Or – “One Of The Single Scariest Comics Books I Ever Read…”

Halloween!  The night where ghouls and goblins and Power Rangers and princesses wander the streets at random, in search of your chocolatey comestibles, and where grown women get to dress as trollops and call it a costume.  I do so love it…  In the spirit of the holiday, I have combed my back-issue collection for the first comic book that really scared me, a book that freaked me out when I read it, and still gives me that Vincent Price hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling today.  Ooooh, scary stuff, kids!  Blah!  Blah!

World’s Finest Comics #189
Script: Cary Bates
Pencils: Ross Andru
Inks: Mike Esposito
Publisher: DC Comics

Previously, on World’s Finest Comics:  Batman.  Superman.  And some punk kid in green panties…  These are the heroes from which legends are born.  Initially called World’s Best Comics, the book began as an old-school Golden Age anthology featuring DC Comics biggest guns before switching to a regular format featuring both heroes (and usually Robin) in team-ups in 1954, continuing on until the advent of Crisis on Infinite Earths before it’s cancellation.  Ironically, when the book was cancelled in the 80’s, a DC staffer was quoted as saying that the Dark Knight and the Man of Tomorrow didn’t work very well as a team.  Said staffer was reportedly in their late twenties, meaning that the team that didn’t work very well had been around for nearly twice their lifetime.  Bygones…   When I was a lad, I was too sophisticated (read: oblivious) to notice comics much, but in my early teens I found a fascination for the form that has stuck with me to the present day.  When I was 17 or so, additional disposable income allowed me to actually PURCHASE comics, and I sent away to a mail-order service for a random assortment of comics.  When the big box arrived in the mail, I busted it open to find all manner of oddities (Strange Sports Stories sticks with me) but the undisputed crown jewel of that impromptu collection was this issue, a story that began with an unbelievable sequence wherein an unconscious Superman crashes to Earth like a meteor!

With a speed that could only be found in a Bronze Age comic, word of  the Man of Steel’s demise spreads around the world, and millions lower their flags and shake their heads in disbelief.  Even his friends at the Daily Planet cannot believe that Superman is gone (although the story doesn’t touch on what happens in the following days, when Clark Kent is nowhere to be found, and is eventually declared a missing person.  It’s a chilling thought that only I would ever have, and one that makes the secret identity seem creepy as all hell in retrospect.)  But as the world tries to come to grips with their lost hero, Batman arrives with an envelope containing Superman’s last wishes:  He’s an organ donor.  Superman’s body is taken to a secret facility quickly, and his various parts are to be harvested and given to deserving individuals.  In a fit of what may be irony, Batman is chosen to house the heart of Superman!

Having given up his chance to have…  whatever you might get from Superman’s heart (invulnerability, perhaps?) Batman sets about putting the Man of Steel’s affars in order, preparing for the funeral of the greatest hero the world has ever known.  What follows is a panel that still, to this very day, gives me goosebumps and fills me with unexplained fear.

What horrible images might lie behind that pure black panel?  I know that *I* imagined what it might look like hundreds of times, even having the occasional sort-of-nightmare about disembodies hands and eyes floating in tanks of some sort of restorative gel or some such.  It’s truly creepy, let me tell you.  After the interment of the body, Lex Luthor arrives in the dead of night to visit his former friend’s grave, remarking that he feels cheated to never get his final revenge on Superman.  That’s when the alien arrives to gloat about killing Superman.  Motan the Ruthless is his name, and his plot is devilishly clever in it’s simplicity…

What’s really interesting to me, reading these old comics is how often the characters are drawn in a manner that would today be called “off-model.”  Superman’s S-shield changes height and shape (note panel two above) more often than Lady Gaga changes her self-image, and nearly as drastically.  Motan lets the beans spill about the harvested Kryptonian parts, causing Luthor to devise a secondary plan for his long-deferred vengeance.  While Batman and Robin are distracted from their mourning by the actions of the notorious Big Four Syndicate, a crime family who have united various other gangs into a nationwide band of thuggin’ and buggin’, Lex Luthor swoops in and steals Superman’s dissected pieces.  In his most villainous moment of all time, Lex sets about SELLING SUPERMAN’S BODY PARTS TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER!

Now that is TRULY a horrifyingly viillainous moment, folks.  The auction is a huge success, as a mysterious bidder ponies up millions of dollars to gather ALL the Superman parts for himself, before revealing the true source of his funding.  The leaders of the Big Four Syndicate want to up their game even more by getting super-powers for themselves…

This does beg the question of how and why Kryptonian body parts aren’t being rejected by their all-too-human immune systems, but we’ll forego that question in favor of another one:  What happened to the FIFTH removed super-organ, the super-strong heart of Kal-El?  Turns out that Luthor hasn’t been quite creepy enough in this issue…

Superman dead?  Four crooks imbued with his super-abilities?  Luthor in possession of his heart?  Can this be anything but an imaginary story?  The true horror of this issue doesn’t set in until the second or third reading, but once it’s there, you can’t look at this silly Bronze-age tale without thinking how monstrous it all is, and the blacked out panel that refuses to show us the truth of the situation makes it even more strange.  (I can’t find any documentation of it, but part of me believes that this panel wasn’t forced by the CCA, but was devised by the creators as a way to force readers to use their horrible little minds to make the story more visceral than any depiction of the harvested super-guts would ever be.)  This may be the first Retro Review to end on a cliffhanger note, but it was probably six years before I was able to track down a copy of World’s Finest #190 and read the second half of this story, so I’m just sharing the pain.  It’s a rare story that manages to transcend it’s goofiness, and use your own twisted mind against you, causing World’s Finest #189 to earn a macabre and super-creepy 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  What do you suppose happens next?  And should I Retro Review it?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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12 Comments

  1. Antonio Sanciolo
    November 1, 2010 at 12:10 am — Reply

    a) stuff!
    b) yes!

  2. Allen
    November 1, 2010 at 6:27 am — Reply

    I must know what happens.

  3. November 1, 2010 at 7:27 am — Reply

    When I was a kid World’s Finest was my favorite book. Why spend my allowance on a book that just featured one of my favorite heroes when I could get one that had three or four!

    Now I have to go into the vault to see if I have the precious #189 and #190 and see how this story ends!

  4. Slappy
    November 1, 2010 at 8:48 am — Reply

    Six Year Ckiffhanger?
    YOU BASTARD!!!

    Have a nice day.

  5. November 1, 2010 at 10:12 am — Reply

    Great review, I may have to drag out these issues now and re-read. Worlds Finest is a title I read in my HS and after years. Along with any Superman or Batman titles (B&B, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, S & B Family, and the core titles). Atom and Flash were on my reading list also.

  6. November 1, 2010 at 11:11 am — Reply

    A Lament for Superman…

    Where are the eyes with which you saw,
    through stone and steel without a flaw?
    Where are the eyes with which you saw?
    They’re in the head of a bold outlaw…
    They’re fighting Batman to a draw!
    And all on account of luthor!

    (Luthaw????)

  7. Doctor Sleepless
    November 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm — Reply

    Don’t leave us hanging man.

  8. Harry
    November 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm — Reply

    If I remember correctly, the bodies do reject the organs, leaving the men helpless in the middle of crime spree.

  9. arcee
    November 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm — Reply

    If this story were done by Millar (the way he writes All Star Batman) today – somebody would’ve gotten (or at least they would’ve mentioned what happened to) Superman’s…ahem…y’know.

    • arcee
      November 1, 2010 at 4:02 pm — Reply

      Correction that “Miller” as in Frank Miller but now that I think about it seeing Mark Millar’s Ultimates – I’ll include him too!!

  10. Luis Dantas
    November 1, 2010 at 10:22 pm — Reply

    Of course you should review it.

  11. Mokin
    November 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm — Reply

    Way back when I was still a little boy, they used to translate to French those World’s Finest comics, and that particular one had freaked me out no ends, as I could not imagine Superman dying.

    You, sir Matthew, reviewing such an important piece of my childhood (some might say “misspent childhood”…) is simply amazing.

    So, to answer your questions, sure. Go ahead and review the rest. Please. So I can cry some more, sitting at work, while coworkers go by, wondering who that dweeb is.

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