Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Back Issue Box: Superman Family #203

It has been a while since I came up with a Back Issue theme to review here at Comic Box and then I was struck by the muse. You see, as I was reviewing the last issue of Supergirl I kept getting this vibe that Supergirl was really as angry at herself as she was towards the rest of the universe. She could have done a lot in her time to be less isolated and to acclimate more. She could have relied on family and friends to help her with her grief. But instead she seemed to be hurting herself by staying distant and things have festered until finally it seems they are going to explode.

That concept of Supergirl hurting herself made me think about past times where Supergirl has met Supergirl, maybe even fought her.. And so here is the first entry in the four part back issue series of Supergirl confronting Supergirl - Superman Family #203, published way back in late 1980.

As was the case in many of the Superman Family issues at that time, Supergirl is the headliner, getting the lion's share of the cover by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano. It is a great image for the tale, a young Supergirl, still in her pleated blue skirt, crashing out a building, surprising the older Supergirl decked out in her hot pants. And the elder Kara seems stunned, asking the question 'If she's Supergirl ... who am I?'

"The Supergirl from Planet Earth" was written by Jack C. Harris with art by Win Mortimer and Vince Colletta, the predominant Supergirl team on this book. This was the 'guidance counselor at the New Athens Experimental School' time period for Linda Danvers, a time between stints as a journalist and a soap opera actress.

These stories are for the most part forgettable. Not many of these made a major impact on the Supergirl character. And while this is a more seasoned Supergirl her adventures rarely carry the gravitas of Superman's. Still, the writers did their best to inject some Supergirl history into the proceedings including bringing back Lesla Lar, Lena Thorul, and a surprise plot twist (even if a bit wonky continuity-wise) in this story. There is a sort of easy charm to these stories as you read of a Supergirl ready to be a hero and dealing with ordinary life.

We should be glad that the creators kept the Supergirl character moving forward and in the spotlight enough that Paul Kupperberg's Daring New Adventures is just a couple of years away.

Nice opening splash page here again showing the younger and older Supergirl facing each other. What does it all mean? Let's find out.

The story starts in Midvale, in the home of the Leeds' Family.  Mr. and Mrs. Leeds lament the fact that their young daughter Ellie has been in a coma for seven years. And, strangely enough, despite being comatose, she is growing normally and healthily. How can that be without nourishment? And the doctors are flummoxed. They could not even find a way to feed Ellie intravenously.

It is a mystery.

It just so happens that Supergirl has decided to take a day off from her life in New Athens Florida and thought revisiting Midvale might be a good way to clear some cobwebs from her mind. As usual, Linda was having some romance problems that decided she needed some space.

She revisits the spot where she actually crash landed years earlier.

Amazingly, at the same time, Ellie wakes up from her coma and somehow exhibits super-powers, looking right through the wall and seeing Supergirl.

Linda manages to run into her father as he is heading to work as a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs. She explains that this Midvale trip was spur of the moment and she'd love to join him for the day.

It turns out that Mr. Leeds works at S.T.A.R. with Fred Danvers and they car pool. As the car pulls up, Ellie crashes out of the wall crying 'Make way world -- here comes Supergirl!' She is wearing a classic Silver Age Supergirl costume and flies off.

I love how Fred is so flabbergasted that he almost blows Linda's secret identity. And this lookalike plot is certainly a well-traveled Supergirl road as just about everybody was indistinguishable from Linda in the old Action stories - from Lesla to Lena to any number of starlets.

The Leeds are able to fill in some information. Ellie awoke, made a Supergirl costume at super-speed out of curtains in the house and took off.

Linda leaves to 'look for help' and switches to Supergirl herself, catching up to Ellie just as the young 'Supergirl' loses her ability to fly.

And then, oddly, Ellie says she is Supergirl and then recites chapter and verse of Supergirl's origin - the explosion of Krypton, Argo City surviving, the ground becoming Kryptonite, and Zor-El rocketing her away.

So ... is Ellie really Supergirl??

Amazingly, Kara has a theory explaining everything - the coma, Ellie's belief she is Supergirl, and her apparent loss of all powers. I have to admit, I didn't have any theories when I first read this story.

We'll get to the answer ... and my problem with it as a continuity geek ... in a second.

Because the origin story and Ellie's powers have been overheard by an industrial spy sent to observe the Leeds and rob the Midvale S.T.A.R.

Ah, the joys of fate in Bronze Age DC Comics. Of course Ellie's coma would end on the day that Supergirl was visiting and they would visit a site where an industrial spy can overhear their conversation. What if Linda visited the following day?

Well it turns out that Ellie fell into her coma on April 11th 7 years earlier, the exact day that Supergirl crash landed on Earth.

So ... April 11th, Supergirl  lands on Earth. And we all assume that Kara was around 15 years old when she crashed, meaning Kara is around 22 years old in this story.

Supergirl surmises that Ellie heard the crash and went to investigate, witnessing Supergirl telling her origin to Superman as she did in Action Comics #252.

And then the twist. Ellie also must have stumbled upon a piece of X-Kryptonite at the site and brought it home. Indeed, Supergirl discovers it in a box on Ellie's nightstand.

So to further the premise, Supergirl states that X-Kryptonite can give Earth beings super-powers as long as they remain near it (it is how Streaky got his powers, and only when he went near X-K did he get re-powered up). The recently empowered Ellie couldn't deal with the sudden surge and went into a coma. And with the X-K nearby she used yellow sun rays to nourish and grow. That's why the coma didn't effect her that way. It also explains why MDs couldn't put an IV in here ... she was invulnerable.

And it explains why Ellie lost her powers outside the home. She wasn't near the X-K any more.

The X-K weakens Supergirl until it is placed in lead.

Okay ... let's slow down ... because this is taking continuity a little off the rails.

X-Kryptonite isn't a natural isotope of Kryptonite. It was accidentally created by Supergirl when she did chemical experiments on Green K in Action Comics #261. So Ellie shouldn't have been able to find a slice at the crash site. And X-Kryptonite doesn't hurt Kryptonians the way Green K does. So nice try to link some Supergirl mythos into the story. But Harris got it all wrong.

And all this doesn't explain why Ellie thought she was Supergirl on awakening.

To welcome Ellie into her new awake life, Supergirl molds the lead around the X-Kryptonite into a S-shield pendant.

Nice panel by Mortimer. And a nice gesture by a Supergirl who wants to help people.

Of course, we need a throw down. The industrial spy ingests the X-K so he will always be near the X-K and goes on a super-powered heist of STAR labs.

He does know that eventually he'll defecate this and need to retrieve it ... right?

There is a brief skirmish where the villain tries to use his powers only to have them fail. And then suddenly even his flight depowers.

In a nice montage panel, we see that Supergirl was buying time, frustrating the man by countering his super-powered attacks with super-powered deflections of her own. And after a while, the man's stomach acid destroyed the X-K, completely depowering him.

It is interesting that Kryptonite is the only Kryptonian relic that isn't invulnerable. There have been plenty of stories where Kryptonite has been melted by acid, heat, or other chemicals. So pretty smart of Supergirl to realize that this was going to be a brief stint with powers by the crook.

With the X-Kryptonite destroyed and Ellie awake and 'normal', there is nothing left but to smooth out the rough edges. Supergirl gives Ellie another S-shield pendant as a gift. And Fred Danvers says that Linda will give Ellie a spot in her school to help her transition to her conscious life. Again, a nice touch from a Supergirl who wanted to do what was right for people.

And I love the last panel, a joyous Supergirl whose batteries are recharged from her brief visit home and an odd look into her own past.

So I will give Harris an A for effort in looking back at some Supergirl-specific historical details and trying to insert them into a new story. X-Kryptonite is a uniquely Supergirl piece of the Superman mythos. And the sight of a young blue-skirted Supergirl was a nice touch. Plus we learn Supergirl's crash date! But the details of the X-K are off and the Ellie story doesn't quite make sense. Why did she think she was Supergirl? Still ... A for effort.

I don't have any major problem with Win Mortimer's art. I actually like his faces.

Still nothing huge about this issue to make it crucial to a Supergirl fan. But the details are fun enough that I would label it of medium importance.

Overall grade: B


Gear said...

That was a nice story, with a Supergirl who dealt with the world around her in a positive manner. And it's nice to see a dual Supergirl story where neither is evil or plotting the other's downfall. That's rare for superhero doppelgänger stories.

One mistake there though, Anj. When Supergirl created the X-K by bathing Green K in chemicals to try to neutralize it (scientist Kara!) she was still vulnerable to it, that's why she threw it into the woods where it was eventually found by Streaky. So they got that part right.

Anj said...

Thanks Gear!
I should have done more thorough research. I remember the X-K being in a yarn ball in the orphanage. Since Linda wasn't always weakened I assumed it didn't affect her.

Bad Anj on this one. Should've reread Action 261! Thanks for the correction!

Martin Gray said...

I just love Win Mortimer, and Vince Colletta's inks suit his pencils. So, did we ever see Ellie again? She could've been spare Supergirk, Kara's own secret weapon.

I love that Fred and Linda (great wig!) decide between them to surprise the Leeds clan with a whole new life, it's positively Silver Age.

Did we ever find out just what was 'experimental about the New Athens school?