Friday, September 2, 2016

Back Issue Review: Valor #2

It is a 5 Wednesday month which means comic companies find some filler and stretch out their books to cover the extra week of releases. It also means, despite twice a month shipping of Action and Superman as well as Superwoman, New Superman, and a new Supergirl book, I have no new book to review.

That meant I had a bit of carte blanche to head to the long boxes and find a relevant back issue for the site. And with the news that Mon-El is the mystery pilot of the Kryptonian pod on the Supergirl show, I thought I would review Valor #2.

It is important to put all this in some context for those not immersed in both the Superman books at the time as well as Legion lore and reboots.

For Supergirl, this is the Matrix version of the character. This book was released in October of 1992, months before the Doomsday storyline took over the super-books for some time. This was a time when Matrix was still naive to our world, readjusting to things, and basically subservient to Lex Luthor. And to make matters more confusing, this is a young, strapping, Aussie, red-haired Lex Jr. who is, in actuality, the real Lex cloned. But this was a dark time for Supergirl fans as Matrix is basically a slave to Lex, innocent and being duped. This wasn't easy to reread, let alone review.

And Valor? He is Lar Gand. In this new DCU where there was no Superboy, Gand's origin needed to be tweaked. He isn't called Mon-El. He goes by Valor even though he is the same character. Without Superboy to inspire the Legion, Valor is now the 20th century hero that the future heroes look up to. And here, he is pure 90s with his massive shoulder pads and some angst. I didn't get this book at the time (outside this issue) so I can't comment on some of the threads mentioned by the character. If anyone did read this book, chime in and let me know about the book in general.

I love the cover which uses the trope of Supergirl hoisting a large weight over her head. It grabs the eye. And it is clear what the plot is ... Valor Vs. Supergirl.

Overall, this is an issue to revisit if only to showcase just how far the character of Supergirl has come in the last 20 years (really the last 10 years).  On to the book ...

"Boy Meets Supergirl" was written by Robert Loren Fleming with art by M.D. Bright and Al Gordon. It seems at this point, Valor is new to the world and just getting used to having powers.

Fleming definitely showcases that Valor is young and a bit new to the game. He seems to be feeling people out still, trying to figure out who he should trust and what he should be doing. He is comfortable with using his powers but not polished with them. And he doesn't seem like he is necessarily tied to Earth.

Bright does a nice job on pencils here. There is a 90s feel to the action. But there is a sort of economy of lines here. The facial expressions are simple but effective. I like how the book looks and this Supergirl is strong and beautiful.

In some ways, this is an earlier version of "Boy meets Girl", the issue where a Lex-smitten Matrix meets Superboy during the Reign of the Supermen.

Out in the wilderness, Valor uses scrap metal and his powers to create this memorial for his father, including an 'eternal flame' from a drill he put into an oil deposit he has found. We see it from the other viewpoint and see it looks like a stylized S, reminiscent of the S-shield.

But this discussion about his father is lost on me, probably because I don't know this new Valor's origin. His father did the best he could. And Valor, after being angry about something his Dad has done, forgives him.

A cursory research run shows that Lar's father sacrificed himself in the Invasion which prompted Lar to become a hero. It was during this time that Lar rescues humans who have been experimented on and becomes 'the seeder of worlds', taking these people to other planets to colonize them. (That history and legacy is intact in the 5YL Legion.)

From a distance, Lex Luthor observes everything Valor is doing. The last thing Lex wants is another Superman flying around the world. And so Luthor decides to intervene. He will be pro-active to rid himself of the Lar Gand problem. And the best way to do that is with Supergirl.

But there is something awful about this. Lex is looking at a giant monitor of Supergirl's chest. He compares her to a cat, a pet of his.

It is despicable, which makes me hate Luthor. But it shows the depths that Supergirl has sank.

Supergirl arrives to chat with Valor and to bring him back to Lex Corp.

She is young and vivacious and clearly beautiful. As we see elsewhere, she is so gorgeous that young men trip over their words in her presence. Here, Valor misspeaks his name he is so overwhelmed by Matrix here. That third panel with him rubbing his head lets us know he is just nervous and stammering.

Bright and Gordon do a nice job of making her look like a classic 'girl next door' beauty, so striking that she shakes the galactic hero.

But when Lar refuses to join her in heading back to LexCorp, she strikes.

It shows just how subservient this Matrix is to Luthor. She will use force to bring Valor in because Lex tells her so. She is like a pawn or a toy. She just wants to please her man and will do whatever he wants to make him happy. (Remember, this was also a time where she would shapeshift into different women for him ... brrrr.)

Again, Bright and Gordon do a great job showing us Supergirl's power. That first panel is a great representation of her psi-blasts. Matrix is like the snake, so pretty when coiled, but you get too close ... she strikes!

We then get several pages of the two flying around and fighting each other. We have learned many times that Superman is stronger than Matrix. And Gand has Superman's powers. So this shouldn't be a fight. But it is. Part of it is that Lar is still learning to use his powers. And maybe he hasn't hit his peak levels.

But Matrix's dialogue is just bristling. While the fight hand to hand, she screams 'only one man is allowed near me and his initials are L.L!'

Yeesh ...
Still, she knows how to use her powers well enough, mixing in psi-blasts and physical attacks.

The battle rages on until the two crash through the monument Valor built to honor his father.

Even Supergirl feels bad for this. She didn't mean to do this, to disrespect Valor's memories. She gets the sentiment. She even tells him she will rebuild it.

I think this shows the odd duality of Matrix. I think she has goodness in her heart. But she is so wrapped around Lex's finger she just can't refuse him anything.

With his memorial destroyed, Valor decides to drop the kid gloves. He chases Matrix at top speed and grabs her mid-flight. The resulting sudden stop has the two spin out of control and flying into a mountain which crumbles around and on top of them both.

I love these panels. For one, it makes sense that any sudden jerk while in midflight would send someone into a bit of a tailspin until they could regain control. But Bright adds so much energy to the action. Matrix and Valor's bodies are just contorted and askew in the top panel. You can feel how out of control they are.

And even in the second panel, you just sense that Matrix is careening.

Realizing this isn't a fight she can easily win, Matrix turns invisible to gather her wits and try to come up with a plan. Luckily the fight has taken the two of them close to the Lexcorp facility she is supposed to bring Lar to.

But again, her dialogue is just awful. She can't come up with an idea on her own to get Valor there and so wishes Lex was there to guide her. Matrix really is a lost soul in these books. She so quickly turns to Lex for information and guidance.

But the wishing Lex was there gives her an idea. She shapeshifts into Lex and then demands Valor to join him at LexCorp. Confused or maybe in awe of 'Lex', Valor agrees. Lar picks up 'Lex' and flies them to the building where Matrix drops out of sight allowing the real Lex to take over. It is easy for her to impersonate the man she loves. Blecchh.

A lot of this is a bit too pat. Why would Lex be on the fallen mountain? Why wouldn't Valor question things like that? And why listen to Lex and not Supergirl? Sexism?

Luthor shows Valor a spaceship he has built for the Daxamite. If he doesn't want Lar Gand to interfere with things on Earth, why not get him off world. Gand is an explorer. So give him a ship so he leaves! Not a bad idea by Lex. Why fight when he can flatter and get the same results?

As for Supergirl, the book ends with her living up to her promise. She'll rebuild the monument she destroyed. Again, it shows that there is some nobility inside her. It is just lost in her devotion to Lex.

I have said it many times here. The character of Matrix goes through a pretty big evolution about 2 years from this book. Starting in Funeral For A Friend, working through Reign, and ultimately ending with the Supergirl mini-series, she becomes more independent, learns to be a hero, and leaves Lex behind. And then she merges with Linda Danvers and all changes again.

Still, from a historical viewpoint, this is a great issue to look at how rough the late 80s and early 90s were for Supergirl fans. And all this is after she goes crazy, impersonates Clark, and becomes Brainiac's slave! Incredible and terrible.

Outside of that, I don't think I can recommend this book.

Overall grade: C


Martin Gray said...

Nice review. Not the best issue, gosh, I hated the Lex/Matrix thing - a superhero can be duped for a little while, but falling in love with a duplicitous shyster? This character is supposed to have something of Lana Lang in her, she should be smarter. Oh, for some Sikver Age Super-Intuition!

Anonymous said...

Or some Silver Age Super-Common Sense. Or Super-Self-Respect. Or something.

Regarding the suit of Mon-El... You know you're reading a Nineties book if a classic character is wearing an awful new costume: Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Thor... I'm sorry, but I hated most of redesigns.

Supergirl has definitely changed a lot. In twenty years DC went through three different Supergirls before figuring out that the original Supergirl was popular and well-liked and her origin less convoluted than protoplasmic shape-shifters from a pocket universe, flame-winged Earth angels or hypothetical future daughters. And Kara got a successful and well-regarded solo book (let's to NOT talk about the Kelly run) and two relaunches, her character went through drastic developments, and she is an important part of the Superman mythos again.

(I don't hate Matrix, Linda Danvers or Cir-El... but as far as I'm concerned, Supergirl IS Kara Zor-El)

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

In regards to Valor the comic, you can find them in quarter or dollar bins. Most of the stories were done in one, and while the art wasn't always great, it was a decent book for the time. It didn't have a long run, and I remember a few guest-stars, one being a Green Lantern.

If you can find a few of them cheap, they're fun enough.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Anj. Appreciate the history / perspective, especially on Matrix pre-PAD days. I've got the 1st tradepaperback
on order -- can't wait! -- but little glimpses like these show me where Matrix was before that time. I'll spare the "how subserviant
she was to Lex" salt-pouring... the panels speak for themselves.

Also, surprised this hasn't been mentioned by you yet, DC Superhero Girls Superhero of the Year is out! Just got my copy yesterday
and can't wait to plug it in tonight. Hope you do a review on it, Anj.


Anonymous said...

and @original Anon
> but as far as I'm concerned, Supergirl IS Kara Zor-El

+10,000,000,000 on that! And call me biased, but no Kara Zor-L / Power Girl either. Though I am partial to Kara In-Ze :)


Dave Mullen said...

A fascinating look back on the early 1990s of DC Comics. Revisiting this Valor issue makes for a well timed example of just how convoluted and alien continuity and character becomes after multiple restarts of continuity, it makes for a sober contrast to the equally patchwork and brittle DC Universe we have right now, which is just as convoluted and brittle as it was when this issue arrived on the shelves with its heavily revised Supergirl and Lar Gand...

I remember Valor well, throughout the 23 issue run it was marked from start to finish by uniformly superb visuals from Mark Bright, Jerome Moore and Colleen Doran, but with a premise and character that were wholly insubstatial and one-dimensional. The book was set around an interstallar nomad essentially, a figure who had all the powers of Superman and was someday destined to be the Legion of Super-Heroes' most powerful member, yet here he is - a hapless, naive, and fresh faced boy with no direction and a reliance on a shuttle to get him around his tour of the galaxy.

In hindsight, and bearing this in mind, he and Supergirl here have everything in common... And in Supergirl's case It did seem to be that she was her own worst enemy. Superman/Clark had made sincere efforts to advise and warn her of the reality of Lex Luthor, but even with this warning and a friend (Clark) always close by to visit, she was incredibly slow to take note of the signs presented and as with Superman's original approaches and warnings completely unprepared to process the truth when she DID learn of Luthor's hidden face, and the plan to clone her for his own agenda.

But then one mustn't forget the truth was that she was never an actual human being, created in a lab she had none of the intuition or social programming that a real person has. As Peter David put it when he launched her in her own series it is hard to care for, or develop, a blob of protoplasm that is programmed to assume human form... she was created as putty and remained putty, until David added a little something else to give her that actual human dimension and make her finally real.