Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Back Issue Box: Superman Family #214


Given the proliferation of Super-titles in the DCU as well as Supergirl guest spots, I was a bit stunned to see that this was a Kara-free week for new books.

It did give me the opportunity to thumb through some back issues and find something relevant and worth reviewing. Given the Linda/Lena relationship over in Cosmic Adventures, I thought a Lena story might be good to look at again.

And since the last issue of Cosmic showed a potential falling out between the friends, I thought I would review the Supergirl story from Superman Family #214, 'The Strange Revenge of Lena Luthor', written by Marty Pasko and drawn by Win Mortimer.

A quick review of the Silver Age Lena. She was unaware of her relationship to Lex Luthor. When she was a toddler, Lex was performing an experiment on an alien brain in his lab. Lena wandered in and interfered with the experiment, causing it to explode but also giving her telepathy.

When Luthor became a world renowned villain, the family left Smallville in shame and became the Thorul's. Lena had no memories of Lex and was kept unaware of her evil brother. She became a friend of Supergirl.

Kara, in trying to help Lena get a job in the FBI, went back in time and discovered the family tree. Kara did not divulge the info to Lena but did let the FBI know. Lena was hired and married another agent, Jeff Colby.

Ironically, Lex Luthor was always portrayed in a sympathetic manner in Lena stories. He did everything in his power to keep the truth from Lena because he knew the shame it would bring her. Lex loved Lena like a brother, but from afar.


Okay, enough back story. In the Superman Family stories leading up to this issue, Lena needed emergency brain surgery because an aneurysm in her brain was threatening to rupture and kill her. The aneurysm was the source of her ESP. Doctors where able to successfully perform the surgery but in the aftermath Lena learns she is Lex's sister and that Supergirl and her dead husband had known all along.

Irate about the deception her best friend Supergirl has been upholding for years, Lena tells Supergirl to get out of her life. That scene plays out a bit like our Cosmic scene from last month.


Lena continues to break down to Supergirl. She tells Kara that her whole life she worried about her past, her genetic make-up, if she was potentially a carrier of some hereditary disease impacting her decision to have children. It is too much to bear that her husband and best friend kept this knowledge from her.

Supergirl tries to tell her that everyone, even Lex, thought it best. She has even brought a 2-way TV so Lena can talk to Lex for the first time.

But Lena will have nothing of it. She tells to Kara to leave.

I thought Kara's response was a bit off. First she tells Lena 'I never thought you would take it this badly'. Really? You find out your brother is a cold blooded killing super-villain and that your support system knew and never told you ... how else would you take it but hard? Then Supergirl flies off hoping Lena will forgive her.


After a curt conversation with Lex, Lena lashes out verbally at him expressing her anger at his influence on her life. While yelling, the table the TV is on shatters, breaking the communicator.

Lena realizes that other strange things have happened to objects in her room when she has become upset. While she may have lost her ESP, she has gained emotionally charged telekinesis.


Risking another confrontation, Supergirl decides to visit Lena as Linda Danvers. It turns out that the neurosurgery has also given Lena some selective amnesia. She no longer remembers that Linda is Supergirl.

Whew .... that was some surgery!

Linda leaves because Supergirl has to film a commercial for charity. As she prepares for the cameras, Supergirl puts on some strange green-tinged make-up. That's right it's the old 'Kryptonite dust in the compact' trick. Unfortunately Kara falls for it.

Suddenly weakened, Supergirl is struck by a 'paralysis ray' which makes her fall asleep.

Kryptonite make-up? While it certainly would be ridiculed as a trap nowadays, it just seems so natural in this story from 1982.


When Supergirl awakens, she is in an elaborate trap. Luthor is on a monitor and tells her that he has placed Kara in a room with red sun lamps and a gravity similar to Krypton thus nullifying her powers.

Supergirl is confused. How could Luthor set all this up when she had just spoken to him in jail earlier that day.



Meanwhile, another 'Supergirl' visits Lena in the hospital. Still furious, Lena's new powers manifest themselves. Objects around the room fly around and explode. And her mental powers are so vast they seem to have stripped 'Supergirl' of her powers. This 'Supergirl' is strangled by her cape and thrown from the window to fall to her death.



But we know that isn't the real Supergirl because our Kara is trapped and powerless.

Or is she?

Supergirl notices a fly buzzing around the room, something it would be unable to do if the room had a Krypton-level gravity. Maybe that means Supergirl isn't powerless after all. Maybe she was hypnotized in her K-weakened state into believing she was powerless.

Realizing she was duped, Kara punches through a steel door and captures the crew manning the trapped room. The 'Luthor' that spoke to her was an impostor in a Lex costume.


Supergirl pries it out of that staff that they were hired to create an elaborate ruse to drive Lena insane. What better way to do that than to have her manifest uncontrollable powers and kill her best friend.

Kara flies to Lena's room in time to see the other 'Supergirl' fall out the window onto a mattress. She rounds up the riffraff and brings them to the authorities.

Even the private nurse in Lena's room was part of the nefarious plan, making it appear as if Lena had telekinesis by using a remote to make the objects move around.


It turns out that Lex's cellmate had been put into jail by Lena's dead husband. Lex had spoken openly about Lena to his cellmate and that criminal initiated this scheme to get his revenge. Seems strange for Lex, who had done so much previously to hide his relationship to Lena, would talk so openly about her with a cellmate.

The story closes with Lex and Lena having their first conversation ever as brother and sister. As always, these stories must be taken with a grain of salt and looked at through the prism of time.

I always have to question the thought processes of the villains in these stories. No wonder they always failed. I mean, why would the criminal behind bars go through such an intricate plan to drive Lena mad as a revenge. The Kryptonite-compact, the hypnosis ray, the booby-trapped rooms holding Supergirl, the rigged hospital room ... isn't that a lot of steps, each fraught with potential failure, to go through to hopefully make Lena crazy. Aren't there better ... cheaper ... easier ways to get revenge?

Anyways, despite falling for the make-up ruse, Supergirl uses her brains to outwit and capture the bad guys. She even seems to have mended fences between Lex and Lena.

And Win Mortimer's art is solid if not exactly noteworthy.

I guess, even in retrospect, it is kind of a silly story.

Overall grade: C

11 comments:

Gene said...

I agree, the villians went through WAY too much trouble in trying to accomplish a simple task. Just build a killer robot and let it do the rest. SHEESH!

I just did a quick internet search and Lena just faded away from continuity before coming back post Crisis as Lex's daughter before fading away again. Cosmic Adventures made Lena an interesting character, and I would like to see her return to the Supergirl books as long as its done with some imagination.

The Fortress Keeper said...

Yeah ... the whole Superman Family run of Supergirl isn't exactly a high point. Still, I think the stories are fun enough and I wonder if Mortimer's art would have been a bit more attractive without the overwhelming Colletta touch.

Gene said...

Just had another thought.
One thing I always wonder about is why the Supergirl movie was released the way it was for better or for worse. I recall that writer David Odell (who also wrote the Dark Crystal, hense Selena and the fantasy elements) wrote the screenplay after visiting a comic book convention and picking up a few issues. If this comic you just reviewed Anj is an example of what was available to Odell at the time, it helps answer a few questions.

Anonymous said...

I date the final downfall of the original Kara to the one-two artistic punch of Don Heck followed by a played out Win Mortimer...those are some of the most lackluster pencils I've ever seen and Vinnie Colleta's inks are no help either.
On the other hand, the "Kryptonite blush" is one of those crowning touch ideas modern comics would sadly never touch.

John Feer

Anj said...

I just did a quick internet search and Lena just faded away from continuity before coming back post Crisis as Lex's daughter before fading away again. Cosmic Adventures made Lena an interesting character, and I would like to see her return to the Supergirl books as long as its done with some imagination.

Thanks for the post.

Sorta like Nasty Luthor just faded away.

It is cool that guys like Landry Walker and Grant Morrison find ways to re-imagine these characters. I loved 'Nasty' in All Star Superman.

Anj said...

Yeah ... the whole Superman Family run of Supergirl isn't exactly a high point. Still, I think the stories are fun enough and I wonder if Mortimer's art would have been a bit more attractive without the overwhelming Colletta touch.

Thanks for the post.

The completist in me still has me searching for those issues. The Don Heck art is pretty rough.

Anj said...

On the other hand, the "Kryptonite blush" is one of those crowning touch ideas modern comics would sadly never touch.

Thanks for the post.

I liked it too!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of "Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade"...I'm not even sure Supergirl is on EARTH. The whole feel of her life in middle school recalls Patrick McGoohan in "The Prisoner"...how much ya wanna bet her rocket flew all the way to the 5th Dimension and is now an unwitting captive of some fantasia dreamed up by Mister Mxyztplk?

John Feer

Gene said...

Or maybe Supergirl is dreaming everything and will wake up in #6 like Dorthy in the Wizard of Oz? I hope not.

TalOs said...

Hey thanks for the nostalgic trip down memory lane come this review at hand, Anj! :)

Mart said...

Loved the piece, I'd forgotten all about that comic. And I like the Mortimer/Colletta coma, especially how the nurse looks like a fat version of Lois Lane: Volunteer Nurse. I agree, bring Lena Thorul back!