Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Back Issue Box: Adventure Comics #381


Adventure Comics was once a flagship title in the DC universe with anchors like the Legion of Superheroes and Supergirl leading the way. With the current retro-fitting of the DCU to a more Silver Age sensibility (after years of 'grim and gritty' fare), Adventure Comics is back and in a big way. Adventure Comics #0 was released last week, reprinting the Legion's first appearance and including a very interesting 'Omens and Origins' story about Lex Luthor and Kon-El.



With this rebirth of the title, I thought I would take a look back at Adventure Comics #381, Supergirl's first issue as the headliner and her first 'booklength' tale. The book was released in 1969, 10 years after Supergirl's first appearance in Action Comics. 'The Supergirl Gang' was written by Cary Bates and drawn by Win Mortimer.

I included the opening splash page because I think it is a very nice 'one stop shopping' review of Kara's history. In three sentences, a new reader basically knows the broad strokes of Supergirl's history and is also thrust into the issue's story.


The story starts out in Metropolis where Supergirl is patrolling for Superman while he is away on a deep space mission. While flying overhead, she hears a muffled explosion and comes across a gang of thieves robbing a safe. She has little problem overpowering them but is shocked to see that all the thieves are young women she recognizes from the Stanhope College campus. Even stranger, they all seem to be dazed and amnsetic when questioned at the police station.


After some simple questioning with the girls while in her Linda identity, Supergirl discovers that they all had enrolled in a local Detective School for women. Wanting to learn more, Linda goes to a demonstration the school is having where a woman dressed suspiciously like the women burglars shows her prowess in marksmanship, safe cracking, and martial arts.

Adding to the mystery, the school itself is made of lead-lined walls blocking any XRay vision reconnaisance.

Deciding to some old-fashioned detective work herself, Supergirl flies to Gotham and lets herself into the Batcave.


Can you imagine Batman just allowing Supergirl to rifle through his files in today's DC Universe? Not likely ... or not happily. It was a simpler time.

Still the legwork seems to have paid off. The man running the school is a known felon named Albert Maxom.

Of course, you would think the Metropolis Police should have figured this out as well.


Unfortunately, Supergirl doesn't think there is quite enough evidence to blow the case wide open. She also want to be able to produce some proof that the girls were not knowingly involved in the crime. The best place to gather that evidence is from the inside.

Linda joins the school and passes the first challenge, fighting back when confronted by some thugs. Since she was with other students, she could not use her powers. Luckily, the thugs were actually robots that shut down. Maxom uses the robots to see if his females students will fight back if confronted. If you don't try to fight back against his robots you are expelled.



After some snooping, Linda also discovers a plausible reason for the lead-lined walls. Maxom (who is posing as his legitimate twin brother) has a working nuclear reactor in the school. He is trying to create atomic weapons to fight crime.

An atomic reactor in a detective school? Sounds pretty suspicious to me but it makes Linda doubt her instincts that things are not on the level here.

I tend to chuckle a bit at things like this when looking at it from a 2009 sensibility. Who would approve a private nuclear reactor just outside of Metropolis and next to a college?



Despite being a new girl, Linda strives to head right to the head of the class, especially when she hears that a new crime might be being committed that night. Her only way to get on that squad is to dispatch the top student in the class, a blonde named Miss Barbour.

As you can see, Miss Barbour has a secret too. But more on that later ....

Despite being overmatched in martial art skills, Linda defeats Barbour who literally collapses from exhaustion.


Promoted to the upper echelon, Linda and the other girls are brought into a secret room where Maxom, dressed in a suit of mirrors, hypnotizes them into doing his bidding ... committing crimes and giving him the loot.

So let me see if I understand this Maxom guy. He has access to a nuclear reactor and robot thugs and can also mass hypnotize. And he thinks the most efficient way to use this hardware and skill set is to send female college students on daring break-ins? Seems at the very least he just should just send the robots in.

And doesn't Supergirl have enough information now to shut the whole operation down? I would think so. But instead she proceeds with the plans of robbing a Metropolis bank.



The girls, including Linda, are successful in robbing a local bank. Superman, who has returned from space is about to stop them when he notices Supergirl amongst the pack. She in turn leaves him a microscopic message telling him she knows what she is doing. Superman actually trusts Supergirl (near inconceivable back then) and lets the girls escape back to the school.


Supergirl finally decides to end the charade. She ties up Maxom's associates and let's him know she has uncovered the whole seedy mess. She even has time to grab her Linda Danvers robot to explain away how she was there for the robberies and yet is *not* really Linda Danvers.

But just as Supergirl is about to lead Maxom to justice, he pulls out his last ace in the hole. The robots seen earlier attack again but this time they expose Kryptonite they have hidden in their mechanics. Supergirl is suddenly incapacitated.

But Miss Barbour shows up in her own reveal ... as Batgirl ... and swings Supergirl far enough away from the Kryptonite that she is no longer effected. Get it .... Miss Barbour ... Barbara ... Barbara Gordon ... nice little unexpected twist.

Now I really have to question Maxom's crime prowess. He had access to Kryptonite wielding robots and he sent out barely trained college co-eds to rob banks? Couldn't he just sell the Kryptonite to the mob and live on the interest he would collect?

With the robots far away, Supergirl simply blows them apart with her super-breath. And Batgirl gets the honors of punching out Maxom. Another job well done by the female World's Finest team.

I have to admit the Batgirl reveal was a bit of a surprise when I first read this issue. A pleasant surprise.

And it was nice to see Supergirl finally get her own title rather than a few pages at the back end of Action Comics. As a result, this issue also has some historic qualities for the Supergirl fan, it being her first solo issue and all. I see this issue run between $15-40 dollars at conventions depending on condition. It is a nice piece to have in a Supergirl collection.

Overall grade: solid B

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was back when Win Mortimer could still draw...his second run on the character in the 1970's "Superman Family" dollar book was plain awful.
I wish Kara and Babs had teamed up more in the olde days...they had some nice "girl power" chemistry.

John Feer

Gene said...

Thank you for posting this summary Anj! I recently read this story in the Batgirl Showcase collection, so its nice to see what it looks like in color.

Interesting enough someone on the DC boards calulated that Supergirl and Batgirl only teamed up about six times in the Silver/Bronze ages, yet its considered one of the most popular team ups in comic book history. This was reflected in the Batman episode "Girls Night Out." I wish Babs could walk again...

TalOs said...

Anj said...
Adventure Comics is back and in a big way. Adventure Comics #0 was released last week, reprinting the Legion's first appearance and including a very interesting 'Omens and Origins' story about Lex Luthor and Kon-El.

Heh. Not to mention someone else apparently from the Luthor gene pool (and no i'm not referring to Le's dad "Lionel Luthor" either) it seems now come Post-FC DCU E-0 continuity. ;)

Man, how I truly adored this "Origins and Omens" intended kick off to Adventure Comics #0 itself and truly awaiting in much anticipation for #1 at that ah! :D

As for Adventure Comics #381
itself, man what a nostalgic flash back to me first coming across this here title all those years ago while growing up in the 80's! WOW!!!

Thanks, Anj for posting this! :D

TalOs said...

D'oh! "Le's" is actually intended to be "Lex's" there instead. Sorry.

Oh and Gene, you just might want be sure to keep an eye out for Oracle mini title starting up fairly soon. ;)

Anj said...

John said:
I wish Kara and Babs had teamed up more in the olde days...they had some nice "girl power" chemistry.

Gene said:
Interesting enough someone on the DC boards calulated that Supergirl and Batgirl only teamed up about six times in the Silver/Bronze ages, yet its considered one of the most popular team ups in comic book history. This was reflected in the Batman episode "Girls Night Out." I wish Babs could walk again...

Anyone have a comprehensive list of their team-ups in the Silver Age?

In my collection I only have Adventure 381 and Superman Family 171.

Anj said...

Man, how I truly adored this "Origins and Omens" intended kick off to Adventure Comics #0 itself and truly awaiting in much anticipation for #1 at that ah! :D

Looks like we will finally see the Luthor/Brainiac team-up we have all been clamoring for.

I was a bit confused though. I thought that the Kryptonians had Brainiac's ship on New Krypton.

Gene said...

The following was posted on the DC Comics message board on December 28, 2008 by "dto." The thread that it came from can be found here:

http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000175783&start=15&tstart=0

Knightwhing -- correct, it was Guy Gardner #24 during Zero Hour -- but note it was Matrix and an alternate reality Batgirl. Only readers realized the Pre-Crisis significance of that teamup -- both Matrix and Babs were naturally oblivious to this.

But if Zero Hour writer Dan Jurgens had his way, that Batgirl would have survived, meaning we would have TWO Barbara Gordons! And would Batgirl continue to partner with Matrix, or perhaps another Kara? Jurgens also wanted to introduce Kara from his Superman vs. Aliens into mainstream DC continuity.

Marv Wolfman emphasized the Supergirl/Batgirl relationship during the Crisis, even though there wasn't much evidence of a close friendship in earlier publications. Below is my repost on that subject:

------------------------------------------------------------------------

It's easy to assume that Batgirl and Supergirl were the closest of friends from Bab's memorial speech in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 , but there's very few documented instances of them actually teaming up. Here's what I found on DarkMark's Comics Indexing Domain (at http://darkmark6.tripod.com/indexintro.html ):

------------------------------------------------
World's Finest Comics No. 169 (Sept. 1967)

Comment: This is the first meeting of Supergirl and Batgirl.

Synopsis: Batman, Robin, and Superman are beset by "Batgirl" and "Supergirl", who undercut them as crime-fighters, steal Superman's powers, make Batman susceptible to cowardice, and steal the Fortress of Solitude and everything in the Batcave. Finally, the two "villainesses" challenge Superman and Batman to a showdown fight. The heroes are victorious and unmask "Supergirl" as "Black Flame" and "Batgirl" as "Catwoman". But the real Supergirl and Batgirl show up shortly afterward, having been caught and replaced by the two phonies, who are really Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite. The two imps have been making a wager that Batman would fall into their trap, and Bat-Mite tricks Mxyzptlk into saying his name backwards and vanishing. Bat-Mite then disappears himself.


World's Finest Comics No. 176 (June 1968)

Synopsis: Superman and Batman are separately contacted by what appear to be two aliens. One, Dur, masquerades as actor Roland Jason, and claims to be the ruler of an alien world seeking Superman's help in eluding political assassins. The other, Tiron, purports to be a lawman chasing Dur, whom he tells Batman is a criminal. Batman contacts Supergirl to help him against Superman. Superman counters by enlisting Batgirl as his aide. On a monitor in their Aerie, Jimmy Olsen and Robin discover the truth about the aliens, but are rendered unconscious with a gas pellet. After the heroes and heroines battle, the "alien" collapses and reveals he was only one man, Ronald Jason, pretending to be both aliens. Jason confesses that his brother had discovered Batman's and Superman's double identities through voice prints, but his brother was killed shortly afterward by radiation exposure, which has also doomed Jason. The actor hoped to go out in his finest performance, deceiving the four heroes. After Jason dies, Superman tells the others that he had discovered the impersonation already, but played along to make him happy, told Batman the truth, and gave Robin and Jimmy the knockout gas to keep them out of action.


World's Finest Comics No. 189 (November 1969)

Synopsis: Superman is apparently killed and, as per his last request, his heart, lungs, eyes, and ears are harvested and preserved for worthy recipients. Batman refuses the gift of Superman's heart. But Lex Luthor steals the organs and auctions them off, transplanting each of them into a body of one of the Big Four Syndicate members.


Adventure Comics No. 381 (June 1969)

Comment: This is Supergirl's first solo story in ADVENTURE COMICS.
Synopsis: Supergirl captures five masked and costumed women carrying out a jewel robbery in Metropolis, only to discover one of the women is Judy Belson, one of her Stanhope classmates. After Judy is bailed out, Linda Danvers learns that she has been taking classes at the Sleuth School, an institute to train female detectives and crime-fighters. Linda enrolls to learn its connection with the all-girl gangs of thieves. She discovers that the head of the Sleuth School is one Jonathan Maxom, whose brother has been jailed for bunko but who himself has no criminal record. She also encounters a top-notch student detective called Barbour. Maxom is actually hypnotizing the women into performing daring robberies for him, calling himself "Telix". When Supergirl attempts to bring him in, he paralyzes her with a Kryptonite trap. But Barbour doffs her disguise and stands revealed in costume as Batgirl, who rescues Supergirl and helps her capture Maxom.


Superman Family No. 171 (June-July 1975)

Synopsis: Lilibet Windsor, a Britisher who is a direct descendant of Cleopatra, visits New Athens Experimental School on an exchange program. At the school's art museum, the scepter of Cleopatra smashes through its glass case and places itself in her hand. The scepter has magic powers, including the ability to mentally dominate anyone the holder wishes. Moreover, the spirit of Cleopatra begins to take over Lilibet. As the new Cleopatra, she takes over the United States by psychic command. Supergirl and Batgirl, the latter on a visit to the campus as Barbara Gordon, are two of the few to escape her control. They attempt to fight her, but Lilibet uses her power to make the Justice League battle Supergirl and defeat her. Later, Batgirl and Supergirl use a ruse to make Lilibet willingly give up the scepter, and Supergirl throws it into the sun. America wakens from its spell, and Lilibet gratefully gives up her Cleopatra identity.


Detective Comics #508 (November 1981)

Synopsis: Geologist Kenneth Anderson conducts an experiment with a strange rock which, he says, contains incredible energy properties and transforms himself into a hyperevolved man with mind-over-matter powers. Barbara Gordon sees a TV report of the carnage Anderson, who now calls himself the Annihilator, causes, and becomes Batgirl to try to deal with him. She is hard-pressed to deal with the villain, who wishes to dominate humanity, until Supergirl appears. The Girl of Steel, who had been in town as actress Linda Danvers on a promo tour for Secret Hearts, saves Batgirl and attacks the Annihilator, only to find him absorbing her own great power and rendering her senseless.


Detective Comics #509 (December 1981)

Synopsis: Batgirl deduces, from physical reactions of the Annihilator's, that he is absorbing Supergirl's energies, not her powers. Thus, she safely swoops down under cover of a tear-gas pellet and snatches Supergirl away from him. She uses Supergirl's invulnerable body as a shield against his power-blasts, which wake Supergirl out of her unconscious state. After another brief conflict, the Annihilator teleports away. Supergirl tells Batgirl she will remain in town until she and Batgirl have captured their new foe. Later, Supergirl does a favor for Batgirl by carving out an underground passageway to her new secret garage. Meanwhile, the Annihilator perceives that he has undergone a second evolutionary change: he now wants to rebuild Gotham City after he destroys it, and will populate it with beings like himself, which he will create by blasting normal humans with a ray powered by his energy-rock. Batgirl and Supergirl track the Annhilator down through a clue, but the Annihilator is ready for them, and intent on making Batgirl his hyperevolved mate.


Detective Comics #510 (January 1982)

Synopsis: Supergirl warns Batgirl in time for her to avoid the Annihilator's ray-blast. Both of them confront the villain, who blasts Supergirl through a wall with his ray. He scatters a resulting fire through the chemical plant in which he worked, and Batgirl and Supergirl are forced to let him flee as they put it out. They find him again before long, evolved once more and harder to deal with. But Batgirl deduces that heat is what triggers his evolutionary jumps, and uses a stream of water from a nearby fire hydrant and a puff of Supergirl's super-cold breath to revert him back to normal human form. Supergirl leaves Batgirl with the Annihilator, both heroines agreeing that they'll have to work together again before long.

------------------------------------------

Note the last sentence. They never did. The next time Supergirl and Batgirl met, it was on that rooftop scene in Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 , which was repeated in DC Comics Presents #86 , Supergirl's last featured appearance before dying in Crisis #7 .

If we simply go by published adventures, Supergirl and Batgirl really didn't pair up that often. They only show up at the very end of World's Finest Comics No. 169 to expose Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite's prank, and the Dynamic Damsels only have "walk-on' appearances in World's Finest Comics No. 189 . In Adventure Comics No. 381 , neither one recognized the other as they investigated the same case incognito! So the only "major" Supergirl/Batgirl pairing was their battle against the Annihilator and... CLEOPATRA?

In contrast, Kara Zor-L and Helena Wayne were teammates in the Earth-2 Justice Society of America (and Infinity Inc.), so they often teamed up. Huntress tended to be the "big sister" for Power Girl, who was still somewhat unaquainted with Earth-2 ways. So the Power Girl/Huntress comradeship was more portrayed in print than the "legendary" Supergirl/Batgirl friendship

Actually, Supergirl and Wonder Woman seemed closer friends -- Kara was once "adopted" by Queen Hippolyte in the horrid Supergirl No. 9 (December 1973 / January 1974) story, "The Super-Amazon!", so she and Diana are technically "sisters". And Supergirl's "mod" uniform (with the miniskirt, long gloves and boots) was provided by Diana Prince's dress shop.

And it would make sense that Babs and Kara rarely crossed paths. Unlike Power Girl and Huntress who shared the same headquarters, Barbara Gordon was based in Gotham City and spent some time in Washington D.C. as a Congresswoman. During this time, Kara was already a college student at Midvale, then it was off to San Francisco, Santa Augusta (Florida), New York City and finally Chicago. Even though she could easily commute to Gotham, Supergirl was still somewhat "out of town".

But note how DC once linked Supergirl and Batgirl in the 1976 Super DC Calendar, seen at:

http://www.geocities.com/the_time_trust_2000/calendar.htm

September 22: Birthday of Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

September 23: Birthday of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl)

This could NOT be mere coincidence -- September 22-23 is the cusp of Virgo and Libra, and people born during this time tend to share traits of both signs. And one wonders if Babs and Kara tended to celebrate their birthdays together. But we'll never know...

Anonymous said...

Well...the people who did the World's Finest Other Team justice was Paul Dini, Bruce Timm et al who gave Babs and Kara a memorable team up in the "Girl's Night Out" ep of the Batman: Gotham Knight animated series.
Unlike Superman and Batman who were depicted as being uneasy with one another, Batgirl and Supergirl become BFF's as soon as they clap eyes on one another. Within ten minutes of their first meeting Babs is smiling and trying to imagine how cool it would be to fly....a marked and interesting contrast to the Batman-Superman team to be sure.
Some critics have taken to task the uneven depiction of Supergirl's powers in said ep and Bab's casual un-masking before a heroine she'd only known for a short time...but the meta-context "Supergirl and Batgirl are SISTERS with different mothers" is strong should have been the basis for future stories.
Didn't happen but the ep is still a standout in the Kara-Babs canon.

John Feer

Anj said...

Gene,

I cannot thank you enough for the great post about Batgirl and Supergirl.

Looks like I will be adding a few issues to my wish list.

Spectacular stuff ... thanks again!

Jason said...

Wow....I have the Batgirl Showcase w/ this story, so now I have to read it! :)

I have to give a shout out to Gene as well for providing that educating post about the the actually very few Supergirl and Batgirl team-ups. Who knew? CRISIS #4 and #7 and comic fandom in general definitely has led us to believe they were this super team who teamed up all the time. No worries though...becuz in my mind they DID! :) I just like to think we didn't see all their adventures.

Anj said...

No worries though...becuz in my mind they DID! :) I just like to think we didn't see all their adventures.

Thanks for the post.

That is such a great way to think about it. I agree, my heart tells me they were great friends. We just haven't read the stories.

Brad said...

I always liked this run of Supergirl - in the old Adventure series - and this particular story as well. The art seemed fresh and distinctive - 'bold'? - after her Action appearances. While the plot had gaping holes, as you've pointed out, and Batgirl initially seemed superfluous, Supergirl's incapacitation under the robots' kryptonite beams was quite effective in its being a total surprise, I think; I recall fondly my relief when Barbara swooped in to whisk Kara away from the deadly rays. :-)

A nice look at an old-time favourite, thanks!


Brad

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