Monday, February 27, 2012

Back Issue Box: Adventures of Superman #502

The DCnU versions of Supergirl and Superboy met for the first time over in Superboy #6. So I figured that it would be cool to go back and look at the first time other incarnations of the characters first met.

Back in 1993, the comic world was still reeling from the Death of Superman, we had just held a Funeral for a Friend, and the Reign of the Supermen was just starting to fall. Adventures of Superman was the home of Superboy and had a great creative team of Karl Kesel writing and Tom Grummett and Doug Hazelwood on art. In Adventures #502, this Superboy met Supergirl.

It is interesting to revisit this issue almost 20 years later. We had only just met this Superboy. He didn't know anything of his origins. He didn't really understand his power. And he looks oh so 90s cool with his fade and leather jacket. And like any young man with incredible power, he is pretty sure of himself.

As for this Supergirl, this was smack dab in the middle of the 'Pawn of Luthor' period for the Matrix Supergirl. You could start to feel the tide turning a bit for her. She had handled herself very well in Funeral and later in this arc goes against Luthor's wishes to aid the re-invigorated Superman. In just under a year, she'll star in her own mini-series and leave Luthor's side for good.

But all of those revelations come later. Right now, Metropolis doesn't know how to handle the Supermen claiming the name. And Luthor certainly wasn't going to stand on the sidelines. And so he sends his lackey in.

Getting back to the creative team, I think Kesel had a really great handle on the Superboy character here. He really has 'The Metropolis Kid' vacillate between overconfidence with and uncertainty of his powers as well as showing the impulsive nature of being a super-powered teen with few role models.

Perhaps the best thing about that happened is this book is what didn't happen. The two didn't fight each other! 

And Grummett was the perfect person for this book. The Kid's adventures weren't as serious as say Steel's or the Eradicator's. So Grummett's more cartoony feel suited the book wonderfully. And I think he draws a very good Supergirl, fresh faced, young, and optimistic.

The issue starts with Superboy saving a convertible filled with young ladies from crashing off a Metropolis bridge. But then he himself needs a hand when he almost loses control of the very car he was saving. Luckily, Supergirl is there to save the day as well.

I thought this was a very nice splash page with a sort of unique composition, a hero saving a hero hoisting a car. There is a wonderful vertical feeling here with some unsteadiness implied by the art.

Of course, Superboy is a little distracted by Supergirl's ... umm ... charms. It is something of an innocent and natural response from a 16yr old boy who probably can't help himself. And it does open up the dialogue for the oft-used 'chest choking' joke.

Supergirl invites Superboy to have dinner with her and Lex and he agrees.

Of course, Superboy already has something of a working relationship with WGBS and reporter Tana Moon. So Moon is, of course, upset that Superboy would agree to meet with a rival.

Much of Supergirl's behavior is rooted in her allegiance to Lex. But I did like how she feigned ignorance of Moon and said she only got her news from WLEX ... all while on a live WGBS news feed. Matrix was sort of sly in her own way.

But again, she is simply a pawn of Lex. Here she is trussed up in a form fitting evening gown, vamping a bit to try to get Superboy to join Team Luthor. Lex seems to be parading her out as just another possession of his. I have said it before, outside of some glimmers of independence and heroism, this was a rough point to be a Supergirl fan.

Supergirl is charming however, getting Superboy to verbally agree to leave WGBS behind, work for Lex, go out patrolling with her.

Unfortunately, Superboy is pretty gullible and easy to manipulate. After Luthor's dinner, he meets with GBS president Vinnie Edge and formally agrees to be a WGBS exclusive newsmaker. On top of that, Edge hires the odious Rex Leech to act as Superboy's handler and agent. Leech is a pretty slimy character interested in turning a quick buck.

And Rex has a daughter Roxy who proclaims Superboy is cuter than Bon Jovi, Luke Perry, and Robin all together. But this innocent 'boy crazy' introduction turns about to be just as much an act as Rex' professionalism. She isn't a bad girl, just always looking out for number one.

Superboy really is being led on a leash here. Edge is only interested in cornering the news market. And if that means manufacturing the news, he will. He hires a supervillain to attack Superboy all while Tana is following and filming.

One of the better side characters in this is Tana. She is against anyone using Superboy and yet she herself is using him. Throughout the arc she has to come to grips with her own ethics and what side of the fence she is standing on.

While moving a locomotive engine, Superboy is attacked by the Stinger. The attack was pretty easy to set up given that Stinger was given the wheres and whens of Superboy's day by Rex earlier in the book. Overwhelmed by the attack, Superboy has to ditch the engine and tosses it into an empty park. I like how Superboy realizes he's pretty lucky that no one was there, even if the workers all think it was planned.

As I said before, Superboy is just learning the limits of his powers here. He still thinks he is simply a clone of Superman. He doesn't know about tactile telekinesis yet. He doesn't understand his lack of vision powers.

Since Superboy isn't exactly invulnerable, he is dazed and battered by some rather pedestrian attacks by the Stinger - bombs, cybernetic whips, etc.

Supergirl has actually been following the proceedings in invisible form and is about to step in and save the day when Superboy stops her. He lays out Stinger with one punch.

I think it again shows his somewhat brash and schoolyard persona. He doesn't want anyone's help.

The whole super-hero thing has been something of a game up to now for Superboy with people falling over themselves to be his friend. Suddenly, the whole thing becomes deadly real. Realizing he needs a distraction to escape, Stinger blows out the main support of the bridge, collapsing it and sending countless people to their deaths. Things aren't always rosy in the heroing games. Lesson learned. And great cliffhanger!

This initial meeting showcased the sort of naivete of both Supergirl and Superboy, as they both are just pawns in the nefarious dealings of megalomaniacs. But over the course of Reign, they mature, become part of the Superman family, and do their best.

For a Supergirl collection, this issue of low importance other than being the first meeting between Boy and Girl. It can be picked up pretty cheap in back issue boxes. And it does sport some great  Grummett art. I, for one, liked Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen and think both arcs are worth reading.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

I kind of think the whole "Supergirl loves Lex" arc sealed Matrix' fate as a character in the Superman Universe. It inexorably branded her as a well meaning bimbo and likely paved the way for Peter David's revamp.
Or so it seems to me.


collectededitions said...

Really, really great Tom Grummett art. There may not be much here for a Supergirl collector, but as a fan of Superboy and the titles at that time, your post brings back a lot of memories -- Roxy, Rex, Tana. This was fun stuff in that Kesel was building a great world and supporting cast for "the Kid." And I remember that bridge collapse being really shocking at the time.

Anj said...

I kind of think the whole "Supergirl loves Lex" arc sealed Matrix' fate as a character in the Superman Universe.

I agree that this seemed like the last straw. It seemed like right after Reign, the character started to be salvaged and portrayed more as a hero.

Anj said...

This was fun stuff in that Kesel was building a great world and supporting cast for "the Kid." And I remember that bridge collapse being really shocking at the time.

I agree. I liked what Kesel did enough to get the SB solo title for the first year or so.

And given the breezy nature of Superboy's adventures up to that point, the bridge explosion was a great and shocking cliffhanger.