Thursday, June 25, 2015

Back Issue Box: Adventure Comics #402 - Supergirl Vs. Starfire

Last week I wrote a bullet review about Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's Starfire.
A while back, on another blog, I wrote about one of my favorite characters from the 1970's Starfire.

So I thought I would review my least favorite Starfire, the organized crime boss who tormented Supergirl in the early 70s in Adventure Comics. These stories were written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and frankly, I don't think he had any love for the character. He didn't seem to have much knowledge of Superman mythology or Supergirl history. He has Kara be at her most juvenile at times. And, the worst part of his whole Starfire story arc, he depowers her.

I always felt that part of the push for Supergirl to basically lose her powers was the storyline happening in Superman at the same time. Adventure Comics #402, cover dated February 1971 and which also introduces us to Starfire and the depowering plot, came out just one month after Superman #233, the famous Kryptonite Nevermore arc which, at the end, significantly weakened Superman. Had Supergirl not been depowered, she would have been without a doubt the most powerful person in the DCU at the time.

The issue starts with 'two strange people' having a beachside picnic and discussing nefarious plans.

One is Starfire, a wicked woman and leader of an organized crime family comprised solely of women. She is ready to take the next step in her plan of world domination. Her colleague Dr. Kangle has developed a pill which will remove the powers from super-heroes. And Starfire will use her boy toy associate Derek to test the pill on her first target - Supergirl.

The book is a wonderful time capsule of 70's fashion from the Starfire's rhinstoned eye patch to Derek's voluminous locks.

But the plan hinges on one thing. Supergirl has to become so smitten with Derek that he will be close enough to slip her the pill.

Starfire has all the angles. She'll enroll Derek in Stanhope knowing that Supergirl frequents the place.

And despite looking like a huge big toe, Derek is confidant he will be able to woo the Maid of Might.

To lure Supergirl to his side, Starfire orchestrates a phony mugging of Derek.

To make it look real or perhaps realizing what an oily creep Derek is, the muggers get a few good shots in.

Derek yells out some loud screams. Linda Danvers hears, switches to Supergirl, and rescues him.

With Derek seemingly injured, Supergirl allows the muggers to escape so she can tend to him.

The trap is sprung. Derek plants a kiss on Kara's lips to thank her for saving him.

We see the title and its significance. 'Love conquers all .. even Supergirl.'

But then we get Sekowsky's take on Supergirl and it isn't good.

Supergirl is momentarily helpless because of Derek's magic lips. But then we learn 'she even likes the helpless feeling'.

Not exactly what you want your writer to say about your strong female lead.

And that one kiss is enough to have Derek invade Supergirl's mind. He is all she can think about. And he is playing the part right, leaving signs around campus that he needs to meet her.

But it is that first panel that I find odd. When had she ever said 'I can't let myself be emotionally involved with an ordinary human.'? That was about 45% of her stories in Action Comics. Poor Dick Malverne! Sekowsky doesn't seem to know or care about her history.

But what could any girl do against Derek's suave nature and relentless pursuit? According to Sekowsky, any girl gives in and goes out.

I do like how in this time period, Kara does sport different outfits. This 'formal dress' costume is nice.

Derek brings her to a ball where he says how dating her is making him look better. What a creep!

Finally Supergirl says that she cannot see him anymore. That her mission, her pursuit of justice has to come first. He agrees that he won't bother her again ... except for one last picnic date.

I can't believe that any Kara would fall for this tripe.

But she can't resist him.

She goes out on the date. She says that sometimes she wishes she didn't have powers so she could live a normal life. But she does have her powers and she has to use them to help people.

And with that, Derek slips the 'depowering pill' into Supergirl's drink.

Before the picnic is over, Starfire sends a goon squad over to test her scheme.

Supergirl loses her powers.
The gunmen let loose with a hail of bullets.
Supergirl falls.

She apparently dies.
And Derek is all too happy.

It appears that Starfire has won!

Things get all the more wonky after this issue. Powers that flick on and off. Kandorian exo-skeletons. Starfire beating up Supergirl. Female clown gangs.

It is a rough period in Supergirl's history ... a history unfortunately marked by rough periods. Sekowsky seems to have a low opinion of Kara, having her fall for Derek immediately, craving a helpless state, a life without powers.

But Starfire is such a thorn in Supergirl's side that she has to be included in Supergirl's rogues gallery. With nothing but a shrewd calculating mind, she almost defeats Kara. How about Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner resurrect this Starfire to fight a team-up of Starfire and Starfire?

As for this book, since Starfire is a long-standing villain and this powerless arc is pretty long for the time. As a result I must begrudgingly label this as being of moderate importance to a Supergirl collection. Even if she is treated shabbily, it is a key chapter of the early 70's.

Overall grade: D


Stephen M said...

Lot of storage things that will wind up in the movie here. The picnic , saving someone and getting a kiss.

Godzylla said...

What I enjoyed from this period were the multiple outfits and (a little later) the stories drawn by Art Saaf.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

@Godyzlla--I was just going to add that.

@Anj--Sekowsky was about as good as Bob Haney with understanding the characters he wrote about. I think he did the Metal Men when they were The "New, Hunted" Metal Men before the late 60s title was cancelled. Horrible to read.

You could write an entry on the Starfire from the mid-70s, the warrior from another time, like Claw the Unconquered. She only had about four issues.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

Never thought of this stuff as a template for the movie ... but I see it now.

Love the different outfits. That 'dress uniform' here is great.

And boy, Sekowsky was all over the map.

I love the other Starfire. 8 issues of sword and lasers!

Anonymous said...

Yeah I've always had a soft spot for "girl gangster Starfire" and her all female gang even if she is a pretty blatant lesbian caricature. The "super ball gown" is also a guilty pleasure of mine, hopefully the TV show can revive it.
Sekowsky was also the prime penciler on Denny O'Neill's "All New Completely Depowered rockin' It inna Pantsuit Wonder Woman" and clearly lifted more than a few tropes and gimmicks from that title when he took over writing and drawing Supergirl.
As ubiquitous as the writing may be I still give Sekowsky props for putting Supergirl in a somewhat more contemporaneous milieu as well as attempting to beef up her Rogue's Gallery.
And yes continuity is treated with Haney-esque disdain...I've always suspected DC had forgotten that with Superman depleted after the whole "Sandman Superman" arc that Cousin Supergirl would be de-facto More Powerful than the Man of Steel AND Free of the scourge of there was a sexist rush to make sure she was afflicted with a similar power deficit. My main beef with the whole "On-Off Super-powers" Fiasco is that it is never formally resolved & as late as Adventure Comics #423 Kara is still suffering from bouts of sudden depowerment, the plotline simply lapses thereafter and Supergirl is never depicted finally curing herself of what constitutes a "dangerous chronic illness". This sadly foreshadows the erratic storytelling that would plague the feature for the next decade.
However The Multiverse is Back Right? So maybe DC Entertainment can take some time out of their busy schedule to revisit this storline just don't assign the project to Marv Wolfman please he'll put Supergirl in the ICU with terminal cancer.


AndNowInStereo said...

I would love to interview David Odell and ask him what he actually drew from when writing the Supergirl movie script. Although I still think 'writing' is too strong a word, personally. They had no idea what they were going for when putting the movie together, there's no coherent vision there at all.

John (somewhere in England) said...

I remember reading this story and others in the same series when they were published. Even at the age of 11 it was obvious to me that DC weren’t getting the best out of this character. My point of comparison was the Legion of Super Heroes during the Adventure Comics / Jim Shooter era, which showed how good comics could be. Even when the Legion was unceremoniously dumped into Action Comics (as they had been by 1971) they were still a joy to read. It was only decades later, during the Gates/Igle era, that the full potential of the Kryptonian Supergirl was finally realized.

Anonymous said...

...always wondered about the "Supergirl falling for the wrong guy" trope from the earlier series and just how bad they could be,
and now I've seen one. I'm sure they can hear my eyeballs rolling over on Pluto. Definately some elements that pique the interest,
but others that just make one want to take a shower to wash the "ick" factor off.

Thanks and appreciate you sharing Anj, now I've gotten to see just seen how deep the canyon goes...


William Ashley Vaughan said...

Great review. I'm remembering all over again why I hate the on and off powers subplot. However, Starfire was one of the great missed opportunities of 1970's DC comics. Her profession as an international gangster makes her unique among Supergirl's rogue's gallery. There are all sorts of interesting things that could have been done with her instead of what Sekowsky came up with. For instance, instead of the lame romance plot, Derek could have posed as an F.B.I. agent and tricked her into helping raid Intergang warehouses by claiming that she was helping them with arrests. The Apokolips tech and Intergang prisoners, unbeknownst to Supergirl would be turned over to Starfire. The prisoners would be brainwashed into becoming obedient soldiers and armed with the Apokolips superweapons. Of course, Supergirl would figure out what's actually going on and thwart the final phase of the plan-a raid to capture the Fortress of Solitude and its superweapons in it which they would find by planting a transmitter on her. Derek and the many of the brainwashed Intergang members would be captured, but Starfire would escape to cause more trouble.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

Since I can't edit my post, please read "and tricked Supergirl into raiding Intergang warehouses" instead of "and tricked her into raiding Intergang warehouses."

Bluejay Young said...

I read this when it came out, and while we didn't yet have the phrase "jumped the shark", that was the exact feeling I had as the story of Supergirl's on/off powers went on and on through the (it seemed like) years. I picked up Adventure 410 and 411 ("Ruler Without a Planet" and "Alien Among Us"), a year later, and she was still sputtering off and on as the plot required. At least by then she had a Legion flight ring, when she remembered to wear it. Only reason I bought those was I love Oksner's art. It looks like they never really established that the Kandorians were able to cure her... so much for continuity.