Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Back Issue Box: Supergirl #18

I have been thinking a lot about Argo City in recent times given the reconfiguring of Supergirl's origin in the current Supergirl Woman of Tomorrow mini-series. I have definitely looked at the city's history in the past on this site. 

Today I thought I would showcase one of the weirder wrinkles in the city's history, perhaps one best left unremembered. Supergirl #18 has our hero facing off against the Kraken ... a blackmailer, a sorcerer, a pilgrim looking for enlightenment, a scientist ... all in one?

I don't know if writer Paul Kupperberg remembers writing this particular issue. It is a little all over the place. I don't know if it 100% makes any sense. But there is a lot to think about that's for sure. The one thing that I do love about this issue is that is shows the best parts of these Bronze Age comics - subplots and supporting casts. This issue is as much about Linda Danvers and her love life as it is the Kraken. 

The art is by Carmine Infantino and Bob Oksner and they bring some great visuals here. Again, the Linda stuff is the highlight for me. But I also love the innovative panel layouts. Great stuff. And I love the cover  by Howard Bender and Dick Giordano!

On to the specifics!
The issue starts with a standard sort of threat.

A being living within the waters of Lake Michigan is demanding a tribute of one million dollars for any boat or plane which tries to traverse it. This being seems to have the power to back up his demands. The villain can control water, creating water spouts, walls of water, and even thunder storms which impede the passage of any vehicle. Here a plane is basically buffeted aloft by the winds, to either crash when it runs out of fuel or be allowed to pass if the money is paid.

So the villain is a blackmailer, controlling water to demand payment over the Lake. Okay ...

We cut away to Supergirl in a shopping center who easily thwarts a jewelry store robbery in progress.

With the crooks in hand, Supergirl takes the time to roam the mall a bit, even stopping to admire herself and her new look. Her headband is complimented by one of the shoppers.

I do love how Supergirl comments on headbands being a sign of citizenship on Krypton, albeit just for men there. But she can tweak the tradition here on Earth. That last panel showing how proud she is really shines. Nice Kryptonian history from Kupperberg here.

And what superhero hasn't had to deal with an officer of the law being upset about the vigilante tactics of the caped crowd. 

But Supergirl looks almost bored by Lt. Peters objections. After all, she reminds him that she has been officially deputized to act as an officer in all the United Nations. That is a throwback to the famous Action Comics #285 where Supergirl was announced to the world. 

So more Supergirl history from Kupperberg! Remember folks, this was in the days of limited trades and collections, and no internet or apps to read old books from. This is how you learned this stuff.

With some super-heroics behind her, Supergirl decides she could murder a deep dish Chicago style pizza so why not head over to music hall where her boyfriend Philip Decker practices each Wednesday.

Alas, when she arrives, she is told that Wednesday is always the band's day off. Philip isn't there. He is never there on Wednesdays. Could Decker be cheating on her? Why is he lying?

Of all her would-be beaus, Decker bored me the most. What a drip. But these subplots certainly kept these Bronze Age books interesting.

And how can you not love this look on Linda. I love the fedora and oversized argyle sweater look. Beautiful.

Feeling a bit down, she heads home and gets some love from Streaky!

I know that I have been complimenting Paul Kupperberg a lot. But I love that he brought back Streaky, even if depowered. Streaky is part of Kara's history so I am glad he found his way into this book.

And I love how Linda just cuddles with her cat. Perfect.

But even Streaky can't erase all the angst Linda is feeling about Philip lying to her, especially after he calls and says he is practicing at the hall she was just at.

Looking to clear her mind, she decides to go fly around the city. And that is when she sees the hubbub over Lake Michigan.

When she arrives, she coaxes The Kraken to reveal himself. He is some fish-like monster on a flying platform. Now remember, 11 pages earlier, he was a voice from the deep demanding a million dollar ransom.

Suddenly he is an alien from another dimension. He was sent on a quest to finish a spiritual journey and enter into his race's version of heaven. To do that he needed to dominate some race of beings. And that hurdle on his spiritual journey was ... Argo City??

Somehow, he attacks Argo City smashing it's dome but being tossed aside by this. There is some backlash which incapacitates the Kraken for years. When he finally returned to Argo, the city was a floating mausoleum.

I hope someone can read that page and actually tell me what it is that happened to the Kraken. But was his breaking the dome the incident that led to the meteors flying in and destroying the lead shielding? Is Kraken a sort of Rogol Zaar?

Also, why would this alien trying to get into heaven blackmail oil tankers on Lake Michigan? What would the Kraken do with cold hard cash??

Since everyone on Argo was already dead, the only way the Kraken can fulfill his quest and leave the purgatory of Earth is to finally defeat someone from Argo City. That means Kara! And he has his magical control of water to actually achieve that goal.

I am trying to put together the timeline here. Supergirl talks of how the Kraken's initial attack on Argo was before she was born. So I don't think that makes sense with his attack being how the meteors struck the city. So if not, when was the attack? 

Also, note to readers of the current mini-series, as I have pointed out before, Kara in this era was born on Argo years after Krypton exploded. So the timeline in that book is new.

The addition of magic to the Kraken's powers is interesting as well. It certainly makes him a worthy foe. But if he has magic, why not just attack her when he arrived? 

The battle between the two goes on for a bit and surprisingly, the Kraken is able to hold his own. His magical water attacks seem to be able to hold Supergirl at bay, even harming her. 

Seemingly trapped in a watery fist, Kara scans the Kraken and realizes that everything she has thought about his magic is all wrong. He might claim he is using magic spells but they don't 'feel right'.  She scans him with x-ray vision.

Then she bathes him in heat vision. 

The Supergirl in this volume is really a veteran hero. I like how she has enough experience to know that these attacks aren't acting the way she thinks magic should. 

It turns out her scan showed that Kraken's magic was just technology in his belt and gauntlets. You know the old rubric about how advanced science might look like magic to some. But a quick melt down from heat vision and the Kraken is suddenly powerless.

She is quite pleased with herself even as he bemoans never moving on in his spiritual life and perhaps spending the rest of his living years in an Earth prison.

So what do we think of the Kraken? Was he really blackmailing people? Or was that something to get Supergirl to come out? But if that, why not just attack the ships? What the heck did he do to Argo? And what happened to him that he was out of commission for years? How did he track down Supergirl? And was he really some religious devotee on a spiritual mission? 


I don't know if I can wrap my head around it and as he never appeared again, I don't think I have to. But interesting that he might have caused Argo City's destruction.

I appreciate Kupperberg putting so much Supergirl history into this book, teaching new fans about her. And the subplots and character moments are definitely the best parts of this issue.

The art, as I said, is wonderful. Oknser's inks over Infantino leads to a very lovely and lithe Supergirl who is heroic and powerful. I love the battle sequences. 

But I'd say this is of low importance in Supergirl lore, only for completists or for those truly interested in Argo City appearances.

Overall grade: B


H said...

I feel like the whole 'ransoming ships' thing is just to draw Supergirl out- villains, especially space villains, tend to be dramatic with their taunts. Also, I'm not sure but it looks like Kraken got hit with some sort of anti-meteorite defensive rays, like a missile defense system on Earth. Why it didn't work when there were actual meteorites, I can't say but it would explain why it took him so long to recover- that's got to hurt, no matter how tough you or your armor is.

I don't remember if the sub-plot with Philip got resolved before the book was canceled (though it's not unusual for books from this era to get canceled before tying up all their subplots). I probably wouldn't have read this issue if they hadn't reprinted the series (thank you, CW show) but it's still a fun read. Wish Kara's final hairstyle had been something more timeless though- curls and a headband practically scream early 80's.

Jfeer said...

This one feels like two unfinished scripts got edited together, and none too well to boot. It’s a lot closer to Bob Haney style loopiness than the normally disciplined writing of Paul Kupperberg. Paul shows up on the convention circuit, if I ever see him again I’ll make every effort to ask him what was Phil’s big secret...(I suspect alien refugee from the Planet Skyron:). But its fun to see Supergirl play indulge her vanity a little, in controlled doses of course. Kraken definitely didn’t seem like a potential A-List Rogue...but if someone wants to take a second pass I’m all for it, it beats waiting for Supergirl to behead Krem or however that abomination ends tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

The Philip Decker mystery was never solved, and I find unlikely that Kupperberg remembers what it was about. My theory is secret super villain.

I agree Phil was lame. Supergirl writers should not have ditched Dick Malverne. Not that he was a great character - not that he was given the chance to become one-, but he was not adequately replaced, and his departure left a hole which was filled by Derek Ames and worse horrors.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

The Bronze Age! The age of thought balloons and footnotes and done-in-ones!

It isn't clear what Kraken's purpose was in demanding money. He says on page 16 that his actions were to get Supergirl's attention. Just causing disasters would have done that, without the ransom demands. Maybe I'm missing something.

So, Linda Lee Danvers is a dedicated follower of fashion? I wonder if Carmine Infantino kept up with the latest trends?

I don't think that Kraken's breaking the dome had anything to do with the meteors getting in. I assume the dome was repaired after Kraken's attack, and the meteor shower broke the dome again several years later. Infantino made a mistake when he showed Kraken returning to Argo City years later after Kara had been sent to Earth. The dome should have shown damaged then, but Infantino drew it intact.

DanielT said...

I think you'd like this Grant Morrison post: https://grantmorrison.substack.com/p/162-superman-and-the-authority-annotations

One relevant passage:

"Concurrent plans existed to push Supergirl in an increasingly fascistic direction for reasons that made scant sense to me.

Why, I say, oh why, is it so hard to simply serve the concept and write the adventures of a smart, creative and kind-hearted teenage girl with superpowers? What purpose earthly or unearthly is served by making this character an embittered space tyrant?"

Martin Gray said...

Great review. As you say, the characterisation was the highlight of this classic run. I loved the headband business, and the reminder that Supergirl is an international woman of mystery.

And whatever happened to Howard Bender, he was a great journeyman artist - given time he’d have had a chance to develop his own style. And how great is Carmine Infantino and Bob Oksner’s Streaky?

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

This was a fun one to review. And on Twitter Paul Kupperberg said he no recollection of writing it so he couldn't give any details on the Kraken.

I do love this issue and this series. The further we move away from it, the better it gets.

Martin Gray said...

Professor, the Supergirl book actually had a dedicated fashion advisor to make sure Lois (in the back-up) and Linda looked hip to the groove, it was mentioned in an early lettercol!