Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween! Back Issue Box: Adventure Comics #408

Happy Halloween to everyone! With this being the spookiest of holidays, I thought I'd again thumb through the back issue box to find an appropriate Supergirl story. And what is more Halloween-y than a ghost story involving a haunted house!

"The Face At The Window" was the lead story in Adventure Comics #408 and was written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, the primary creator for Supergirl in this period. This was also during the 'semi-depowered' Supergirl history, where after being slipped a pill her powers would intermittently and unpredictably stop working. She ended up wearing a Kandorian exoskeleton and boot jets to help during those moments. It is definitely not one of my favorite time periods for the character and the 'my powers have failed' moments became cliche. Taking a step back, this was smack dab in the middle of Denny O'Neil's 'sand superman' 'Kryptonite Nevermore' arc, a story where Superman gets significantly depowered himself. It may have been an editorial edict to strip Kara of her powers so Superman would stay in the #1 spot.

Anyways, on to the ghost story.

Linda Danvers had just graduated Stanhope College in Adventure Comics #406 and had taken a job as a camera operator, newswoman in San Francisco. So that setting and this supporting cast is still pretty fresh. Here, the K-SFTV 'action news team' she is on talks about how exciting it is that Supergirl has moved to San Francisco.

70's stud Geoff Anderson and co-worker Johnny Drew are thrilled that such a super and 'pretty chick' has become stationed herself in their city. But co-worker, Supergirl hater, and Linda rival Nasty Luthor is not so sure. Nasty was convinced Linda was Supergirl back at Stanhope so the two of them moving to San Fran at the same time is too much of a coincidence.

For the remaining of this series, Nasty does her best to reveal that Linda is the Maid of Might. In a somewhat clumsy initial effort, Nasty hires someone to try and snatch Linda's wig off her head while Linda rides a street car. Luckily Supergirl's inherent sixth sense (her super-intuition) clued her in so she could foil the scheme.

Despite the uproar, Supergirl makes it to work on time so she can join the mobile unit on their tour of famous mansions around the city.

The 'wig' issue was finally dealt with in Daring New Adventures when Paul Kupperberg gave Supergirl a 'kryptonian comb' which allowed her to comb the brunette into her hair as well as comb in blond locks and serious curls when she did the reverse motions.

The team arrives at the Stanley Mansion, a run down estate with a 'spooky' reputation.

It turns out that the owner of the house, 'Old Man' Stanley inherited the house and the family fortune from his niece and nephew when they died forty years earlier. Since that time he has become a recluse, never leaving the house and having it fall into disrepair.

The news team didn't call ahead to let Old Man Stanley know they were coming. And as he is a recluse, he doesn't take kindly to the intrusion. He greets them with 'Old Martha', his double barreled shot gun. And he gives them a simple ultimatum, either get off his land or get shot.

During the tense stand-off, Linda spies the face of a young girl in a top floor window. Who could it be?

On the ride back, Linda asks if Stanley lives alone in the house. Geoff tells her yes. Elizabeth and John Stanley used to live there with their daughter Cynthia. But Cynthia died during a flu epidemic and the Stanleys died when a ship they were on sank, killing the passengers and crew.

Linda had secretly snapped some pictures of the girl while Old Man Stanley was berating them. But when she develops the pictures, the girl can't be seen. Geoff thinks Linda must have been seeing things but Linda knows better.

Linda decides the best way to investigate is as Supergirl.

Meanwhile, Nasty has overheard Linda's prior conversation with Johnny in which she swears she saw something. What better way to kill two birds (spying on Linda/Supergirl, scooping a story) than to dress up like a cat burglar and sneak into the Stanley house.

Supergirl arrives first and sneaks into the attic of the house where she is immediately meets the young girl she saw earlier.

The girl is quite mysterious, talking about how she is searching for her parents in the house, how 'he' has hidden them from her, how 'he' is a bad man. Of course, these odd musings are creepy given the context. Amazingly, Supergirl takes it all in stride, holding the little girl's hand and walking around the house looking for these people.

The only place the girl hasn't looked is in the basement and so she leads Supergirl there.

Unfortunately for Nasty, she is not as stealth-like as she would hope. Stanley hears her creeping around and breaks out old Martha again, emptying both barrels around the house hoping to find her.

Fearing for her life, Nasty comes out into the open. Stanley pulls the mask off her face, recognizes her as a member of the K-SFTV team, and knocks her out.

In the basement, the little girl swoons saying she can feel her parents close to her.

Old Man Stanley discovers Supergirl in his basement and fires at her rapidly. He must be a quick shot because you need to reload that rifle after each blast. Thankfully Supergirl's powers don't give out on her (they remain 'on' this entire story) and she is able to shrug off the buckshot without any problem.

But the little girl has disappeared!

A little more investigation leads to the discovery of two skeletons bricked up behind a lead shield in the basement. Confronted with the bodies, Stanley confesses. He murdered his niece and nephew and stashed their bodies there. Then he concocted a story that the two were traveling under false names on the doomed ship, a way to maintain some privacy as they grieved for their daughter. It was a clean enough story that he got away with it.

Alas, he never got to enjoy the spoils of his crimes because he became paranoid that someone would discover the bodies. So he remained in the house all the time to maintain his freedom, even though the house became his prison! Ironic.

Then Supergirl switches to Linda and calls in the troops - the police and her news crew.

As she leaves the house, she sees a picture of the Stanley's beloved Cynthia, dead for over 50 years. And yet, she was the girl that Supergirl led around the house! It was her ghost who wanted to give her family and herself some peace.

OOOhhhhhh .... creepy! Hee hee.

Okay, so maybe not too scary. But still, this was a haunted house story and as good as it might get for a 'Supergirl and Halloween' post. I wax and wane with my appreciation of the Sekowsky era on the character. It was good to see Linda grow a bit, leave college and strike out on her own. These issues also included the wild and occasionally bizarre variant costumes for Supergirl. But the 'fading powers' storyline was lousy and played out too long before eventually just forgotten. Sekowsky's art can be good in a darker, rough way. I don't know if that always matched nicely with Supergirl.

From a Supergirl collection viewpoint, I would rank this as low importance. I have seen these issues in dollar boxes and priced as high as $18-25 bucks.

Overall grade: C+, bolstered a bit by the horror of Halloween!


Martin Gray said...

Oh, I love this issue, it gave me the willies as a kid. Spooky painting, face at the window, bricked-up corpses ...

... it's only now I'm wondering why Cynthia's parents are done up for their wedding. It made for the creepiest image, I guess.

I blow hot and cold on Sekowsky's Supergirl too - the layouts had great energy, but usually Kara looked as sinister as the people she was fighting.

Nasty was SO crushing on Linda ...

That logo looks fantastic with the black and yellow, I wish DC would bring it back.

Great review!

Gene said...

Anj wrote:

"The team arrives at the Stanley Mansion, a run down estate with a 'spooky' reputation."

That panel looks like the opening to Scooby Doo. ;)


Anonymous said...

I've always been a mark for Sekowsky's Supergirl, mostly because she was depicted as an adult type heroine (with ubiquitous fashion sense to be sure), no longer a trainee, probationer or sidekick.
When you consider that every single one of her revivals, reconfigurations and "Reimaginings" since then involve her being ever younger and less experienced you have to give serious props to Sekowsky for letting Supergirl even reach voting age.

John Feer

Anj said...

I've always been a mark for Sekowsky's Supergirl, mostly because she was depicted as an adult type heroine (with ubiquitous fashion sense to be sure), no longer a trainee, probationer or sidekick.

I guarantee you that I would like this run a lot more (for all the reasons you lay out) if it weren't for the 'glitchy powers' part of it. I just can't stand that.

The stories are pretty loopy but that is more a sign of the times they were released.

Anonymous said...

Would it surprise you to discover that a San Francisco TV station with call letters similar to the one in the Supergirl story was started some years later? The station is KTSF-TV, channel 26. It is an independent station broadcasting mostly in Chinese, serving the Chinese community there.