Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Matrix Supergirl Origins ... From The Silver Age?

For those who didn't know, I was on vacation last week and that meant a pretty deep immersion into comics. Ahhh ... free time. And it was a very zen experience, grabbing runs on books (Morrison's New X-Men), mini-series (hello Legionnaires Three!), and individual issues based solely on memories, suggestions, and mentions in my social media timeline.

One of the issues that I decided to reread, mostly because we are getting the Action Comics Special #1, returning Luthor to his purely evil roots, was Superman #292.

I don't think I can express how important this issue was for me as a kid. I am sure it was bought at a yard sale. While I knew who Luthor was already, this was a primer on his history. Please remember that in a world where there wasn't the internet, Comixology, or a glut of trades, readers only knew hardcore comic history through flashbacks, reprints, and editor's note boxes. This issue taught me who Luthor was and why he hated Superman.

So, you might be asking, why is this post titled 'Matrix Supergirl Origins'? Well ... read on.

In Superman #292, written by Elliot S. Maggin with art by Curt Swan and Bob Oksner, we see Luthor's history as a scientific genius, even way back in his salad days, wowing people in the chem lab of Smallville!

He creates some smoke demon during a chemistry lab, shocking the teachers.

Later, we see that in his lab and as a friend of Superboy, Lex has discovered an antidote for Krypton. And that solution was created in conjunction of creating a living protoplasm.

The lab catches fire. Superboy shows up and extinguishes the flames. But this rescue splashes Lex with chemicals which makes Lex's hair fall out. Even then, it felt extreme that going bald made Lex mad. I figure he was always living with a short fuse.

Now I have read this issue many many many times since first reading it in the seventies. I could describe this panel to you from memory.

There is a panel showing other of Luthor's famous skirmishes, shown in flashback. His creation of a sun machine which bakes Smallville, his animating Kryptonite army men, etc. But how, in all the years of my reading and the years that I have run this site, could I not think of the importance of that protoplasm.

Intrigued, I went to Adventure Comics #271, the first telling of Lex's youth and going bald, as told by mega-legends Jerry Siegel and Al Plastino. I own this in the form of a reprint in the Superman Vs. Luthor trade.

Here is that Superman #292 panel in it's original form, this time with the protoplasm looking much more purplish.

Perhaps it was looking at the purplish color of this original art that led me to the Matrix Supergirl.

In the late 80's John Byrne rewrote the Superman mythos and brought in a new Supergirl, a supposedly super-powered Lana Lang sent from a pocket universe to recruit Superman to save her Earth.

Shockingly, I have never reviewed the Supergirl Saga, the above story.

In Superman #22, in the final battle with evil Phantom Zone villains, Supergirl/Lana Lang is blasted by heat vision and devolves into a purplish goo.

Look familiar?

The Lex of that universe admits that Lana is actually 'protomatter' that Luthor created and imprinted with Lana's memories and looks.

So Lex created a crude protomatter? A living protoplasm?

And yes, she becomes Supergirl. The rest is history.

But there is no doubt that there is a hard link here. Luthor creating a purplish living protoplasm/protomatter.

Byrne must have been reaching back into history and grabbing that detail and inserting it into this Pocket Universe's canon. And with there being no Superboy alive in the universe, there is no accident, no loss of hair. Luthor can cultivate his discussion.

And it would be completely in line with Byrne to crib from the past. He revered the early Superman stories and honored them in his work.

He even semi-seemed to honor Supergirl's history.

Look at Superman #21, the first part of the Supergirl Saga.

When Superman first runs into this Protomatter Supergirl, they have dialog that is straight up lifted from Supergirl's first appearance in Action Comics #252.

This could be plagiarism. But I vote homage.

Want more evidence?

Check out my look at Byrne's Lori Lemaris issue, Superman #12, a book I reviewed over at Mart Gray's Too Dangerous For A Girl blog:

I go through how that issue is a beat-for-beat retelling of her origin, right down to the art.

I am going to assume that Matrix being a Luthor-created Protoplasm was a purposeful nod to Adventure Comics #271. If anyone knows how to reach out to Byrne and ask him directly, please let me know! I would love to hear from the man himself!

But seriously, how could I have not put this all together before today in 2018??? Bad bad Anj.


Anonymous said...

"And it would be completely in line with Byrne to crib from the past. He revered the early Superman stories and honored them in his work."


Byrne "borrowed/replicated" some superficial elements from old stories and then pretended he had captured the real essence of the characters.

And I don't buy he intended to honor Supergirl's history. Not when in "Generations" Kara is Superman and Lois' daughter who is brutally and very graphically murdered by her jealous brother. He disliked Supergirl because she made Superman less unique.

Anyway, I don't think Lex hated Superboy because of his hair loss. In that issue, Superman states Lex blamed his experiment's burning on him (as well as his baldness). The next scenes show Lex is convinced Superboy pretended to be his friend and then betrayed him. And in AdC #271 Lex angrily rants on about his ruined discovery and merely seems sad about his hair. So, yes, I'm certain that Luthor's hatred is deeper than "I hate you because I'm bald". He regards himself as the wronged victim of a treacherous, glory-hungry alien who ruined his life, and Lex is determined to prove he's better.

Honestly I think Pre-Crisis Lex was more complex of a character than Byrne's Luthor, who had zero redeeming qualities (IIRC). He was evil, corrupt and misogynist because he was evil, corrupt and misogynist.

Regardless, it was pretty cool to see the probable inspiration for Matrix. Thank you, Anj.

Martin Gray said...

Great piece, Anj, I'm sure you're onto something. Whether or not it was Byrne honouring from affection or it's more a case of his mining established lore, you have my admiration for some great detective work.

Count me as another who prefers the pre-Crisis Luthor, what with his Lexor family and devotion to Lena, the man had depth. Still a scumbag, mind!

Anonymous said...

This was awesome! Thank you Anj.

It sounds extremely likely that this is the origins of Matrix. Really made my day! I can't describe how much I love these breadcrumbs that makes sense of the world.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm anyone remember Luthor's bid to go "Full Frankenstein", "The Galactic Golem"? More artificial "living protoplasm (and a sadly forgotten bronze age super-antagonist). There was also a five part superman serial in Action Comics circa 1968 in which Superman is on the brink of death from "Kryptonian Leprosy" he has a counterfactual "fever dream" that posits a "Good Luthor" who wins the Nobel Prize for creating "A Living super-strong Being out of Protoplasm".
So I agree with our host there seems to be a reoccurring theme wherein Luthor tries to create "Grey Gooey Life"....but when Byrne recreated Supergirl as a Luthor devised "Glopdroid", the artist/writer basically degraded an independent character into a sort of patriarchical fantasy of artificial life. Symbolic, sad to say.