In Supergirl #4 last month, villain Simon Tycho marvels at the stretchy and invulnerable uniform that Supergirl was wearing. He wonders what applications he use such a fabric for to turn a profit - diapers, towels, armor.
It isn't the first time I read about a scientist potentially trying to profit from Kryptonian textiles. So I figured I would turn back the clock to early 1980 and look at Superman Family #199.
Supergirl dominates the cover of Superman Family #199 (drawn by Ross Andru and Dick Girodano) and is seen stretching her cape over an exploding truck. But the tag line is that it will 'lead to big trouble of Supergirl'.
"The Case of the Cape Caper" was written by Jack C. Harris, drawn by Win Mortimer and inked by Vince Colletta. It opened up the book and is a pretty silly story that even a young Anj had some issues with. So here we go!
The issue starts with the ominous news that 'Organized Crime has come to Santa Augusta!', the Florida city that Supergirl resided in during this part of her career. Yes organized crime is a new and 'ugly blot on the flowering city' which also hosts the New Athens Experimental School where Linda Danvers was a guidance counselor.
And this crime wave has been so prolific that Supergirl has started doing extra patrols. And it seems to have paid off when she arrives to stop a daring daytime bank robbery. But the criminals are prepared. They have planted a bomb at a nearby building, the perfect distraction to keep Supergirl busy while they escape.
But matters get more mysterious when her cape bursts into flame! It is clear that the cape she is wearing is a fake. Someone has pulled a switch!
A corrupt scientist named Wells has been working for the local crime boss Jason Janson. Wells likes to be on the scene when one of his scientific/explosive crimes are pulled off. And sure enough, like on the cover, one of his crimes included an oil truck being destroyed as a diversion. This time Supergirl was on the scene and was able to protect the crowd by stretching and draping her cape over them.
And like Tycho, Wells immediately thinks about other applications for an invulnerable and elastic fabric. A cloth armor, a building cloak to smother fires, a drape to put over tanks. Even as a kid I knew a lot of this didn't make sense. Sure the cape might be invulnerable but it isn't stiff or durable enough to protect a car slamming into bricks. Wouldn't the car still suffer damage? Wouldn't the soldier still feel the kinetic energy of the bullet even if the round didn't penetrate?
I know ... I can buy the Supergirl's powers which defy physics but not these things?
Inspired to pull off the cape caper, Wells begins stalking Supergirl and taking pictures of her cape. He talks of his 'knack for calculating weight and textures' and so armed with the information gathered from his photos, he begins creating a copy.
He then leaks a phony tip to the police that a local zoo fountain will begin to spurt acid while the crime gang tries to steal a cage filled with rare and valuable monkeys! (Stealing monkeys!) Anyways, Supergirl drapes her cape over the fountain while she chases down the helicopter lifting the primate cage.
Seizing his chance, Wells pulls the switcheroo and obtains her Kryptonian cape!
Not surprisingly, Wells can't study the fabric. He can't test it, sample it, or replicate it. So his grand schemes for criminal greatness come to a quick end. But the cape still has it's intrinsic value, one Wells hopes to cash in on.
Meanwhile, the mystery of her cape continues to plague Linda's thoughts even when she is at work. This is one of the things that always endeared me to Supergirl. Her life isn't easy. She has to juggle all her responsibilities and it isn't easy. She isn't always successful. It makes her much easier to relate to than Superman who seemed to be able to juggle his Earth, galaxy, universe, and WGBS responsibilities without breaking a sweat.
But jeez, how would you like to be a superhero and get yelled at by a kid for getting too many lunches!
Meanwhile, Wells realizes that his best chance to gain something for stealing Supergirl's cape is to sell it to crime lord Janson. And to prove it's worth, Wells runs the gauntlet of protective measures that are built into Janson's headquarters. The cape easily deflects bullets and lasers. And luckily Janson's men have a strict 'no head shots' policy when it comes to shooting their enemies. Really?? A 'no head shots rule'??
Still, Janson sees the value of the cape and buys it from Wells for a million dollars cash.
Now wearing the cape, Janson decides to recoup his losses by killing Wells and reclaiming his cash. I guess there is no honor among thieves.
Luckily, Supergirl's hearing is always attuned to listen for gunfire and the recent volley of shots has brought her to investigate. She catches Janson with the literally smoking gun still in his hand.
But before Supergirl can grab him, Janson warns her about his failsafe device. He has a tamper-proof detonator strapped to his chest which if hit will set off an explosive Wells had placed under the Santa Augusta Police Department. If she doesn't let him walk, he'll kill the force.
Incredibly, Supergirl instead lunges across the room regardless of his warnings. And as he promised, he hits the switch.
Amazingly, the police department remains in one piece. And Supergirl reclaims her cape in this amusing way. That looks like it is straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. I just thought that panel was too precious to not scan!
But how?? How can the building remain standing?
It turns out that Wells had placed bombs beneath the Police Department building. But when Supergirl lunged at Janson, she closed the cape around him, blocking the radio signal from reaching the explosives.
And so, another unscrupulous crime boss and scientist fail to capitalize on Krypton's wonder fabric.
This is a pretty forgettable little story although it showcases some of the key features of a good Supergirl story. She strives to do what's right, she struggles a bit, but by persevering she emerges victorious. Harris' plot has some pretty big holes in it. Mortimer does a serviceable Supergirl ... nothing spectacular. For a Supergirl collection, this is of low importance.