Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Back Issue Box Review: Action Comics #286

Lex Luthor is coming to the CW Supergirl show, ready to be a nemesis to our hero. With no new episode this week, it meant I had an open Wednesday slot that I usually devote to the show. With that in mind, I thought the time was right to dig through the back issues to find a comic story where Supergirl and Lex had a throwdown.

I have to say I love when the two square off. Almost always Lex dismisses Kara as a pale copy of her super-cousin. So it makes it that much sweeter when Supergirl defeats him. I especially love Silver Age stories when the two interact. Back then, Supergirl was a true neophyte, a teenage girl, and subject to the standard gender norms of the time. So seeing her defeat Superman's arch-villain in those stodgy days is even more delectable.

And so I give you Action Comics #286 and the Supergirl story 'The Death of Luthor'. One thing in particular about this story that makes it stand out is that it comes on the heels of Action Comics #285, the issue where Supergirl is finally revealed to the world.'The Death of Luthor' picks up on all the beats of that story. People are still in wonder about her existence. Luthor thinks it's a hoax. Superman is still off-world, on the mission that prompted Supergirl's heroics in AC #285. And Supergirl herself is still getting the hang of being able to act out in the open. I love the history of this story as much as I love seeing Lex get a comeuppance!

On to the story!

Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney are the creative team on the story.

I love this splash page ... even if it doesn't actually represent what happens in the story. No big surprise there.

The dead body of Lex is seen outside a twisted wreck of an automobile. Supergirl vows to do everything she can to revive him.

But it is the text that grabs my attention. Lex will come to loathe someone even more than Superman? And that person is the 'lovely and super-powerful' Supergirl.

As I said, we pick up right after Action #285's story. Superman and his robots are all in deep space. Supergirl, now known to the world at large, will protect the planet from any threats. It is a nice callback to the last issue and also explains why Supergirl and not Superman would be facing off with Lex.

Of course, this being the Silver Age and a Supergirl book, we get plenty of domestic scenes. First we see Dick Malverne swooning over Supergirl. Sure Linda is cool but Supergirl is the bee's knees.

We also see Linda helping Edna cook, using superbreath to cool a soup about to boil over.

Her life really has changed. She is revealed as Supergirl. She has been adopted. She is in a loving home where her parents know her secret. These are high times for our hero.

Meanwhile, Lex is imprisoned. He has gloated that he will escape within 48 hours. And, Lex being Lex, he succeeds.

By mixing mouthwash, orange juice, and two aspirin, he creates a formula that when he is near radio waves of a certain frequency (which he knew would be in the prison yard) renders him invisible.

How many kids do you think made that concoction at home hoping to become invisible??

Sneaking out of the prison in a laundry truck, Luthor meets up with his old gang.

He has a great idea to rob a bank ... like the whole bank. He'll shrink the bank building with a version of Brainiac's shrinking ray, one that he can reverse. He'll use blackout grenades to hide his getaway.

As for Supergirl, he is a skeptic. He thinks she is nothing but a hoax that Superman is tossing out as a threat while Superman is off planet. Lex will prove it but destroying this Supergirl simulacrum.

I love how Lex just downgrades Supergirl, doubting her very existence.

Back in Midvale, Supergirl hears about Lex's escape and rushes to investigate.

I loved this sequence to show that this story marks a big change in her standard operating procedures. As she flies off, she sees a police officer and immediately hides. Remember, for about 3 years she had to remain hidden.

But now she is free to operate in the open. She chuckles at herself for forgetting that she doesn't need to hide. (Of course, we also get the finger to the face quirk that she did back then.)

Even better, once she starts flying again the officer sees her and waves, thanking her for being out there for the world.

Remember, Lex thinks Supergirl is either a fake-out or a robot that Superman is touting as his cousin and ally. Luthor goes out to prove to the world that this is a hoax.

It turns out that Luthor has a giant cannon hidden in a mountain. He lures Supergirl into the area and fires the gun at her. Of course, she is unharmed from the giant shell. And to make sure that no one can be harmed by this later, she destroys the gun.

Realizing now that Supergirl is indeed real and Kryptonian, Luthor decides that he will defeat her by playing on her 'feminine traits'. Ahhh the Silver Age.

Luthor goes forward with his plan to shrink the bank, throw it in the back of his car,and escape in the inkiness of his blackout bombs.

Supergirl arrives and it looks like the Maid of Might is going to stop the getaway car from getting away. But just as she is about to sweep in, she sees a baby carriage careening down the street. Realizing that saving the baby is more important than stopping Lex, she abort her mission and flies to the pram.

Ahhh ... but it isn't a baby. It is a petite member of Lex's gang, dressed up as a baby and used as a diversion. This small hood is even armed with a hunk of Green K!

Of course Lex knew Supergirl couldn't shake off her 'feminine instincts' to save the baby. With Supergirl temporarily incapacitated by the nearby Kryptonite. Lex is able to escape.

I don't think saving a baby is something that differentiates a man and a woman, especially heroes. Superman would have done the same thing I think.

The K-trap doesn't stop Supergirl for good though. Some timely thinking by her sends the chunk of deadly rock down the sewers and away from her. Back on the chase, she catches up to Lex's car.

Lex still isn't afraid. He has armed himself with a Nuclear Kryptonite Ray-Gun (patent pending?). As a super-genius, he should know it is hard to drive and look over your shoulder and shoot a moving target. That is especially true in the Silver Age DCU where every road seemed to have dangerous curves.

Swerving down the road, Lex accidentally shoots himself in the chest with the ray-gun, killing himself.


But Supergirl isn't going to let that happen.

What follows is pure Silver Age nuttiness at its best.

In the span of two pages, Supergirl goes on a couple of mini-adventures to get ingredients she will need to revive Lex.

The first is 'isotope Element Z', found under a sunken ship near Atlantis. It turns out this is a finding of historical value, the site of Garr Rindaz sacrifice where he blew himself up to stop a marauding monster. How very Ferro Lad of him!

And then she heads into deep space to get crystals she'll need.

There she sees that the planet has been razed by wars. It's devastated surface has been preserved by a robot space force which thinks they are fulfilling their protective mission. In a couple of panels, she shuts down the automaton system allowing nature to perhaps reinvent the planet. She grabs her crystals and leaves.

I wish there had been a story where she re-visited this place to see what happened.

With a little super-science, she revives Lex.

But then, in a deliciously twisted turn, it turns out that she didn't resuscitate him out of the kindness of her heart or because of her belief in the sanctity of life. Nope. She did it because she wants Lex to suffer. And a lifetime in prison is more painful than the sweet bliss of death.

After hearing that sick barb, Lex gets irate and declares that he hates Supergirl even more than he hates Superman.


With Lex tossed in jail, we see that the gangs of the world have a newfound respect for Supergirl. And as for Kara, she is just as happy to be able to act freely as she is for her victory. Look at how happy she is!

I have to applaud this story for all the reasons above. It's place in Kara's history, her coming to terms with her new reality, her defeating Lex, and that spectacular burn. All fantastic. Definitely worth a spot in a Supergirl collection if it can be grabbed at a decent price.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Just remember, The Silver Age Supergirl, "Feminine Traits" and all, made Lex Luthor cry (it was her "first day" on the job no less!!) THAT Kal El!!

I love how Mooney depicts Supergirl almost "posing" for a fashion ad as Luthor throws a tantrum and impotently blazes away at her with a Tommy Gun.

This is indeed Silver Age Nuttiness at its best as well as the closest any published heroine got to "agency"& "empowerment"


Anonymous said...

I love how packed with story were those old issues. In a single story, Supergirl fights Lex Luthor, travels to Atlantis and has a cosmic adventure -pun not intended- on her way back. Nowadays, it would be a six-issue-long arc, and we would be wondering why she is wasting her time in an alien planet.

My favorite part is when she brings Lex back and he is so furious he forgets she is bulletproof. And then Kara states she brought him back to life because she didn't want him to escape his punishment.

I love how Jerry Siegel always treated Kara right, unlike other Superman writers.

Martin Gray said...

What a terrific tale, I love that in five seconds flat she earned the enmity of Luthor and respect of the Underworld.

That mini-thug in the pram... do we know what lesser Doom Patrol baddie Giacomo was doing that month?

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

I love this story so much. Pure Silver Age!

Anonymous said...

The Silver Age Supergirl Volume Two - the most recent volume reprinting those old tales - contains both Action #285 (the main story, including the cover, and also the Supergirl backup story), and Action #286 (just the backup story, starting with the splash page you've scanned).

Some of us readers are probably catching up on the Silver Age via this series so I thought I'd mention this.