Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Back Issue Box: Superman #173

Strange Visitor is coming to Supergirl and she doesn't look happy.

But who is she?

I have reviewed Strange Visitor's first storyline earlier this month here and here.

So what about the end of her story?

Superman #173, written by Jeph Loeb with art by the dynamic team of Ed McGuinness and Cam Smith, is one of the final chapters of the Worlds At War mega-arc which traveled through the Superman (and other DC books) in 2001. The simple plot is that a Galactus-style galaxy eater named Imperiex is coming to eat Earth. The enemy of my enemy is my friend so Darkseid has brought Apokolips into our solar system to team up to defeat Imperiex. But things look dismal. Simple Imperiex probes have been incredibly difficult to defeat, let alone the main man himself. The heroes need a secret weapon. Someone will need to sacrifice themselves (as the cover says).

So where does Strange Visitor and her electric blue energy come into play. For once, the cover actually mirrors the inside!

On to the issue.

The issue is titled The Red Badge of Courage, the name of the famous Civil War novel. The badge was the blood stain of a wound made in battle. And this is an intergalactic war.

The heroes are rallying. They have suffered their casualties. But things are sort of looking up. The probe factory has been destroyed. Only Imperiex himself remains.

I will say that I love Ed McGuinness' art. For some reason it just sings to me. I will read his stuff whenever I can.

And Loeb does an odd thing, mixing quotes of a JFK speech into the story, sometimes with success.

This was a time when Luthor was president. Imperiex is heading into our system to devour it. He needs to be killed. And Luthor needs to know that Superman is on board with this lethal approach. In a nice analogy, Luthor says that Superman needs to think of Imperiex as an earthquake or a tidal wave, a force of nature to be stopped. And surprisingly, Superman seems to agree. He knows what he needs to do. Hmmm ...

But the allies have a secret weapon ... Strange Visitor! Imperiex is living energy. If his armor is pierced, he dissipates and dies. Strange Visitor is the 'payload', the thing to pierce the shell and kill the enemy.

I have said before how much I love the look of Strange Visitor. Give me an Ed McGuinness Strange Visitor and I like it even more. Just sparkling!

Remember though, this is War. Lois is on the satellite as a reporter. In a quiet moment, she and Superman unite. She says she misses Clark. She misses that quiet life, the two together. Superman is the soldier. Clark is the husband.

But both know a job needs to be done. They can be sad and miss each other. But they can't delay the mission.

I can't say how much I love this small scene being in the book. It can't all be action. There needs to be some human component to bolster what we're seeing.

Superman and Strange Visitor get into a rocket piloted by Sergeant Rock and the Blackhawks. On the way, Strange Visitor talks of how Rock must be thrilled to be honored and remembered for all he accomplished in the war.

But Rock wants no part of it. He'd rather more of his friends survived. He wishes he didn't have to experience all he went through. Strange Visitor would do well not to want that Red Badge of Courage. Instead, she should want a life where she didn't have to do what she is being called upon to do.

It is an interesting viewpoint. War is Hell. Rock had a belly full of it. Odd that she would want something as human as battle honor, especially given her origin. She is after all, part Smallville human and part cosmic Kismet.

As Superman and Strange Visitor approach Imperiex, Superman talks about the future. Strange Visitor hasn't been part of the Superman Family and that seems wrong to him. He should train her or enlist her into the JLA.

It is here that she tells him that this is a suicide mission for her. She isn't coming back.

You would think that Superman would have pressed her on what this mission entailed prior to this point. And I don't quite know how Luthor, Professor Hamilton, or everyone else knew that what she does is something she could do.

She possesses Superman, embedding herself into his brain, turning him into something akin to a Captain Atom looking being as seen on the cover.

Once again, McGuinness just kills it here on art. I love that top panel.

And then, something different.

In the middle of the garish, over the top, stylized McGuinness pages, we get this two page, black and white, collage like double page spread by Bill Sienkiewicz. I wish I could have been in the room when this was discussed. It is brilliant and beautiful. But was this always planned? Did Sienkiewicz like Strange Visitor? What prompted this?

Anyways, this reviews Strange Visitor's life. Sharon Vance died as a child. She didn't live as a vessel of Kismet. She was a 'wrinkle in reality'. It is why her life was hard. It is why she never fit in as any version of herself. And so this 'essence', this Strange Visitor, gets to fulfill her destiny and protect the people who protected her.

Okay, it's a little vague. And no one really missed Strange Visitor enough to worry about this update/tweak of her origins. But you have to love the package. Just a great couple of pages by Sienkiewicz.

But it works.

The Strange Visitor possessed Superman, looking all blue and shiny, flies into Imperiex like a bullet, piercing the armor as anticipated. And we get a pretty big double page splash showing the strike with a nice mix of colors and blacks and whites and maybe an assist from omega beams.

The Imperiex energy leaks from the armor and the threat is over ....

Or is it?

Cloaked nearby is a Brainiac controlled Warworld. And this Warworld is able to absorb the Imperiex energy, becoming super-fueled, and ready to destroy all those that stands against it.

But why waste his own energy? Brainiac has a cannon on Earth fire onto Apokolips. Darkseid thinks he has been betrayed. Suddenly the uneasy alliance of Earth and Apokolips is shattered while the real enemy looks on laughing,.

Alas, this cliffhanger will need to hang! I am here to remember Strange Visitor and review her end. And she went out as the hero she wanted to be. Without Strange Visitor, the Earth would be destroyed and Imperiex would still be out there devouring.

I have to say, this is a nice finale for a little known character. Between McGuinness' stylings and the incredible Sienkiewicz double page spread, this was a bigger treat than I anticipated!

Will this be part of the 'new' Strange Visitor's history? I guess we only need to wait a bit more to find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It feels so strange to see Wonder Woman wearing her eagle-shaped armor and Kyle being the primary GL. Back then Sam Lane had just been "killed" in action and the Superman Family was very different. No Krypto, no half-Luthor Superboy, Supergirl was still an Earth Angel and Power Girl wasn't Kryptonian. But the DC universe was about to change again.

One thing never changes, though: A member of the Super-Family always dies heroically. Poor Clark Kent. His family and friends always leave him.

McGuinness' art is cartoony but good-looking. And that Sienkiewicz page is fascinating.

"Superman and Strange Visitor get into a rocket piloted by Sergeant Rock and the Blackhawks."

I though Sergeant Rock canonically got killed in action at the very end of WWII?

Anyway, in the last issue of "Supergirl" Strange Visitor said she died but she was pulled back. Of course, she's dazed and possibly brainwashed, but I wonder what it means: this saga is still in continuity? And why does she think Supergirl did anything to her? Supergirl took part in the battle in the "Reborn" continuity?