Thursday, September 7, 2017

Back Issue Review: Superman Family #194

Some of you might be looking at this post's title and the cover of Superman Family #194 and be thinking 'didn't Anj cover this issue already?'

The answer is yes. I have indeed covered the Supergirl story in this issue here:
http://comicboxcommentary.blogspot.com/2017/02/back-issue-review-superman-family-194.html

But remember that Superman Family is an anthology title and the Nightwing and Flamebird story in this issue is one I felt I wanted to cover given some interesting wrinkles in the current post-Rebirth DCU. I always love when I can look at a back issue as a sort of reflection or reference to current times.


In this instance, the mystery of Mr. Oz is about the be revealed to us as readers. One of the leading candidates for Mr. Oz's identity is that he is a version of Jor-El. Back on August 24 (and echoed a week later on Bleeding Cool), I commented that Mr. Oz spelled backwards is Zor-M. I wondered if Oz might be a twisted version of Zor-El.

After all, we have seen Zor-El recently be an insane mass murderer plagued by visions of demons (thanks Joe Kelly!). We have seen him be an unscrupulous scientist who experimented on his own daughter without her consent (thanks New 52)! And we have seen him turned into the Cyborg Superman, willing to kill his own daughter to resurrect himself (thanks New 52 again! The gift that keeps on giving!). So why not turn him into some universal villain.

Well, I can hope not.

But what do the Jor-El and Zor-El theories have to do with this issue? Well, read on.


"Showdown" was written by Paul Kupperberg with incredible art by Marshall Rogers. It is the final Nightwing and Flamebird story in the Superman Family book, the culmination of a long 'Crimelord' story arc in which the heroes are battling a mob leader operating within Kandor. The art by Rogers is a major draw for me (it always is). But Kupperberg adds a great wrinkle to the conclusion.

We start out with our heroes and the Kandorian police guarding the Sunstone, the rarest Kryptonian gem which can absorb energy. Certainly sunstones have become a key part of Kryptonian mythos. I wonder if this was one of the first mentions.


Despite preparing for the Crimelord to make a play for the Sunstone, the police still seem a bit outmatched when one actually happens. Nightwing and Flamebird spring into action, joining the battle. I love the dynamic feel of Rogers' art here. And there definitely is a Batman and Robin vibe to this fight. Perhaps this harkened back to Rogers' work on Detective!


It turns out that the opening assault with thugs was just a prelude to the real attack. The Crimelord himself arrives in a heavily armored ship With the touch of a button, he captures Nightwing, Flamebird, and the Sunstone in force fields and then teleports away.


Handcuffed and bound in the Crimelord's lair, the heroes bait the villain into some old fashioned monologuing.

The Crimelord has been gathering intel and material to counteract the effects of Brainiac's shrinking ray. He is going to enlarge Kandor!

For he is ....


Jur-Ll!

That's right! It is an evil version of Jor-El!

This Jur-Ll took over his Krypton with an evil crime empire, ruling the planet with an iron fist until he was betrayed by his own underlings. There is no honor among thieves.

I thought this reveal resonated with the current mystery and theories about Mr. Oz nicely.

Plus, look at the art. There is a tinge of Rogers' take on the Fourth World in Mister Miracle in this brief look at Krypton. And I love seeing an aged Jor-El (or Jur-Ll)!


The Crimelord was banished to the Phantom Zone on his world and wandered until he found a rip in the fabric of space. Climbing back into the physical world, this Jur-Ll found himself unfortunately in the Earth-1 Kandor on the very day Brainiac stole the planet. Talk about bad luck.

I love the art on this page, especially that on of Jur climing out of the zone.

I wonder why he didn't just say he was Jor-El visiting the city unluckily.


But instead, he has hidden in Kandor for decades, plotting, building his new empire, and hiding out in the mountains just outside the captured city. And with the power the Sunstone has been guzzling, he'll be able to use his equipment to enlarge the city.

The experiment will destroy Kandor but he, Jur-Ll, will survive. (I don't know how he'll survive.) And then, using his super-science, he'll take over Earth. None will be able to stand against him! Not even Superman!

Unfortunately, Jur-Ll made a classic error. He left his villains alive and nearby. And with a tool from his 'utility belt', Nightwing is able to free himself and his partner.

Seems like a bit of hubris on the Crimelord to keep these guys so close.


A skirmish ensues and in the battle the equipment regulating the sunstone is damaged. Suddenly the Sunstone becomes something of a bomb. Without the careful calibrations, all of Kandor is doomed.

In a bit of justice, Jur-Ll is knocked into the stone, causing it to fall on him. I love the style of these panels. The use of negative space, lack of detail, brilliant rays from the stone ... it all works.


And that is followed up by another great page. All the energy of the stone is sent into Jur-Ll who is ripped into nothingness. He becomes a 'nebulous wraith'.

Okay, so maybe that all ended a bit too abruptly. We barely get the explanation of what he is hoping to do before the fight happens. We don't see exactly why the Sunstone is overloading. And we don't see what happens that makes it fall onto Jur-Ll.

But in the space of 4 pages we get the reveal, the fight, and then end of the main villain.


As Flamebird says, it is ironic that ultimately Jur-Ll saved the very city he was about to destroy.

It is a nice ending, the heroes walking away. And I love the sunstone contantly giving off rays.

As I said, this felt like a somewhat rushed ending. But in an anthology book, these things happened fast. And thankfully, the art carries the speedy plot gorgeously.

But the big thing here is the evil Jur-Ll, perhaps an early version of who Mr. Oz will be.

If you are a Rogers completionist, you should definitely hunt down this issue. And kudos to Kupperberg for making this heroic duo a compelling team!

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

"After all, we have seen Zor-El recently be an insane mass murderer plagued by visions of demons (thanks Joe Kelly!). We have seen him be an unscrupulous scientist who experimented on his own daughter without her consent (thanks New 52)! And we have seen him turned into the Cyborg Superman, willing to kill his own daughter to resurrect himself (thanks New 52 again! The gift that keeps on giving!). So why not turn him into some universal villain."

You've forgotten "We have seen him hating his brother, lusting after his sister-in-law and trying to kill his daughter and nephew. Thank you, Smallville show! And we have seen him cooking up biological weapons. Thank you, Supergirl show!"

You're right, New 52 is "the gift that keeps on giving". How sad is possibly the best thing happened to Supergirl during that run was to become a Red Lantern.

I'm so sick of Awful Dystopia!Krypton, Evil!Zor-El and Asshole Jor-El. I really don't want see more Evil!Zor-El or the all-new, all-different Evil Asshole!Jor-El.

I have a real bad feeling about the upcoming arc...

Moving on. Nightwing and Flamebird's adventures were quite entertaining. They were kind of a Batman and Robin on Krypton (back when Batman was dark but actually entertaining instead of daaaaaaaark, and griiiiiim and griiiiiity). And Marshall Rogers' art is gorgeous. Those panels where the Sunstone falls onto Jur-LL (Jur-Ll? Really?) are Ditko-like bizarre.

Sunstone. Uh. And here I thinking it was a movie addition to the mythos. Funny how the Pre-Crisis stuff has always refused to die off quietly.

... Jur-Ll? JUR-LL?

Martin Gray said...

I don't think I've read that story since I bought the issue, what a cracker. I've said it before, I'd love a collection of those Superman Family Flamebird and Nightwing stories. And that art makes me wish Rogers had had a run on Legion, he'd have fit right in around the time of James Sherman.

Great review!

Anonymous said...

I know I sound like a Broken Record Here, but Nightwing and Flamebird (E-Listers in the DCU at best during the Bronze Age, I think June Moone aka "The Enchantress" had a bigger fan base) rate Marshall Rogers...and Supergirl is stuck with Don Heck in his scratchiest period of all? What am I not getting here??

I think Mr Oz could be Alan Moore....but I could be wrong.

:)

JF

Anonymous said...

"Nightwing and Flamebird (E-Listers in the DCU at best during the Bronze Age, I think June Moone aka "The Enchantress" had a bigger fan base) rate Marshall Rogers...and Supergirl is stuck with Don Heck in his scratchiest period of all?"

As someone who didn't enjoy Don Heck's art in "The Avengers" and was grateful when John Buscema took over, it as well mistified me.

"I think Mr Oz could be Alan Moore....but I could be wrong."

A most GrantMorrison-esque idea.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Interesting! Jur-LL in HIS green hood and robe DOES resemble Mr. Oz in HIS green hood and robe.

Maybe Jur-LL has a brother, Zur-LL?

But I can't help but think that Jur-LL is too obscure a villain to warrant a big reveal. And Superman Family 194 was sooo long long long ago, and pre-crisis besides.

On the other hand, who knows?

However it turns out, I hope it's not Jor-El or Zor-El.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.
Rogers only did this installment but it sure is pretty. I would have loved to see him on Supergirl even for one issue.
I doubt Oz is Jur-Ll but I can't recall other evil versions of Jor so thought I'd share.

Anonymous said...

"I doubt Oz is Jur-Ll but I can't recall other evil versions of Jor so thought I'd share."

Crime Syndicate Earth Jor-El was evil or at the very least abusive, I think? At least in the New 52?

Anyway, it's painfully obvious who Mr. Oz is.

Hooded, robed, manipulative figure messing up with Superman and his friends?

The Time Trapper. It has to be Rokk Kri- Anj, may you put that shotgun down, please? It's making me a bit nervous.

(I'm sorry. I had to make the joke. If it helps, I also think that was a HUGE what-were-they-thinking jumping-shark moment)

KET said...

Given that Bleeding Cool is a notorious click-bait site usually gets its 'facts' wrong in its endless quest for attention, I wouldn't put much stock in the idea that Mr. Oz is derived from the usually mediocre run of The Superman Family, a 70s anthology title that mostly served as purgatory for characters that couldn't sustain solo books of their own. That Supergirl eventually managed to escape from that title was a minor miracle in itself.

KET

Martin Gray said...

I loved that book! I wouldn't say it was of a lower standard than the rest of DC's output. One or two books were maybe better, but this was always a great value read for this fan of the family.

Anj said...

I doubt Oz is 'Jur-Ll'. I just wanted to show a story of a warped version of Jor-El given the current guess for Mr. Oz.

I guess we'll see soon enough.

And I liked Superman Family too!

Anonymous said...

"Given that Bleeding Cool is a notorious click-bait site usually gets its 'facts' wrong in its endless quest for attention, I wouldn't put much stock in the idea that Mr. Oz is derived from the usually mediocre run of The Superman Family"

I agree BC is a click-bait site, but as far I know, they haven't suggested Mr. Oz is based on Jur-LL.

"a 70s anthology title that mostly served as purgatory for characters that couldn't sustain solo books of their own."

In fact I've heard the anthology books were done to support decent-selling books.

"By the mid-70s, DC was looking for a new plan to support its superheroes, and it found it almost by chance when a publishing experiment revealed that readers were enthusiastic about 80 or 100 page comics, with wider profit margins.

Armed with this knowledge, DC developed a three pronged strategy: keep their profitable big-name (licensable) characters in their own regular comicbooks, cancel the worst selling titles outright, and merge everything in-between into super-sized anthology titles. As such, characters with decent sales but limited licensing possibilities found themselves uncomfortably sandwiched together into the pages of titles such as Superman Family, Batman Family, or Super-Team Family. And so inevitably, in March 1974, Supergirl was unceremoniously evicted from her own comic after just nine issues (a tenth would be published posthumously), to be lumped in with Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane in a new 100 page bimonthly anthology."

Source: https://maidofmight.wordpress.com/part-six-the-fall-and-rise-of-the-girl-of-steel/

"I loved that book! I wouldn't say it was of a lower standard than the rest of DC's output."

I also like it. I loved several of the strips. Reading the adventures of the original Clark Kent and Lois Lane back when their mainstream selves were chained to the old "I can't reveal my secret identity or get married" status quo was refreshing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah "Superman Family" wasn't a bad idea as a dollar book, it concentrated a somewhat disparate audience properly (assuming Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, or Krypto the Superdog all had readerships worth concentrating)...its in the execution that the project falls short at least as far as Supergirl is concerned. And that criticism chiefly centers on a revolving door of creatives that finally imposes a sucession of mediocrities as Kara's prime pencilers (Don Heck then Win Mortimer)...a stable worthwhile writer-penciler combo (exp Steve Skeates and Joe Staton) wouldve; done Supergirl a world of good in The Superman Family Dollar Book IMHO.
But as for Mister Oz....I'm thinking Stan Lee or maybe E Nelson Bridwell is finally ready to Rise from the Ashes (about damn time too sez I)

:)

JF

Professor Feetlebaum said...

"Superman Family....mostly served as purgatory for characters that couldn't sustain solo books of their own."
That was true by the early '70s, but Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen and Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane both had long respectable runs (Olsen 20 years, 163 issues, Lois 16 years, 137 issues) before a changing readership prompted their cancellation. Had a Supergirl title started around 1960, I have no doubt it too would have had a long run. I would guess that the only reason a Supergirl comic wasn't considered back then was because Mort Weisinger's schedule was already full.

KET said...

"I agree BC is a click-bait site, but as far I know, they haven't suggested Mr. Oz is based on Jur-LL."

Well, give 'em time...they just haven't thought that one up yet, since they're still sifting through other bogus stories they've published to generate revenue.

"In fact I've heard the anthology books were done to support decent-selling books."

Not a fact...the dollar anthology books were basically a rescue effort for lingering IP that couldn't support themselves on their own. People seem to forget that these titles kept a lot of revenue flowing while DC Comics suffered through their late-70s Implosion of cancelled titles. Heck, DC almost cancelled Detective Comics in favor of folding it into The Batman Family...yes, the situation was that desperate.

"I loved that book! I wouldn't say it was of a lower standard than the rest of DC's output."

Everybody has sentimental favorites from 'back in the day'. However, that doesn't mean that the books existed purely for creative reasons. DC has also experimented with anthology titles in decades since, but they never generate enough interest or revenue to keep going. In other words, the effort to make the "Family" books successful in the 70s and 80s pretty much got wiped out by the distribution switch to the Direct Market. 'Back in the day', they made sense for newsstand distribution.

My point about them still stands: they were purgatory for existing characters who could no longer sustain themselves on their own. And while Supergirl eventually got another chance in the early 80s, the existing thought process at the time still proved to be true.

KET
"

H said...

Well, what do you know- good call Anj.