World’s Finest Comics #242 (1976)

World’s Finest Comics #242 (December, 1976)
“Town of the Timeless Killers”
Story – Bob Haney
Pencils – Ernie Chua
Inks – John Calnan
Colors – Jerry Serpe
Cover Price: $0.30

Have you ever, when digging through a buck ‘n below bin, come across a relatively old book… which, for whatever reason, looks to be in better condition than a current release?  

Happens to me from time to time, and it never fails to give me pause.  It always feels like I’ve somehow come found a counterfeit copy, or a strange reprint… but, then you get to thinking, who would counterfeit just any issue?  Today we’re going to look at a book that came out over forty years ago, that I found recently found in a 75-cent bin… and has damn near the crispest cover in my collection.  What better way to celebrate such a find than by pressing the book open so I can take pictures of the panels?

Let’s hear it for DC putting jewelry ads (on thicker stock) in the middle of their books in the mid-70’s!

We open with Clark Kent… Jr. and Bruce Wayne… Jr. as they are off-roading in their ATV (that’s All-Terrain Vehicle, if you’re nasty… thanks Editor!), when Bruce sees a rock formation that looks like the eye of a needle… and so, he decides to “thread the needle” by driving through it.  Unfortunately for them, it was a pretty steep fall on the other side… and boy howdy do they land hard in the valley below.  Clark helps Bruce to his feet, and they realize they are in the ghost town known as Dry Gulch.  Well, that’s cool, Bruce “digs old western stuff”, so they investigate… starting with the town’s Boot Hill Cemetery, where the epitaphs on the headstones appear to be more contemporary than would be expected.  

As Clark actually picks up one of the headstones for a better look (which will be important later), the Super Sons are approached by a knife wielding lunatic dressed in period-proper attire.  The boys introduce themselves, thinking they’d perhaps just stumbled onto a movie set.  Not so, Super Chums… this is Kid Bowie, and he means business!  Bowie slashes Clark’s arm with his knife… which actually cuts him!  Young Clark feints at the first sight of his own blood, and so Bruce has to haul him away.  Kid Bowie yells at them that they won’t get away… but just stands there, rather than give chase.

As the boys flee, they run into a couple more characters.  First, Jack Slade… an old cowboy, who when Bruce tells him that they are unarmed… decides to throw him a firearm, after all, Jack Slade ain’t lookin’ for an un-fair fight.  Bruce continues to hoof it… and finds himself followed by a line of gunfire.  These are a result of “Lever” Monroe, who also wants to kill our Super Pals.  Bruce finally comes across an old water tower and places his powerless pal in it to attend to his wounds.

After nightfall, young Bruce decides to do some solo investigation.  He silently escapes the water tower… and slinks toward the town line.  Along the way, we see that the trio of killers are still in position.  What a persistent bunch, eh?  When Bruce arrives at the edge of town, he discovers that Dry Gulch exists… under a dome!

A bit later, Bruce returns to the water tower to check on his chum.  He reveals to Clark that after realizing they were under a dome, he did some checking at the towns old newspaper office.  In the records he learned that the force field appeared a century prior after something wacky happened at the lead mine.  The villagers were all slaughtered by the same bad hombres who tried to “off” our boys earlier on.  In the decades that followed, the world forgot that the town existed… and, here we are.  The dome has a preserving effect on the killers, leaving them the same (physical) age they were when they entered.

Bruce mentions that the strange wacky (and recent) epitaphs on the headstones were a result of the killers taking out anyone who happened to wander by.  Like any true psychopath, “Lever” Monroe actually chronicled all the killings as well.  The fellas consider their next course of action… and decide to compare stories of how their fathers might handle a similar situation.  Clark Jr. recalls a time where Superman ended a hostage crisis by melting the captor’s pistol… too bad your powers are gone for the moment, kid.  Bruce Jr. thinks of when Batman “accidentally” knocked a sniper off the roof of a building.

Before the comparison of how their pops would have handled this becomes an argument, the lads are interrupted by the sound of a woman yelling… it would appear that the town has yet another passerby.  Bruce directs her to the safety of the water tower.  She confirms that she is in the same situation as the fellas and introduces herself as Susie Wells.

The next morning the boys decide to put their plan into action.  I hear you asking, “hey, what plan?”.  Well, we’re about to find out.  First Bruce, in full Bat-Regalia, challenges Kid Bowie to a knife fight.  Now, Bowie is clearly the better, er… knifesman?  knivesman?  Knife-Man?  Shanker?  I dunno, he’s more adept at wielding a knife.  He would have sliced young Bruce to ribbons, if not for the fact that he was wearing a miner’s blasting vest underneath his costume!  Well, that’s mighty convenient!  Bowie hurts his hand attempting to slice ‘n dice our man, leaving himself wide open to a judo throw!

Next up, Clark Jr. in his Super-suit, appears before Jack Slade and dares him to take his best shot… and he does!  Turns out, however, that Slade was actually blasting on Super– hey, what do we call Clark Jr. (or Bruce Jr.) in costume?  They’re not Batboy and Superboy, are they?  Either way, Slade was blasting at Clark Jr.’s reflection!

He’s shocked to find Supes (as young Bruce refers to him) standing behind him.  Clark fires a few shots into the air… which is actually against the law in some Southwestern states, just sayin’… and Slade faints.

The last baddie they gotta take out is that “rifle freak” Lever Whatshisface.  Bruce dodges the rifle fire as he takes refuge in the saloon.  He spots a deck of cards and has himself an idea.  He emerges from the bar holding all thirteen spade-suited cards, and offers Lever a proposition.  If he can shoot out each spade, the Super Sons will surrender… if he can’t, he’s gotta let them go.

Well, if Lever’s nothing else he’s an idi– er, gambler, so he agrees to the terms.  He proceeds to shoot each and every spade… and, ya know, emptying his rifle in the process.  Young Bruce takes full advantage of this by walloping the baddie with a swinging kick.  Where he’s swinging from, I haven’t the foggiest… but it gets the job done.

Bruce and Clark reconvene, and celebrate their apparent victory.  They note that Susie is nowhere to be seen… and then notice two new graves have been readied on the Boot Hill… for Clark Kent Jr. and Bruce Wayne Jr.  In an amazing shock (if you ignored the cover of the issue, of course) it turns out that “Susie” is actually Belle DuBois, the Bullwhip Queen… and the three bozos the boys just dropped were just her sidekicks!

Well, today isn’t going to be Belle’s day.  Her bullwhip catches Clark by the wrist, however… it would appear that his superpowers have returned!  He yanks her forward, sending her flying into a tree… where I have to assume she was fatally impaled on a branch.  Now, how in the world did Supes’ powers return?  Did the dome dissipate?  Was he faking it all along?  Was the water in the tower full of helpful radiation?  Well, no… his powers returned because… sigh… remember earlier when he was able to lift that tombstone without any trouble?  I toldja that was going to be important… and here’s how.  That was the grave of one Mr. Hawkins, Dry Gulch’s wealthiest citizen.  So eccentric wealthy was he that he actually imported soil from his birthplace to be used for his grave.  Standing on that imported soil made all the difference!

Next, using that grave as a springboard, Clark launches Bruce and a wagon-full of dead people out of the dome.  I don’t wanna think of the Super Sons actually digging up graves… but whattayagonnado?  For safety’s sake, Clark then fills the valley in with boulders… this way, no one else will ever wander across it… and, ya gotta figure, this bit didn’t go all that well for Lever, Bowie, Belle and Slade.  The issue ends with the lads showing a nearby Sheriff what they had found in Dry Gulch.

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time that this sort of book was published… unironically.  I mean, it’s so unabashedly “comic booky” that it’s difficult for a jaded post-Crisis to 21st Century fan like me to consider.  It’s written in earnest, and isn’t trying to make any sort of commentary about how silly comic books tend to be… it’s just a fun adventure, and that’s why it’s so great.

It is sometimes a challenge for me to take off my “contemporary” comics hat and just enjoy something.  Today a book like this would simply be a writer showing us how dumb and silly comics used to be… ya know, back when they were more fun, had a far larger readership and were more affordable.  Ahem.

With that bit of pith out of the way, let’s discuss the story.  Here we’ve got Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. riding their ATV across the American Southwest.  Why?  That doesn’t matter… it facilitates the story, so it’ll do.  As a former “urban-explorer” myself, this kind of thing speaks to me… I can remember times me and my friends would trek through the woods, and happen upon a strange clearing… or an abandoned shed, or a backpack… it was always so exciting and even a bit terrifying depending on the situation.

I love the idea of young Bruce and Clark finding themselves in a Ghost Town… and just kinda exploring it.  If I had a single complaint it would be that we didn’t get enough of them just checking things out before the baddies appeared.  Build a little bit of suspense before letting that other shoe drop.

The situation with the dome/force field… was fine.  It allowed for Clark and Bruce to have to outsmart their pursuers rather than depend on the Teen of Steel’s super-powers.  Even if the ways in which they “outsmarted” the bad guys was a bit wonky.  I mean, Batboy found a blast vest… that’s pretty much “problem solved”, right?

Superteen and the mirror… well, ya gotta wonder how long that took to set up.  I’m assuming they swiped the mirror from the Saloon or something… and as far as we can tell Slade has been standing in the same spot for the entire night… so how could he have missed Clark dragging a 10′ x 6′ sheet of reflective glass into the road?  Hell, couldn’t they have just used the mirror to blind the baddie?  Overthinking it, thy name is Me.

Now, I often get on the case of contemporary comics for spoiling things on the cover… and it’s only fair I do the same thing here.  I mean, Belle DuBois doesn’t reveal herself until what, the third-to-last page?  Seems kinda silly to put that on the cover, doesn’t it?  As soon as “Susie Wells” shows up, ya gotta figure a lotta folks’ “antennas” perked up.

Now can’t cover a book like this without mentioning the man himself, Bob Haney.  Ho-lee cow, I just adore his “hip language”.  So much fun, and (at least for me) adds a whole ‘nother layer of joy to reading something of this vintage.  The art here is great as well, Ernie Chua does a great job of making Bruce and Clark appear to be not as young as boys, while at the same time not so grown to be adults.  It’s really a perfect late adolescent look for the pair… even when in costume/under the cowl.  It would be cool if they didn’t have the same costumes as their Superdads, though to be fair, Clark Jr.’s cape does appear to be shorter than Superman’s.

Overall, the Super Sons are a ton of fun.  This issue appears as part of the Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons trade paperback collection, which is also available digitally.  It’s well worth checking out.

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