Earlier this week, on the Supergirl show, Supergirl faced off against Draaga in Roulette's fight club. And, while Draaga was formidable, Supergirl ended up taking him out pretty easily. It made me think that it was time to review Action Comics #674, the prologue to Panic of the Sky and the reintroduction of Matrix Supergirl into the DCU after a prolonged absence.
A bit of history before we jump into the story. The Matrix Supergirl was part of the (in)famous Supergirl Saga in the waning days of the John Byrne Superman run. Supergirl was back in the post-Crisis universe but she was a protoplasmic Matrix from a 'pocket universe' created by the Time Trapper and ultimately overrun by that universe's Phantom Zone villains, still amped up to Silver Age Kryptonian level. In that story, Superman executed the other universe's villains with Green K, thus giving Zach Snyder apologists an easy counterargument against his vile interpretation of the Man of Steel.
After that story, Matrix ... now called Mae ... became a childlike featureless being who was taken in by the Kents and slowly introduced to the new world around her. However, when Superman exiled himself from Earth over his guilt from killing those villains, Matrix used her shape-changing powers to live the life of Clark Kent and Superman. While it protected Superman's secret identity, it did further shatter Matrix's fragile psyche. When the real Superman came back, Matrix fought him in an attempt to keep the Superman identity for herself. After that brawl, the Matrix (now in the form of a gray clad Superman) flew into space to find herself.
Whew ... you get all that?
Suffice it to say, it wasn't an easy time to be a Supergirl fan. The Matrix Supergirl may have had a nice costume but she was a bit of a disaster. And in the end, she was so schizophrenic that she wasn't even Supergirl anymore. Instead she was Matrix Superman! Really?!?
So why does this cover sport the 'Supergirl in Action Comics' title font with a lovely pic of her standing over Draaga? Well, you'll have to read on as I present 'The Past is Prologue' by writer Roger Stern and artists Bob McLeod and Denis Rodier. Stern does a great job of weaving this story and setting up Panic in the Sky. And McLeod and Rodier have a clean house style which works nicely.
And while it was good to see Supergirl again things are going to get worse before they get better for her.
We start out in a tavern on the planet Kletus-4, a world which seems very much still existing in the Wild West. Robots and aliens and hombres of all sorts are in this bar. All we would need is someone playing a piano in the background. One of the barmaids is telling of a recent encounter where she was saved from an unsavory patron by Superman. Well, at least someone who looks like Superman. He is wearing a gray tone version of his costume under a Southwest looking poncho.
The rescued bartender is smitten. But this Superman is led out of the bar by an orange-skinned alien who think it is 'The Superman'.
I think the important thing to remember here is that the 'Matrix Superman' had left Earth in Action Comics #644, a full two and a half years earlier. So unless you have long term memory or recognized the outfit, you might think this was a flashback of the actual Superman from when he was in exile.
The story is being retold in this bar to Draaga!
That's right Draaga, the former arena champion on Warworld who was defeated by Superman. When Superman refused Mongul's order to kill Draaga, the warrior was cast off of Warworld in disgrace, forced to wear Superman's crest as a mark of his warrior shame.
The only way for Draaga to regain his honor is to find and kill Superman in combat and this story of Superman at the bar in a recent time intrigues him. Maybe he can try to track down his hated foe.
And guess who else is in the bar? Our old friend Maxima! We don't know why she happens to be in the bar but it seems too crazy to be coincidence. She has an axe to grind with Superman as well and so she offers Draaga her resources to track down this Superman.
Meanwhile in Metropolis the real Superman is angrily shutting down Intergang.
One thing that is interesting about this issue in retrospect is how many elements from the television show are in it. Draaga! Maxima! And now, the Hellgrammite!
Remember, he was hired to kill Lex Luthor II! Eventually he ran into the Matrix Supergirl and lost that fight!
The alien which whisked Superman away was the assistant to the Cleric, the alien who taught the exiled Superman about Kryptonian history and the Eradicator device. This alien thinks Superman has returned to fulfill his galactic destiny. It thinks Superman has amnesia (not realizing it isn't The Superman) and so brings this Superman to the Cleric's grave to try to jog those 'lost memories'.
And who arrives shortly thereafter? Draaga .... ready for battle.
Matrix tries to explain that she isn't really Superman. In fact she asks if Draaga is a fan since he also is wearing the S-shield. But he wants no part of it. The fight is on!
I do like that Matrix is really naive, almost immature, in her approach to people.
After a couple of opening shots, Matrix decides it needs to use all its powers. She goes invisible and fires psi-bolts in battle.
Slowly but surely, everyone, including Maxima watching from her ship, begins to realize that maybe ... just maybe ... this isn't the real Superman.
But this is Draaga, a mighty warrior. And once this Superman reappears, he defeats her easily by pummeling her with a huge boulder.
But this shock to the system seems to snap Matrix back into one of her 'default' forms. Suddenly she is back to being nothing but a 'slip of a girl' ... Supergirl.
This adds even more to Draaga's shame. He was lured into a fight with a shape-shifter believing it was his ultimate empty.
But for the first time .... in a looooonnng time ... we have a Matrix Supergirl again. We haven't seen her since the end of the Supergirl saga.
The battle seems over when out of nowhere Warworld appears in orbit of this planetoid. Warworld teleports Draaga and Supergirl into the very Warworld arena where he was champion.
The ruler of Warworld says that he will reinstate Draaga as Champion of Warworld and will aid him in his quest to kill Superman. All Draaga has to do is swear loyalty to this leader.
Draaga won't bow to any man so easily and before he can gather his thoughts, Supergirl rouses.
And she isn't happy ...
And with a little nudge from this leader (as seen by the green glow of control around her eyes), Supergirl demolishes Draaga. And she does so in a frighteningly efficient way. She seems almost out of control, furious, and feral.
Matrix was never a stable being.
This is almost scary.
But, as in the show, Supergirl does indeed defeat Draaga!
But just like that she is the champion of Warworld, loving the cheers of the bloodthirsty crowd. This is actually a nice shot of her, albeit in a weird way.
The leader of Warworld scans Matrix recognizes her strength! And he knows that he can easily control her, both body and mind.
So yet another ugly chapter of the post-Crisis Supergirl is about to open.
Because she is now the thrall of the new leader of Warworld .. Brainiac!
And this is a powerful new Brainiac. He rules Warworld. He has conquered Maxima's planet Almerac. And now he is going after Earth and Superman.
But let's recap.
Protoplasm from pocket universe imprinted with Lana's memories.
Goop-ified in battle with Phantom Zone villains.
Child-like blob in care of Kents.
Insane doppelganger of Superman/Clark.
Roamer of the galaxy.
Slave of Brainiac.
Yep, these early 90's issues were rough times for Supergirl fans. And we haven't even talked about being a love kitten for Lex! Yeesh.
Still, a lovely cover and the beginning of her journey which ultimately (albeit years hence) brings her to heroism. It should be part of a Supergirl fan's collection.
Overall grade: B- (for Supergirl fans), A (for prologue to big story)