Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: DC Comics Presents #28

Welcome to a blog crossover between the Martian Manhunter blog Idol Head of Diabolu (run by Diabolu Frank), Supergirl Comic Box Commentary, and the DC Bloodlines blog (primarily run by Frank but someplace I occasionally post) !

I am pretty pumped to review a three part story that ran in DC Comics Presents back in 1980. It is a wild ride of a story with Superman interacting with guest stars The Martian Manhunter, Supergirl, and ultimately the Spectre. Moreover, it introduces some lasting concepts for the DCU. The character Mongul and the idea of a Warworld are both first seen here. There is a crazy turn of events in the last chapter. And the creative team for the whole story is legendary writer Len Wein and cosmic artist Jim Starlin. Not bad for an arc in a team-up book!

Here at the Comic Box, I'll cover DC Comics Presents #28, the middle chapter, in which Superman and Supergirl try to stop the unstoppable. It has been a while since I read this arc.  I first read it in my youth when it was first released and I remembered a few key moments which I will showcase here.

Last issue (reviewed at the Idol Head here), Superman defied and battled J'onn and obtained the crystal key necessary to activate Warworld. The Man of Steel was almost irritatingly overconfident in that chapter. He unfortunately and accidentally turned the key over to Mongul, allowing the despot access to the moving battle planet. Realizing his mistake, Superman turned to a capable colleague to bring Mongul and Warworld down. That partner is none other than Supergirl.

The opening page is a nice splash of the two super cousins cruising through space trying to catch up to Mongul and Warworld. There is some Marvel-esque bombast in these early captions, talking about space as the Kryptonians natural element, how they are the galaxy's greatest defenders, how Warworld is the most devastating weapon conceived. It think Wein used this sort of over-the-top language to help build up a running theme in the story. One, Superman is great but maybe is a bit overconfident. Two, Warworld is a major threat that can even hurt or kill the Super family. With big power comes big words!

While the Matrix version of the Supergirl costume is my favorite, I have to say I am pretty fond of the hot pants version.

Heading to where Warworld should be, Superman and Supergirl only discover empty space. I have always wondered why J'Onn didn't accompany them on this mission as it was clear from last issue that he and Mongul had some history and that Warworld was a Martian responsibility.

In one small bit of odd characterization, especially for this story, Superman initially gives up thinking there is no way to find Warworld. Luckily, Supergirl uses her brains and realizes that their Kryptonian super-senses can follow the engine's trails. I always like seeing a smart and capable Supergirl. And I love her 'can-do' attitude where she says they need to go and smash Warworld. It shows her youth, her exuberance, and her desire to do what's right.

Again, part of the running theme in this whole story is Superman over-estimating just what he can do, becoming overconfident to the point of being cocky. So having him tell Supergirl to not be overconfident seemed off for the overall story.

This is one of those moments that stuck with me from my youth. Catching up to Warworld, Superman and Supergirl initially keep their distance and scan it from afar with their super-vision. In fact Superman is able to hone all the way down to seeing Mongul walking around on the surface. It is only when Supergirl tells him to reel back his focus that he sees just how immense the weapons of Warworld are. That is one big missile, dwarfing a city!

In classic Silver Age manner, Superman tries to send Supergirl away, fearing she may get hurt. It shows his overconfidence again thinking he can handle Mongul on his own. But it also smacks of the paternalism that plagued the earliest Supergirl stories. But this is a different Supergirl, approaching the truly independent hero in Daring Adventures. She isn't going anywhere; heck, she wants to attack!

One thing I had forgotten was that Mongul's origin is reviewed in this issue. I always thought that he had an 'unknown past'. Turns out he was a despot on his home planet until he was overthrown by a mob led into a frenzy by a religious leader. In an interesting twist, it is revealed that the 'holy man' ends up being a worse tyrant than Mongul. Knowing what we know of Mongul, that guy must have been completely evil. I wonder if that speaks to either Wein or Starlin's thoughts about organized religion.

With his monologue out of the way and his sensors detecting the Superfamily, Mongul dons Warworld's control helmet, linking his nervous system with the battle planet.

Remember, part of what Wein is trying to show here is that Warworld is immensely powerful and a true threat to Superman and Supergirl. This was back when Superman was basically unstoppable. So to read a story where something as mundane as a missile (albeit one huge missile) could kill Superman was novel. And Wein keeps hammering that point home to make sure as a reader I got it. Missiles, planet destroying laser cannons, all on a mobile planet bigger than a star - Warworld had it all.

This scene where the size of the missile becomes more and more apparent to Superman who initially was just going to stand there and take it worked to convey that as well. And finally Superman's recognizes he might be overconfident.

And that scene is followed up with this perfect moment. Superman having barely survived the nearby explosion of that missile says that two missiles could kill them ... only to look up and see two missiles heading their way.

The staggered 'Oh ... god' is perfect.

Luckily super-speed has its uses and they are able to scramble out of the way.

But that does give Superman the key to defeating Mongul and Warworld. He and Kara play cat and mouse with the weapons of Warworld, forcing Mongul to stress his mind into activating more and more of the planet's offensive capabilities. Finally, the strain is too much. Mongul suffers a 'massive cerebral hemorrhage' and collapses. Interesting ploy by Superman to basically induce a stroke in Mongul, a potentially lethal stroke. Superman deduced that the Warzoon, the long-dead race which created Warworld, died one by one trying to control the planet.

It is always interesting to read these older stories in the context of what we know happens. When Superman tells Supergirl that his plan is to have Mongul fire all his weapons at them ... a potentially lethal attack ... Supergirl says 'who wants to live forever?' Six years hence, she died at the hands of the Anti-Monitor, saving the universe.

Despite Mongul being incapacitated, Warworld continues to work on auto-pilot, firing its weapons and plodding along. Even if the villainous mastermind has been beaten, the planet itself needs to be defeated.

Superman has a plan. One which has peril for both of the heroes. Superman will stay close to the planet, drawing all of its fire, as he tries to dodge and remain alive.

In the meantime, Supergirl will fly off and then literally hurl herself at the planet at incalculable speed ... hopefully piercing its invulnerable surface, allowing the cousins to destroy it from within. This isn't without risk but we all know that Supergirl is trying to do what's right no matter the cost.

And like a bullet, she succeeds! This reminds me of those still shots of air rifles fired into apples with a bigger splash coming out the back end. Her speed is so great however that she cannot stop herself, flying off into deep space.

But she has opened up a path for Superman to get into to guts of the place.

Once inside, Warworld automatic defenses still register Superman as a threat. It turns its weapons on itself trying to get the Man of Steel, ultimately destroying itself.

But this isn't a clean victory. For one thing, when Superman landed on Warworld, he noticed that Mongul was gone. As we know, it isn't the last time those two have tangled.

More importantly, Supergirl has gone missing. You would think that she'd simply circle back after bashing through Warworld. What in blazes has happened to Supergirl?

You'll need to go the DC Bloodlines blog to find out. Trust me, chapter three is the trippiest of this arc and well worth checking out. And the review will be a sort of round table between Frank and me.

As for this issue, I think Wein did a great job with Supergirl, showing her to be smart, strong, and a bit strong-willed. You can tell she has youthful enthusiasm, eager to jump right into the fray. The art is credited to both Starlin and Romeo Tanghal. There are definitely pages which have a greater Starlin feel to them. So I wonder if Tanghal pitched on pencils as well as inks. The art is very good, especially the action sequences. As for a Supergirl collection, I would rank this of medium importance more for the bigger DCU-ness of it (Mongul and Warworld's first arc) than specifically for Supergirl. That said, her characterization and seeing her seamlessly team up with Superman is a joy. Well worth the $4-6 bucks someone would need to spend at a comic store or convention.

Overall grade: A


Gene said...

That was fun reading all three reviews. This story arc would make a great animated movie.


Diabolu Frank said...

I dig that splash page, in no small part because of my eternal love of Zip-A-Tone. Computers ruined cool printing tricks like that, especially since everything has to be "realistic" now. I don't want realism in my space-gas! I also like the '70s Supergirl logo. It was probably best that she assume the family logo, but someone should have stolen that bold logo style. Power Girl, maybe?

It drives me nuts that Mongul was set up as a great Martian Manhunter enemy, only to pretty much never share a panel with him again. That said, it also drives me nuts that Mongul was set up as a great Superman enemy, who could really go toe-to-toe with the Man of Steel, only for him to be a wimp post-Crisis. Didn't he once kneel and kiss the Cyborg Superman's hand. Blech!

Something else that drives me nuts? Throwing out Mongul's entire backstory Post-Crisis. Mongul lost his motivation, most of his powers/weapons, and a potentially extraordinary menace in the Arkymandrite. Wouldn't forcing the JLA into Mongul's service in order to reclaim his throne have been a wicked story? How about writers using anything but the Black Mercy in Mongul's arsenal?

Supergirl was awesome in this story. Most every positive development was her doing, and she was a total class act about it. I like this costume too, although I probably prefer the headband gear after our mutual favorite Matrix costume.

Starlin does have a strong anti-parochial inclination, as seen in Warlock, Dreadstar, and about every third project of his entire career. I figure a parallel was being drawn between the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

That bit establishing the scale of Warworld was fantastic. I really got into the look of that joint. I'll admit that a mobile planetary gladiator arena is a more original idea, but not as impressive to look at.

I believe Starlin did this job for a quick buck under time pressure and so only provided rough pencils for Tanghal to finish. While the art isn't all that it could have been, the story (especially your chapter) was awesome enough to put any deficits out of mind. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane through your write-up! Thanks for suggesting this shindig!

Martin Gray said...

Oh, I'd put this one in the first rank of Supergirl appearances; to my mind, she's rarely been depicted better (a certain issue of Crisis just pips this). Heck, she teaches Superman a few things ... that super-vision scene is among my most memorable Kara moments.

This is a great chapter in the three-parter that represents the peak of DC Comics Presents.

And that's my Kara in her best costume with her most attractive logo - hurrah! Super review, off to Bloodlines now ...

Anonymous said...

Yeah back in the day, to see "Supergirl at her best" she had to be guest starring in someone else's book. What I"ve liked about this story in particular is that it refutes the base canard that Supergirl was "over shadowed" by Superman, here she is a teammate not a sidekick. And besides, blasting thru War World as a "Kryptonian superhuman Missile" is the every essence of "Karatharsis". She wouldn't show this much class and grit for almost a decade. Sort of a good measure of what was really lost in the COIE.


Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

I like this story more and more every time I read it. Supergirl is really treated with respect and as the super-hero she should be.