Overview: In Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #20, Batman and Superman travel to a parallel earth in search of Boy Thunder, Superman’s former sidekick.
Title: Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #20
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Dan Mora
Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Letters: Steve Wands
Main Cover: Dan Mora
Variant Covers: Bjorn Barends, David Nakayama, Daniel Sampere & Alejandro Sanchez
Release Date: October 17, 2023
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #20 opens on The Flash (Barry Allen) as he traverses the multiverse. As Barry speeds by, readers are treated to an absolutely stunning opener, each page filled with a pastiche of references to alternate worlds and timelines hardcore DC fans will surely recognize. With Dan Mora back on pencils and Tamra Bonvillain on colors, stunning is a bit of an understatement. The colors, paneling, and layouts are phenomenal, and it draws readers in right away as The Flash notes how he loves exploring the multiverse. To his fellow Justice Leaguers, he tells them that he’s mapping out potential threats or allies, but in reality, Barry finds it fun.
There are several pages worth of references and nods to multiverses. Particularly noteworthy was a nod to the vampiric Batman from Batman: Red Rain, Bloodstorm, and Crimson Mist in a very appropriate cameo for the month of October. (For readers who haven’t read the Batman & Dracula trilogy, it’s well worth your time.)
Suddenly, Barry sees a large horned creature towering before a diminutive figure, and readers of Batman/Superman: World’s Finest will recognize this image as Magog and Boy Thunder from a couple of arcs back.
Back in Gotham City, Batman (Bruce Wayne), Superman (Clark Kent), and Robin (Dick Grayson are about to duke it out with Villainy Inc. Suddenly, The Flash arrives and puts all of the villains behind bars. He’s got good news and bad news for Superman, laying it all on the table that he’s found Boy Thunder, but something is terribly wrong.
What follows is a brief flashback to the ending of Batman/Superman: World’s Finest #11, wherein Boy Thunder is blasted across the multiverse in a rocketship of his parents’ making, away from Superman, his mentor.
At the Batcave, The Flash shows Batman and Superman a modified cosmic treadmill, which should allow them to travel to Earth-22. He warns them that they could also easily get lost. Superman and Batman take the chance anyway, and take a trip around the multiverse.
The two heroes arrive on another world, but they haven’t fully synced with it yet. Their vibrational frequencies are off, meaning they’re more like spectral ghosts who can see but not interact with the world around them. The two spot a much older Boy Thunder, an old man at this point. He’s with Superman, and they are standing over three coffins with the corpses of fallen Justice League members.
As Superman mourns the loss of parallel counterparts, Batman looks around. What he sees shocks him, and he calls for Clark’s attention. They’re standing in a cemetery full of dead superheroes. It’s an awe-worthy sequence, one that leads to a two-page spread with rows and rows of headstones. Dozens of names are visible, both familiar and lesser-known. Bonvillain colors in some falling leaves that obscures a few of the headstones, painting the background landscape with the colors of fall. It really is a jaw-dropping moment, one that leads to a few close-up panels of a haunted Batman grabbing the headstone of Red Robin.
Suddenly, the two heroes are surrounded by ghosts of Red Robin, an elderly Joker, and others. Just as fast as that panel appears, they’re on top of the Daily Planet, though this time they’re no longer ghostly figures.
Superman spots his Earth-22 counterpart flying by, and the two heroes note that they’re still in the right place, just a few years backward in time. When Superman decides he’s going to meet his other self, Batman holds Clark back. Bruce believes that they should lie low and get a lay of the land.
Bruce and Clark switch into plain clothes and check out a restaurant owned by Earth-22’s Booster Gold. In their own timeline, Booster Gold isn’t a hero yet, so it’s a name they don’t recognize. At Planet Krypton, the name of the restaurant, they marvel at the trophies and hubris of this Gold character.
The two share a meal together, and they talk about strategy. Supposing Superman is able to save Boy Thunder and bring him back to their world, Bruce points out that Clark Kent can’t adopt David. Bruce is rich and can provide a stable home. Clark lives in a small apartment, is rarely home, and doesn’t make much as a reporter. Child protective services would be watching Clark “like a hawk.” When Bruce talks about how Earth-22’s Superman could probably take David in, Clark pushes back, noting that a Superman that lets so many die isn’t the same as himself.
As the two continue to talk, Clark uses his x-ray vision to spy through a Justice League casebook that’s on display in the restaurant. He tells Bruce that he read a few bios and notes that on Earth-22, they’ve never heard of the multiverse. Here, there is no knowledge of parallel worlds, which is a surprise to the both of them.
Just then, downtown Metropolis erupts into a battle between Thunderman and Atom-Master. Clark and Bruce change back into their costumes and join the fray, breaking up the battle. As the two help Boy Thunder, who now goes by Thunderman, stop Atom-Master, he returns the favor by starting to melt her face. It’s a horrific display, one that Superman stops.
Thunderman pauses, then realizes that the Superman he’s encountered is younger than the one from Earth-22. Clark tells David that he’s missed him, and at first Thunderman seems eager to embrace, but then he grabs Superman by the throat.
The final gruesome panel is Thunderman holding Superman aloft, electrocuting Clark and preparing to deliver a final blow. Concrete from the street floats around them, and Batman looks on in horror. It’s a dark end that hearkens back to when Bruce and Clark first arrived on Earth-22, one that breaks through the beautiful, bright colors and cheery disposition that is interwoven throughout much of Batman/Superman: World’s Finest.
For many who have read Kingdom Come, the classic series by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, the fate of this world, and the reason behind the cemetery scene, is known. However, Batman and Superman are brought back early enough in the timeline to where the next few issues of this arc will feel fresh and unknown. One wonders if perhaps this is a divergent world from Earth-22, if perhaps they were sent to the wrong world or if The Flash was wrong. The reason I bring this up is because, at one point in time, Earth-22 was also referred to as Earth-96, and writer Mark Waid could be toying with this idea.
We’ll have to wait to find out. Until then, we can marvel at the beautiful art and idea that propels this arc forward. Not only does it pick up on a story thread from 9 issues ago, but it does it with that can-do, never-give-up, classic Superman attitude that fuels readers’ love, appreciation, and respect of the character. In an era where so many comics are obsessed with tearing heroes down, with breaking them and having them grapple with their darkest selves over and over again (see the current Batman run with the Zur en Arrh plot as well as current Amazing Spider-Man comics with Peter Parker being infected by the Green Goblin’s “sins”), this hopeful attitude is extremely refreshing. The tension, emotional weight, and drama readers are drawn to in those darker explorations of psyche are still there, just manifested through other elements of the plot rather than as an extension of the hero.
Suffice to say, it’s a testament to Waid, Mora, and the creative team. Time and again, they prove that not only do books like Batman/Superman: World’s Finest tell a great story, but they can deliver everything readers want without sacrificing the classic hero archetypes that have inspired generations of comic fans for countless decades.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.