Thursday, November 29, 2018

Back Issue Box: Superman Family #174

In Supergirl Episode 406, 'A Call to Arms', Supergirl fought a dragon.

Thanks to a comment on this site, I was reminded that this wasn't the first time Supergirl had fought a dragon. I was reminded that Supergirl fought a dragon in Superman Family #174. How could I not dip into the back issue box to review it!

Of course, that led me to review the other time Supergirl fought a dragon (sort of) in Adventure Comics #418.

So sit back and relax and get ready for me to review and try as best I can to makes some sense of the following story. Because it is one of the nuttiest stories I have ever read.

Superman Family #174 came out in late 1975.

In 1974, Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane was canceled at #137. Supergirl's solo title was also canceled in 1974 at #10. And Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen was renamed Superman Family with #164. Those three solo books were basically consolidated into the 'new title' Superman Family.

Readers were given one story for each of the three main players. One story would be new; the other two would be reprints. The new stories would rotate and readers would know who was the star of the new material by who dominated the cover.

And so Superman Family #174 had 'Eyes of the Serpent' starring Supergirl as the lead and fresh story.  It has a sweet cover drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger showing Supergirl using her cape to block a dragon's nostril fire.

'Eyes of the Serpent' was written by Elliot S! Maggin with art by Supergirl all-pro Kurt Schaffenberger.

This story is a lot to take in as there are too many plot elements to easily encapsulate into a review, let alone into an 18 page story.

A serpent-like race hoping to (re)conquer Earth? Perhaps somehow connected to the serpent from the Garden of Eden? A forbidden fruit? An Eden Stone? A harp-playing boy named David who can disable the serpent's powers? A Supergirl run amok? A boy-crazy Linda? A dragon?

All these things are simply plopped down into the story. Don't expect much explanation or exposition. Either you roll with all these elements being thrown into face or you'll go mad. Remember, mind-altering drugs were a big part of the counter-culture in the 70's.

Maybe Maggin should have titled this Linda's Space Dragon ... or LSD for short?

The story drops us right into the action. Three reptile men are standing in a mist enshrouded environment. Is it another planet? Another dimension? Hell? Who knows.

The three say they have investigated Linda Danvers and Supergirl extensively. They know they can defeat her and take control of the world again.

To accomplish this, their agent Beriak flies to New Athens and takes the form of new class advisor Harry Vernon.

Immediately on seeing him, Linda and Dean Betsy Lyman are smitten by him and his charisma and machismo. He almost seems to have some hypnotic sway over them.

Meanwhile, a young boy with a harp is brazenly walking onto the New Athens Campus. His name is Davy and he won't be deterred by a security guard. He speaks with such authority that the guard lets him walk by.

And in a nearby orange grove, a man tries to eat one of the oranges and passes out. We say we get an explanation behind this, but we really don't.

On campus, Harry 'Beriak' Vernon hypnotizes Betsy to stop her from asking questions about his past. When he tries to hypnotize Linda, she is able to resist. He realizes he needs to tire Linda out a bit before he can mesmerize her.

To accomplish this, he summons a sea dragon from deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

Supergirl tussles with the thing for a couple of pages of well drawn combat. While she is stronger than the dragon, the size and mass of the beast is big enough to toss Supergirl around. Schaffenberger really gives us a nice view of what it would look like. These panels show her being tossed around and using a body slam to take care of the beast, sending it back home.

But she is weakened by it.

Fatigued, she seems to fall under Beriak's spell. She will go out on a date with him.

But hey, what is Davy doing in the background strumming that harp?

On the date, Beriak takes Supergirl to the orange grove we visited before. It is called Eden's Oranges, so it is actually a Garden of Eden. Under his sway, Beriak feeds Kara one of the oranges, apparently the Forbidden Fruit.

And now, having eaten the fruit as offered by the serpent, she is completely in his thrall.

But we see that Davy is there too, strumming his harp.

Is this really the Garden of Eden? Is that really the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?

Regardless, Supergirl is his slave.

He sends her out on missions to show that the serpents will soon rule the world.

I love silly panels like this as we see Supergirl put reptilian monuments up in Russia, the US, and the UK.

But this was only part of the plot.

Somehow there is another thing that needs to happen. Beneath the grove is The Eden Rock. And for the serpents to attain power fully, Supergirl needs to retrieve the 'golden stone' and activate it. Then, energized, the serpents will be able to repel the rest of Earth's heroes.

With the end game now clear, Supergirl shows that she has been playing possum this whole time. And so she will foil this plan.

Really? You decided to deface beloved monuments before showing your hand? That seems weird.

But not as weird as the wrinkle that if the serpent isn't in contact with the ground he becomes invisible. Suddenly Supergirl can't see her foe. (Well that came out of left field a bit.)

Taken by surprise, the serpent seems to have the upper hand.

But there's Davy, armed with a sling (I suppose like the harp playing, stone throwing David from the Bible). He flings his rock with true aim, hitting the serpent in the head and distracting it long enough to let Supergirl recover.

Of note, Davy calls Beriak a demon. Perhaps this is all biblical.

Frankly, Supergirl has had it.

Back on her feet, she decides that nothing is going to stop her from bashing this serpent in the face.


Love the fierce determination.

And then in a nice page, we see Supergirl burrow underground (old school), find the Eden Rock, and destroy it.

Supergirl will get her hands dirty, literally, to do the right thing.

I hope people weren't relying on that grove for their livelihood though. It looks destroyed!

And just like that it's over.

Beriak is called back to his realm for failing.

We learn that David, an immortal singer, was able to blunt the powers of Beriak with his singing  So maybe with a little help from her friends, Kara was able to win.

I love how self-satisfied she is in that last panel. Just fantastic.

That wraps it up.

We get one line more about Davy. I guess if want to know more we need to hunt down some Action Comics back issues. And Linda doesn't seem to care. She lets him walk off.

And then, finally, the real Harry Vernon arrives on campus. And he also makes Betsy and Linda swoon a bit.

Well, I don't know if I can do a better job explaining this crazy issue. I suppose the dragon fight could have been shorter to give Maggin some exposition space. But to be honest, the dragon fight was my favorite part.

The artwork by Schaffenberger is just gorgeous. I love his action stuff here, really showing the physics of fighting while flying.

But this isn't an 'important' issue for Supergirl fans other than its kookiness. That said, it is so bizarre and so beautiful to look at, I am able to roll with it and give it a good grade.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

A nutty story, but to be honest, I preffer Elliot S! Maggin nutty stories with weird undertones and Kryptonians being awesome and using their powers in surprising ways to Cary Bates thinking mind-numbing romance is the only kind of Supergirl story you can write. At the very least, Maggin remembered Lena Luthor existed. And he actually liked Supergirl.

And Schaffenberger is competent and reliable, like always. I like his clean-looking art.

Thank you for reviewing this issue.

Martin Gray said...

I love Kurt's Linda like no other, so sweet yet strong, and yup, what a bonkers story. I've just had a look at those GA/BC shorts again and there's no real explanation of who Davy Tenzer was - his dad owned a chocolate factory and he claimed to be hundreds of years old. We need to ask ES!M what he had in mind for him.

Comic Vine has a nice summation of what we know:

Lovely review!

Anonymous said...

I love Supergirl's pro wrestling moves body slamming a dragon into the ocean...presuming THAT alone will end the menace. God, we had it good in the 1970's. Kurt S had two great strengths as a penciler, like Curt Swan he had an absolute mastery of "emotional content" to enhance, illustrate and advance any script. Look at the high number of facial expression driven close up panels he uses in this action packed story if you don't believe me. His other strength was excellent action-props, he knows how to convey speed and violence from panel to panel in a fashion that keeps the story linear and coherent. A LOT of artists today, don't have this ability! To think when I was a Wee Justin, I used to snark at Schaffenberger's Artwork for it's blatant cartoonyness....then I met him at a convention when I was sixteen or so, he made such a positive impression on me that I instantly became his lifelong partisan!
If I have any complaint about Schaffenberger is that his backgrounds lacked detail, if he had to draw a simple contemporary desk-top computer he inevitably put electrodes on it in the fashion of Dr. Frankenstein's lab....but thats a minor eccentricity IMHO given the overall strength of his storytelling.
Its a berserk story to be sure, but it also traffics a mature, confident, largely self reliant Supergirl at a level of performance we really haven't seen since, sort of makes ya think, don't it??


Anonymous said...

I so wish DC would give a Supergirl Bronze Age omnibus. It's a crime so much of her "hot pants" era remains uncollected.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Great review. The Supergirl stories in Superman Family were (I think) an improvement over the stories in her solo title. I read somewhere that Julius Schwartz was scheduled to take over as editor of Supergirl had it continued past issue 10. I wonder if some of the stories in Superman Family were originally intended for Supergirl's own book.

Hopefully, these stories will be reprinted in a future Omnibus.

"Linda's Space Dragon" would have been a good title. Or maybe "Linda in the Sky with Dragons", a take off on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". As noted, Kara DID need "a little help from her friends".

Superman battled a dragon in Superman 142 "The Flame Dragon from Krypton!" Supergirl makes a brief appearance. Another Flame Dragon turned up in Superman 151. There were also dragons (or dragon-like creatures) in Superman 78 ("The Beast from Krypton!", possibly an earlier version of the story in 142), Superman 86, and Superman 114.

Cary Bates wrote some good stories for Weisinger and Julie Schwartz. The type of stories he wrote for Supergirl may have been what the editor wanted. No way to tell for sure, but I'd bet his Supergirl stories would have been a lot better had Schwartz been the editor.

Anj said...

Great comments. Thanks everyone!

Thanks for Davy research Mart! Guess I don’t need to seek out those issues!

Like some have said, i needed the wisdom of age to appreciate Schaffenberger’s art. Beautiful stuff. And yes, his action art does show dynamism greatly. The dragon sequence shows that.

And yes, this is a confident Kara.

I might have to grab those other dragon issues!

Thanks again!

William Ashley Vaughan said...

You should get the Action Comics issues anyway if only for the magnificent Mike Grell art on the Green Arrow backups. As for Schaffenburger, he was at the top of his form during the mid seventies in the giant sized Superman Family issues and the Jimmy Olsen comic before that.