Thursday, June 8, 2017

Wonder Woman Week: Review Adventure Comics #397

Happy Wonder Woman Week here at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary! I am still basking in the afterglow of the fantastic Wonder Woman movie and thought I would take this open day to again share a meeting between Diana and Kara in the comics. I have just covered Supergirl's day as an amazon here. But that issue didn't have Diana in it and I wanted to showcase her given the recent movie.

So that reminded me of Adventure Comics #397, a rather key issue in Supergirl history for a number of reasons. First off, she does indeed team up with Diana Prince and a special guest star. This is during that time in the 70s when Wonder Woman was depowered, learning martial arts, and ran a trendy Gotham City boutique. This issue also began the trope in Supergirl's Adventure Comics of Kara wearing different costumes in the stories, fashions sent in by readers of the time. This cover of Kara inspecting some new duds is often played upon in later comics and Supergirl coverage. But this issue (in the second story) also introduces Nasthalthia 'Nasty' Luthor to the Supergirl supporting cast. Nasty was a thorn in Kara's side for the rest of the Adventure Comics run and even appeared in All-Star Superman. (I am afraid to read it but that Nasty story was covered in the 14th post ever on this site, back in June 2008!. Here is that link:

But I am covering this issue here because of the Wonder Woman connection, so let's get on to the story!

'Now ... comes ... Zond' was written and penciled by Mike Sekowsky who was in charge of updating Supergirl's stories at this time. Sekowsky definitely brought a more mature edge and a more mod outlook to the proceedings. But I have to say, he played very loose with continuity and seemed to know very little about Kryptonian powers in general. Still, within this run are some very memorable stories like Supergirl's battle with Nightflame in Adventure Comics #421 and her rematch with Black Flame in Adventure Comics #400.

And this story opens very impressively with this wonderful splash page. Between the swords, the gnarled old tree, the screaming girl, some mad priest, and a falling Supergirl this looks like a creepy horror movie poster. You see this and you are ready to be wowed by something shocking and horrifying.

Will the story live up to this opening image??

But the story opens with Linda Danvers having a case of the 'glooms and glums'. She is sort of sad and bored at the same time.

Sekowsky says that there is nothing better for a young woman who feels sad than to go shopping. That'll bring the smiles! It was the early 70s, so this sort of sentiment was commonplace and considered normal at the time. (Heck, I know that even now if I feel down that splurging on something can make me feel a little happy.)

Kara heads to the grooviest boutique in Gotham and buys a bunch of outfits. While there Kara notices that the designer of the outfits and owner of the store is none other than Diana Prince, Wonder Woman.

Notice how Kara wishes she didn't have her powers so she could be 'normal'. This was another sentiment then, that powers and responsibility could hold you back from a 'normal life'. Sekowsky explores this in depth later in this run. I'm not a fan of this plot line.

Travelling back to the campus, Linda hears about a new student who was found wandering on the campus grounds. She seems to have been shocked into some sort of catatonic state. She won't talk and seems locked in.

Supergirl decides to investigate and so uses her telepathic powers to probe the girl's subconscious.

Telepathic powers???

I know. I know. I warned you that Sekowsky played loose with the continuity rules. Maybe this is some take on super-intuition?

But Supergirl is able to get in and sees the girl's recent memories. We see her being wooed to go to a cult gathering to worship a being named Zond. The girl thinks a pagan cult is the easiest way to fit in at Stanhope and so goes along. At the ceremony she is brought before the hooded Zond as a new acolyte. But when forced to see his true face, she goes mad, fleeing the field.

This memory sequence, like the opening splash, is brilliant. I love this image of the girl sitting amid her memories, telling Kara this story. That just works for me.

Realizing that Zond and his followers need to be investigated, Supergirl begins some detective work. Using her super-senses, she overhears where the next meeting is and decides to go in undercover. Supergirl ties up a follower and walks in wearing the hood and gown.

It is interesting to see Supergirl wrestle an ordinary girl. And the disciple's retort of 'Zond'll fix you good!' is just fantastic.

Sekowsky's inky art with gloomy colors does bring a feeling of classic horror.

Zond is able to sense that an interloper is there so Supergirl rips off the robes and gets ready to throw down. But Zond is ready. In a very nicely paced page, we see Supergirl battered about. The middle panel with multiple images of Supergirl is very well done.

The bottom row is exceedingly well done. The first page, dark and shadowy with the lingering laugh strikes a mood. But the last panel, with a defeated and crestfallen Supergirl sitting there while the sun comes up speaks volumes. Great stuff.

With her supposedly indestructible costume in tatters, Supergirl realizes Zond must wield magic. So she is going to need help.

She heads back to Diana Prince's boutique, hoping Wonder Woman can help. More specifically, Kara knows Diana knows the sorceress Morgana who could be very helpful fighting Zond. So Wonder Woman draws a pentagram on the floor and speaks the charm of summoning, bringing Morgana to the store.

Morgana was a chaotic witch, the daughter of Morgaine Le Fay, and apparently a character in Sekowsky's Wonder Woman run. She initially seems angry to be summoned by the heroes ... that is until she hears they are battling Zond. Zond was a stable hand of Morgaine Le Fay who stole one of the witch's spell books and has been using it for his gains since. Morgana wants revenge as well.

I would love to hear from anyone who has read other stories with Morgana. She seems like a fun character to read.

But first, Supergirl needs a new costume.

And what better place to get a new look than at this ginchy, posh shop?

There it is ... the first of a line of new Supergirl costumes. The red gloves and high boots are pretty cool.

And look at Morgana's new look too!

The three heroes head to the next Zond with the plan to break things up.

With a flick of the wrist and a quick spell, Zond is unmasked completely. He is not a demon. He is a man in a costume.

And just like that, Zond becomes something less ... and runs.

Now I don't quite get it. This all ends so quickly. Zond did have significant power before. We don't hear that Morgana stripped him of his powers. But suddenly Zond is something meek. And just as we saw Zond beat up Supergirl in a big panel, we get the reverse. Supergirl kicks and throttles him all over the map.

So much for the evil demon magician who just pages before had Supergirl sitting defeated on the ground.

Morgana gathers him in to take him to justice. But Supergirl wants a favor first.

Back on the campus, Morgana whispers a spell into the fallen student's ears. Her catatonia will subside. The student will be unharmed.

And just like that it is all over.
At the very least, Supergirl and Wonder Woman hope to meet again soon.

To be honest. Diana didn't have much to do in this story outside of giving Supergirl her new look. She doesn't raise a finger in the action sequences. But at least she was a guest star. As I have said, Diana and Kara should be friends. And I like that the two crossed paths during this time in Wonder Woman's history. Love it or hate it, the white suit spy Diana has withstood the test of time and is a part of comic history.

Overall though, this story content doesn't match the excellent art or splash pages. It ended so abruptly! Why not fill a whole issue with this story, building up the threat?

Regardless, between the cover, the first new costume, the team-up with Wonder Woman, and the introduction of Nasty, I'd say this is a pretty key issue to have in a Supergirl collection. Happy hunting!

Overall grade: B (raised a grade by the incredible art)


Martin Gray said...

This was one of the first Supergirl stories I ever read when it appeared, and remains one of the most memorable. The whole thing just creeped me out as a kind, from that great splash, with its many levels of interest, to the Zod bug reveal. The kookiness of Diana stocking off-the-peg new Supergirl costumes was great, and the artwork throughout is terrific. Best of all, though, is Morgan's the witch. With her appearance in Wonder Woman #186 followed just a few months later by this issue, I choose to believe he had plans for her... if only they'd come to fruition. This is a witch with personality. And she was so visually striking, I wonder if Sekowsky use a model, as he did for Diana Prince... or maybe he based her on a real-life person? I think I see some Ann-Margret.

Right, I'm starting a campaign...

Anonymous said...

So Kara goes on a shopping trip... to Gotham. Stanhope's boutiques must be terrible. At least she doesn't appear to be a terrible driver, unlike another certain Supergirl coughKaraDanverscough.

And she runs into Wonder Woman by happenstance. You know, I miss when convenient and contrived but harmless coincidences were accepted as a part of comic storytelling rather denounced as unrealistic crutches.

When I first read this issue I was surprised by the mind-reading scene. Since I hadn't read the earlier issues, I thought maybe I'd missed a previous story where Supergirl developed telepathic powers.

"And the disciple's retort of 'Zond'll fix you good!' is just fantastic."

Yes! Kneel before Zond!

"I would love to hear from anyone who has read other stories with Morgana. She seems like a fun character to read."

According DC Wikia, this was Morgana's last appearance. Apparently Wonder Woman (Volume 1) 186, which came out seven months earlier, was her debut issue. Funny how Wonder Woman also has a good number of one-time villains.

I always liked that Supergirl costume. Very classic.

I agree the battle was anti-climatic. Maybe Morgana was suppressing Zond's powers? Or Zond judged fighting his ex-employeer and the Maid of Might at once was ridiculously suicidal and tried to run away?

"As I have said, Diana and Kara should be friends."

Wonder Woman should be the role model and inspiration for female heroes in the DC universe. And I think Wonder Woman would have insisted on overseeing Supergirl's training, had she known of her existence prior to Action Comics 285.

Sadly they seldom teamed up or got together, much like Kara and Babs barely saw each other despite being best friends. DC missed a great chance to develop a Female Trinity back in the Pre-Crisis age. Sigh. At least I enjoyed Kara/Diana interaction in JLA 132-133. That scene where Kara is fretting for Kal and Diana hugs her is wonderful.

"Overall though, this story content doesn't match the excellent art or splash pages."

Unfortunately I can't say I like Sekowsky's art. It looks... "dirty", for lack of a better name, and blurry. Personal opinion.

DC is reprinting Supergirl's whole Action Comics run. I pray that they also reprint Adventure comics, Supergirl Volume 1 and Superman Family.

Anonymous said...

Sekowsky's lack of familiarity with Supergirl's backstory and powerset is pretty much inexplicable given that he was prime penciler on the JLA for a lot of years which guest starred Superman who was still in that publication under the strict aegis of Mort Weisinger's character bible...I guess Mike Paid No Attention to the Scripts he was Given...
Be that as it may, I'm a little more forgiving of Sekowsky's run since it does represent a concerted attempt to "Up Supergirl's Game", the "super wardrobe" is a harbinger of today's comics where costumes are changed for the most frivolous reasons by a succession of writers.


Anonymous said...

"DC is reprinting Supergirl's whole Action Comics run. I pray that they also reprint Adventure comics, Supergirl Volume 1 and Superman Family."

Amen. The Bronze Age Supergirl material I've read is fantastic. The "Daring Adventures of Supergirl" reprint volumes are a nice start, but I want it all!

The Mattcaveman said...

I love Katie McGrath played Morgana on merlin and is now on Supergirl.