Monday, January 7, 2019

Matrix Mondays: Action Comics #644

Welcome to the next chapter in my now-and-then Matrix Monday reviews. This won't be a comprehensive look at all of Matrix's appearances. That would be a bit too demanding. But the hope here is to cover some of the big moments in that Supergirl's career that I haven't yet covered on this site.

I recently covered the early Byrne issues of Superman and the ultimate Byrne storyline, 'The Supergirl Saga', which brought the protoplasmic Matrix back to the DC Earth and onto the Kent Farm.

After Superman executed the Pocket Universe Phantom Zone villains, he took off into space, self-exiling himself. During that time, his secret identity was maintained by the shape-changing Matrix. Matrix became Clark Kent. But things have become dark.

And so we have Action Comics #644, the next chapter in the difficult early days of this character. So much for the return of Supergirl.

'Doppelganger' was written by George Perez and Roger Stern with art by Perez and Brett Breeding. I have give Roger Stern a lot of credit for picking up the ball dropped by Byrne and putting together a very solid run on Superman.

And the art team of Perez and Breeding is interesting. There is definitely a Perez 'feel' to this work but I feel like Breeding really puts his own stamp on things. You have to almost squint a bit to realize you are seeing a Perez book, as if it is hidden under the distinctive layer of inks.

But it is a good splash, Superman speeding like a bullet to Smallville to answer a call for help from his friend Lana.

It seems Lana warned Superman that Matrix was becoming too hard to handle for the Kents. He also spies a local structure which has been demolished by someone who apparently looked like Superman. It has to be Matrix.

All this gives Stern and Perez an excuse to give a quick recap of the 'Supergirl Saga' without too much Pocket Universe/Kryptonian killing details.

This might be the first time Perez drew Supergirl since Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. I love how he renders the Matrix costume, one of my faves.

Matrix was always portrayed as a sort of simple-minded creature and I think the physical attack didn't help the trauma. Just prior to his exile, Superman told 'Mae' to protect the Kents and it seems Matrix took it to heart. She adopted Superman's life, lived as Clark, toyed around with the Eradicator in Clark's apartment, set off an explosion, and then became unhinged.

Here, on the Kent's farm, Lana flags down Superman saying that she and the Kents just calmed down Matrix so Superman should tread lightly.

Now Lana has been through a lot. So I like that she isn't hysterical here. She actually is pretty measured.

Checkout Superman skulking outside the window, taking it all in.

Matrix, now in Clark's form, still wearing tattered clothes from his destructive outburst in the Smallville place, seems almost too happy. He/she seems to think everything is perfect, right out of a Norman Rockwell picture. After all, everything is better with pancakes.

But somehow Matrix can sense that Superman is there. But believing he/she is the actual Clark, she assumes the real Superman is a villain and attacks.

He/she scoops up the Kents and Lana and flies them to an abandoned Smallville quarry for their 'protection'.

And then to complete the mental breakdown and identity crisis, he/she takes on the complete form of Superman, albeit in a washed out gray/black version of the famous costume.

It is a subtle way to show that there is something darker about this manifestation. He/she might think they are doing the heroic thing here. But it isn't right.

It all leads to a confrontation between the two Supermen.

I do like how Perez gives us a tiny panel mirroring the cover, Matrix Superman shrouded in shadows. It is a good contrast to the next panel of our brightly clad hero, his face visible, the Kents and Lana hiding behind. This panel construction, use of shadows, and colors all show how they might look alike but Matrix isn't in a right state of mind.

And I also liked how the page also splits Superman faces between the two versions, adding to the confusion and feel of a split in their personalities and beliefs.

We get several pages of a brawl between the two, showing that Matrix is a decent threat to Superman.

But the property damage starts to add up. Ultimately, the quarry building collapses under the strain.

To save the Kents and Lana, Superman has to swoop in and stretch out his cape to shield them from the debris.

Now I know this is a pretty common thing for the supers to do. But I can't help but be reminded of something when I see this.

Here is Superman doing the same thing in the Fleisher Studios Superman cartoon 'The Mechanical Monsters' from 1941. Could this be the first place he did this move?

I recently saw this on the big screen, in all its glory, as the short before the Donner Superman movie, shown by Fathom Events.

Superman realizes that somehow the Matrix has been sharing memories because the Eradicator has linked their minds in a way.

But things are out of control. It is time for Superman to confront Matrix about who he/she really is.

Superman starts dropping truth bombs. She is an artificial life form. Her world was destroyed.

There is a panel of General Zod and his threat about destroying the real Earth as well. While Matrix wasn't there, those memories have been shared. And that seems to trigger him/her deeper into her madness.

He/she vows to save the world even if it means killing Superman.

Of course, the main lesson Superman learned from The Supergirl Saga and the resulting Exile storyline, it is that Superman does not kill.

As always, George Perez does a great job of using inset panels and page layout to tell the story more than the words just can. The slow more monstrous face of Matrix's Superman while Superman's remain steely and determined shows the unstable nature of Matrix's persona.

But it is wonderful how that simple realization ... that simple fact ... that Superman does not kill defuses the entire situation.

But there is one more interesting wrinkle to the whole thing.

Remember that Matrix has lived that the life of Superman while Kal was gone. And now that imitation of life, that walking in those footsteps, continues.

Matrix realizes that they aren't stable. They are a danger to others. As such, they cannot remain on Earth.

Hmmm ... didn't Superman recently come to the same conclusion and do the same thing?

And so the past page is this grayish Superman flying off into space. Superman wonders if Earth will ever see Matrix again.

I do wonder what Stern and Perez's thoughts were at the time. Did they simply want to get rid of this character? Was Matrix a Byrne-barnacle stuck to the hull of Superman?

Or did they know ultimately that they wanted her to come back as Supergirl? If they did, that was tremendous forethought because we don't see Matrix again for 2.5 years!! That is when Supergirl returns in the prologue of Panic in the Sky (as reviewed here: )

And so we get another difficult brick in the foundation of the Matrix character. Here 'he' is unstable, perhaps due to the control of the Eradicator. Then she becomes the slave of Brainiac. Then she becomes the lover of Lex Luthor II. I promise we'll get to the good stuff.

As for this issue, it isn't a highly important Supergirl issue for a collection but it is a key moment in the history of Matrix. I also remind you we get George Perez Supergirl here. Look for it in the buck box.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem like Roger Stern knew what to do for her, so of course making her into a pitiable monster glopdroid was likely the only idea in play. The whole thing reads like a "soft retcon" in this case dismissing Matrix from continuity sans any fanfare, at least the original Kara Zor El rated "iconic cover pose" to mark her extinction...
My question is, if it was a full 2.5 years before Matrix-Supergirl returned (where she'd be already deep into her "credulous pawn persona" as a mark for Mongul in "Panic in the Sky"l), why was she revived? Has anyone ever asked Stern why he brought her back? I'm assuming it was Stern, feel free to correct/update...


Anonymous said...

"You have to almost squint a bit to realize you are seeing a Perez book, as if it is hidden under the distinctive layer of inks."

I could hardly tell it was a Perez book. The darker coloring doesn't help.

Oh, boy. This was a weird Superman era. No matter how much the Post-Crisis fans drool over this period, I can't but help think this is not a version of Superman I'm interested in, and the stories aren't really so much better than those of the Pre-Crisis continuity.

I mean, it isn't bad, but... it isn't as good as Triangle Era fans would have me believe.

"Did they simply want to get rid of this character? Was Matrix a Byrne-barnacle stuck to the hull of Superman?"

Given that she hadn't been seen for one year and she wouldn't be seen again for two years and a half... I wouldn't surprised.

Ironic, isn't it? They replace Kara with other Supergirl and they find out right away they don't know what to do with her either. And they don't want to bother figuring it out. At least Kara had over ten years worth of monthly stories before DC started treating her as a nuisance. In contrast, Matrix was dumped into a farm and forgotten, exiled in space and forgotten, turned into Brainiac's tool, turned into Luthor's pawn, and then dumped into the Titans right after becoming an independant hero... within eight years.

Then, while Dan Jurgens attempted to come up with his own Kara's replacement, she was given to Peter David... who turned her into an angel.

Poor Matrix.

Anonymous said...

"The whole thing reads like a "soft retcon" in this case dismissing Matrix from continuity sans any fanfare, at least the original Kara Zor El rated "iconic cover pose" to mark her extinction..."

Definitely. Her sucessors were quietly "put on a bus" to nowhere and ignored until DC quietly retconned them out.

Anonymous said...

Once again, thanks for the history perspective of these past issues, Anj; I personally never got a chance to read them when I was younger, so getting to hear
about them from you is quite a treat. And agree with the other posters with 20/20 hindsight, seemed no one had a clue WHAT to do after WEREHERE, it was
always a case of NOWWHAT?


Professor Feetlebaum said...

DC wanted a Superman who was Krypton's only survivor, but they also wanted/needed to have a Supergirl around to (if for no other reason) protect their trademark. With Matrix, they could have their cake and eat it too.

The trouble was, Matrix was only Supergirl by choice. She/he/it could just as well have been Superman or Fred Flintstone. I'm sure I read somewhere that Peter David merged Matrix Supergirl with human Linda Danvers because it was difficult to relate to a non-human protoplasmic shape-shifter from a pocket universe.

George Perez draws such a great Supergirl, it's too bad that his best known connection with her is Crisis 7. No offense to Carmine Infantino, but a Perez drawn pre-Crisis Supergirl comic could have been a best seller.

Matrix's grey and black Superman costume could be something of a backdoor tribute to Kirk Alyn and George Reeves.

That's a lot of pancakes Ma Kent is serving up there. Those Kents must be hearty eaters!

Anj said...

Thanks for great comments!

The riff on the TV show makes perfect sense given the color! Daft I didn't put that together.

Anonymous said...

Perez did get another crack at Supergirl in the "Lords of Luck" storyline in the revamped "Brave and the Bold"(May 2007) , he did her considerable justice IMHO. How I wish those stories would get archived as a TPB...


Anonymous said...

"Perez did get another crack at Supergirl in the "Lords of Luck" storyline in the revamped "Brave and the Bold"(May 2007) , he did her considerable justice IMHO. How I wish those stories would get archived as a TPB..."

They were!

Be my guest:

Nobile said...

Think about it, a writer leaves a series introducing a character with no shape, no gender, no identity, possibly no memories and vague abilities. A blank.
I don't think there was any Supergirl plan, at the time: as I already said, "Supergirl" was shoehorned in the Byrne's final saga just because "The Superboy problem with the post-Crisis Legion Saga" was not that good as a title. The fact she was left as a protomatter being I think it was just plainly saying "I reset it, do whatever you want with it, so long.".
Stern then nicely used the character to close the Exile saga - connecting it to the original storyline - and then got rid of it, just leaving a door open for a posible return, in any form.

The hint to the Alyn/Reeves costume is a great point, I never noticed it! The clash of Supermen reminds me more of the Kryptonite Nevermore conclusion (world destroyed vision, hazy Superman leaving, mind link...)