Friday, December 18, 2015

Back Issue Review: Adventure Comics #391

This was one of those weird weeks were no comic that I review came out. That meant I suddenly had an opening in my schedule for a Friday review slot.

And given that Supergirl in non-comics media is dominating the discussion around the character, I thought I would go into the long boxes for an oldie but a goody.  In the Silver Age, there were plenty of stories where someone is making a Supergirl movie or show and somehow the real Supergirl gets involved.

We also have read a lot of interviews where Melissa Benoist talks about her wire work, how could I resist Adventure Comics #391 where Linda is doing stunts!

The cover is credited to the dream team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. Swanderson brings us a nice dynamic cover showing 'that actress playing Supergirl' falling to her death when the wire breaks. But, as this is Supergirl she'll be unharmed when she hits, thus exposing her secret identity.

Surprisingly, this scene actually happens (in a way) in the story.

"Linda Danvers, Super-Star" was written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger. Schaffenberger took over the Supergirl character after Jim Mooney left and really is one of the signature artists for the Silver Age Kara.

This opening page sets the stage for what we should expect. There is a Supergirl movie being made and somehow Linda Danvers has been cast to be the star. Thus, Supergirl is playing Supergirl in the movie.

For me, the craziest part of this page is that third tiny panel. The wardrobe woman is making Linda look like Supergirl for the part. That includes putting on a blond wig. That means, in the subsequent panels, Linda is a blond girl wearing a brunette wig, wearing a blond wig. Insanity.

The  story opens at Stanhope College where Linda is a student. In class, Professor Vizhago unveils his new computer which is programmed to measure aptitudes and predict the perfect profession for his students.

Linda Danvers and Eve Emerson both get actress as their probable occupation. While most students are happy and intrigued with their choices, Eve's boyfriend Vic Tane, the 'grooviest boy on campus', decides he will promote Eve's skills by belittling Linda's.

He calls Linda a mud turtle, destined to be an understudy.

This computer is so renowned that it attracts John Harris, a famous Hollywood director. He is making a Supergirl movie and looking for the next new starlet. Given the computer results, Harris wants Eve and Linda to try out.

Harris big test is to see which one can cry on command, a way to show they can convey any emotion asked for. The screen test is being shot in front of the student body and Vic, ever the charmer, says Linda has the emotional chops of a statue. Everyone laughs at Linda.

And, as this is the Silver Age, Linda could be brought to tears pretty quickly. Vic's callous comments make her cry. You can see that even Eve feels bad.

You would think that Linda might want to avoid playing Supergirl. Sounds like a recipe for disaster if you want to keep your secret identity.

Things get a little nutty once shooting starts. In the first stunt, Linda is suspended by wires to fly when the gear breaks. This doesn't seem to be the safest workplace environment. Linda was suspended over a moutain without any extra precautions. She plummets to what would be a sure death for a human.

But Linda is able to use her powers slyly such that it seems okay for her to have lived. She uses her cape to slow herself down, fakes a wind to billow herself up, and then hits a tree branch to soften the blow. Everyone feels she is supremely lucky.

I like that Linda uses her head here, thinking quickly and not giving anything away.

The plot thickens as several people have motives to try to off Linda.

Is it Vic, trying to get Eve the part?
Is it Harris, trying to resurrect his career after 3 flops in a row? Any publicity is good publicity?
Or is it Nicky, the man in the plaid jacket? He's the studio press agent and also would like the movie to succeed. And this sort of accident will put the movie into the news.

I love Schaffenberger's panel here, with Kara twirling her head trying to figure it all out!

The accident continues to plague the set, always with Linda in the middle.

In this scene, she is riding a giant balloon whale when it pops, throwing her into shark-infested waters. Again, I have to question the safety of this set. Why film in shark-infested waters? Seems like a disaster waiting to happen ... and indeed it does happen!

This time Linda uses her heat vision to scare the sharks away. If they attack her and she comes out of the water unharmed, there will be too many questions. She explains an undersea volcano scared them away. And, somehow, the crew believes that. Ahhh ... the Silver Age.

But the same people are still there, still with their motives.

And then another accident happens. A gun which is supposed to only have blanks is fired at Linda. Of course, it was actually loaded. This time, Supergirl snaps her fingers so loud they make a sonic boom, effecting the path of the bullet so it misses her. And people assume the loud noise was the bullet echoing.

Realizing she needs to leave the set so she can actively investigate as Supergirl, Linda runs off the set hysterical. I love that first panel! So wonderful.

Eve is more than eager to jump into the role. Maybe Vic is behind it?
Harris seems resolved to close the set. So I don't think it is him.
And Nicky continues to think that Harris is doing it for publicity.

But Eve isn't safe either. Chained with faux Kryptonite to temple columns (how Samson), Eve is ready to be a star. The columns begin to topple in pieces. And since she is chained, she cannot escape. She will be crushed by the boulders.

But the real Supergirl is on the job. She flies in the 'change the script' and bashes the pieces away.

Supergirl saves Supergirl!

In a weird panel, and really a panel I should have posted, Supergirl demands to sniff everybody's hands. Bizarre!

It turns out that Nicky has the scent of corrosive acid on his hands. He used it to weaken the pillars foundation. Presumably, he did the same to the wire.

And his motive? Harris married an actress that jilted Nicky. Enraged, he would frame Harris for murder. Luckily, Supergirl looked to the gossip columns to find a true motive.

With the set safe, you would think that Harris would hire Eve or Linda. Instead, Eve bows out saying Supergirl should play Supergirl. If Harris will donate a percentage of the proceeds to charity, Kara will do it.

And so, Supergirl does indeed end up playing Supergirl.

Okay, this is a silly story. But can't you see a future episode where Kara is asked to enter a Supergirl lookalike contest, or something as silly.

These stories are dated and ludicrous. I love them. I love Supergirl thinking quickly and saving people. I like her being a little emotionally vulnerable at this time in her life. And the art is so perfect for the story.

I don't think this is a key issue for Supergirl fans. But it is fun and more and more I am seeing these issues in $2 boxes at conventions. And this was a point in Supergirl's career where she was sort of turning a corner. Soon Mike Sekowsky will come on board and try to modernize her a bit. A second story in this issue, by Cary Bates and Win Mortimer, is a bit more sci-fi/political and less sugary than this one. If you are looking for a nice issue showing the change Supergirl was going through, this is a decent one.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Fun review. I did like this story, not least for the Schaff art. When I first came across it I knew him only from Lois Lane, so seeing him draw action a la Mary Marvel was a treat.

I like the continuity in that second panel after the computer results come out, referring to some other Linda-as-actress tale. And of course, she late claims that she's always wanted to be an actress.

That's a strangely unattractive background shade on the cover, one actively preventing the Linda figure from 'popping'.

I miss such imaginative stunts as Super-finger snapping - that could be a nice, cheap moment for TV Kara.

mhr said...

surpassed, surprise. I have it too :)

Anonymous said...

I love this story for it's sumptuous Kurt Schaffenberger artwork, that penciler was good at two things, one emotional content, he had a range of expressions for all his character regardless of gender, he was also very very good at conveying action in a eye popping way. He also had a forte for drawing pretty young women, but we need not dwell on that overmuch.
The Silver Age Supergirl could be maddeningly unliberated sometimes (although in general she was an outspoken feminist compared to Kanigher's Wonder Woman or Stan Lee's version of Sue Storm) and a little passive...but her saving grace she was Always Thinking and Putting the Clues Together Logically. ..never more so than in this story where she basically functions as a detective for twelve pages.
Bob Kanigher loved film settings for his female characters I think the Silver Age Wonder Woman ended up on movie sets a good four times over the course of the silver having a heroine "play herself" in a motion picture is an olde trope for him.
BTW I love that cover, there Supergirl is plunging towards a sure exposure of her secret identity and there she is reviewing the whole situation thinking away til the last second before impact....I MISS these kinds of covers, ;)


Anonymous said...

When I read JL 3001 it seems like this Adventure Comics period of Silver Age Supergirl. Action Comics was too naive and hesitant, and later versions had different costumes, hair, and behavior.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

Yes, this wasn't the first or last time Linda was an actress. Between Vandyre and Secret Hearts, she has found herself in that profession.

The idea of 3001 Kara Bing his one makes sense. That Kara is clearly a bit established, confident, nd ready to roll. Sounds like this one as well! Nice thought.

Martin Gray said...

JF's great comments about Schaffenberger's emotional range had me searching out those model sheets from an old Superman Family, and I found them on Albert Bryan Bigley's blog. Curt Swan's model sheets are there too. These men were just masters.

Anonymous said...

My only complaint about Kurt Schaffenberger's artwork is his consistently corny looking backgrounds...if a script required a computer then sure as shooting Kurt would depict it as being operated with knife switches and sprouting spiral electrodes. He also started Kara down the road to what I like to call "Bombshell Supergirl"...
Look at that panel where Linda sheds a tear it has like literally Linda's dejected pose, her play of feeling and her rival's reaction all seamlessly integrated into a single frame that neatly moves the whole story along.
Master Indeed...