Thursday, June 11, 2015

Review: Superman Family #182

The first issue of The Truth came out last week and really brought with it a strong discussion on the nature of Lois and Clark's relationship. I think the Lois/Clark dynamic has been fodder for discussion since the inception of the New 52 given how Lois has been basically pushed off stage. However, the plot point of her revealing Superman's secret identity has brought with it more discussion than ever.

Blog friend Mart Gray brought up the wonderful Mr. and Mrs. Superman stories which appeared in the Superman Family books. These were tales of the Earth-2 Clark and Lois, married, and working together as a team in zany adventures. And, having been reminded of those tales I thought I would head to the back issue boxes and start to reread my Superman Family issues. Not only was there Mr. and Mrs. Superman stories but this was the place to read Lois solo adventures.

I started with Superman Family #182, the first of the Dollar Comic format for the book, and the first without reprints. These were all new stories featuring the main characters in the mythos - Lois, Jimmy, Krypto, and Supergirl. There is also a Wonderful World of Krypton story in here as well. And it sports a great cover by Curt Swan and Neal Adams.

Mr. and Mrs. Superman don't become a staple in the book until Superman Family #195. (That also marks the addition of The Private Life of Clark Kent stories as well, one of my favorite features.)

Superman Family was the home for Supergirl once here short-lived solo title in the early 70's was cancelled. Her stories are something of a mixed bag although during this time she fought Lesla Lar, dabbled in some romance, moved to New York, and became a soap opera star.

But Superman Family #182, being a sort of new beginning, starts out the Supergirl run with a bang. The Maid of Might battles Lex Luthor. And it calls out one of my favorite DC stories of all time.

The Deadly Treasure of Mars was written by the then Supergirl scribe Jack C. Harris and is a great story that intersects a particular moment in history, a particular time in DCU history, and is a  wonderful jumping on point for fans who might be reading Supergirl for the first time in this inaugural Dollar Comic. We see her as an individual in an empowerment story which shows she has moved pretty far down the hero's journey.

But for me, the biggest revelation of this story is the art by Mike Vosburg and Al Milgrom. Vosburg for me is best known as the artist on the 70's DC sword and sorcery Starfire comic and has always drawn strong and beautiful women. I had forgotten he had drawn Supergirl and so re-discovering this story and his work on it made me happy.

We start out in space with Supergirl punching meteors out of the way of the Viking probe, the NASA ship whose mission it was to land on and send pictures from Mars. Just a great action shot of Kara to open things up. That's power!

Now the Viking did exist here on Earth Prime and did get to Mars. But I find this mixing of reality and comics occasionally strange. Why not have Supergirl just take the probe there? Or talk to J'Onn J'Onzz? Or any other easier way to study Mars when you live on a planet with super-humans? But this does set the time of this story pretty concretely.

While her 'rescue' of the probe is a success, NASA has other concerns. Someone has been stealing secret rocket components from the base. And the security team seems at a loss as to who it could be.

Meanwhile Supergirl is excited to see the pictures from Viking but can't stick around. She has to head back to the New Athens Experimental School where she is a guidance counselor.

Am I also being too much of a realist that I can't understand why Supergirl is so excited to see the grainy pictures from Viking? Hasn't she been on Mars? Or many other planets? Or is it she is so proud of humanity's accomplishments?

Now I was alive but I was a little kid when this comic came out. So I don't know if there was such a national fervor for the pics from Mars. Maybe?

But at least in the comics, this was a big deal. The students of the school are crowding around the television to see the transmitted pictures from Mars.

And check it out! There is an actual photo of the rocks as one of the panels here! Those have to be actual photos of the Vikings pics. So interesting to include that.

I also love the "fan service"/"not fan service" first panel by Vosburg. This is a fully clothed woman getting more fully clothed. But there is definitely an element of sexiness there.

Shortly after the first information from Mars gets transmitted back to NASA, the scientists there contact Supergirl. Viking has discovered something on Mars ... a chunk of Kryptonite.

And it seems, Jack C. Harris was one of the DC writers who still held the Denny O'Neil Kryptonite Nevermore story from Superman #233 as canon. Thus all Kryptonite on Earth had been changed to iron making this chunk on Mars even rarer than Kryptonite usually is.

Now I love Kryptonite Nevermore. Heck, my avatar is the Sand Superman from that arc. But I think it was almost immediately retconned when it ended. And retconned without explanation. Still, I think there were some writers who recognized it and some who didn't.

Having this story reference that story was a special treat for me.

It turns out that the secret rocket components have been stolen by a man named Kolpan, a Luthor flunky working on the inside of NASA.. Hearing about the Kryptonite, Kolpan contacts an imprisoned Luthor who happens to have cribbed together a super-computer and communication device under his cell's mattress. (How the heck did the guards let that happen?)

Luthor was more than willing to bide his time in prison but the news of the Green K is enough to spur him into action. He uses his computer to summon a  nearby rocket which he has disguised as a tree in a nearby wooded area.

The rocket flies to the prison, blasts the building setting it ablaze, and then uses a tractor beam to scoop up Lex.

I have to admit, I love stories where villains cool their heels in prison even though they can escape any time. I especially like it when plans are unfurling on the outside while the villain has the perfect alibi.

Luthor has escaped. The prison is on fire. Prisoners are free. And Superman happens to be in deep space and unavailable. So the prison calls Supergirl.

I like this page as well, showing nice panel progression by Vosburg as well as showcasing Supergirl's intelligence.

She swirls around the prison using the winds to both extinguish the flames as well as temporarily robbing the prisoners of oxygen, knocking them out. The swirl lines of her flying are both in the top panel but also extend into the lower panels, giving the page some flow.

And then Supergirl yawns saying this rescue tired her out. But it also gives her a look of boredom like saving this place was a snooze.

As for Luthor, he uses the rocket to head to Mars. But since he is brilliant, it won't take him months to reach Mars (the length of Viking's trip). It will take him hours because he has mastered space warps!

I love this very 70's futuristic insane almost Kubrickian 2001 panel. Futuristic and retro at the same time!

With the prison taken care of, Supergirl heads to NASA and captures Kolpan. She knew someone was working on the inside of NASA for Luthor. This whole Kryptonite caper has made him reveal himself.

Another nice action sequence by Vosburg.

And then it is off to Mars to stop Luthor. Lex has already put the Green K into a laser bazooka with the plan to finally rid the world of Superman.

But Supergirl is there instead. I like the banter here. I especially like Kara calling Lex a male chauvinist pig. And great panel here as well with Supergirl striking a defiant pose.

But maybe it is too soon for her to be so confidant. Luthor blasts her with Kryptonite energy, seemingly killing her while NASA watches on.

But the second panel shows that Supergirl is playing possum.

Okay, why play possum? Unless making Lex think he has a moment of victory makes it that much more delicious to seize it from him. I mean, she is smiling!

It turns out the whole thing has been a Supergirl trap. She wanted to uncover Luthor's lackey. She wanted Luthor to reveal where he hid his rocket. And she wanted a battle with Luthor to be far away from Earth in case it got ugly (hello Zack Snyder!). So she put fake Kryptonite on Mars knowing it would be too tempting for Luthor to sit tight. And she was right!

As she says. Luthor was 'baited, caught, and reeled in -- all but the 'little girl with super-powers'". Perfect.

Well, almost perfect. What if something bad happened during the prison escape? Like someone dies in the resulting fire? Or guards get killed by escapees? Supergirl must have been pretty sure she could control the situation.

And how can you not love the last panel of the smiling proud Kara hauling Luthor back to Earth!

I have to highly recommend buying this issue for all this Supergirl goodness. The Swan/Adams cover! The Vosburg art! The NASA Viking history! The Kryptonite Nevermore reference! Supergirl beating Luthor!

It is all good!

But if that isn't enough to tempt you ...

The issue includes a sort of religious parable in The Wonderful World of Krypton. "The Stranger" was written by Supergirl writer Paul Kupperberg. But it also has lush Marshall Rogers artwork. I love Rogers and he shines here.

Definitely look for this issue and grab it if you find it at the right price! And thanks again to Mart Gray for giving me the impetus to pull these issues out again!

Overall grade: A


Nobile said...

It's true, "Kryptonite Nevermore" was retconned almost instantly, as soon as O'Neil left the series, but mostly for the depowering part.

And for Clark Kent's fancy-colored clothes. :-)

But Kryptonite stayed iron for many years thereafter, and everytime a chunk showed up or Superman felt dizzy for whatever reason a "But, it's impossible, all green K [on earth] was turned into iron years ago!" comment was issued and explanation ensued. And RED Kryptonite was basically deleted from memories.

It was Marty Pasko, with the Metallo/Skull saga, who re-intruduced green K heavily in plots with some workarounds, and the iron stuff became quickly forgotten, but at that point almost ten years had passed from the O'Neil missed relaunch.

Anonymous said...

I love the expression on Supergirl's face in the very last panel, she has totally treated Lex-Freakin' Luthor like a mid card jobber and she loves it! The downfall of the Supergirl Feature in the SMF Dollar Book was the mixed and constantly shifting array of pencilers foisted on Maid of Might, Vosburg might've been a good embedded artist for Kara if DC had the sense to settle on someone good.


Martin Gray said...

I'm so pleased to have played a small part in such a fun post appearing. This issue is one of the dream books I always wanted - the ads filled regular DC books, but the Dollar Comics were non-distributed in the UK until the final year or so. And what a great issue I missed, that Vosburg art is so smart and characterful.

I always like Kara's run-ins with Lex, especially when they referenced her friendship with Lena Thorul; just as Lex once had a friendship with Superboy, making their rivalry bittersweet, so Kara's relationship with Lena meant he'd have second thoughts about killing her.

Good point on the sexy, yet clothed Kara - unlike the Lois strips in Superman Family, and their tendency to show Lois in her bra and pants.

Robots in trees, rockets disguised as trees, disguised Durlans... It's a wonder anyone in the DCU bothered training in arborology.

I'm pretty sure at least one DC writer pointed out that while all the green K on Earth at the time of Kryptonite Nevermore was turned to lead, new lumps arrived on Earth from the heavens.

We were definitely excited back in the day, I mean, photographs from Mars! And I see from the DC Sneak Preview that Nasa folk are still sending superheroes out into space.

Craig said...

While I'm happy there's a Kara at all, I still miss the original - it was nice to see her again in Convergence. Kara was the second most powerful character in the DC Universe back then, as made official by The Answer Man, second only to her cousin. It's always great to see her depicted so powerful, and also depicted as smiling and happy. The original Kara was allowed to grow up, and she was especially depicted as such in The Superman Family. She was about 24/25 before the "she's not been de-aged but she was" of her last series, so it's interesting that the TV series has her that age.
oh, yes, as for grown up, it was in Superman Family that in-universe (if not also out) Kara was said to be a sex symbol.

Craig said...

@Martin Gray - was Lois really "undressed" more than Kara was? In my memory it sticks out she was in as little clothing also, neglige, bras and panties in her series here. I can't remember the issue now but the opening splash panel is her waking up from a bad dream where her chest is thrust out and she's definitely not drawn in Puritan clothing. :P Despite how I should be offended, and the fact I'm gay, I always thought Kara looking so hot kicked @$$ - not only is she one of the most powerful heroes out there, she's super sexy, too! It does show the double standards of the industry, I mean, Supergirl could be dripping sex but Superman was practically (as Catwoman said to Azbats) "sterile". lol