Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review: Superman Family #188

I recently got a summons for Federal Jury duty which, while my civic duty, would be somewhat cumbersome on my crazy schedule. So how was I going to deal with this sudden new massive item on my 'To Do' list? Why, by thumbing through the long boxes to find some Supergirl story involving juries and courts, etc.

And so, behold Superman Family #188, in which Supergirl is put on trial!

As I have said before, these Superman Family Supergirl stories can be pretty rough both in concept and in art. But one of the things that I will say about this particular mini-run in these issues is that writer Jack C. Harris actually had a working knowledge of Supergirl history and tried to bring in some concepts and characters from her early Action Comics stories into this book a couple of decades later. Remember, this was back in the day ... before the internet, before Showcase trades, before many trades at all. So this is an interesting story and arc for that reason alone.

But, as I said, the actualization and the art can be rough and that is true for this as well. Harris does a good job moving the story along in the small number of pages that he has to tell the story but you have to make a couple of leaps of faith to buy the turn of events. Moreover, the art on this issue is Jack Abel and his stuff is pretty crude. There are no great artists on Supergirl during her times here - Abel, Mortimer, Heck, etc.

And so, here is 'Kandor vs. Supergirl'.

Harris had Supergirl's adventures span from villains attacking New Athens Florida to intergalactic threats requiring spme super-hero assistance. Throughout this particular run, there has been a number of odd events plaguing Supergirl, all orchestrated by an odd amorphous cloud which seems to have a vendetta against the Girl of Steel.

After a quick trip out to a prison planet, Supergirl returns home looking for a little rest and relaxation.

But right from the start, you just get the sense that the art here is somewhat crude.

But, as is usually the case for Supergirl, there is little time for rest. As she approaches the Fortress, hoping to unwind, she hears Kandor calling her. She is needed immediately for an emergency. And, being in such a rush to head to Kandor to help, Supergirl decided the best and most expedient way to enter the Fortress is to rip the door off its hinges. Really? I just think that the time to turn the key would be the same as it took to destroy the door.

Moreover, I think it is crazy that Kandor would call her like this. Sure ... she is Supergirl but she doesn't have super-powers in Kandor. I guess she is held in such high regard by the Kandorians that they might actually call her to help out in a crisis, with or without powers.

Turns out that whole cry for help was a ruse to bring Supergirl into Kandor ... to arrest her! No subpoena. No 'please come to Kandor to discuss a matter concerning you'. No 'Supergirl we can't believe these charges that are being brought against you. Come to Kandor to talk to the authorities'. Nothing like that. Instead it's a sort of entrapment.

So maybe they don't hold her in high regard. This just didn't feel right. I think Supergirl would come willingly if they simply asked her.

And, of course, Supergirl doesn't help her cause her. Slapped in old-fashioned irons, she decides the besy course of action is to attack the Kandorian police. I suppose it shows that she isn't a pushover, that she will defend herself. And she is listed as a 'formidable fighter'.

She awakens in prison and Superman is there. He was notified of Supergirl's arrest and came to help.

This was somewhat interesting if only to see how Kryptonian courts operate which is, unfortunately, extremely close to American courts. I did like the gong to announce the judge.

It turns out that she is accused of falsely imprisoning another Kryptonian named Shyla. Well, at least she gets to face her accuser.

Earlier in the year, in Superman Family, Supergirl fought Shyla. In something of a sad story, we learn that Shyla was scheduled to a year in the Phantom Zone but prior to being released, Krypton exploded. Unfortunately that has meant that she has stayed decades in the zone instead of that one year.

Guided by that vengeful invisible energy cloud, Shyla found a rent in space which allowed her to escape the zone. Unfortunately, she used her freedom to attack Supergirl and try to rob Kara of her super-powers. With little choice, Supergirl sent her back into the Zone despite knowing that Shyla had served her sentence. Thus, Supergirl stands accused of wrongful imprisonment.

Well, there is a lot to dissect here. For one, why hasn't the court system on Kandor done a sort of review of the Zone criminals and release those who are due to be released? Aren't they really to blame? And is the extra days that Supergirl had Shyla in the Zone a drop in the bucket to the 20+ years that penal system left there to rot?

Moreover, the prosecutors insist that Supergirl imprisoned Shyla with 'criminal intent', not just for self-defense. And they have proof! There is surprise evidence ... a mento-tape! The mento-tape is a sort of mental recording of a person's memories. One cannot fake a mento-tape is considered infallible in the Kryptonian court of law. Ooohh .... surprise evidence ... this is like Law and Order. The good Law & Order, with Jerry Orbach and Jill Hennessy!

Actually, this is somewhat concerning. Maybe the person doesn't remember everything quite right. Isn't there a subjective component to someone's recollections? Is that really infallible?

What's worse ... the mento-tape recording is from Lex Luthor! Yeah ... that's great ... an evil scientific genius with a grudge against the El family is the star witness for the prosecution. Nothing to worry about there!

Lex does have some interesting memories though. He remembers Supergirl breaking Luthor out of jail, giving him super-powers, and asking him to be her mentor. This is back in time a bit. Supergirl is wearing the blue skirt uniform and makes reference to being a secret emergency weapon.

Now long time Supergirl fans might remember this as actually having happened ... in a way. But the mento-tape doesn't lie. This did happen.

Supergirl is able to place the time when this would have happened despite having no precise recollection of meeting Luthor like this. It was a time when she was having some lapses in memory, some black-out periods. Unclear if she was ever a criminal, Supergirl makes a bold decision ...

While she might not have had criminal intent in throwing Shyla in the Zone, she can't be sure she was never a criminal. And so she pleads no contest, feeling she deserves to be imprisoned. Despite Superman's plea to defend her, to let her spotless record speak for itself, Supergirl is determined. She is sentenced to 30 days in the Zone and she willingly goes. Hmmm ... she says she knows what she is doing, so maybe she has a plan and isn't just throwing in the towel.

And in the last panel we see that energy cloud gloating that things are going as planned. Supergirl won't survive her sentence.

So I have pointed out enough issues with the Kryptonian police force and judicial system to know that I would not want to be falsely accused of a crime there. Lured into an arrest, no 'out on personal recognizance' after years of being a hero, thrown in jail based on the recollections of a super-villains - scary. My guess is if I was falsely arrested that no matter what I would end up in the Zone, and probably for too long to boot.

Still there is either something noble or sly about Supergirl pleading 'no contest'. Noble if she thinks she 'did the crime' so has to 'do the time'. Sly if it is all part of some wild plan to prove her innocence. That said, I don't know if it is ever a good plan to be shot into the Phantom Zone.

Abel's art is average at best with little distinguishing style.

As for it's place in a Supergirl collection, I would put it in the low importance category. The final denouement of this story, with the reveal of what the cloud is, probably would be bumped up to moderate importance. I don't want to ruin a 30yr old story point ... at least not here. But I probably will when I review part 2 of this story.

Overall grade: C


Anonymous said...

As crude as Jack Abel's artwork is, I'll take it any day of the week over his two successors on this feature, Don Heck and Win Mortimer. And Jack C. Harris is one of those unsung Supergirl writers that really made a sustained effort to upgrade the character's storyline.
I've always thought that there should have been more tension between Kara and Kandor, her parents were down there (what 22 yr old woman gets along perfectly with mom and dad??) while the Kandorians for the most part treated her like an oversized servant when they weren't arresting her and tossing her into the Zone.

Dante said...

Personally,I never had a problem with Abel's artwork,but here I figured that the Kandorian's wouldn't such douches and have a better treatment for the accused.After all they are a highly advanced democratic alien race,right?

About Kara and her parents...given the environment they all lived and previous issues that focused on Kara's relationship with her parents,it's not unnaturall that there is little to no tension between the family.They are very dear to each other after all.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments!

I don't have the same vitriol for Win Mortimer as you do John. I would rank those artists talent in this order: Mortimer, Abel, then Heck (whose work I have never really liked).

The court room proceedings are a little scary for an 'advanced society' although I guess page constraints made the story need to move quickly. Still ...

Gustavo Delamarques said...


Anonymous said...

Well let me qualify my remarks, I liked Win Mortimer's first run on Supergirl, early in her Adventure Comics run, it was crude at times, but it had a lot of emotional content. His second run during "The Superman Family" Dollar Books, is stiff, lifeless & rushed looking. Some people claim he wasn't being inked to advantage others say Mortimer was "played out" as a penciler...It is open to debate at any rate.


Anj said...

No worries John.

I'm not making Mortimer out to be Brian Bolland. Like much of the art on this Superman Family run, it is pretty rough and bland.

So I guess I am damning with faint praise when I say I like him more then Abel and Heck.

Anonymous said...

I can recall reading this book back in the day and wishing with all my heart that either Kurt Schaffenberger was back on it or better yet Joe Staton. Writing is always enhanced by superlative artwork IMHO...