. When asked Superman’s birthdate, Jimmy looks up what the Earth equivalent would have been, which turns out to be August 1st. Not Dr. Zodiac has all the information that he needs to pull off his next job.
Accordingly, Dr. Zodiac challenges the Man of Steel to stop his next crime, which turns out to be a heist of a gambling casino situated within a zeppelin, so as to get around Metropolis’s laws against gambling within the city limits. Superman shows up to try to prevent Dr. Zodiac’s escape after he gasses the crew and attempts to make off with the dirigible. But unfortunately for him, a falling space capsule ruptures the cable he was using to prevent its escape, right at the moment Dr. Zodiac predicted. When questioned, Superman indicates that he still doesn’t believe in astrology, but the evidence of Dr. Zodiac’s success would seem to prove him wrong.
Hyped up by his successes, Dr. Zodiac plans his next crime to baffle both Superman and Batman together–and his predictions indicate that if they attempt to stop him, they will die. Dr. Z is so confident in his abilities that he invites the entire underworld to come out and watch him finish off Superman and Batman. But that’s when the World’s Finest Team turn the tables. Of course, this whole thing has been a ridiculously elaborate plan on their part. They deliberately set up Zodiac to find that book and they allowed him to get away with his initial crimes, predicting that he would gather the rest of the underworld once he got sure of himself. Now that he has, Superman and Batman are able to effortlessly round them all up and turn them over to the police. It’s a pretty underwhelming ending to a thoroughly mediocre story–clearly WORLD’S FINEST wasn’t getting the best of Mort’s efforts.
By 1966, DC had begun to run its own half-page equivalent of the Mighty Marvel Checklist under the title of Direct Currents. So this issue contains information on a number of other upcoming releases. To be honest, I like this format far less than the Coming Super-Attractions that Mort had been using for many years–they were both a bit more visual and also did a better job of making the sale. The Direct currents checklist wasn’t wonderfully written–it didn’t have the spark that Stan Lee’s salesmanship voice did.
The Cape and Cowl Comments letters page was still favoring correspondence sent in from relatively young members of the audience, Mort hadn’t varied from that approach. It’s likely that some or all of this page was written by Mort’s assistant editor of the time, E. Nelson Bridwell. Either way, a formal “Editor” sign-off was used in all instances. Despite the era, DC still insisted on its formality.
By this point, the DC Annuals had shrunken down and become a regular series of 80 Page Giants. This issue includes a half-page Ira Schnapp House Ad for the latest LOIS LANE 80 Page Giant, which was themed around Lois’s romances with characters other than Superman. Frankly, you could have filled 800 pages with those types of stories, for all that she always came back to the Man of Tomorrow in the end.
Another sure sign that WORLD’S FINEST wasn’t a high priority for Mort was the fact that he’d begun to fill the back third of it with random reprint stories, under the cover title The Editors’ Round Table. This meant that there were a bunch of pages that he didn’t really have to worry about producing. But I don’t know that any kid picking up WORLD’S FINEST really wanted to read random one-off suspense thrillers from a decade before. The one in this issue comes from TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #5 and was written by Jack Miller and drawn by John Prentiss. it is utterly forgettable in every way, concerning an actor whose life begins to play out in parallel to that of the historical figure whose life he has been portraying.