Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Strange Visitor Review: Part One

Next month, Supergirl #16 comes out with this fantastic Robson Rocha cover showing Strange Visitor maniacally laughing while she seemingly attacks Supergirl. I was pretty impressed with this medium-depth cut of the Superman lore making it's way into the Supergirl book.

But then I thought I shouldn't necessarily be surprised. In this book alone, writer Steve Orlando brought back Lar-On, Psi, and even the extreme 90s version of the Manhunter!

And I really shouldn't have been surprised because back in Supergirl #6 I already noticed that the DEO was housing the Strange Visitor costume.

It does open up a bit of a continuity can of worms. Does this mean the Superman Red/Superman Blue/Electric Boogaloo storyling for the Man of Steel happened in the current DCU? Has the New 52 been erased to this degree? Or is there a new origin for Strange Visitor?

Regardless, I thought that Strange Visitor was a deep enough cut that I should review her character a bit, specifically the four part arc which introduced her from back in 1999.

This post will cover the first two parts of the story as they appeared in Superman #149 and Adventures of Superman #572. All four parts were written by Randall and Ron Frenz with art by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema.

I have to admit that I enjoyed the electric Superman a bit more than most. Even back then, I knew it was going to be temporary. I enjoyed what Grant Morrison did with that Superman in his lauded JLA run. And it was ridiculous in a way that I rolled with.

So in some ways, I was glad to see that run and the suit/look of that Superman brought back into the mythos with this character. I especially liked that the Superman #149 cover is a direct homage of the cover of Superman #123.

Superman #149 is titled "Who is Strange Visitor?" and opens with a flashback. Two weeks earlier, a passenger jet is peacefully flying when its engine explodes sending it plummeting to the ground.

But while the plane explodes in a fireball, all the passengers are saved but someone ... something ... a blue, electric angel ... an angel.

In the present, Superman is busy putting out a fire on one side of Metropolis. Frenz makes a point of stating that Superman is unique, alone, different, but also grounded by the morals and ethics of his upbringing.

While the Man of Steel is detained, a supervillain called 'The Dome' and his Neomen rob a Lexcorp site of tech. The villains are shooting up the city and endangering people when a blue electric based female hero arrives. We hear her internal thoughts, who she is feeling a rush to jump into action, who she is reveling in her power, and how she will stop these robots and their boss.

One thing that is clear is that this hero is something of an emotional hothead. In the heat of the battle, her anger grows, her powers lash out in a more uncontrolled manner. And while she stops The Dome, she does so dramatically, lashing out with more power than necessary.

This semi-lack of control is evident and a good hook for this story.

Supes arrives to get the lowdown on the skirmish and it is hear that Maggie Sawyer calls the neophyte hero 'Strange Visitor'. Why is she wearing Superman's costume? Why style herself that way?

Maggie also shares the obvious concern about Strange Visitor controlling her powers. This battle has fried three blocks of wiring. Is Strange Visitor as dangerous as the people she stops?

Strange Visitor hooks up with someone in Metropolis who is helping her. This person and Visitor herself realize that when her temper flares, her powers increase. It isn't safe.

Meanwhile, Clark tries to figure out the mystery by looking over the details. He describes Strange Visitor as 'photogenic'. Lois calls her a 'S-shield wearing minx'. A little weird.

But Clark is so distracted by the mystery he ignores a message that Professor Hamilton wants to talk to him. Clark thinks some detail is right in front of his eyes. DUDE! It is in front of your eyes! She is wearing your suit! It isn't cosplay!

The issue ends with us learning that Strange Visitor has been exceedingly busy in Metropolis. She has dealt with lots of issues Superman usually does. Some of them have thwarted the local gang headed by villain named War. In fact, when Superman gets outdone by Strange Visitor, he sounds almost jealous. This is his town.

The story takes two big leaps forward in the closing pages. For one, a young man in Smallville is seen talking to the police about his missing girlfriend Sharon. When he sees Strange Visitor on the screen, he is shocked! Hmm, having Strange Visitor come from Smallville is a bit of a stretch although it adds a layer of familiarity to this new hero come to the big city.

And Superman finally decides to visit Professor Hamilton where he discovers ... Strange Visitor!
On to Part 2!

Adventures of Superman #572 is titled 'When', the next question we are asking about Strange Visitor.

Before Superman can ask too many questions, Strange Visitor's power of 'cosmic empathy' kicks in and she takes off for a rescue. "Cosmic Empathy"?? I suppose vague enough to be multi-purpose. And in one panel, her face becomes all galactic, reminding me of Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) and his cosmic awarness. At least it explains how she is one step ahead of Superman all the time.

In a nice short scene showing just how caring Strange Visitor is, she talks a suicidal woman out of jumping off a building.

This is a scene we have seen many times in Superman books, both before this issue and after. So this mirroring of Superman is evident. I like how we are learning about Strange Visitor at the same pace as Superman.

We learn that Hamilton was running an experiment to gather ambient energy from the atmosphere and that drew the form of Strange Visitor. He recognized that she was dealing with issues like Superman did when he transformed and that is how Visitor ended up in the containment suit.

The woman who was going to jump did so because her ex had kidnapped their son Malik. And in the 'maybe too much coincidence' department, the husband is Wardell Washington, or War, the super-villain consolidating the Metropolis gangs into one unstoppable force. Can you dig it??

I am a bit intrigued by Metropolis police works. War stockpiling weapons and troops isn't enough to get the police to raid his known headquarters. But potential kidnapping? The force, Superman, and Strange Visitor all roll up and engage.

And inside, War shows his power, punching Superman into the stratosphere and initially thrashing Visitor.

Somehow it is a standoff. War is able to hold his own against Superman.

But then Strange Visitor decides that brute force isn't the right way to deal with War. Instead, she'll use her energy powers to drain him of his.

You can see that she takes great glee in this. She seems almost unhinged in that last panel. And once again, her emotions about the kidnapping get the better of her. The connection builds to the point where a meltdown would occur is Superman didn't break the two apart.

War is down for the count. But once again we see that Strange Visitor is dangerous. She can lose control ... and she enjoys it.

Compare the cover of Supergirl #16 above to that last panel. Looks like things haven't changed. And perhaps that energy drain power will be part of the story involving the currently overpowered Kara?

The energy spikes will eventually destroy the containment suit and Strange Visitor will disperse.

But there isn't much time to ponder that. The man from Smallville arrives in a cab, says Strange Visitor is his fiancee Sharon, and plants a big old kiss on her!

What does it all mean????

Overall, I like the idea of Strange Visitor, someone trying to live up to the ideal of Superman but having a hard time reining it all in. I like the idea of someone striving to be better but having to curb some of humanity's baser feelings. And I like the mystery. It is a cool design. But will it all pay off?

See you soon with the answers!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah. the 90's Superman. I tried to get into him, but I was unable to. I'm sorry. This issues happen during the so-called Triangle Era, right?

I think I'd never heard of Stranger Visitor before. She looks like a curious character. She looks enjoying her powers in a Phoenix-like way.

I'm a Spider-Man and Spider-Girl fan so I already knew Ron Frenz's dynamic and angular art, though.

"DUDE! It is in front of your eyes! She is wearing your suit! It isn't cosplay!"

Now we know why Clark thought he could get away with wearing glasses. He knows everybody may be as dense as him.

Do you remember how he mistook his own reality-displaced cousin for an obsessed cosplayer during "Many Happy Returns"?

This arc is a good show of the ever-changing nature of the setting surrounding a long-runner character like Superman. Back in 1999 Superman was married and getting involved with Hamilton, Strange Visitor and lame villains like War. Ten years before he was a rookie hero dealing with Luthor and Metropolis' crime and a bachelor coveted by Lois and Cat Grant. Ten years later he and his cousin Supergirl would defeat Brainiac, enlarge Kandor and would struggle to stop a war during which he would meet his foster son again.

The Superman mythos are eight-decade-old and evolving (which shows why the reboot and Byrne's obsession with bringing the character back to what he THOUGHT Siegel and Shuster did were such a short-sighted moves). Some characters (Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Kara, Krypto, the Els, the Kents...) and villains (Luthor, Mxyzptlk, Toyman, Brainiac, Zod...) become staples throughout the decades. Other characters are important or relevant during an era but eventually fade. Most of characters disappear after some few adventures.

Strange Visitor had been one of such characters (Do you see? My rant HAD a point!). I'm interested to see what Orlando does with her.