Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Back Issue Review: Adventure Comics #418

Last week on Supergirl Episode 406, 'Call to Arms', we saw Supergirl fight a dragon.

It was one of the best sequences I have seen on the show in a long time. I flat out loved it.

As a result, and thanks to a nudge from someone who left a comment here, I decided that I should take a look back at other times Supergirl fought a dragon.

These are all in the fluxing time period of the early 70s. Comics were starting to get more serious. But there was still a bit of Silver Age lunacy that could mix in. As a result, the two dragon stories that I am going to review are pretty wonky. So settle in.

Believe it or not, the earlier of the two stories is the less insane one.

Adventure Comics #418 came out in 1972 and the Supergirl run as the headliner in the title was just a few issues away. This was a time when the Supergirl stories were trying to be a bit more mature. Mike Sekowsky started the 'new adventures' way back in Adventure Comics #400. But Sekowsky had left leaving a handful of other creators to pinch hit.

And so we have 'The Face of the Dragon', a story which might be trying to cash in on the Kung Fu craze happening in America at the time. It also is trying to mesh the odd mix of film noir with the four color escapades of a super-powered Maid of Might. Basically, your mileage may vary.

All that said, please pick this book up if you see it in the cheap bins. The Black Canary back-up has a story with ridiculously gorgeous Alex Toth art. That alone is worth the price.

But onto the Supergirl story!

As I said, the story is sort of a mixed bag of Film Noir and super-hero action. The story is written by comic legend Len Wein. How interesting to see his name attached to a Supergirl story. And the art is by Jose Delbo. But the inks by Bob Oksner elevates this to a very comfortable Supergirl feel. There is a feeling of continuity given how Oksner renders the pencils.

We start out with a murder. In Chinatown in San Francisco, a citizen of Chinese descent is apparently incinerated by a Dragon. The Dragon Tong gang has been ruling the area with an iron fist of fear and violence. His outline is blasted on the wall. Supergirl is there to investigate.

But the voiceover is done in the pot-boiler prose of a Noir detective. And that is because our narrator isn't Kara. It's Jonny Double, intrepid C-list DC detective. And he's read the 'how to talk like a Shamus' handbook. Of course, Wein created Double so maybe he was hoping to increase the visibility of his creation.

He enters the story on a completely different tangent.

A raven-haired woman enters his office saying someone is out to kill her. She says she knows a secret about Linda Danvers, a secret so precision, Linda is willing to kill for it. As if on cue, a bullet is fired into Double's office, hitting the floor. Double can't believe the innocent Linda could be a killer but he picks up the job.

We know who this woman is ... it's Nasty. And she is hoping that putting Double on the case will lead to his discovering that Linda is Supergirl. But Double doesn't know who Nasty is or her motives. And a bullet can be convincing.

Linda decides she'll use her role as news team cameraperson as a way to nose around Chinatown and their Chinese Heritage Parade grounds to see what the Dragon Tong are up to.

Meanwhile, Double has done some homework, investigating who Linda is and 'running into her'. He basically worms his way into following her around as an almost date. It is stalker-ish but he is a Detective trying to figure what she is hiding. But this seems a little too hands on.

And Linda isn't too happy about it because his being around might interfere with her snooping.

Sure enough, just for collateral damage and I guess in hopes of spreading fear, a group of Dragon Tong thugs just start attacking people and booths at the parade.

Linda slips away and turns into Supergirl. But they seem prepared. They spray Supergirl with quick setting cement cannons, the ending they hoped for the Mayor.

Look at how gorgeous a statue Supergirl makes. She definitely seems to be striking the classic 70s Supergirl corner pose we see on the cover.

Of course, concrete isn't enough to stop her. She shakes it off and captures the men.

She then whisks back to pretend to be the damsel in distress, knocked out during the action of the Tong.

Hmmm ...

The two continue to walk around Chinatown and run into a young boy quivering in an alley. The boy brandishes a gun and initially threatens to kill himself.

But Double and Linda calm him down. The kid says he was told to join the Tong and the fight. But when the fight broke out he ran. He has shamed himself.

Wow ... heavy burden for a kid. Join the murderous gang or consider yourself ostracized from your culture.

When Jonny says he'll bring the boy to the police so he can fill in the authorities, the boy runs.

Linda and Jonny follow him to an abandoned warehouse!

Realizing he can't bring the 'innocent' Linda into a gang fight, he advises her to run and call for back-up. She is more than happy to oblige.

Jonny gets captured and is brought before the big boss ... Doctor Tzin-Tzin. Of course, Wein had brought back Tzin-Tzin in Detective Comics just the year before.

Hmmm ... maybe Wein had a Double/Tzin-Tzin story to write and sort of shoved Supergirl into the mix?

Tzin-Tzin isn't well known. But boy, did he get gold treatment in the 80's DC Who's Who, with a phenomenal pic by Bill Sienkiewicz.

Supergirl arrives to join in the fight. But Tzin-Tzin unleashes his big weapon, a real Dragon.

The fight is on!

During the fight, Supergirl realizes that her blows don't seem to be doing much. It is a nicely drawn fight sequence.

She then remembers that Batman said Tzin-Tzin was a master of illusion. The dragon has been nothing but a mirage. (So I guess a dragon didn't immolate the murder victim at the beginning?)

Recognizing it is fake is enough to make it dissipate.

Without the dragon bluff, Tzin-Tzin turns coward. He won't be captured again.

Faced with capture, or a bullet from Double, or a watery grave, he picks watery grave.

The fight is over before it really began.

But with Tzin-Tzin defeated, it looks like the threat of the Dragon Tong gang is done. I suppose all the members will leave the organized life of crime and become model citizens.

As for Double, when Nasty comes to get her answers (remember how Jonny wasn't hired to look into the Tong but to scout out Linda?), he gives her an earful.

He knows who she is. He knows she was behind the errant gunshot from earlier. And he won't besmirch Linda, a 'nice chick' who saved Jonny.

It is only later that Jonny realizes he never actually saw Linda and Supergirl together at the same time.

Okay, that was a lot of street level crime that Supergirl was sort of shoe-horned into. I wonder if the scaffolding of this story, Double investigating a mob in Chinatown, existed. Wein decided to use this Supergirl slot to bring back these characters he was invested in.

It is a silly story, perfectly at home in these latter days of Supergirl's Adventure run. The art is quite nice, more Oksner than Delbo. But this isn't an important issue in Supergirl's career. Still, worth buying on the cheap. I mean, Supergirl sort of fights a dragon!

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

"I wonder if the scaffolding of this story, Double investigating a mob in Chinatown, existed. Wein decided to use this Supergirl slot to bring back these characters he was invested in."

That's my guess, too. Unfortunately, we'll never know now.

It may not be an important issue but certainly it was funny. I miss this kind of comics, and I wish people wanting to write Supergirl stories delved into Supergirl comics looking for inspiration rather her cousin's.

Which reminds me... This week's DCSHG episode is titled "For the Girl Who Has Everything". Reading Youtube comments (evidently, I'm a glutton for punishment), you can find statements such like "This was the title of a season 1 episode of Supergirl" and "Isn't that like that Old Justice League episode?" It's both funny and sad how much more influential on our heroes' popular perception are cartoons and shows are than comics.

Anonymous said...

I love Linda's canary yellow pants suit...just perfect for snooping around Chinatown to check on Tong Activity.

I think if I'm not mistaken, wasn't Dr. Tzin Tzin a caucasian pretending to an Asian Super Criminal? Or am I getting my retcons confused?
Our Host's theory here is a good one, I'm wondering if it was also perhaps originally a Batman story pitch given the unique villain and the urban milieu.
Delbo and Oksner both seem to be going for a mutually uncharacteristic "illustrative" look here, not that I mind one bit, its an interesting departure for the both of them.
And as usual, let me sigh over "Hotpants Supergirl" I miss this era and wish it could get a little miniseries love or something.


KET said...

This one is a favorite of mine from SG's later, more experimental tales from her Adventure Comics run. Jonny Double seemed like a bland 60s hipster riff on a private detective, but I always figured he was co-starring in this Supergirl tale for a combination of needed exposure and that he's also based in San Francisco (which made things rather convenient for him to hook up with Linda Danvers on a case). The art combination of Jose Delbo and Bob Oksner make this one stand out for me.