Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Victory By Computers

Welcome to a special back issue box review of 'Victory by Computer', a giveaway comic by DC Comics and Radio Shack from way back in 1981. This story included the guest stars of Supergirl as well as the TRS-80 Computer Whiz Kids, Alec and Shanna. Alec and Shanna had already befriended Superman in 1980's 'The Computers That Saved Metropolis'. The truth is, Supergirl, Shanna, and Alec are the stars of the book. Superman is pretty ancillary to the story.

This was a time when computers were typically big and bulky. Home computers were just starting to appear and their utility was limited. Radio Shack, then a pioneer in computing, put out several comics discussing how much computers could help people in their everyday lives. Of course, the books also trumpeted Radio Shack's products as well. It is remarkable to see how prescient this 33 year old book was at predicting the future.

We were dealing with a little IT kerfuffle at work this week and that made me remember this book. So I thought I would share.

"Victory by Computer" has a pretty famous creative team for a Radio Shack promo book. Cary Bates, Curt Swan, and Vince Colletta are pretty legendary names in DC lore. So I am pretty impressed with creator box on this issue.

And I have to say that Supergirl looks positively smashing in this book. I'm not a huge fan of Curt Swan's take on Kara. But she looks great in this issue, starting out with this opening splash. I think Colletta's inks here bring a sort of Oksner-esque softness to her.

More importantly, my opinion of the hot pants Supergirl costume has really improved over the course of the last few years. Who would think that an old Supergirl fan like me could have some sort of renaissance of thought about older versions.

My guess is when I started this blog that I would have listed the hot pants costume near the bottom of my rankings of Supergirl's looks. (The red skirt look is my absolute favorite.) It may be a need for nostalgia or just a change in my taste but I would now rank the hot pants look as my second favorite look.

The issue opens with the super-cousins flying into a classroom in an unnamed Metropolis elementary school. In a little exposition, we hear that Superman had visited this same classroom in the past. That time he had 'large boxes' with 'big equipment' ... the actual TRS-80 home computers with the bulky tube monitor, etc. That happened in the prior giveaway issue.

Instead, this time, there isn't the need for the big computers ... at least not yet. This time the super-cousins have the TRS-80 pocket computer!! Slim, trim, and able to be easily slipped into hidden cape pockets, this computer has all the power of "the old room-sized computers of the late 1940's!"

And look at what it can do!

Remember words, analyze information, make comparisons. And you can write your own programs in Basic! It's the easiest language to learn!

Unfortunately, before we can see them write

10 print "Anj is awesome!"
20 go to 10

Superman is called away to an emergency. An imprisoned Luthor is making boasts in his cell saying today, Superman will free Luthor from prison. Cue wicked laugh!

Now it is fascinating to read this comic in today's world of smartphones, the internet, and the power of computing. The technology here is clunky.

But I have to say it predicts the future pretty well. My guess is in 1981 all this sounded like Oz. But here Supergirl talks how 'soon' computers will have an informational retrieval system where people will be able to do banking, go shopping, make appointments, etc. That is all right on.

The kids use what seems to be a fetal version of the internet called 'Videotex' to do a sort of trial run of some of the things that are possible. The kids just need a land line phone, a modem interface, and TSR-80 'Videotex' terminal, and a monitor.

Land lines? Modems?

But this old school internet works.

Having heard that Superman is going to confront Luthor, Supergirl challenges Alec and Shanna to a race. She will use her superpowers, they will use the TRS-80, and they will see who can gather information about Superman's battles with Luthor faster.

Supergirl speeds off to the WGBS file room to research the old fashioned way, looking things up, finding files, and reading. (Nice use of multiple images in the panel to convey her work.)

In the meantime Alec and Shanna type in a password to enter Videotex, type in a few key search words, and get a nice list of electronic documents that are pertinent.


I also love ... LOVE ... that Bates has Supergirl tell the teacher that she is comfortable in front of kids because her day job is in a classroom, a reference to Linda's time as a counselor at the New Athens Experimental School.

While the kids head off to the Metropolis Museum of Science and Industry, Supergirl decides to patrol Metropolis. She promised Superman she would watch the place while he was dealing with Luthor.

She notices in the mountains off the outskirts of Metropolis a secluded building which is emitting a microwave beam which could interfere with planes nearby. As Supergirl flies to investigate, the 'solar panels' on the roof flip to become red sun radiation emitters. Suddenly powerless, Supergirl falls into the open roof area of the building. It is all a trap.

Of course this isn't just a Superman and Supergirl adventure. This is a promotional book about computers. So we get a couple of pages dedicated to the history of computers, from the vacuum tube to microprocessors to silicon chips.

Supergirl wakes up imprisoned in what looks to be a hotel room in a club/casino. The doors are adorned with pictures of dice and the double letters PP. Without her powers (she assumes the red sun radiation permeates the building), Kara is left to her own devices.

Using a paper clip, she picks the lock of the room she is trapped in. Who knew she had such mad skills!

And, luckily, the room next door is equipped with a TRS-80, land line phone and modem! What luck!! The highest of technology!

Realizing she must be in the 'Purple Palace' (the PP on the doors), Supergirl decides to use the computer to get some help.

Calling Alec and Shanna (they are back at school), Supergirl works with them to scan Videotex to find out the address and send Supergirl a bunch of important information.

And don't worry, passwords are needed and not visible on the TRS-80.

Superman finally returns to the classroom to hear what has happened. Alec and Shanna are able to give him the address of the Palace and so he flies off to rescue Supergirl.

Hold on! Won't he also be effected by the red sun emitter??

Well, he would have been if he had to get really close to the Palace. But Supergirl used her computer search to read about a recent police sting on the Palace. And in that article, she read about a secret passage away from the Palace. She has escaped and is now far enough away that the Red Sun radiation isn't effecting either cousin.

Luthor had convinced the mobsters running the Palace to capture Supergirl to use as ransom, forcing Superman to free Lex. With Supergirl now free, the super-cousins capture the mobsters and leave Lex tucked in his cell.

But seriously, if you have a huge casino complex, why would you lock Supergirl in the room that has a hidden escape tunnel? Why not put her in ... I don't know ... any other room??

Of course none of this would have been possible without the slick computer work by Alec and Shanna and their savvy use of all the technological might of the TRS-80! What a team!!!

This is far more interesting to me as a look into the past than as a Supergirl or Superman story. It is fascinating to see just what computing was like back then. And I was astounded to see just how forward thinking Radio Shack was about the power of personal computing.

Still, it is also a fun little Supergirl story. Seeing her pick a lock, talk about her career as a teacher, and using her brains to get out of a jam makes me happy. Superman has little to do with this story. And he doesn't rescue Kara. She rescues herself.

I find oddities like this round out collections. I am happy to have it in my Supergirl stuff. Overall, it is of low historical importance to the character.

Hope you liked this look back.


Anonymous said...

The cynic in me sees this as Product Placement, pure and simple, for Radio Shack... but then again, what old PSA comics from my
childhood I can still remember (and have!) weren't just that? :)

...and I lived through the pre-PC days of TRS-80, PET, Commodore64 and the like... for better or worse...

But the thing that brought a smile to my face was Supergirl's line "Why don't we wrap up this case with some cousinly teamwork?"
Why can't something like that be shown anywhere anymore in any of the Super-titles? *sighs*


LJ-90 said...

Sounds like a fun issue actually. But I have an important question for you Anj, how come you haven't review the old "Superman 2001" comic in one of your flashback reviews? Sounds like a fun issue to contrast to modern days!

Count Drunkula said...

Great write-up, Anj! This story looks like a blast to reread just for the era-specific jargon and product shilling.

That Swan/Colletta art looks pretty good. Kara looks beautiful in those panels you scanned!

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

I can forgive the Radio Shack shilling because I think the paid for this 'commercial'. But I do love the cousinly teamwork too!

I have the Superman 2001 issue so maybe I will touch on that at some point.

And I had to laugh at the 'high tech' for then. A land line and a modem!

Elias said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I've always liked Swan's SG, slender pretty and charismatic....something of a variant on the "Bombshell Supergirl" that Kurt Schaffenberger ushered in which became the norm over the course of the 1970's.
As for peril & danger and "damselness" well, its all fine as long as it afford the character a chance to demonstrate her self rescuing-self-reliant-self confident nature, which is the Bronze Age Supergirl at her best IMHO.