Thursday, November 3, 2016

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #674

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)


Anonymous said...

Good review.

I'm sorry, but every time I see Matrix, my mind screams "FAKE!" I have zero interest in Miss Replacement Strapy (in TVTropes words).

I have a hard time reading that Superman period (1985-1999). No Krypto, Supergirl is not Supergirl, Superman has a stupid mullet, Superboy is a totally radical dude, no Phantom Zone inmates, Zod is not Kryptonian, Brainiac is whatever, Argo City is not a Kryptonian city, Krypton is a cold, boring, dull and sterile dystopia with no interesting features... I liked some changes (Pa and Ma being alive is one of them), but it didn't feel like Superman to me.

Anonymous said...

Matrix was always "Supergirl Lite" and an ill conceived lite at a meta context, DC didn't want to surrender title to the "Supergirl" trademark and so rather make their peace with a character with a legit fanbase they double downed on this rather hapless bimbo. She has a fairly unique distinction in the Superman Family of being the Pawn of Both Brainiac and Lex Luthor in succession.
I honestly believe that DC even at this late date thought that "Power Girl" was gonna be the Face of The Franchise and so thus Supergirl was relegated to this embarrassing characterization so as not to interfere with PG's alleged rise to glory.
And if that didn't work there was always "Maxima" waiting in the wings....



Anonymous said...

Hey Anj, thanks for this review, and love the background on Draaga and Warworld. Appreciate the history on this :)


Anonymous said...

Well, Matrix wasn't the smartest character out there, but with "Panic in the Sky" she became a permanent part of the DC Universe and kept the idea of Supergirl alive until Kara Zor-El was revived by Loeb and Turner in 2004. Matrix became a much better character when Peter David took over writing chores and made her into the Earth-born Angel of Fire,then the white-shirted Linda Danvers Supergirl until her last adventure in 2003.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

Trust me when I say I learned to love Matrix. Starting in Death of Superman into Funeral for a Friend she really began to grow into an independent hero. And most know my absolute love of the PAD title.

She just had a rough start!

Dave Mullen said...

Here is a character who's chief flaw is the era of Superman she was born to - the era of the very last survivor of Krypton and a fiercely private and ordinary life for Clark Kent with 'superman' being the construct.

As a story and a title character I strongly feel Matrix/Supergirl has to be remembered in its context rather than in hindsight. Superman back in 1992 was such a different and unique character to where he was by 1998 and here in 2016 that it can be easily forgotten that the strict guidelines and foundation he was set upon meant that many of the elements we accept today simply weren't a part of that landscape back then, and yet I can't help but feel that the character was stronger for it.
So with Superman as the only surviving Kryptonian 'Supergirl' becomes an impossibility. So too do the Phantom Zone villains we once knew. There is no Superboy. No Superdog. No WGBS anchorman career. No saturation of Kryptonite or red sun radiation. No deep space/time travel. And none of this was bad per se', it simply was.

It is entirely fair to say Matrix-Supergirl wasn't a character that had any thought put into it, into where she was going and, more importantly, what her relationship and emotional connection with superman would be. In fact there barely was a connection. And instead she was positioned as just another prop in the city of Metropolis available for use. But this treatment and the thinking behind it comes not so much from creative indifference to the character as down to the reality of the nature of Clark Kent's identity at the time being the driving force behind the Superman concept. By the time Kara Zor-el was reintroduced to continuity by Jeph Loeb the landscape had changed so sharply that is was no longer the private and grounded Clark Kent who was the real full formed character, but Superman. Or at least the once construct that was 'Superman' had shifted to being of equal worth and value as Clark Kent himself.
So with Clark adamantly sealing off his life from the craziness of his 'Superman' construct where was there for an unworldly and public identity of Matrix/Supergirl to fit into that life? In a sense Supergirl at the time had the same problem as the publicly known Wonder Woman, both are essentially celebrities, both have no other identity. And no matter how much the Clark Kent or the artificial construct of 'Superman' of thiis era may have valued these two there is simply no way he would (or could?) allow them into his world. Not at that point in time.

And so it was.

Supergirl was a deeply flawed character true, but to some extent I can appreciate why it was she could never develop.

Anj said...

Thanks for the great comment Dave.
Yes, all these characters need to be viewed through the lens of the norms of the day and the DCU they operated in. So, yes, this Supergirl started with a stacked deck. Luckily, the true spirit of the name Supergirl eventually shined through.

Anonymous said...

I am the first anonymous. Maybe my previous words sounded harsher than intended, so let me clarify that I don't hate Matrix or blame her for replacing Kara. Fictional characters are not responsible for contemptuous creators, careless, ill-advised editorial policies or character-fridging. Blaming Matrix for being created would be so unfair like blaming Post-Crisis Kara for Linda being put on a bus.

Nonetheless, I don't care for Matrix. And the fact that DC needed to keep a Supergirl around so that nobody stole the trademark proves how pointless was the "Let's kill Supergirl so Superman is unique" edict.

"And none of this was bad per se', it simply was."

I did not tell it was "bad", but it was not Superman to me. Earth One Superman feels more Superman-like to me than his Post-Crisis self. And no, I'm not a nostalgic old-timer who longs for his childhood's Superman. I was born in 1980 and I have been mostly a Marvel fanboy since I was a little kid. I didn't even read Superman books when I was a child; I only watched the Donner movies and cartoons reruns.

Ironically, I didn't own any Superman books but I remember I owned a Supergirl issue when I was a child (I don't recall the issue, but I know it was Pre-Crisis Kara).

Anyway, I would argue that the "Only Last Of Krypton" edict WAS bad per se, because Superman lost supporting characters and, worst still, villains. A hero needs a large gallery of secondary characters and good villains.

Anonymous said...

As a addendum, I'll concede that Superman eternally mourning Krypton in the Pre-Crisis Era got old very, very quickly, and getting obsessed with their lost birth world rather than embracing Earth never did Clark or Linda any favors: I liked that Superman thought of himself like "Clark Kent". But I think Byrne was too far in the opposite direction when he had Clark saying Krypton "was meaningless".