Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: Adventure Comics #424 - Linda Danvers Quits Reporting The News!

This week in Superman #13, Clark Kent quits the news business, walking out on the Daily Planet because he feels they have lost their way.

Did you know that Supergirl had a similar moment in her history?

Adventure Comics #424 was the last issue of Supergirl's 3-plus year run as the headliner in that book. She was on her way to a short lived solo title Supergirl, which lasted all of 10 issues. With a new book coming out, my guess is that DC wanted the Supergirl title to be a bit of a soft reboot, bringing in a new supporting cast and a new locale.

This was something of a time of transition for Supergirl as a character. For almost 2 years in Adventure Comics, Linda Danvers was working as a news photographer/editor/junior reporter for KSF-TV in San Francisco. She had flirted with her boss Jeff and had an ongoing rivalry with Nasty Luthor (who held a similar position at the station). She seemed to love her job ... so what could have happened to make her leave?

'Crypt of the Frozen Graves' is one of the stranger stories in this Adventure run, and that's saying something! Written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Tony DeZuniga and Bob Oksner and the story starts out relatively normal before unraveling into a melange of seduction, ghost story, hysteria, bondage, torture, science fiction, and finally righteous indignation.

The story starts with Linda Danvers, junior reporter, getting a tip from a mob informant Bruce Ryan. Ryan knows Linda has Supergirl as a friend and he has been giving them both some small tips here and there. One thing he won't do is give up the name of the boss of the syndicate. Ryan knows that anyone who has tried to rat on or testify against the boss has 'mysteriously disappeared'.

Again, Ryan only tells Supergirl some small potatoes information, nothing major.

Later that night, Ryan calls Linda again. He sounds spooked and refuses to give either Linda or Supergirl anymore information.

And it seems like he was right to be scared. As Linda is listening, a shot is fired at Bruce.

One thing I like about this story is DeZuniga's art. He really has a good command of point of view, when to zoom in or out, and panel construction. In particular, as in these panels, he often blurs the boundaries having one panel's art overlap another.  I don't think this was that common back then.

Linda changes into Supergirl and goes to investigate. There is a bullet hole in the wall but no blood. Bruce escaped.

Luckily, even though he was feeding her information, Bruce never met Linda. When Kara discovers where Bruce is hiding out she thinks the best plan isn't to confront him wearing the big red S. Instead, she decides that the best way to get the 'ladies man' to give up the name of the syndicate boss is to seduce him.

Gone is 'sweet' Linda. Instead she will use her feminine wiles. And sure enough, dressed to kill and literally falling into Bruce's arms, Linda is able to start up a whirlwind romance with the mob enforcer.

Yep, this isn't Midvale any more!

So Linda and Bruce start a day and a night on the town including a wardrobe change into evening wear.

While out during the day, Bruce gets shot at and seems to toss Linda into harm's way as a human shield (of course he doesn't know this is Linda Danvers). And, as was common in early Supergirl comics, she finds herself attracted to him ... a surefire hint that he is either a bad guy or a magical centaur.

Why would she be attracted to a mob guy who is on the lam? Especially one that has no problem hurting others.

Now if that wasn't bad enough, while in the restaurant for a romantic dinner, the syndicate tries to kill Bruce by tossing a grenade into the dining area.

Here is where things get a bit weird. Instead of acting at superspeed or using her powers in any other way, Linda actually pauses to see if Bruce is brave enough to toss himself onto the grenade, a move that would surely kill him. Odd.

And when he shows his true colors by running out the back door, Linda has no choice but to toss herself on the grenade to save the people. She stops breathing and 'plays dead' until the restaurant is cleared by police and then she also sneaks out the back door. Wouldn't people be suspicious by the lack of blood or other injury from shrapnel? Would the authorities ever leave a dead body alone in a restaurant, alone enough for Linda to escape? Couldn't she have done something else so she wouldn't be stuck like this?

Now if that wasn't strange enough, Supergirl decides that the best course of action is to buy a ghost costume, apply some make-up, and appear in Bruce's apartment as Linda's spirit, an attempt to scare the name of the syndicate boss out of him. Really? That is the best plan she could come up with?

But before her fright tactics can work, the man who tossed the grenade suddenly materializes in the apartment as well, appearing  rather ghostly himself. Shocked by this, Supergirl pauses for a second, enough time for the ghost to pull out a very solid machine gun, riddle Bruce with bullets, and disappear.

Her lack of action here caused Bruce's death.

Overwhelmed with guilt about Bruce's death, especially since she was pushing this envelope in hopes of being promoted to a full-fledged reporter, Linda sulks at the TV station.

And, as if on cue, Nasty decides to be ... well ... nasty. Her emotional resolve frayed, Linda throttles Nasty something of a cat fight. The two need to be separated. Good thing to ... Linda is really hysterical, thinking to herself that she has lost all control of her emotions and might have injured Nasty.

Before she can say anything, the syndicate's button men, including the trigger man who killed Bruce, show up. They know that Bruce has been talking to Linda. And they need information about a stash of money Bruce had hidden. Hmm ... maybe they shouldn't have gunned him down if they didn't know his hiding spot?

Now if you think this story has had enough twists and turns, hold on to your hats, because things get really bizarre.

Linda is brought to the syndicate boss who decides to torture Linda in hopes of getting the information from her. They truss her up in a bondage position William Moulton Marsters would have been proud of. And then a man in executioner's garb uses a red hot cattle brand on her. As crazy as the plot twist is, I find it crazy that they show it in such dramatic fashion.

All that said, Linda still wants the information and so plays along, screaming in agony and pretending to pass out. The 'Pulp Fiction' gang decide that if brute force won't work, maybe 'The Professor' can use science to pry the location of the cash from her.

However, Linda scoffs at his attempt so he decides that the insult to his intelligence is too great. With no care for the potential money information, he uses his greatest device, a teleportation machine, to send Linda into space with all the other witnesses who have gone missing. This is the 'crypt of the frozen graves' in the title ... outer space!

Quite a crazy tour of literary genres and themes we are going through here don't you think?? From medieval torture to sci-fi nuttiness.

Of course, a trip home is nothing for Linda. She returns as Supergirl and shuts down the operation all together, smashing the teleportation machine, beating the thugs to a pulp, and bringing the boss to justice.
I have to say this is one angry Supergirl, unloading Kryptonian haymakers into the faces of the gangsters and tossing the boss at high velocity into a wall. It's pretty violent ... even as she ignores the boss's pleas for mercy and his cardiac condition.

Some of this is probably transference of her anger at herself for letting Bruce die.

She still can't get over that Bruce died because she was so absorbed in landing the big scoop. If reporting the news is bigger than the safety of those in the news, if that lure is enough to have her go to such lengths that she put protecting someone in the background and her job in the foreground, than she can't be part of it.

She quits saying she has 'better things to do with [her] life than stay in a business that exploits people'!! Ahhh ... righteous indignation! It smells like victory!

And so ... just like cousin Clark ... Linda leaves the 'anything for ratings' world of news.

In the subsequent solo book, Linda goes back to being a student, enrolling in the Vandyre drama school.

This is such a crazy story what with Linda vamping it up, jumping on a live grenade, pretending to be a ghost, and being subjected to bondage and torture. Add to that how emotionally labile she was and the outright violence she subjects mobsters to and it is an odd stew, to say the least. The story aside, DeZuniga's art is certainly interesting especially given the time the issue came out.

Despite the weird windings of the story, since this closed a chapter in the Supergirl character, I would rank it of moderate importance for a Supergirl collection. Copies of the later Adventure run are usually easy to find and relatively affordable. 

Overall grade: C


Anonymous said...

NIce fan service up there just before the fatal firefight by candlelight.

I actually rate this issue much higher in a meta context, Steve Skeates clearly enjoyed writing Supergirl especially if there was a weird or supernatural edge to it. Crooks disposing of victims in low earth orbit has a tinge of HP Lovecraft to it.
Tony DeZuniga's artwork is superb, that guy knew his action panels and his fan service scenes.
Sad to say, this issue is the original Supergirl's imperial high noon, she would never again have a creative team this good on her feature. Things might have gone differently for the character if DeZuniga & Skeates had stayed with the feature into the abortive SG Solo book that followed with it's leaden Robert Kanigher dialogue and threadbare plots.


Martin Gray said...

I disagree that Supergirl never had such a good creative team again, but this was fun stuff and yep, the DeZuniga/Oksner art is delicious. I love grown-up Linda, even if she is too hard on herself - Bruce got himself killed.

Nasty never showed up again, did she?

'... a surefire hint that he is either a bad guy or a magical centaur.' Hee!