Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Back Issue Bin: DC Comics Presents #97

Last month I took a deep dive into the Phantom Zone mini-series, a super bizarre mini-series written by Steve Gerber with art by Gene Colan. That mini-series was a trippy look at the Zone, redefining it as an extension of a being called Aethyr, the Oversoul. Aethyr had recently been reintroduced by Phillip Kennedy Johnson in Superman and Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad in Wonder Woman.

But I knew there was one more Aethyr appearance I needed to cover, DC Comics Presents #97. the last issue of the series! This is one of those wacky books, a pre-Crisis tale which hit the stands a full 6 months after Crisis on Infinte Earths ended. 

This is written by Steve Gerber and is clearly a sequel to the Phantom Zone villain mini-series, picking up elements of that story directly. It has serious consequences. It ends on a cliffhanger, a story which could never be followed up on given the end of this continuity. The question I have is when was this paid for. Was this sitting in a drawer? Did Gerber pitch it as a 'pretty please' vanity project to put out before the pre-Crisis universe disappeared forever? It is a 38 page doozy which makes me think it might have been held for an Annual or a Special before Crisis made all that disappear.

The pace is also interesting as the front half is a sort of re-primer of the Phantom Zone with some of this story taking place on Krypton, with origins of Zod, Kru-El, and Faora again. It is only the back half where we get back into the insanity.

The art is by Rick Veitch, someone I know mostly from Swamp Thing. The story is bizarre and horrific enough that I think Veitch is a great fit for that. 

And while Supergirl isn't in this, there is a key scene which tangentially touches her history, one I covered here before.

On to the book. Buckle in! I don't know if I can make any sense of what is happening here.

Phantom Zone, The Final Chapter starts on Krypton with Jor-El.

He knows his world is ending. And he wonders if there is a way to save everyone by heading into the Phantom Zone, then still accessible only by his untested invention.

The timeline here is fuzzy. I feel like the Zone was used for years before Krypton exploded. Was Jor-El thinking about the explosion for years? You can see the Kal rocket already being constructed.

Once inside the Zone, Jor-El hears another voice, what we know is the voice of Aethyr.

There is a lot of psychobabble here. Jor-El is 'else', not part of the 'self', the 'self' wants to protect the 'self'. But is clear that Aethyr is not used to the presence of another independent mind. It doesn't like the intrusion.

Nice art and surprint here as Aethyr scans Jor-El.

It is clear that this entity does not like being invaded this way. It doesn't like other personas, other souls, inside it.

Much like the Phantom Zone mini-series, Gerber paces this thing oddly. We get another primer on some of the villains. Zod, Faora, Nam-Ek and Kru-El all get some page space as we hear about their crimes. But they are told from the point of view of the Kryptonian executioner, the masked man who hits the projector button. He wonders where he is sending these criminals.

Jor-El has the privilege of sending Kru-El off himself.

I have to say that  I have seen the hooded, classic executioner has been seen in tons of comics before this one. This is the first time I have ever seen him have lines or a personality.

The list of criminals are rattled off and they all go into the purity of Aethyr.

And Aethyr doesn't like it.

They call the criminals presence a 'pierce' into it. It sound violent, a violation. Suddenly Aethyr has to think about things like fingers. And it is made up of billions of souls, dead souls of the earliest tines of the universe. These souls coalesced in the Oversoul.

But the Kryptonian souls aren't dead. So instead they are an irritant to the Oversoul. And it wants to purge itself.

And so the 'self' wants to be hurt any longer.

I assume that means Aethyr wants to enter the universe physically and shed itself of all the things which cause it pain.

But that is pure conjecture based on this pretty obtuse poetic language.

This wonky cosmic stuff is done pretty well by Veitch.

Now you might remember that within Aethyr on one of the outer rings or realms was Thul-Kar. Thul-Kar was a sorcerer from the mystic lands of Juru in Krypton. Using magic he entered Aethyr willingly to escape the destruction of Krypton. 

Marred, he somehow remained corporeal. And he has some mystic power in him. He creates a simulacrum of the Bizarro world and crushes it. Somehow that cause the destruction of the Bizarro world.

I love how the backwards thinking of Bizarro is to send his son into the exploding planet.

I don't think I know why Aethyr allows Thul-Kar some latitude. But it seems the Oversoul needs someone at least familiar with the physical universe to act as an emissary or an agent of some sort to interact with the physical plane.

It is this horror stuff where Veitch really shines.

Aethyr wants to enter our world. And he fears Superman will try to stop him. So he needs someone powerful and physically 'real' to keep Superman off the trail.

We then cut to the 5th Dimension. Mxyzptlk is about to be arrested and sent into a sensory deprivation prison. When Thul-Kar appears and promises Mxyzptlk great power if he will become Aethyr's weapon. 

Anything sounds better than prison so Mxy allows himself to be grafted to the Oversoul (check out the crystal skullcap). Without blinking, he destroys the city in the 5th dimension that was sending him away. 

We don't always get a truly villainous Mxy (maybe outside Moore's big boss in Whatever Happened To) but hold on to your lug nuts. Things are gonna get crazy.

Aethyr decides to announce his presence with authority.

Clark and Lana are doing their GBS newscast and are making some banal chitchat about sports when the head of Bizarro comes crashing through. His head was tossed into the room by Mxyzptlk.

What a crazy scene. It really doesn't have to anything to do with the plot. But it sure is creepy.

It is clear. A Mxyzptlk gone bad is never a good thing.

And then the craziest and most twisted thing I may have ever seen in a Superman book.

Mxyzptlk goes into space, gets the giant Kryptonite rock that is Argo City and throws it down onto Metropolis, devastating the city. I mean, Metropolis is demolished.

Even crazier? Remember that Argo City is filled with dead Kryptonians. We see their bodies falling from the wreckage, strewn all over the city.

Amongst those dead are probably friends of Kara's!

This is why I think Gerber knew this universe was ending. Metropolis destroyed ... covered in Kryptonite ... and littered with the dead Kryptonians. Insanity.

With Mxy running interference, Aethyr enters the physical universe. 

It's initial act is to expel all the Kryptonian criminals out of itself.

But then Aethyr is unsure what he should become in the real world. 

Should it become something else? Or should the 'self' be preserved?

It doesn't know what to do, so it lashes out and absorbs Thul-Kar and Mxyzptlk back into it.

I know ... I know ... I don't know if any of it makes sense.

Remember, this was a DCCP issue where Superman was supposed to 'team up' with the Phantom Zone villain. 

We finally get some of that. The freed Phantom Zone villains start battering their way around Earth, smashing the Capitol building and calling out Superman.

A battle kicks off. It looks like Superman is about to get killed by Faora when a Mxyzptlk-controlled Aethyr shows up.

It seems like Aethyr was a collection of a billion billion souls from the birth of the universe. But it acted as a hive mind. But now the powerful personality of Mxyzptlk is inside it. And Mxy has taken control. You thought Mxyzptlk was powerful before? Now he has Aethyr's power at his disposal too.

It all seems to easy.

Mxy-Aethyr decides the universe doesn't need all those Kryptonian criminals flying around. So it resorbs them and then takes off to destroy the entirety of the 5th dimension.

That is a lot of insanity in a short amount of time.

It leads to Superman saying 'wait, I still don't understand!'

Frankly Superman, neither do I.

Let's just tally it all up. Bizarro world gone. Mxy now a god. Metropolis a Kryptonite covered ruin. And Superman basically inconsequential. Now that is a doozy of a story! 

And the inclusion of Argo City makes it an interesting tangent for Supergirl fans.

Now I better take some ibuprofen. I have a story-induced headache!

Overall grade: ?


Martin Gray said...

That is the most appropriate grade ever! Yep, this is a bonkers PS to the PZ mini-series. It’s best forgotten, probably! So dark. You probably need to have been smoking something weird throughout the Seventies to best appreciate it.

It’s sad how after Crisis DC basically decided it didn’t matter what happened to the beloved universe we’d followed all our lives, so we have Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, a ‘cool’ read but really rather disturbing; the ‘Supergirl was married’ nonsense; and this lunatic issue. Well the heck with it, Silver and Bronze Age Earth survives in my head canon.

Anj said...

It is such a unique issue, presented after that universe has been destroyed so I guess Gerber got carte blanche. So how do you grade it.

I was wondering if it was happening in some time when Supergirl was dead from the Crisis (her absence is palpable given her role in the mini) but the universe hadn't rewritten itself.

Anyways, I mulled over a grade longer than any other comic in the 13 years I have been doing this. So it got what it got.

Anonymous said...

Yeah with the curtain falling on the bronze age, a cadre of DC Creatives decided they wanted to be on stage singing the Gotterdammerung to the end. Friedrich Hegel once said "The Owl of Minerva, Flies at Dusk" ergo we can only make sense of a singular epoch when it draws to it's close and the unknown looms. For our purposes here, Alan "Whatever Happened to the Man of Steel" Moore decided to remind DC of everything they ever got right in the Bronze/Silver Age, Cary "Supergirl's Secret Marriage" Bates delivered a final meaningless soap opera complication to Supergirl's continuity, one that was soon to be abolished and Steve Gerber? I guess he decided "Start Crazy, End Crazy", although personally I've always thought dropping Argo City on Metropolis, Kryptonian corpses and all, was a ghoulish rebuke to the COIE continuity and the DCU in general...
Kudos to our host for trying to break down something so surreal and bizarre...I feel like cueing up "Siegfried's Funeral Dirge"


Steve said...

Supergirl got married?

Anj said...

One of my first posts!

H said...

What happened? Mxy won the 'game' he was playing with Superman! Now that he finally pulled the ultimate gag on Superman, he can find someone else to play with. Since 5th dimensional beings are like 3rd dimensional beings to him now, they're the prime target.

My understanding of where this fits in continuity-wise is that there was some force that kept the 'Crisis Wave' that would reset continuity to New Earth from fully taking effect for a few months. Man of Steel #1 was the point where everything published after would be post-Crisis and this issue was the last appearance of the Earth-One Superman, if not Earth-One entirely. All the Superman stories between Crisis and here still counted as Earth-One stories so Supergirl was dead and her body was with her parents on Rokyn.

I seem to remember Supergirl's marriage having originated in a Superman Family story before this but I could be wrong. All things considered, the way they closed pre-Crisis continuity was mostly dignified to me. The way they started post-Crisis continuity was a different story much of the time though. We still have back issues and collections, at least.

Martin Gray said...

‘ I seem to remember Supergirl's marriage having originated in a Superman Family story before this…’

Now, I wasn’t able to get every issue of Superman Family, but when the marriage issue of Superman came out, the business seemed to be totally out of the blue. It would be fascinating to hear it was set up. Surely not.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

According to the cover and splash page, this story is "an untold tale of the PRE-CRISIS universe", so presumably Supergirl was still alive at the time. With the use of Argo City, you would think there would be some reference to her, either a caption or thought balloon or something--but nothing.

I can't help but think that, if Gerber DID make any direct references to Kara they were edited out...for the same reason that Supergirl was replaced by Wonder Woman in "For The Man Who Has Everything". At this time, DC was determined to expunge Kara entirely from history, and she was not allowed to be mentioned, even in stories that took place prior to the crisis.

H said...

Again, I may be misremembering this but I seem to remember a story early on where Supergirl got married or almost got married to some sort of outer space dignitary, and the guy from the marriage issue looked familiar to me.

Nobile said...

Besides to complete insanity of this plot - I read this story multiple times and still can not make up my mind about it - it stroke me how many similarities it has with Whatever Happened...
The finality, the dark tone, the Veitch-Moore connection, Mxy as the main overpowered villain, Bizarro's sad death: I wonder what happened in editor's room at the time.

About pre-post-Crisis stuff, I am firmly convinced that the Crisis and the multiple series'reboots are two separate events. The "post-crisis" universe was meant to be connected to the Multi-Earths one, Kara's death being one of the main hooks. Then the idea to have a full-reboot for some characters (Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, partially Batman) led to the necessity of this "Crisis-Wave", which, frankly, hardly stands.

What's the point of scarificing a main character like Supergirl if you just then erase her from continuitiy? Her death was as funtional to the crisis solution as Flash's. That's why the Crisis in the post-Crisis universe is basically an elephant in the room, it just doesn't fit. But they could not say "OK, we just restarted the multiverse into a universe, but it still sucks a bit, so let's reset it anew!"
Anyway, they were no longer this shy some decades later...

Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments.

H, Kara nearly got married many times in the Silver Age, usually to a bad guy. Tor-An being the one that springs to mind.

Anonymous said...

The other move was to claim that a certain new character was already married to Supergirl, but she's somehow forgotten the nuptials (see Action Comics #357 December 1967) "Supergirl's Secret Marriage".
To get really weird see Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane #55 ("Superman's Secret Wife") wherein under the spell of Red Kryptonite Supergirl hallucinates she is MARRIED to Superman, and somehow hypnotizes Kal El to believe the same thing...
Oh and in an "imaginary story" she marries Jimmy Olsen...again due red-k induced memory loss, and yet she sticks with him, because thats what women did in those days...:)
A lot of marriage scenarios when it came to SA/BA Supergirl.


H said...

Did a little digging, and I found the story I was thinking of. It's Superman Family 177, and the guy's name was Ranar. She got out of it through some sort of space astrology. There were definitely a lot of Kara marriage or near marriage stories.

Anonymous said...

Ohh yeah Ranar, that was a great one, thats when I knew Kara and Kal were back to their Silver Age Omnipotent Power Levels, because to get out of marriage to that creep Supergirl basically physically altered some constellations to queer the astrological prediction of nuptials.

Great Days They Were