Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Back Issue Review: Action Comics #402

With the 3-D covers of DC's Forever Evil month trickling out and with a hankering to thumb through the long box, I thought it was time for a Back Issue Review. The back-up feature of Action Comics #402 made the cut for a couple of reasons.

While the cover image is filled with some political incorrect imagery devoted to the main story "This Hostage Must Die", we do get a blurb above touting a story of Superman vs. Supergirl in 'The Feud of the Titans'.

I try to link my back issue reviews to current Supergirl themes and Sanctuary's trying to kill Kara the last issue made me think that I should review some Fortress of Solitude stories where Supergirl is in danger. I suppose it is a bit of a stretch.

I also wonder if Sanctuary's AI will become a new sort of Eradicator and end up the villain on the Supergirl Forever Evil cover.

"Superman vs. Supergirl 'The Feud of the Titans!'" was written by Geoff Browne with art by the legendary team of Curst Swan and Murphy Anderson. I have to say Browne's name doesn't ring any bells so I might have to see if I have anything else by him in my collection.

This is a short action packed piece by him which starts right in the middle of the action. From the opening panel, we see the two Super-cousins at each others' throats. And it isn't some minor quibble. They have descended into name calling. Supergirl a double-crosser? Superman a super-lout? It's war.

And moreover, it becomes a land war as Supergirl has claimed half the Fortress for her and her alone, even installing a back door!

I do like that we have an immediate sense of 'when' this story is taking place by Supergirl's costume, placing this firmly in the middle days of her headlining Adventure Comics.

And the action continues from there. Superman finds that Supergirl has cordoned off her corner of the Fortress with impenetrable force field. Again, we have some name-calling and verbal baiting by Supergirl here. She hates and despises her super-heel cousin!

Of course, Browne is already slipping us a hint to why the two are acting so out of character. What could those green fumes be all about?

Finally, a sliver of sanity comes across Superman. He sees a two-headed bird in his alien zoo where the two heads are attacking each other. He tries to figure out when he started hating Supergirl and more importantly why he hates her.

The last thing he remembers them doing together as a team is destroying outlawed experimental Earth weapons by tossing them into a Kryptonian Atomic Cauldron, an incinerator that could effect even the super-cousins. It is quite an array of interesting weapons including a jigsaw gun and seismotron.

In an interesting twist both discover that the other has stashed a weapon off to the side, to be used to kill the other. With trust gone and hate filling their bodies, they end their partnership and fire on each other.

Seriously, I have to chuckle at the verbal jabs that fly in this story. Even the super-cousins insults seem somewhat polite and erudite. She calls Superman a Benedict Arnold. He calls Supergirl a female Judas!

After some skirmishing, the battle wheels around and back into the Atomic Cauldron room.

In her rage, Supergirl attempts to fly over the cauldron but immediately succumbs to the withering radiation that it gives off. Even the cousins need to stay safely behind a 'radiation rim'. She basically falls into the soup with only her super-suit saving her from a horrible and painful death.

And that sight of his cousin about to die is enough to snap Superman a bit to his senses. He might hate her but he doesn't want to see anything die, let alone his cousin. He holds out his hand and ends up rescuing her.

It is interesting that Supergirl doesn't have the fortitude to break whatever spell the two are under, actually saying she would rather die than be saved by Superman. While this might irk some, I actually like a Supergirl who is still learning, still trying to get there.

And finally the reveal. The green fumes from the beginning of the story was from one of the weapons the two destroyed. The 'Brainwash bomb' mixed with the Kryptonian isotopes to be able to effect even Superman and Supergirl.

Now I often have to take these Silver Age stories with a grain of salt and be forgiving. The bomb is supposed to make you hate your enemy so much that you attack with abandon. So shouldn't this bomb make the super-cousins attack Luthor, Brainiac, and Starfire with gusto rather than each other?

I would hate to think this hatred is bubbling under the surface of Kal and Kara. I suppose it would have been easier to say the bomb made troops mad with anger so they would attack each other, thus weeding out an enemy army with little casualties on your side.

Okay, that was too much thinking for this thing. Just got to roll with it.

Superman realized that they must be under the influence of something when he saw the two-headed bird attacking itself, something it would never do. In the fresh outside air and away from the gas, the two suddenly become level-headed and declare themselves a team again. Supergirl even destroys her private entrance.

This is one more story heaped onto a pile that has Superman and Supergirl fighting. It also perpetuates a myth that Supergirl somehow has deep-seeded feelings of hate for Superman. What I like about this is the clarity that they consider themselves partners and close friends in the saner parts of the story.

I also find it interesting that this story is referenced in the DC Treasury Edition of Superman and his Incredible Fortress of Solitude. Who would think this story would be revisited?

And the Atomic Cauldron actually plays a key role in am issue of Daring New Adventures of Supergirl, an issue I will probably review later this week to play out this theme.

As for a Supergirl collection,  I think this is of low importance. It does introduce the Atomic Cauldron and is a rare team-up of the cousins at that time. It might possibly be the only time Swan drew this variant costume for Kara. For those reasons, it is an interesting piece for a more comprehensive collection.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

And thank you so much, Anj, for taking a look at one of the best-remembered stories from my childhood. The taunts do indeed seem weak now, but back then, wow - the Swanderson art really sold the script by Geoff Browne.

Oh, and you have indeed read other stories by the writer - it's Leo Dorfman under a pen name.

Death in a fiery cauldron - brrrr.

I didn't take away from this an idea that the cousins resented one another (although being dumped in an orphanage by her one living relative would understandably cause a lot of hurt). I just read it as the gas causing friends to become enemies.

Then again, the first reference says the dictator used it to brainwash subjects, add in the second and it seems he brainwashed his troops to attack his enemies, rather than - necessarily - making the soldiers hate them.

Oh all right, it's convoluted and daft and we are indeed overthinking!

I'm trying to remember, was that the same pit that the mini-JLA sicced on Superman by Intergang in Lois Lane #111 wound up in? I may well be misremembering their fate!

Anj said...

Thanks for the kind words Mart.

I also was overthinking the bomb's effects and so decided to roll with it!

I don't know about the Lois story but we did see the Atomic Cauldron in Daring New.

Anonymous said...

The Supergirl variant costume reminded me of the 1970 outfit that kicked off the Supergirl fashion parade that ended with the Hot Pants costume.
-- DW

Martin Gray said...

You're dead on, Anonymous - it's the same one, but with long sleeves and gloves that didn't feature on that memorable cover:

Unknown said...

Kind of interesting seeing her in thigh boots similar to what she has on today.

Anonymous said...

I'll take Curt Swan's Supergirl almost any way I can get her, for one thing he always depicted as looking reasonably like a adult.
As opposed to the Andru-Esposito run on Superman in the late sixties, early seventies, twenty-ish Kara suddenly looks all of 12 years old with eyes as big as serving bowls.
Supergirl showed up in a subsequent Action comics back up story she had to set Superman straight after he'd become convinced she'd be turned into a tree....


Anonymous said...

A weird but very entertaining issue.