Thursday, January 28, 2016

Back Issue Box: Superman Family #219: Supergirl And The Master Jailer

Last week, a flurry of Supergirl show news came out including Jeff Branson guest starring as The Master Jailer. The show Jailer was staff on Fort Rozz.

But I remember the pre-Crisis Master Jailer very well. Carl 'Moosey' Draper grew up in Smallville with Clark and Lana. A bit portly and picked on in his youth, Draper grew up, got in shape, and became a brilliant jailer, creating hi-tech cells individually designed to contain super-villains. Unfortunately, he also was obsessed with Lana Lang and had a deep-seeded hatred of Superman for presumed past affronts.

But the show isn't the first time that the Master Jailer has battled Supergirl. Back in 1982, the Maid of Might and the Master Jailer fought in an epic three-parter in Superman Family. As I try to link back issue reviews to current news, I thought now would be the right time to dust off these issues. I'll review each issue individually.

I will also add that the first appearance of the Master Jailer showed that he was driven and brilliant. He had built his cells to drain the villains of their powers and feeding those powers into his suit. In this story, he is a bit more of a gimmick-laden thief. Sure, his traps all are prison-related. But he lacks that unhinged drive I saw in him before.

"Prison Bars Do Not a Cell Make!" was written by legendary Supergirl scribe Paul Kupperberg with art by the then standard Supergirl art team Win Mortimer and Vince Colletta.

The story opens up on the set of Secret Hearts. This was the time in Supergirl's life when Linda played the villainous Margo Hatton. But something isn't right on the set this day. While Linda is visible in real life, she is missing on all of the tape the crew shot that day.

Immediately, Linda thinks that this must be some odd attack on her as Supergirl. Luckily she is able to convince everyone she is missing because of a technical glitch. The scenes were reshot and this time she can be seen.

Using her supersenses, Linda discovered a weird energy bathing her on the set. With her work day done, she changes into Supergirl and follows the residue.

It seems to me that Mortimer must have had a 'Linda disrobing' clause in his work contract. There is almost always a panel like that first one in his stories.

Halfway to the origin of the energy, Supergirl happens across a building which is collapsing. Like a hero, she puts her personal mission on hold to help save the people still stuck within. Unfortunately, she suddenly becomes intangible.

Thankfully, her other powers still seem to work. So she is able to use her super-breath to gently blow the trapped kids to the ground. Now that is some elegant use of that power.

I don't know how to tie her invisibility on video tape to intangibility. But I guess I'll roll with it.

After saving the kids, Supergirl becomes solid again, adding to the mystery. The energy trail dissipates but seems to point to an innocent city apartment which seems empty.

Heading back to her apartment, Linda meets with her agents and the show writers. They decide to crank up the nastiness making Margo even more loathsome. They think that pretty soon people will want a Margo doll that stabs you in the back.

But Linda's intangible state once again comes on, this time making her ghostly and invisible. She pushes her co-workers out the door before they wonder why she has disappeared! (Kupperberg can help himself and puts in a 'I can see right through you' pun.)

With things taking a turn for the worse and intangible, Supergirl decides to investigate the apartment. There she finds the device which was bathing her in the energy as well as a note goading her into action. Destroying the device with her heat vision, she is suddenly solid again. And she isn't too happy.

Remember, this is a more fully actualized Supergirl, about to embark to Chicago. She isn't going to back down or worry. She is going to face this threat head on.

Well ... sort of head on.

She shows up at the bank as Linda Danvers. When the Master Jailer reveals himself, Linda sends in one of her Supergirl robots to do the fighting. This was a time when the idea of duplicate robots was essentially phased out of the super-titles. This was explained that air pollution interfered with their delicate mechanisms. (As a kid, this was the first way that I learned about the threat of air pollution! It was a simpler time.)

The Jailer is surprised to see a solid Supergirl there. (Should he be surprised? He left a note meaning he thought she would find his machine. Maybe he didn't think her heat vision would work.) So he uses a wrist model of the device to try to turn Supergirl intangible again. The device has been calibrated to her unique body signature.

In a neat turn, the device must have a range of effect because Linda, in the bank, suddenly becomes a ghost.

As I said above, the Jailer here is more of a gimmicky villain, including having a prison key gun. But the robot keeps doing what it is supposed to do, saving people and acting like Kara.

Unfortunately, the pollution of the time interferes with the robots mechanics and it begins to shut down.

The Jailer takes advantage and ends up blowing up the robot.

A piece of the robot hits the controls for the 'phantom device', the tech the Jailer had used to turn Kara intangible. Kupperberg does a good job throwing in a line that this device was made with some dumb luck. Draper will never be able to recreate it (thus eliminating it as a potential plot in a future issue). Scared that the real Supergirl might be nearby and solid, Master Jailer takes off.

Unfortunately, the device being destroyed also means that Supergirl is trapped as an invisible, intangible ghost. How will she get out of this predicament? Well, she'll need some help from a guest star, one that I'm sure won't shrink from the responsibility of helping Supergirl.

Overall this is something of a messy story with crazy plots and wacky devices. But for me, the biggest disappointment was devolving the Jailer from a bitter super-genius to a bank robber with a theme.

Given this is part one of a three parter, I will review the next two issues as we approach the Jailer's approach on the show.

Overall grade: C


Anonymous said...

"It seems to me that Mortimer must have had a 'Linda disrobing' clause in his work contract. There is almost always a panel like that first one in his stories."

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

Win Mortimer did have more than his share of Linda/Kara "fan service" panels. They were an artful way to disguise his stiff and undistinguished figurework and underdeveloped backgrounds.
Still it has been thirty four years since Supergirl as depicted as being even half so self reliant and self confident....makes ya think don't it?