Thursday, May 12, 2016

Back Issue Box: Adventure Comics #421

Back in Adventures of Supergirl #7, Supergirl is tossed from one dreamscape to another as she tries to fight Psi. In the story, writer Sterling Gates and artist Emanuela Lupacchino throw a ton of Supergirl history at us, showing us different costumes and bringing up the storyline of different incarnations.

My favorite deep cut reference was this barbarian warrior claiming that he was one of the 'Wolves of Nightflame'. Nightflame is a one-time villain from back in Supergirl's Adventure Comics run.

Who is Nightflame?

Adventure Comics #421 was cover dated July 1972 and sports an eye-grabbing cover by Bob Oksner. Supergirl is in the clutches of monstrous looking beings while behind her looks a beautiful woman wielding a flaming sword and screaming 'Now Supergirl you must die!" That is Nightflame.

While this issue is the only story that Nightflame appears in, this story is somewhat infamous. For one, Nightflame's origin is unbelievably intriguing and somewhat insane. Second, the story concludes with a veiled racy finale, something that a person well-versed in double entendre might call climactic. Others might say that in ends with a little death, in all that phrases meaning.

I don't know how you could walk by this cover and not buy the issue. Oksner's work always impresses. But Supergirl looks rightfully terrified here. The things are all over here, clutching her legs, pulling her hair, and holding her down. And Nightflame's sword looks like it is coming out of the page. That has to be a big sword!

On to the story!

"Demon Spawn" was written by Marv Wolfman (!) and Steve Skeates with art by Mike Sekowsky and Bob Oksner. I'll come back to the Marv Wolfman bit of this story at the end. Skeates, Sekowsky, and Oksner were all common creators to work on Supergirl in these latter days of the Adventure run. Sekowsky had guided Supergirl's path for the prior two years.

This was a time when Linda Danvers was working as a member of a mobile news team in San Francisco. She had a crush on the newscaster Geoff Anderson, who of course loved Supergirl. But Linda also had a foil in Nasty Luthor, Lex's niece who also worked on the news team and thought Linda and Supergirl were the same person.

But the calm day by the bay is interrupted by the arrival of this warrior woman wielding a flaming broadsword. There is a sort of Clea-feel to her, with her white hair and cape.

And Nightflame shows that she means business right off the bat.

The citizens of San Francisco will know 'the power of Nightflame' and of her flame-sword!

In short order and without much resistance, she demolishes a city block and demands that Supergirl show herself.

It is a great opening sequence for this book, with high energy and stunning visuals. Two of the first three pages are splashes, showing just how much power Nightflame has.

Meanwhile, Linda is having a usual lousy day at work.

Nasty is constantly trying to prove that Linda is Supergirl. Luthor also has her eyes on Geoff. And she wants Linda's job.

Constantly needled by Nasty, Linda finally loses her temper. She punches the wall, putting a huge hole in the wall. It is only by sliding the file cabinets over that Linda is able to hide what she had done.

While these storylines seem quaint today, it is this sort of act that differentiated Supergirl from Superman. She was young and could have emotions. She could get so irate that she'd punch a wall.

Nightflame's path of devastation leads to the news building and suddenly the room Linda, Nasty, and Geoff are in bursts apart with energy and flame.

Linda quick changes and dives in to rescue her co-workers. Spinning rapidly, she puts out the flames. But before she can extract Nasty and Geoff, Nightflame arrives and carries Supergirl out to the street.

You have to love Nasty's persistence. Surrounded by flame and close to death, she still tries to prove Supergirl is Linda. She assumes Supergirl's blond hair is a wig over Linda's brown hair (and not vice versa). Nasty is true to her name!

Nightflame has a tremendous array of powers. First, she reaches into the body of Supergirl and pulls out Kara's 'essence'. Then, using her flamesword, Nightflame cuts a hole between dimensions and drags Supergirl's 'soul' to the Innerverse, a nightmarish place filled with monsters and demons. In this hell, Supergirl is powerless.

And then a fascinating twist. It turns out that the Innerverse is a microverse within Supergirl's brain! The innerverse is a place of evil. But Supergirl's overwhelming goodness is destroying the Innerverse. It is dying.

Nightflame realizes that she must take control of Supergirl's body to keep Innerverse intact. And so, she has kidnapped Kara and brought her to this place of black magic.

Using her sorcery, Nightflame places in Supergirl in an unholy pentagram. Then Nightflame enters a similar star.

A short monstrous cyclops dressed in what looks like priest's robes shambles up to the two. Using his eye, he begins to drain Supergirl of her life to then pour it into Nightflame.

Supergirl cannot believe that these beings of pure evil can exist within her. In particular, this one-eyed demon frightens Supergirl tremendously.

On Earth, Supergirl's body appears dead. Geoff cradles her body in his arms. Despite her condition, he is convinced that she is alive. He realizes that if he can contact her mentally and help her, that she will recover.

In the meantime, Supergirl is aflame and in agony as this being drains her while Nightflame cackles nearby.

Then things get a bit ... steamy.

In what reads like a racy romance novel, Supergirl begins to feel Geoff enter her. She looks like she is in ecstasy as she says 'yes, that's it. You're getting there. You're getting through!'

Meanwhile, Geoff is covered in sweat saying 'this is hard work but I'm making it! Can feel myself getting more and more into her!'

And then, things end with a climax (of a sort). The drama reaches a 'fever pitch' as thoughts are 'pushed and pulled, back and forth' at 'ever increasing speed' until it 'erupts with fantastic fury'.

Ahem ...

I don't think there is any denying what is going on there.

Aided by Geoff's ministrations, Supergirl is able to free herself.

Nightflame realizes that she has lost and loses all sense of control. Swinging her flamesword, she destroys all the surrounding area of Innerverse and her people.

Then we have yet another wild plot twist. Nightflame is actually Supergirl's internal death wish! Nightflame wants everything destroyed.

Using Nightflame's momentum against her, 'our blonde goddess' Supergirl tosses Nightflame into the mystical pentagram, blasting her out of existence.

Supergirl states that she has conquered her death wish and can truly live.

Hmmm ....

Supergirl has an internal death wish that she must conquer. Heady stuff to be added to the last pages of this crazy story. And I don't know if it fits with everything we have read before. But a bit more on this later.

Her soul now walking through a more peaceful portion of her mind, Supergirl is able to link back up with her body.

After the ... ahem ... penetration by Geoff into her mind, Supergirl feels closer to him than she has any other man. She kisses him. Maybe they'll cuddle too!

Okay, I don't know exactly where to begin. But let me start by sharing this piece by Skeates himself from Back Issue #17 (a great resource for all comic fans). I wasn't the only one seeing things in this issue. I don't know if this is a double entendre? Or a single entendre?

The whole idea of an evil universe living in Supergirl's mind is crazy imaginative. Making it a place of dark magic led by a sorceress who is the embodiment of Supergirl's death wish is even crazier. So I have to tip my hat to the creators. This is the sort of pure insanity that makes comics so great.

I do find it interesting that Marv Wolfman wrote a story where Supergirl has a death wish. We all know what happens 14 years from this book being on the spinner rack.

Overall, I think this is too wacky of an issue to not be owned by an avid Supergirl fan. It can be found in rough condition in plenty of $2 boxes at conventions and well worth the money spent.

And kudos to Sterling Gates for bringing back a mention of Nightflame. She is a visually and thematically interesting character that maybe is due for a revival.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

I was a little kid when that came it and of course it went over my head. Now, blimey... I was shocked, shocked I tell you, when the orgasm business was brought to my attention a few years back. Nasty must've been extra jealous!

I love the Nightflame design, I want her brought back just as she was.

As for Geoff, how Kara could go for that HIPPY when Dick Malverne was pining somewhere, I'll never know.

Anonymous said...

The single dirtiest Supergirl story ever published period. And with that meshugginah "Approved by the Comics Code Authority" stamp right there on the cover no less.
I've always suspected that Marv Wolfman was embarrassed by his brief tenure on ye old "Supergirl starring in Adventure Comics" and finally worked his vengeance in COIE #7.
On the other hand Steve Skeates was the Sterling Gates of the 1970's he reallyr-really "Got Supergirl", routinely moved her into supernatural settings that put The Maid of Might in a very flattering light indeed. My great regret is that he wasn't put on the subsequent short lived Solo Book the stories would have been an order of magnitude better.
I think we can be assured that the tv series won't be adapting this one for broadcast anytime soon.


Uncle Screensaver said...

It's kinda sad, though, how Supergirl got rid of her death wish only to be killed a thousand times over, not to mention still have her extremely dark side. This could indeed be Wolfman, with his own agenda for such a super girl, but then pretty much every Supergirl prior to Kara and after are generally willing to sacrifice themselves for Superboy or Superman.

In any case, Nightflame is a definite keeper that should be brought back. Of course, that story couldn't be done today because back then Kara was around her age in the TV show but in the comic, she's what, 16?

As for the TV series, they probably wouldn't do another Dark Supergirl type story, let alone a sexy one like this, but if they did, you can bet the ratings for that episode would probably be up.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments!

Such a fun wacky comic!

Anonymous said...

BTW a quick shout out to Mike Sekowsky's nice uncontrollable pencils, I suspect Bob Oksner cleaned them up a bit....poor Mike was allegedly suffering from the initial symptoms of MS at the time.


William Ashley Vaughan said...

One of my favorite stories from the Adventure Comics run. Like Martin, I was a kid when I read this and the sexual aspect went over my head. I knew that Wolfman, Skeates, Sekowsky and Oskner were delivering greatness though. This story was closer to what was being published by Marvel in Dr. Strange at that time rather than anything DC was publishing in the other super titles. I agree with my fellow posters who want Nightflame brought back for the tv show. She was such a formidable villain here, that I don't know why no one ever brought her back in the comics. She would have fit right in with Peter David's mystically oriented version of Supergirl.

Anj said...

Nightflame on the show is a brilliant idea.

And you're right, I'm surprised she didn't show up in PAD's run.

Anonymous said...

I agree: Nightflame is an awesome villain. I don't know why no one has reused her.