One of the great comic book traditions is the first meeting between two heroes. Are they immediate friends or antagonistic? What crisis brings them together? What sort of relationship do they have when they part? Moreover, how does this first meeting work when the heroes are Batman and Superman, icons of D.C. comics with very differing methods? All of this was handled very well in The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest.
Originally airing in 1996 as part of the Superman animated series, World's Finest brings D.C.'s biggest heroes together through their biggest villains. The Joker (Mark Hamill, easily my favorite voice for the Joker ever) is broke, so he travels to Metropolis and makes a proposition to Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown): "Pay me one billion dollars and I'll kill Superman." It helps that the Joker has stolen a dragon statue that's made entirely out of kryptonite.
But Batman (Kevin Conroy) isn't the world's greatest detective for nothing, and soon he's heading to Metropolis, using a robotics project between Wayne Enterprises and LexCorp as a cover. Superman (Tim Daly) isn't thrilled to have a "vigilante" operating in Metropolis; he's also not happy that Lois Lane (Dana Delany) is getting romantically involved with Bruce Wayne.
World's Finest works on many, many levels. First is the impeccable voice talent. It's hard to listen to these actors perform and picture anyone else in the roles, whether it's Tim Daly as the always-moral straight-laced hero, Kevin Conroy's charming Bruce Wayne and dark, gritty Batman, or Mark Hamill's sheer lunacy. Kudos also go out to Arlee Sorkin as Harley Quinn, the Joker's gleefully demented assistant. And Mercy Graves, Lex Luthor's right-hand woman, is voiced by Lisa Edelstein, currently best known as Dr. Lisa Cuddy on House.
Second is the action and pacing. It's not easy to have menaces that work for both a Olympic-level athlete and someone who's bulletproof and flies, but World's Finest is filled with powerful robots, plenty of henchmen (who apparently never learned to shoot), the Joker's unpredictable schemes, a huge aerial finale, and that ever-present threat of kryptonite.
Third is the story -- or, I should say, stories. World's Finest perfectly captures the various personalities involved. Superman and Batman are after the same ends (protecting the innocent, catching the bad guys) but distrust the methods of the other. On the opposite end, Lex Luthor wants to take down his greatest enemy while maintaining the appearance of upright businessman, while the Joker is out for fun and mayhem no matter what. World's Finest also includes a very original love triangle, leading to a surprising twist.
The dvd extras for World's Finest are very basic (a little behind-the-scenes commentary, a few drawing lessons, and a "game" that uses clips from the movie) and the animation can be, at times, a little clunky. Overall, though, World's Finest is a terrific superhero tale, giving viewers the latest meeting of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.
Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch