Friday, November 11, 2011

Back Issue Box: Daring New Adventures Of Supergirl #1


That's a lot of ones.

And with the current Supergirl title still in its infancy, I thought I would review another number one, The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #1. It is hard to believe that this blog is going on for over three years and I haven't officially covered this book before. And, ironically, I consider this book to be a sort of 'relaunch' for the Supergirl character, if not an official reboot.

At this point in 1983, Supergirl had gone from a long run in Action Comics to her run headlining Adventure Comics to a short-lived solo series to Superman Family to here. And during that time Supergirl had gone from a 15 yr old orphan to a Stanhope graduate to a San Francisco new reporter to New Athens Experimental School guidance counselor to famous soap opera actress. Suddenly Supergirl was an adult and maybe closer to Superman in age than ever before.

Writer Paul Kupperberg decided to shift things a bit. And without much fanfare, he simply announced that Supergirl was a 19 year old college student again. There was no 'de-aging' ray, no deal with Mephisto, and no real explanation on how she could have been all the things before and still only be in her late teens. It was a simpler time from a continuity point of view.

But more than just age, Kupperberg subtly changed the personality of Supergirl as well. Suddenly she was a confident young woman, happy, a more realized hero, someone willing to fly into the face of danger without worrying if Superman would be upset at her. In fact, in the prologue to this series which I reviewed here, she lets Superman know that she is an adult and making the big decisions in her life for herself.

And as much as that outright vocalization of her maturity was a giant step forward in the hero's journey, the Linda Danvers part of her life also evolved in this series. Here Kupperberg really had Kara embrace the Linda identity, making her as much Linda as Supergirl, and having her improve herself through the outlets that Linda provides for her.

Carmine Infantino and Bob Oksner provide the art here and I wax and wane on my appreciation of Infantino's work. I think his Flash stuff is top notch. I think his Supergirl was fine, Oksner really polishing things up. And this team drew about the loveliest Linda Danvers I have seen.

On to the story. As I like this issue a lot, I scanned more than the usual number of panels just to show the depth of the characterization.

The title of this issue is 'A very strange and special girl' and opens with a nice splash page of Supergirl flying above a cityscape.

Right off the bat, Kupperberg paints the picture of Supergirl as a hero, embraced by Earth and embracing her new home planet. From the catastrophe of Argo City 'rose hope ... hope for the myriad beings of the universe and a blessing for the planet Earth.'  A place where Supergirl 'found a new home, where she has been taken to the hearts of its people ... and it is she who has repaid this kindness over and over again, dedicating her life to the well-being of her adopted world.' So maybe it is a bit heavy-handed but the point is driven home. Supergirl represents hope ... and she is a hero. This sounds very different than the current Supergirl but then again it was a very different time.

As for the splash, Infantino always seemed fascinated with perspective to me. Here Supergirl appears to be flying slightly toward the camera which means the legs should be slightly in the background. But those legs seems awful big to me.

But that is just a splash page, an introduction.

The story starts with Linda riding a train from New York to Chicago relaxing and gazing out the window. That is until she senses that she is needed elsewhere. Kupperberg makes the point of discussing how lazily the train trip winds its way to its destination, a lengthier trip than a plane flight. We learn that Linda decided to travel this way so she could relax. But we also learn that even in this 'vacation' train ride, she is still on alert for any situation that might arise where she can help. Even if it interrupts her plans, she does what's right.

Good thing too! An accident in a steel mill endangers the workers but Supergirl flies in to save the day.

Knowing that this might be the first Supergirl story for some people, Kupperberg again stresses what a hero she is. First, he makes a point of saying that other might have similar powers but they can't achieve what she does 'effortlessly'. 'It takes something else to make her what she is. Perhaps it's that indefinable quality some would call "heart"'.

Even here, she simply says that saving people ... that being a hero ... is what she is here on Earth for.

As much as she loves being the hero though, she realizes she needs to be more than simply a non-stop patrolling machine. She needed some space to just be plain old Linda Danvers. She doesn't want to lose sight of the fact that she is a person, not a symbol. She wants to remain grounded. And she wants to better herself.

Some might think that the two scenes - saying she is here to help while hoping to be Linda - contradict each other. But I think it shows that Supergirl is complicated and needs to learn to balance the sides of her life. She hasn't fit into the comfortable back and forth that Clark has found. She is still learning, still becoming that hero.

That moment of introspection let's Kupperberg flashback to the earliest parts of Supergirl's origins. We again see Argo City, lead sheets spread over Kryptonite, and that dramatic rocket ride to Earth.

Even back then, even with all that has happened before, Kupperberg knows that those events are traumatic. He has Linda think 'you're not the same little girl of fifteen these days ... except , maybe, for the pain of loss!' But instead of having that trauma define her in a negative way, this Supergirl acknowledges it and channels that pain constructively, making sure no one else feels that pain.

Amazing how that concept of Supergirl as representing hope always seems to rise no matter what incarnation we are in.

This isn't a world without threats though. Chicago is the home of a powerful psionic named Gayle Marsh. And she is the acolyte of a Mr. Pendergast, a man devoted to rid the world of all forms of Decay with a capital D, be it physical or moral.

The scene does a nice job showing how insecure and naive Marsh is. And just how easily someone like Pendergast could take advantage of her.

Finally in Chicago, Linda goes about getting settled.

I had to include this panel ... and I know I am dating myself ... because I can't look at it without thinking of the opening of the Mary Tyler Moore show. You know what Linda ... you're going to make it after all!

Taking a cab ride to Lake Shore University, Linda again thinks back, filling in the rest of her early origin from orphan to adopted daughter of the Danvers.

Again, Kupperberg adds a some nuance to the story, making it not as saccharin as seen in it's initial versions. He has Linda admit she hated being thrown into the Midvale orphanage. That is something of new but realistic wrinkle to the story, a bit more believable than Kara smiling as she swept the floors. He also has Supergirl acknowledge that she was bitter about the loss of her parents and culture but the love of the Danvers helped her get over it. These small revelations scuff the shine off of the innocence of the Silver Age and yet shows how Supergirl could overcome these challenges rather than wallow in them. This is who Supergirl is.

Interestingly, that is it for origin recaps as Kupperberg basically avoids the continuity pitfalls of Stanhope, San Francisco, Florida, and New York.

Remember, Linda and her life is going to be a big part of this book. So we need to have a good supporting cast.

When Linda tries to enroll in her classes (as a Criminal Psychology major, such a nice touch), she get side tracked by boy-crazy free spirit Joan Raymond. Joan will end up becoming Linda's best friend in the book, a sort of chaotic force of nature used as a foil to Linda's more controlled and orderly views.

Joan knows there is an open apartment in her building so she leads Linda right to it.

Here we meet some more supporting cast members. The landlady is Mrs. Berkowitz, a concentration camp survivor and (we ultimately learn) Blackstarr's mother. Her neighbor is John Ostrander (named after that John Ostrander), a ne'er do well actor.

With a new home and a new path in life, Linda is content. I love this quiet moment. It almost as if Kupperberg wants to let us know that this is a new-ish Supergirl. There won't be the angst of being in Superman's shadow, of worrying about letting someone down, of wondering if she is good enough. She is right where she wants to be.

But that peace is short lived. Marsh, also a Lake Shore student and now calling herself Psi, had senses Supergirl's power earlier when she bumped into Linda on campus. Convinced by Pendergast that Supergirl is an agent of Decay, Psi brings the fight to the Maid of Might. And with her telepathic powers, she is a decent foe for Supergirl.

And when Pendergast psionically links with Psi, he is able to overwhelm Supergirl. He thinks he can drain Supergirl of her power, enhancing Psi's, and making them unstoppable. The issue ends on that cliffhanger, with a helpless Supergirl suspended in the air.

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #1 had everything that I look for in a first issue. We got an origin story, we got some action, we definitely got a strong sense of who the main character Supergirl is ... her motivations and feelings, and we got a nice cliffhanger to bring me back. While future plot lines aren't hinted at, the introduction of the supporting cast made up for that.

But for me, the strength of the issue is that sense of who Supergirl is. Kupperberg keeps coming back to the fact that Supergirl loves her adopted world, is a symbol of hope, and will do the right thing whatever it takes, whatever it costs her. Kupperberg 'got' Supergirl. Not everybody does.

For a Supergirl collection, I would rank this issue of high importance. It is a first issue of a Supergirl solo title. This is one of the stronger representations of Supergirl. This cover is probably the most iconic cover depicting the hot pants costume and was made into a postage stamp. And it can still be found cheap at conventions, probably around $5. I was lucky enough to run into both Infantino and cover artist Rich Buckler at conventions and had them autograph the issue. I hope I will run into Kupperberg somewhere to get his signature too!

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Thanks Anj, for cheering up a dull Friday lunchtime with memories of one of the best Supergirl stories ever. You've summed up the reasons beautifully, and provided incisive commentary.

You're so right about the MTM (miaow) panel, that's exactly what's evoked ... I was hoping to bring it up, but of course, you got there first! I love the fact that Paul Kupperburg would provide more than was 'necessary' to the issue at hand, with such things as the Chicago Story (and there's another fun TV show). The commentary enriches the narrative and so deepens Linda's world (she was always Linda to me, in this book).

Infantino and Oksner did indeed give us the sweetest Supergirl ever - just glorious. But that Psi costume's a shocker!

Martin Gray said...

My apologies to Paul - my finger hit the wrong vowel on the iPhone. KupperbErg!

Gene said...

Definitely agree on the Mary Tyler Moore analogy. This comic did a great job too of showcasing the frilly collars and big shoulders of 80's fashion.


Gear said...

As you said ANJ, this is a great example of what a first issue should have. Everything was there, including a first peek at a new supporting cast and all sorts of characterization. Look at all that text, inner dialog, exposition, even the villains of the piece have clearly defined motivation that isn’t black and white. This makes me realize how much I miss this sort of storytelling, it’s a perfect example of the “compressed” style that’s gone out of favor but that I have always preferred. Most modern comics will take months to give us this much, and this all happened in one book.

I used to have this, but lost it in a move. Think I’ll start going through the long boxes next time I’m at my LCS.

Gustavo Delamarques said...


mhunt said...

I like a lot this run of Supergirl, I think this is a fun series without the sort of 'dark drama' that is been injected in the comics since several years back.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind one of the lesser known aspects of this particular Supergirl series is that she had undergone what amounts to a "soft retcon" and was unilaterally made 19 years old again thus a college freshman. In a stroke a good ten years of back story was obliterated (KSF, the acting school, the guidance counselor gig and the soft opera actress). I should have realized at the time that this was something of a creative "Hail Mary Pass" and indicative of a deeper editorial frustration with the character.

Martin Gray said...

Anj does mention the de-aging. I never got the impression anything was specifically erased so much as compacted. If memory serves, Supergirl mentions either here, or in the prelude chapter, that after all she's been through the past few years, she's decided to retun to the lifestyle that made her happiest.

Anonymous said...

I've said it before and I"ll say it again, I am not sure Carmine Infantino was the writer penciler for this character. By the early eighties a lot of subtlety had gone out of his artwork, I get the impression that Bob Oksner had to work extra hard to keep Kara looking presentable.
On the other hand after four years of Don Heck and Win Mortimer it was "Any Port in a Storm" as far as I Was concerned. At the time I'd a killed to have gotten Joe Staton on this book, hell I"d a settled for Jose Delbo and good tight inker.
That having been said I do wanna open up a call to collect all the TDNAOS Stories into a trade paperback, I think it is time.


Anj said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

I would love to have some of this series collected in trade. It is dated a bit but displays nice heroics and set up a decent rogues gallery for Kara/Linda.

And, yes it was something of a reboot, sending her back to school and basically ignoring a lot of the SF Family continuity.

Like many things, I have come to appreciate this series more as time has gone by.