Saturday, October 8, 2011

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #677

It has been a while since I dipped into the back issue box and with all the news swirling around the DCU, I figured there was no better issue to review than Action Comics #677.

For one, in the upcoming Supergirl #2, Supergirl fights Superman, a pretty well traveled plot twist since Kara's introduction in 1959. And in Action #677, Supergirl and Superman duke it out.

Secondly, after the good opening chapter of Supergirl #1, I thought this would be a good issue to review to remind me of the lower times of the character's existence. I have been worried about how this 'new' DCnU Supergirl would be portrayed given the early blurbs we heard about her personality. But I suppose I would rather have an angry Supergirl than the naive Matrix Supergirl we had here.

The creative team on the issue was writer Roger Stern and art by Butch Guice. This issue takes place shortly after 'Panic in the Sky', a 6 issue arc where the Matrix Supergirl returned to Earth as a dupe of Brainiac only to be later freed from his mental domination. Supergirl had been in space because exiled herself there after having a psychotic break where she believed she was Superman (he had exiled himself into space after having killed the Kryptonian Phantom Zone villains in Matrix' pocket universe). So this Supergirl had had a recent rough go of it. Unfortunately, she is still pretty innocent and inexperienced and that means she is only taken advantage of yet again.

As for Superman, he is engaged to Lois here. And Lex Luthor is acting inside a young virile cloned body, pretending to be Lex' bastard son. No one knows he is the real Lex yet.

I have to say, I have always loved this cover by Art Thibert. Yes, it has an 'Image-esque' feel  to it, but it is dynamic and is a great action shot of Supergirl in my favorite version of her costume.

The issue starts with a nice recap of Matrix' origin. It isn't necessarily the easiest to grasp with her imprints of Lana Lang which have faded, the existence of a pocket universe, and that universe's destruction because of the pride of that Luthor.

But one thing I think Stern does well is show the unconditional love that Matrix had for that Alex Luthor. He basically is her creator, responsible for her life. Of course she would have intense feelings for him. And that probably explains her feelings moving forward.

Guice does a great job conveying that feeling. She isn't some Frankenstein's monster emerging from a pod. She appears demure, holding her hand out the way a lady would when a gentleman asks for a dance. That body language says a lot.

And her body language is just as easy to read throughout this issue as she swoons before Luthor. See how her hand here is in this Lex' hands, just as Alex would have accepted her hand in the prior one. But their is also something coquette-ish here as well, leaning against the wall, one leg up.

Moreover, she already is declaring Lex as her darling. She had just met him last issue and was floored with Luthor's resemblance to the one from her universe. And remember, this Luthor is playing the part of the easy-going son and has yet to do anything evil or conniving. He is acting like a 'good guy' and so he is able to woo her easily.

And she is all too eager to please him. Here she shows him how she can shape-change to get into any form which pleases him.

I have always disliked this sequence as it shows just how insecure Supergirl is at this point of her life, willing to change herself to win her man.

She at least tells him that she is most comfortable in her Supergirl form, again adopting a sort of school-girl vamp pose, one hip turned in. And here I don't think the finger near her mouth is an homage to Jim Mooney's famous personality quirk. Here it is more sultry.

It is obviously over the top and as a Supergirl fan it was pretty disheartening at the time. This Supergirl had been shabbily treated since her inception and now she was basically acting like someone smitten and submissive. And Lex seems more interested in discovering how her powers work than in sharing her 'love'.

Clark is oblivious to what Supergirl has been up to since the Brainiac threat ended. He discovers that she is Luthor's paramour on a live tour of the Luthor grounds, an interview by none other than Cat Grant (who was hoping to sink her claws into this Luthor herself).

Even Supergirl's entrance here is mildly titillating, as she playfully leaps into the camera shot. She looks like she should be cheering 'Lex ... Lex ... he's my man! If he can't do it, no one can!'

Given her recent mental breakdowns and the unclear ethics of this Luthor, Clark is appropriately concerned.

The Clark/Lois scenes are really wonderful in this issue showing how easy and cool a couple they were. I have said it before, one thing I will miss in the DCnU is the Clark/Lois relationship.

Superman asks Supergirl if she is going to protect his secret identity from this Luthor. Supergirl finds it insulting that Superman doesn't trust her at all. And she is peeved that he doesn't trust this Luthor, a 'most wonderful' man.

The conversation gets more and more heated and Superman questions her judgment. She in turns questions Superman's decision making as he has made mistakes as well.

In the end, Superman does take on a condescending tone which leads to Supergirl lashing out with her 'psi-bolts', telepathic force blasts.

The two tumble through a landfill, smashing each other and the area around them. Supergirl even wonders if Superman is jealous of her feelings towards Lex.

Both immediately realize that this fight was pretty foolish to begin with. But just as things seem to be settling down on their own ...

Lex shows up in a WLEX news copter. Luthor tells them to stop and questions their maturity. Neither has shown themselves to be role models this way.

And then, in a veiled threat, Luthor says he will hold on to the footage of the two heroes fighting rather than release them to the news. Of course, he didn't destroy the footage either. But both Superman and Supergirl feel pretty bad about this tussle apologizing to Luthor and to each other.

It is pretty interesting to read about this Lex who is still doing devious Luthor type stuff but now while maintaining an 'easy going' happy-go-lucky exterior.

The fallout of the fight is interesting. I love how Lois is bemused that Clark got into a fight.

And Clark knows he came off like the 'lecturing older brother'. His intuition tells him that Luthor isn't the admirable guy he pretends to be, that he is taking advantage of Supergirl's innocence.

And Superman isn't that wrong. Supergirl is completely enamored of Luthor, already saying she doesn't know what she would do without him, how much she loves him. And Lex knows just what that means, he has a weapon under his control.

So, as always, sometimes it is hard to be a Supergirl fan and this was one of those times. Many didn't even count Matrix as 'Supergirl' and didn't want the protoplasm to even count as the Girl of Steel. I followed this Supergirl through these tough times (and trust me they were tough). She never seemed to be her own character, always used as someone else's unwitting ally. But much like all versions of Supergirl, this one in her heart knew what was right and tried to be the best hero she could. I loved this Supergirl in Funeral for a Friend.

But here she is simply controlled by Luthor and that was difficult to read.

This Supergirl/Lex relationship lasted through the Reign of Supermen up to the Clone illness arc in the Superman books. It came to an end in the Supergirl mini-series from 1994 when Matrix finally realizes that this was the first Lex and he was trying to clone her to make an army of Supergirls and another body for him to inhabit.

Guice was firing on all cylinders here and in the years he was on the book. His work is smooth and his characters are lanky and fit.

For a Supergirl collection, this issue sports a slick cover. It is the beginning of a key plotline in this Supergirl character's story. And the internal art is very good. But otherwise, it doesn't stand out in her mythos. I would rank it of low importance.

Overall grade: C+


MOCK! said...

When your post came across my Reader, I just stared at the cover for a good two minutes. I think it has always been a favorite.

Anonymous said...

Matrix Supergirl was dumb, credulous, insecure and compliant with patriarchal authority. These were all the complaints about the original Kara Zor El, most of them unjustified IMHO. What kills me about this is, Matrix was supposed to be an IMPROVEMENT over The Olde Supergirl who was derided as a "barnacle" on Superman's hull...very much in his shadow.
And the big improvement in Matrix? She was now in LEX LUTHOR"S shadow!
Sheer genius, DC has no peer in this regard.
Although I admit liking the shocking tacky tabloidy aspects of a Lex Matrix hook up, its also the sort of thing that can be disposed of in three issues...otherwise Lex looks like a playa and Matrix looks like a bimbo.
But then that was the problem with a lot of DC's Superman writing in the early nineties, slight material that dragged on forever, the Lex-Supergirl affair lasted what two full years and encompassed Kal El's death and resurrection as well!!


Anj said...

Yeah, I agree that Matrix was used more as a plot device than a character early in her comic life, and especially early on in this time period with Lex.

That said, as you read those stories, you can see her becoming more and more of a hero in her own right. She really stands out in Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen. And even afterwards, when she realizes Lex' treachery, she becomes independent.

I like her long term character growth, especially as it culminated with her merge with Linda Danvers.

Anonymous said...

My own feeling is that Matrix was fatally compromised at the outset by the Lex Luthor, subsequent appearances by the character were an improvement incrementally, but she could never ever anchor a solo book "As Is".
The merge with Linda Danvers was a necessary "Brio Transplant" for a character that had run up against a creative dead end.


Anonymous said...

Yes, clearly poor Matrix wasn't her own character but a mere excuse to keep the rights to the "Supergirl" trademark. Prior to Peter David, nobody was interested in delving into her character or giving her depth. She was bounced from one storyline to another where she was used as a plot device with little agency, and when the ridiculous Lex romance story was over, they didn't know what else to do with her.

Post-Crisis fans love lambasting Kara Zor-El, but Kara's career lasted twenty-six years. Matrix crashed down and burned after six years.