Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween: Review Adventure Comics #396

Happy Halloween to all the ghouls and goblins out there.

I am, unfortunately, still carving my jack-o-lanterns so can't post them here in time for trick-or treat time. So instead I thought I would present a spooky Supergirl story from the Adventure Comics run in the early 70s.

There is some synergy here as I actually reviewed the first part of the story earlier this month when talking about the thought beasts of Krypton. If you want to refresh your memory, you can go here for the full review:

In that story, Linda Danvers spends the night in a 'haunted mansion'. The haunting later turns out to be the Phantom Zone villains broadcasting evil telepathy through a amped-up television set. The house belonged to a missing  inventor Amos Ameswell. At the end of that first part, the Phantom Zone villains have been 'unplugged' when Supergirl destroyed the TV set. But then suddenly Ameswell seemed to magically appear!

Writer Bob Kanigher does an interesting job in this 2 parter mixing science fiction and horror elements. It makes for a bit of a muddled story but a fun one nonetheless. Artist Kurt Schaffenberger puts in his usual fantastic work, especially in the expressions Kara has in the story. 

But this is supposed to be a Halloween story! I think with a title like 'I am a witch!' it fits the bill, especially when we see on the opening splash page Supergirl surrounded by black cats and broken mirrors.

Supergirl seems perplexed by the sudden appearance of Ameswell especially when he starts to cackle about how she hasn't earned the reward for staying in the haunted house overnight.

Hoping to get some answers about where Ameswell has been for the last 12 years, Supergirl tries to grab him only to have him seemingly do some rapid fire shape changing - fire to smoke to python to lion to condor and back to human.

Supergirl seems unconvinced that his tricks are true magic. After all his 'haunted house' was also explained by the science of the transmitting television.

Ameswell means to convince Supergirl that there is some factual basis behind magic and superstitions. And so he brings her into his 'bad luck room', a place filled with objects meant to curse someone with ill fortune.

In some ways it's comical ... ooooh, a salt shaker, a mirror, and a black cat! But Supergirl takes it all with a ... ahem ... grain of salt. In fact, she seems to forget that there is a mystery behind Ameswell's disappearing/reappearing act. Instead she decides to have a conversation with him.

In the midst of the conversation, Ameswell shows he believes these items to be capable of affecting someone's luck. When he spills the salt, he tosses some over his shoulder.

Supergirl aims to show Ameswell that superstitions are nothing but nonsense. And so she walks around his bad luck room and does everything she can to give herself ... well ... bad luck.

For some reason I think the panel of Supergirl defiantly walking under a ladder is awesome. Maybe because it is so inane.

Unfortunately, it looks as though her disregard for superstitions might lead to tragedy.

When she stops to help a group of civic minded young men build a boys' center, she ends up destroying it.

And later when she tries to save some passengers on a runaway roller coaster, she ends up accidentally demolishing the ride.

And lastly, when she tries to save some pilots at an air show who are in danger, she only makes matters worse, sending them into a worse predicament.

It is clear that she has toyed with powers beyond her ken.

And, this being the Silver Age, she goes through a momentary crisis of self-doubt.

Supergirl figures that after afflicting herself with bad luck, and knowing that being a jinx with super-powers is a recipe for major disasters, she has no choice. She must banish herself to the Phantom Zone!

Ahh ... the Silver Age.

Meanwhile, from afar, Ameswell cackles in joy. He has seen Supergirl have a 'super-breakdown'. And he knows that with Supergirl out of the way he can use all his powers and inventions to terrorize future victims.

His greatest machine of all, a time machine he has used over those missing 12 years to travel through time and learn from the greatest dark magicians in history.

Hmmm, maybe he has some 'real' magic powers after all?

Before he can enjoy his victory for too long, Supergirl crashes into the house and destroys the time machine. (I guess Ameswell has to say 'irreplaceable' so as readers we know he won't simply rebuild things.)

Maybe now is the time for him to break out that black magic he used??

I guess he doesn't really have magic powers after all.

It turns out that Supergirl's jinxiness came from science ... an anti-mass destruct element Ameswell invented and spilled on Supergirl. Thus anything she touched she would destroy. (Of course, that doesn't explain the lack of control of her super-breath in the airplane rescue.)

Looking herself over after the accidents, Supergirl noticed the elements and deduced that Ameswell set her up. So she washed it from her hands and returned to bring Ameswell to justice.

While the earlier part of this story was wonderfully silly, the end sort of falls short. Why would Ameswell, a great scientist, use his inventions to learn magic to terrorize people. Aren't there easier ways to use a time machine and anti-mass destruct elements to do that? And did he actually learn magic anyways? Why did he have the bad luck room set up ... just in case a super-hero showed up so he could try to convince them they had bad luck? And why did he return just at this moment?

I guess I'll just have to roll with it.

Still, I do love that montage showing Supergirl standing with her arms crossed, daring to let a black cat walk in front of her.

So a sort of silly, magical, superstitious tale for Halloween.

Don't eat too much candy!

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

A Curt Swan cover and Kurt Schaffenberger artwork inside, if that isn't a gift then I don't know what is....
Besides I love it when classic Supergirl matter how convoluted her silver age logic...Supergirl is always thinking and trying to deduce the truth. THAT is what made her cool and set her off from her sister heroines...


Manu said...

Looking at the pics, I was telling me the same : "ah, silver age". Since DC rebooted itself, I stopped reading comics, they killed or made all my favourite characters disapear (Donna, Wally, Mogo...). Anyway, it is a moment since I don't recognize the stories that gave me the desire to learn how to draw any more. Instead of that, beheaded characters, pulled out arms, and female characters drawn like real TV b%#@es without any real feminine charm... These are not the things I want to put into my mind. And I'm very sad to see that, month after month, the big authors and artists like Giordano, Kubert, and so many others who have given so many dreams to the kids we were, well... disapear too... 8 (

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

I will admit that when I was in my angsty teen years I looked at these stories as simple saccharin fodder. And I thought the art was simplistic and clunky.

And then, somewhere along the way, I realized the charm and strength of these stories. And more important, I recognized the talent these artists had.

You are so right, in this day of beheading, defacing, and heroes bemoaning being heroes, these stories stand out as being wonderful.

Anonymous said...

This is the very first comic book I ever purchased (or had purchased for me). I was a big fan of the Superman/Batman cartoons on CBS that aired from the late 60s through the early 70s (before parent's groups got them taken off the air). I'm not sure why Supergirl never appeared on those shows, but I didn't even know she existed until a fellow first-grader said there was a Supergirl (probably because I had mentioned that I liked Batgirl). In fact, I hadn't even known comic books existed -- until he brought in a couple of issues -- and then, I had to get some for myself. I don't know if I found this at a newsstand or a grocery store -- but it was the beginning of 40-year plus collection!

Anonymous said...

It's true the first story made no much sense, although it's humorous.

However, the second story -The Mystery of the Super-Orphan- was weird but emotional, and it remind me a very important fact: DC's comis in the Silver Age were strange, nutty... but the characters' backstories were coherent and consistent. When you opened a Superman comic, you knew Superman was adopted by the the Kents, was raised in Smallville, became Superboy, found Krypto, left Smallville when his foster parents died... and when you leafed through a Supergirl comic, you knew she was Linda Danvers, lived in Midvale, was Fred and Edna's adoptive daughter...

I cannot tell the same thing about the current universe. You can easily find fans nowadays complaining about Superman being rebooted a few months after the Rebirth reboot which happened five years after the New 52 reboot...