Wednesday, October 19, 2022

World's Funnest edited by some random DC functionary

It was someone's job to put together World's Funnest. Probably a pretty serious job, says the guy who used to assemble reprint books of prose fairly regularly - comics are even more complicated, since it's not just a batch of words that need to be flowed, but pages of art that have different aspect ratios over the years and exist in different file formats and levels of quality. Someone worked pretty hard on this, before it was published in 2016.

Comics used to have a serious credits problem, in that there were hardly any. Stories were about the characters, not the people who made the stories, so credits were left off most of the time for the first few decades. That changed, slowly. By the 1960s, Marvel pretended Stan Lee was in charge of everything, and whoever else he deigned to give a stupid nickname to got mentioned. That probably pushed DC and other competitors to do something similar.

So, these days, comics have lots of credits. Reprint collections even more so - to the point of being deeply silly.

World's Funnest has a page of small type for credits - it lists forty-six people, most of whom were the VP-level and higher corporate officers of DC in 2016.

Wait, I take it back. Comics still has a credits problem. And it's still the same one: credit goes to the company or the character or the "VP - Sales Planning & Trade Development" rather than to the people who actually made the thing.

This book was probably edited by Robin Wildman, listed as "Editor - Collected Edition." Maybe partially by Jeb Woodard, then "Group Editor - Collected Editions." Maybe the reason the cover says "by Evan Dorkin and Friends" is that Dorkin made the initial list of stories to be reprinted? Or kibitzed as Wildman and/or Woodard dug through the archives to find these?

Anyway, what we have here is the 2000 one-shot World's Funnest, written by Dorkin and drawn by Dave Gibbons for the early pages and then a cast of thousands for the rest of its 64-page epic, and then a selection of the first and/or best and/or most memorable stories featuring DC's lovable imps, Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyztplk. Except for that first story, everything is in strict chronological order, which means related stories are separated several times, and it also means we end with a story from 2008, later than the Dorkin piece.

I said someone assembled this, and that it was hard work. I didn't say I agreed with all of their artistic decisions.

I'll come back to the Dorkin story, since it's the point and capstone of the exercise. But after it we get what amounts to a potted, slapdash history of DC Comics, starting with the first appearances of both Mxyztplk (a 1944 Siegel-Shuster story with a nice lightness and sense of humor to it) and Bat-Mite (a snoozier 1959 piece from Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff, and Charles Paris, deep in the giant-props and dull-detective era of Batman).

Then comes the inevitable team-up, "Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Myxzptlk," from 1960, from which Dorkin cribbed a few ideas for his story. It is pleasant, but this is still the Wooden Era of DC.

We then jump two decades for two short Bat-Mite vignettes: the first is a pleasant bit of metafiction mostly memorable for showing how a bunch of DC folks looked in 1979 (big hair, mustaches, etc.) and the second is a single-page gag.

Then we get two Mxy stories from the John Byrne Superman reboot of the late '80s - first Byrne himself and Karl Kessel have Supes tangle with Mxy (for the first time!...once again) and then the Stern Peyer Cullins Janke law-firm brings back Mxy to let Lex Luthor have a crack at him. Both of these are mostly serious, with some humor, though the Luthor one is more dour.

And that drops us into the grim-and-gritty '90s, with two Alan Grant/Kevin O'Neil "Dark Mite" stories, which are mostly parodies of the real Batman comics of the time. Grant and O'Neil are always great, but these are really close to poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick.

In between those two, out of chronological order I guess entirely to separate them, is "The Imp-Possible Dream," the post-Crisis version of the "the Mite and the Mxy Meet!" story. Dorkin may have re-used some ideas from this story, too.

Last in the book is a two-parter from the New Earnest era, "L'il Leaguers," in which Mite and Myx port over Superman and Batman (and, eventually, a lot more) from a chibi version of Earth-1, and everyone has to learn The Meaning of Heroism. (Which is the point of roughly eight single issues every month, but nevermind.) It has really engaging art from Rafael Albuquerque, but the saccharine level is a bit high for my taste.

Finally, I'll get back to the opening story. Remember the fad for "this guy kills the <superhero company> universe" stories? It's one of those. Gibbons does his best Dick Sprang/Shelly Moldoff impression, to make it all look like a Silver Age comic, as Superman, Batman, and Robin capture the standard batch of '50s gangsters to start us all off, but then Mite & Mxy appear, start squabbling with each other, and things escalate. They kill the World's Finest folks, then the female versions, then the Super-Pets, then the Legion, and go on from there to depopulate and destroy first Earth-1 and then every other Earth Dorkin could remember existed at that point. (They get 2, S, X, the Zoo Crew one, and a few dozen others, including alternate futures and other imaginary stories - as always, Dorkin is thorough when he sets out to blow stuff up.)

Each universe is drawn by someone else, in many cases the creator or most famous artist: Frank Miller does three Dark Knight-y pages; Bruce Timm provides two pages of TV-show storyboards; Alex Ross paints three pages of gods getting slaughtered. Others involved are Mike Allred, Stephen DeStefano, Joe Giella, Jaime Hernandez, Stuart Immonen, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, David Mazzuccheli, Sheldon Moldoff hisownself, Glen Murakami, Norm Rapmund, Scott Shaw!, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton, and Jim Woodring.

It's a lot. Frankly, it's a bit too much: by the mid-point, it starts to feel like a box-checking exercise ("Look, Lou, we've still got twenty-seven universes to wreck by quitting time, so let's get going!"). Myx and Mite don't actually have great chemistry, since they're both one-note characters designed to stymie their superhero foes...and Dorkin got rid of those on the sixth story page. But Dorkin is the master of Ids on the rampage, so he gamefully keeps them going until they destroy everything - and then pulls out the requisite superhero-universe ending.

I did not enjoy this book quite as much as I'd hoped. Partially it's that a little of these guys goes a long way - and this book has 300 pages of comics, which is a really, really long way.  I also suspect a more focused collection - maybe just Golden/Silver age stuff, without the meta-commentary - would be more fun. But this book exists, and it's probably got as much or more Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite as anyone would want.

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