Monday, December 8, 2014

Back Issue Box: Supergirl #16

The Convergence event for DC Comics is about a half a year away and one of the solicits that caught my attention was the Keith Giffen written issue starring  Matrix and Ambush Bug . I have some concerns about Giffen's approach to Supergirl and I know his love of Ambush Bug might make Supergirl the butt of any number of jokes and ploys.

But this won't be the first time Supergirl met Ambush Bug! They met way back in late 1983 in Supergirl #16.Writer Paul Kupperberg does his best to keep this a light-hearted story with Ambush Bug providing some yuks along the way. But also in this issue is one of the most bizarre villain plots I have read.

This is early Ambush Bug though, back when he was labeled a super-villain. Here he feels more like his daffy current self, trying to be a hero and generally annoying all who cross his path. It also is a time when his teleportation powers were limited by having a remote 'insect' drones somewhere to act as a receiver.

The art is done by the usual team on this book of penciller Carmine Infantino and inker Bob Oksner. I think Oksner cleans up this late Infantino work very well. But what intrigued me more is the cover by Giffen and Oksner. Giffen created Ambush Bug and so it is appropriate for his art here. But it is the pictures of Superman and Supergirl around Bug that grabbed my attention. They look like the character design art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, or at least Giffen's version of them. Certainly the two of the 'floor' of the cover look very familiar.

"Bug-Out" starts with an elevated train derailing in Chicago forcing Supergirl to jump to the rescue.

I included this opening splash because I think the design is interesting. Supergirl is really a small element in this page, streaking in on the left side. The bulk of the page is the huge train plummeting onto tiny people and cars.

I think by positioning everything like this it makes the threat feel bigger. We know that Kryptonians are more powerful than a locomotive. But by keeping Supergirl small and by putting so many potential victims in the picture, the drama is ratcheted up a notch.

Throughout this book, initially Daring New Adventures of Supergirl and then just Supergirl, Paul Kupperberg has written Kara as being a bit more mature, a bit more assured of herself. We have seen her tell Superman that she is stepping out from his shadow. We have seen her be proactive, taking on Reactron and Blackstarr with confidence and maybe even an edge.

So it was weird to read this internal monologue here, Supergirl saying she is surprised sometimes at what she can do. That inside she still feels like 15 year old Kara on Argo City. Odd.

Maybe she is talking more about her personality or humility.

But if there is one thing I always applaud Kupperberg for it is setting up a true supporting cast in this book. And using them!

Here is a whole scene with Linda Danvers having lunch with her current beau (and Chicago Philharmonic conductor) Phil Decker. Supergirl ... in her secret identity ... having a conversation with a non-super human ... about everyday stuff. It is refreshing. These scenes make all the characters more three-dimensional and helped build up this relationship.

I don't need a whole issue of small talk. But this is great.

But wait ... doesn't this issue guest star Ambush Bug? Isn't he supposed to bug Supergirl?

Well, in a scene I don't cover, we see Ambush Bug escape from a prison transport. I think that might be one of the few times we see Bug without his costume. And using his tech, he blips to Chicago where he decides he'll stick around after he sees Supergirl fly by.

Of course, this being a slapstick issue, we see things such as pratfalls off skyscrapers.

And the Bug decides to turn over a new leaf and become a super-hero.

But rather than take on the big foes, he decides to start small with civic minor offenses.

So people who litter get throttled.

And people who smoke where it isn't allowed get frightened, battered, and eventually hog-tied.

Eventually the two cross paths ... but by chance.

Supergirl is tracking down her/Linda's missing boyfriend. First one of the philharmonics priceless Stradivarius violins has been stolen (one of many priceless instruments that has been pilfered across the nation). And then Phil has gone missing.

Now Ambush Bug is supposed to be addled and crazy. It is part of his charm. So here he confuses Supergirl with Superman! He assumes somehow that they are the same person and that something nefarious has both changed Superman and wiped his memory. That is crazy ... and maybe a little forced?

I love Supergirl's response here. She is busy. She doesn't have time for nonsense. So she asks him what he wants.

One thing worth mention is that page layouts in this comic are very well done including things like inset panels as seen above.

At least Supergirl remembers who Ambush Bug is. But he is annoying, and what she needs least of right now. In an interesting move, Supergirl decides Bug needs to be her priority. Even though he seems relatively harmless, he is an escaped convict with super-powers. There is more of that maturity.

Now remember way back in the intro of this review when I said there was a bizarre villain plot in this issue? Well here it is revealed.

Phil has been kidnapped by this unnamed man. This criminal has been the person stealing all the valuable and antique instruments all over the country. And here he has set all those instruments up ... in the hands of mannequins ... so he can hear how beautiful they sound. Completely insane!

And any mannequin orchestra needs a conductor to bring out their best and so this man kidnapped Phil. He wants Decker to conduct them ...

Now that is bizarre.

Luckily ... maybe serendipitously ... Ambush Bug leads Supergirl right there. Supergirl has been following the Bug all over town.

Within two panels Supergirl is able to bring this whole crazy adventure to an ends. First she disarms the kidnapper. Then she puts boxing gloves on Ambush Bug, interfering with his ability to move his fingers and activate his teleportation tech.

An mannequin orchestra? Boxing gloves put on at super-speed to stop a villain? This is one loony issue.

As the cops sort out the whole mess, Supergirl leaves and re-arrives as Linda to see that Phil is okay.

But the Bug has the last laugh. He recognizes that Linda is Supergirl! He now sort of knows her secret identity!

By the way, check out the next issue blurb! A new haircut for Supergirl! That's right! Linda's hairstyle remains the same but Supergirl's hair gets downright curly next issue!

Will the Convergence issue be as insane as this? Will Supergirl be portrayed as well as she was here? Time will tell.

Outside of Ambush Bug, there isn't much that makes this a key issue in Supergirl history.

Overall grade: B


mhunt said...

I like a lot this Supergirl series, I even like it better than the current series.

Anonymous said...

Is it me? Or is this the closest pre COIE SG ever came to a "Seinfeld Episode"? The strong goofiness of the script also suggests Byrne's run on "She Hulk" as well.
Kupperberg (a writer who was always punching above his weight) should have done more scripts like this....maybe the character would have built a bigger fanbase and gotten off Wolfman's Crisis Deathlist as a consequence. Ah but that is speculation...

Martin Gray said...

(If Kupperberg was 'always punching above his weight' maybe we can take it that WAS his weight - a great writer, rarely given the right spot to shine.)

Nice review, Anj, I'd pretty much forgotten about Phil. It's a shame Supergirl had to die with that new hairdo - she looks great with this issue's.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

This was a solid series for Supergirl, stronger than much of her Superman Family stuff.

And yes, I like this hairdo too, Mart. But the headband goes well with curls in my mind.

Jay said...

Although always associated with the failed movie now, I always had a soft spot for the Supergirl logo of this era.

john brezina toth said...

The earliest Ambush Bug appearances, like this one, were good. Then I got tired of the character when the Mini-Series were published.