Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: Adventure Comics #395

When I posted a Silver Age map of Krypton last week, blog friend Mart Gray (of the great Too Dangerous For A Girl comic blog) professed a love for the Scarlet Jungle and the Thought Beasts that live there. With that in mind, I thought I would go back and review Adventure Comics #395 which features a thought beast.

These Adventure issues are interesting as for a while they seem to walk a fine line between the more sugary and wacky Silver Age issues and more 'serious' stories. In fact, this issue, like many early in this Adventure run, have 2 stories, one featuring more 'classic' Supergirl stories and another with a newer creative team and a more modern sensibility. Just a few issues after this, Mike Sekowsky comes on board and Supergirl starts donning mod clothes and moves to San Francisco.

But for now, we still have some Silver Age looniness and this issue has that in spades.

'The Heroine in the Haunted House' was written by Bob Kanigher and drawn by Jim Mooney successor Kurt Schaffenberger. Kanigher might be best known for his war comics but he also wrote a chunk of Supergirl stories both here in Adventure as well as the short-lived Supergirl solo title in the 70's. Schaffenberger became the go-to artist for Supergirl once Mooney left.

I love this opening panel as it almost embodies the zany nature of the Silver Age. This isn't an action picture. Instead Supergirl is irritated and bored, sitting in front of the television. And while she complains about not being attacked by ghosts, an evil looking Jor-El and a thought beast are slowly phasing into the room. Great stuff.

The story starts with Linda and some college friends driving around town. Linda is lost in thought, trying to figure out a compelling story she can write for Stahhope University's newspaper The Stanhope Sentinel.

Serendipity is the law of the land. They drive by the haunted house of inventor Amos Ameswell. And better yet, there is a challenge involved. If someone can stay overnight without going insane, the Ameswell estate will pay them one thousand dollars. Ameswell disappeared 10yrs earlier. Is it his ghost which haunts the place?

Now seriously, who could turn down that offer? Especially if you are a Kryptonian. Sounds groovy.

The crew take the tour of the house to get a lay of the land. It initially seems like a carnival haunted house with a vampire robot butler, a spooky portrait of Ameswell ... complete with Death costume and luminous paint, and a special TV set.

But nothing seems to be too frightening ... at least at this point.

Things get a bit more interesting when horror film ham actor Vincent Sale (get it ... Vincent Price) tries the challenge.

Amazingly, when he leaves the house the next day, his hair has turned white and he is reduced to a cowering jellyfish. Even Linda has to wonder if something is truly haunting in this house.

I love the 'Vincent Price' cameo. If the king of horror films is frightened, what is in this house.

Linda decides to take the challenge to do some further investigating. And, in the early hours of the evening, the night is supremely boring. Knitting and reading can't keep her awake.

Even some television can't keep her eyes open and that is despite her super-powers. Hmmmm ....

Shortly thereafter, the ghost of Jor-El appears in the room, cackling and trying to scare Linda. He knows she is Supergirl. And his sole purpose is to drive Linda insane.

Of course, at first, Linda thinks this is a hoax or hologram of some sort.

But it is odd that the ghost to haunt Linda is Jor-El and not someone else.

I wanted to show this half page for a couple of reasons.

One, there is something fantastic about the line 'Jor-El's disappearing, slipping right through my fingers, like mocking moonlight'. I think I could die a happy man if I ever come up with a phrase like 'mocking moonlight'.

And, now that Jor-El has spilled the beans about Linda's secret identity, she sheds the campus cuddle bun and acts openly as Supergirl. In these panels you can really see that Schaffenberger draws a much more curvy and womanly Supergirl than Mooney. She was growing as a character in more ways than one.

Flying in and out of the room reveals no cameras or hologram projectors.

At last we get the thought-beast from Krypton's Scarlet Jungle. The Silver Age thought beasts would literally show what was on their minds on the screen on their heads. Here it shows Supergirl an image of it cornering Zor-El and Alura.

Despite knowing that her parents are in Kandor, the scene unnerves Supergirl. She becomes unhinged, crying and lashing out.

Then the thought beast changes its mind and instead shows a vision of it eating Supergirl. The fight is on. Again, this seems to affect Supergirl's mind more than expected. She blasts the device with full strength heat vision. Remarkably, the beast seems to melt away under the barrage, as if it wasn't real.

A ghost Jor-El? A phantom thought beast attacking her parents? Trying to eat her? All in a house outside of Stanhope. It seems to be too much for Supergirl's mind to deal with.

Indeed, she snaps. It is a wonderful page of her acting about as crazily as I have seen her.

Confident that she has been broken, the real villains behind the attacks appear. The Phantom Zone villains have been using their combined telepathic powers to make these visions, driving all who have slept in the house insane. They knew it would lure Supergirl into their clutches.

Look at Supergirl saying she ate all the chocolate and dancing like a madwoman.

But as Supergirl fans we should know that this is a ruse. She's too smart to go buggy so quickly.

She turns off the unique television set and suddenly the Phantom Zone villains disappear.

Amazingly, the story takes a twist ... a bigger twist than the fact that Phantom Zone villains are behind it all.

The missing Ameswell shows up and asks how Supergirl figured out that the television was behind it all.

And, this being the Silver Age, she obliges. The first clue is a bit of a stretch. She wonders how Jor-El's ghost could know about her when he was dead when she was born. That's the clue?? So she buys that it is Jor-El's ghost but his knowledge makes no sense? Maybe ghosts can observe and learn.

Anyways, if Supergirl's logic makes sense then this couldn't be Jor-El but instead Phantom Zone villain and Jor-El lookalike Roz-Em. And that must mean the Phantom Zone criminals are behind this. Since he appeared after the TV was turned on the TV must be the conduit. Indeed, the UHF receiver sent waves out to the Zone which allowed the criminals to be visible but not tangible. And their combined telepathy brought the thought beast to life.

Well .... I guess that a conclusion about a ghost's ability to view and learn might lead me to figure all this out. But, I probably just need to roll with this one.

Supergirl ends the threat by smashing the television. But Ameswell isn't done. He attacks Supergirl.

The story concludes next issue ... one I might cover for Halloween.

So that was a lot of story for half an issue with a couple of twists and turns. I love that the Zone criminals wanted revenge for the prior times Supergirl stymied them when they teamed up with Lesla Lar and Zora. And I can't get enough of the scene where Supergirl has 'cracked'. Too fantastic.

Of course, this villain was also pretty steeped in Kryptonian continuity with not only the Phantom Zone criminals but Roz-Em, a Nim-El mention, and the thought beast from the scarlet jungle which prompted this review to begin with.

These adventure issues are usually available at cons for $12-15. I think this issue would rank as low importance in a Supergirl collection but worth it to see the growing pains the character was going through in the late 60's and early 70's. But for me these issues are gold.

I mean, how often does Supergirl tell Phantom Zone villains that she ate all the chocolate bars.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Anj, thanks so much - what a treat! I've never read this issue, now I have to track it down. It's wonderful to see how Kurt Schaffenberger - my favourite Silver Age artist - was able to cut loose on Supergirl, as opposed to the more sedate Lois Lane fare. That panel of Kara leaping at the Thought Beast is a cracker. And Dancing Loon Supergirl, just wonderful - it reminds me of those revolting girl Legionnaires!

The story sounds like typically clever/bonkers Robert Kanigher work, too. Who could forget Nim-El? Er, me. But I suppose his dad being a twin 'explains' Superman's imaginary story tendencies towards siring coupled kids.

As for 'mocking moonlight' - indeed!

Thanks again - it feels like my birthday!

Gene said...

Anj wrote:
"I mean, how often does Supergirl tell Phantom Zone villains that she ate all the chocolate bars."

"Sometimes you feel like a nut...sometimes you don't!" :D

Kara's classic costume looks great here. Sometimes I wish they never changed it.

Comics said...

amazing stuff. thanks for the great posts.

Anonymous said...

Kurt Schaffenberger is one of the unsung heroes of the Supergirl the very least commencing in 1968 he started making her "Look Her Age", like a young woman and not so much the teenybopper in a cape.
Oh and that splash panel of Supergirl staring at the TV bored and cranky...PRICELESS.
Yeah count me in as a devotee of the original blue minidress as well.
Compared to some of her subsequent costumes it is a model of simplicity and practicality.


Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Like many Silver Age creators, I have come to appreciate and enjoy Schaffenberger more now than I did when I was a 'kid'. His stuff is solid.

I like the streamlined blue skirt too. In a bunch of recent 'future' Supergirl looks she has something similar. It is simple and classic.

And that cranky panel is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Very funny story.

Kara wants to help people, she gets cranky, goes mad, and outwits villains. Perfect Supergirl story. And I agree, Schaffenberger's art isn't spectacular, but it's solid and competent. It's also more fitting to young adult Supergirl. She no longer looks like Jim Mooney's sweet, fifteen-year-old orphan.

Chris Butler said...

Great summary, Anj. One quibble, though: Supergirl does not believe that what she saw was Jor-El's 'ghost', so her explanation does make sense.