Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #339

The latest Superman crossover event 'Queen Brainiac' is right around the corner. The seeds have been planted by Joshua Williamson in his Superman book. And with Jason Aaron's 3-part Bizarro arc mercifully over, the arc will be in the Action Comics book too.

With Brainiac on my mind and (of course) the theme of this site being Supergirl, I thought I'd head into the back issue box and find a Brainiac/Supergirl battle I hadn't covered yet!

Action Comics #339 sports a nifty dual cover with Supergirl getting as much of the spotlight as Superman. Our hero is there on the left, trapped in a Kryptonite cage by Brainiac! Great cover by Curt Swan and George Klein. And you may have noticed the scrawl across the cover. Yes, that is a scan of my copy of the issue, signed by the legendary Jim Shooter.

This was Shooter's first work for DC, back when he was just a teen! You will see that Shooter actually does a wonderful job on Supergirl, showing her resilience, her intelligence, her strength, and her humility. So settle in for a fun story with a true battle between Brainiac and Supergirl, a wonky Silver Age solution and fabulous ending!

On to the book!

'Brainiac's Blitz!' was written by Shooter with art by Supergirl stand-out Jim Mooney. As was the standard back then, the first splash or over-sized panel was a sort of peek into the story. So we get a great shot of Supergirl facing down a volley of Brainiac missiles.

We jump right into the story with a necessary diversion to make the Supergirl/Brainiac fight a one-on-one affair. Superman will be off-world with the Justice League. He feels comfortable enough with Supergirl as a hero to leave the protection of Metropolis in her hands.

Fans of Supergirl remember when early in her career, Superman asked her to stay in hiding and didn't trust her use of powers. It was about 4 years before this issue that she was revealed to the world. Here she is now truly subbing in for him. That is character growth.

And her hoping to one day be in the JLA? A nice peek into our character, still hoping to advance and more opportunity for growth.

This was the Silver Age! So one of Supergirl's powers was 'super female intuition'. I actually like the idea of Supergirl having a power that Superman doesn't. And a sort of 'spider-sense' would actually work pretty well for her. 

Here her  super-intuition is tingling. As readers we learn that it is a true warning. Brainiac is angry about being defeated by Superman, has developed a number of mega-weapons designed specifically to kill Superman, and is on his way to Earth. 

Brainiac arrives and calls out Superman for a brawl. 

Supergirl immediately jumps into action to face the Coluan herself. As a fan, it is great to see Supergirl no longer timid or worried about letting Superman down. Instead, she is ready to be the hero and flies off into battle.

But she is still learning. I love Supergirl as a character because she is still mastering her craft. So seeing her think that the best way to take out Brainiac was a direct punching attack makes sense. She isn't a veteran. 

That punch is basically rebounded off Brainiac's force field and hits her. She is knocked silly.

Now an earlier Supergirl might have bemoaned this loss and sulked. She might have wondered if she should head back into the fray.

At this point, Brainiac thinks that Superman is on Earth and hiding out. He thinks Superman has sent out Supergirl as an advanced guard.

And this is an older and more confident Supergirl. She dusts herself off and flies back into the brawl. She tries to flip Brainiac's ship to disorient him. He fires lasers at her. 

Trying to lure Superman out of hiding, Brainiac fires city-busting missiles at Metropolis. Supergirl catches them and lobs them back, even firing a volley of heat vision at Brainiac's ship. 

Seriously, this is a high-energy fight and Jim Mooney does a great job conveying the movement and dynamism of the melee.

Things are a sort of stalemate. Brainiac tries a time travel beam against Supergirl hoping to send her away into the future.

Supergirl uses some battle tactics to avoid the time travel weapon and bringing the power of a lightning storm against the villain. After all, lightning strikes have the power of an H-Bomb!

I mean it. This is a different Supergirl in this story than the little girl in the orphanage in her early Action Comics. She keeps getting back up to fight again. She is using her smarts to avoid Brainiac's attacks and to bring a few of her own to bear. She is fierce! 

But she is a young hero. 

Brainiac inevitably does get the upper hand and captures her in a Kryptonite cage dangling from his ship. 

Finally, Brainiac gets a signal that Superman is heading back to Earth from deep space. Brainiac has wasted all his weapons in this scrap with Supergirl. He can't take on Superman now. But at the very least he can use his force field device to smash Supergirl's weakened body, killing Superman's cousin and giving the villain some degree of triumph.

It looks like the cage is incinerated.

But then our hero Supergirl comes smashing into the Brainiac ship. 

Look at that confident and almost smug look on her face in that second panel. The K-cage was built for Superman. That means the bars were far enough apart that while they would keep Superman trapped, Supergirl could slip through them. Okay, that is one lucky Silver Age solution. But give Jim Mooney credit. Look at the art. Those bars are wide apart.

It looks like Supergirl is going to throttle the villain, the man who shrank Kandor, and get a major victory against a formidable opponent. 

Except ...

Brainiac escapes. He uses his own time travel gun to shunt himself away to safety.

I love this scene. Love it.

But even better than that is the last two panels.

Superman returns and congratulates Supergirl for the victory. Think of all the covers and stories in the past where Superman threatened to banish Supergirl or forbid her to use her powers. So I love that he praises her, his first stop on his return!

She is quite humble, thinking only about Brainiac's escape.

But Superman doubles down on the praise! She dealt Brainiac one of the villain's most humiliating defeat. Superman wants to celebrate! That is a supportive older cousin!

Alas, Supergirl needs to study.

I forgot just how great this story was. If you want to get a sense of how much Supergirl had grown in the 7 years of her comic existence, read the issues around her first appearance and this. She is a young woman here. A college student. A young hero, but one with a decent amount of experience and savvy. And a resilient hero who won't give up.  Add to that Jim Mooney's classic art being done in a knockout donnybrook! And it is Jim Shooter's first published story!!!

I'd say this is one to look for.

Overall grade:


PT Dilloway said...

Sounds like better writing than a lot of stories in that era.

kenkraly2004 said...

Great review Anj as always !!! I was reading this in Vol 2 of the Supergirl Silver Age Omnibus and its so so good even better with the remaster coloring which is faithful the original comic book issue. Supergirl Vs Brainiac great to see go at in during this time in her history

SG Fan said...

This is a fun Silver Age issue which shows off some great aspects of Kara as you said Anj. Feel like comics these days need some more one-shot adventures like these, which can be a mix of fun, character building, and not need a whole lot to follow. Just my two cents.

Great review of a Supergirl classic :)

Anonymous said...

This was a really good issue. Even if the plot was simple, it still had good action and character work. Not bad for fourteen-year-old Shooter!

And, I'm sorry for the off-topic, but if you are still wondering about it, PG originally fought the Symbioship in Showcase #97-98 (February-March, 1978), a two-parter by by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. Unsurprisingly, that short story arc is way better than PG's current book.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

I am so glad I remembered this story! So much fun and so much respect for the character!

And given the upcoming Brainiac story, felt appropriate!

William Ashley Vaughan said...

A high point of the Silver Age and one of the best Supergirl stories of all time. Jim Shooter and definitive Supergirl artist Jim Mooney are at the top of their form here. It is a treat to see Kara throw every ounce of brains and determination into a fight against a villain worthy of her steel and prevail. Superman showing her the respect she deserves is icing on a very satisfying cake.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Good Story! It was clever of Shooter to have Superman inform Linda (and the readers) that the entire Justice League would be involved in that space mission. Otherwise, the readers might have wondered why Green Lantern or the Martian Manhunter didn't take on Brainiac. I doubt that veteran DC writers like Otto Binder or Leo Dorfman would have thought to cover this. I've got a feeling that Shooter's background reading Marvel comics may have had something to do with this.

Maybe Shooter wrote Supergirl so well because he was closer to her age!

This would be a great story to adapt for a Supergirl cartoon.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite originals.

Anonymous said...

One of the best Supergirl stories of all time. She is relentless here and never gives up. I found it funny that Brainiac turns the weapon on himself rather than go up against the Girl of Steel.

Martin Gray said...

Terrific review, and what a story! A truly epic battle with a top tier supervillain which results in Linda getting massive praise from her cousin. And she’s not so needy that she needs to bask in his words, she has another life to get back to. Classic!

Anonymous said...

"Now an earlier Supergirl might have bemoaned this loss and sulked. She might have wondered if she should head back into the fray."
No thats more a contemporary Supergirl move :) Or else she'd ask Powergirl for help...
This is the closest SA Supergirl ever got to a Marvel Comics style story, it requires few outward changes to function as a Spider-Man one off, and moreover it is proof positive that good stories happen when "You Let Supergirl Be Supergirl"...