Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Back Issue Box: 'Dark Supergirl' In Superman #365

Dark Supergirl has raised her ugly head again in Justice League of America, perhaps readying to trample the heroic Kara under her black boot. The re-introduction of this 'bad girl' has sent ripples through Supergirl's fandom, the concern being that we might lose the hero that Supergirl has become under Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle.

With that concern in mind, I thought I would thumb through the back issue box and look back at some other stories where Supergirl turned away from the light. It is a fairly common theme to explore. At least in these older stories, the darker side of her personality is typically explained by mind-control and magic. It isn't something  bubbling under her surface.

I already have reviewed two of my favorite Silver age examples here with Supergirl as a witch ( ) and here with Supergirl as Satan Girl ( ).

Moving into the Bronze Age, I thought I would review Superman #365. It starts off with a nice cover by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano. In particular the darker palette and shadows in Supergirl's hair add to the effect of a power-mad Kara.

"When Kryptonians Clash!" was written by Cary Bates and drawn by Superman artist extraordinaire Curt Swan. It really did a fine job at looking at the relationship between the cousins as well as how difficult it would be to be Superman.

The opening page sets the stage. A rather weary looking Superman bemoans the fact that his 'vacation' has been anything but. He has been running ragged around the globe, helping with one catastrophe after another. Whether it be flaming skyscrapers, broken dams, or even a single bus slipping off a country road, no disaster is too small for the Man of Steel.

It has been five sleepless days and nights! Can even Superman keep up this nonstop pace?

In what I thought was a nice show of how close the super-family was, Superman does take a few moments off to meet Supergirl for their weekly rendezvous. How great is it that they made it a point to see each other every week just to catch up.

Superman hopes to keep the visit short so he can finally grab a nap but that isn't going to happen. Superman stumbles upon an ill Supergirl. With the telltale green splotchy rash on her face and hands, Superman diagnoses her with an infection of Virus X. He surmises that she must have been exposed at some point in space.

His nap will have to wait.

Virus X was seen in Action Comics #362-366 (a rare 4 parter for that time period) where Superman nearly died before discovering that exposure to White Kryptonite would purge the infection from his system.

Now how White Kryptonite, deadly to plant life, can act as an anti-viral is beyond me. Regardless, Superman takes Supergirl to the Fortress of Solitude where he sets up a healing machine with White K and begins to bathe Kara in its rays.

With a moment's respite, Superman slumps in a chair, asking his super-computer to analyze him for signs of fatigue. Unable to keep his eyes open, he falls asleep ... but only for 60 seconds. His world-wide crisis monitor wakes him with an alarm. A volcano is about to erupt in Chile. He is off again!

While he is gone, Supergirl awakens, refreshed and ready. With the healing machine above her still warm, she guesses what has happened.

As she strolls around the Fortress, she sees the computer screen that had analyzed Superman's recent actions. He is mentally fatigued, operating at 99.91% efficiency. While Superman may be acting nearly perfect, any small mistake with his powers would be disastrous. Supergirl decides that she needs to help her cousin just as he has helped her.

Again, it was great to see the cousins acting so close during the early part of this issue.

So while Superman is helping out with an oil spill, Supergirl helps save a bus from being crushed by an avalanche.

In what is the strangest and weakest part of the story, Supergirl decides that she will silently tail Superman, helping him out like a super guardian angel. Wouldn't it be better to simply go up to Superman, explain what she saw, and tell him that she'll step in for him for the next couple of hours so he can rest?

It does give Bates and Swan the opportunity to quickly revisit Supergirl's origins including her initial 'emergency secret weapon' role and her eventual introduction to the public.

But no matter what, Superman seems to be doing okay on his own. Even here, where Supergirl thinks he has thrown a rocket full of nuclear waste into an oncoming comet, she is proven wrong. Superman thought ahead to have advanced guidance in the missile.

Maybe 99.91% is good enough?

Unfortunately, the string of natural disasters keeps Superman extremely busy. The next emergency is a forest fire that will keep him away from a ceremony in Metropolis in his honor. Supergirl decides that she'll fill in for him. (Again, maybe she should have stepped in at the forest fire so he could enjoy his moment).

And what a ceremony as the Chamber of Commerce unveils a glass S-shield which will grace the Superman Museum.

At first, Supergirl gives a gracious speech, extolling her cousin's virtues.

But that changes quickly as she then turns things around calling Superman 'egotistical, self-centered, and heartless'! Supergirl sounds almost jealous as she says that she should be number one in the minds of the human race.

And to hammer home the point, she smashes the glass shield ... much to the glee of a cloaked alien watching the whole thing. Could he be behind this?

She then brings the fight to Superman. After briefly skirmishing in the nighttime sky, Supergirl streaks to the Fortress with Superman following close behind.

Before running into Supergirl, Superman sees that he is 0.09% less super than usual. Maybe he has made a mistake! Maybe his initial diagnosis of Virus X was wrong? Or maybe the Virus X infection was a smokescreen for something more sinister? He never did do a thorough medical evaluation on Kara, jumping to the obvious conclusion. That is never good for a physician to do.

But he doesn't have time to ponder it at length. Supergirl shoots him with Brainiac's shrinking ray ... and the safety is off. She hopes to shrink him down to nothingness. And then she'll be Earth's champion.

Thinking quickly, Superman lures Supergirl into the interplanetary zoo. He then startles the Tridyst beast of planet Epsolon. The animal unleashes its biologic defenses, slamming Supergirl with paralysis rays which stun her.

With Supergirl down., Superman is able to reverse the gun and enlarge himself again.

After a more thorough medical evaluation, Superman discovers what happened. The Virus X infection was a diversion, masking an energy-draining radiation in her system. The radiation made each minute that pass seem like a sleepless hour. And while Kryptonians don't necessarily need sleep, they do need to dream. This dream-deprivation made Supergirl move quickly from irrational to insane, making her the perfect weapon to attack Superman.

So she wasn't really dark.

Luckily, that radiation was also able to be expunged from Supergirl's body.

As the cousins discuss what happened, the alien from Metropolis teleports into the Fortress. He asks for sanctuary. He was behind what happened to Supergirl and he knows that since he 'failed' in destroying Superman that his superiors will destroy him. He is right ... he is vaporized.

Who was he?

The following issues actually tell a very clever story. Superman discovers this plot with his cousin was the work of the Superman Revenge Squad. In a strategy to finally end their villainy, Superman has his body genetically altered into a lizard-man like creature and temporarily mind-wipes himself so he can infiltrate the gang with worrying a telepath will sniff him out. He does too good a job and eventually suffers a split personality where he wants to destroy himself.

This was a pretty good issue for its time. Curt Swan draws such a wonderful Supergirl. While she is the 'villain' of the book, she is actually treated pretty well here. And, outside of her insane moments, the cousins act like loving family members.

This book is definitely $1 box material at most cons. It isn't of any major importance for a Supergirl collection although any Swan is worth it. There is even a panel recreation of the iconic Action Comics #285 cover within the story.

More 'Dark Supergirl' stories coming soon.

Overall grade: B/B+


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be better to simply go up to Superman, explain what she saw, and tell him that she'll step in for him for the next couple of hours so he can rest?

After some of the "It's too dangerous for a girl" reactions she and other heroines got throughout the Silver and Bronze age maybe she felt it would be better to just go ahead and keep an eye on things in the background rather than try to convince Supes to let her do anything.

Sometimes "it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission" when you have to deal with that stuff.

Anonymous said...

What I've always liked about this story is the vague but undeniable hint of prior tension between Kal and Kara.
Superman is so used to pre-empting his cousin that it never ever occurs to him to cede the spotlight for eight hours while he gets some rest.
Meanwhile Supergirl fumes paranoidally but realistically under the alien influence...All her rants against Kal El have their basis in their real relationship.
I've often thought that the one thing that might've saved the original Supergirl is a little explicit tension between her and Superman. At this point in the character's history she has clearly outgrown the role Superman has assigned her...Addressing that could have done both features wonders IMHO.
Love the art from Curt Swan BTW the inking though is stiff & scratchy..Oh well.
Love the costume, it's decorous, sexy and athletic looking...Don't care what anyone sez.

John Feer

Anonymous said...

Is Supergirl recovering on a Craftmatic adjustable bed?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't worry too much about Dark Supergirl sticking around. Regular Kara is mentioned in solicits for the Eclipso arc in March for JLA. They also finally changed the writing credits from Spencer to Peaty for Febuary and March in the main book, though not the covers or descriptions yet.

Anonymous said...

You'd know how egotistical, self-centered, and heartless he really is!

So... um... Kara... tell us what you really think about flying light years across the galaxy to be with your long-lost cousin and instead being dumped in an orphanage 'cause you're going to be his "secret weapon". Yeah, wonder what Ma & Pa Kent would have thought of that.

Oh, you were talking about Dick Giordano?

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Maybe that all that bitterness was really there, buried in Supergirl's unconscious.

And great point about SG's decision to help Superman behind the scenes figuring her would shoo her away. That makes great sense.

Martin Gray said...

Supergirl wouldn't have been human if she didn't harbour at the very least, supressed ill feeling about her cousin's treatment of her in those first years on Earth. Putting her in an orphanage was indefensible. I'd love to see an untold story in which they actually had the conversation, a one-off Legends of the DC Universe revival, maybe.

At least nowadays Superman dumps his strays at the Kent Farm.

I do enjoy the Dark Supergirl recaps. Don't forget the time Kara threw Kal in a fiery pit!

I wonder if, to this day, Cary Bates can say 'cousin' with putting 'super-' in front ...