Monday, December 10, 2018

Matrix Monday - Superman #21

Last year I celebrated a ten year anniversary on this site, something I am pretty proud of.

But when I was putting together the celebration, what stood out to me was the stuff that I haven't covered here. The Supergirl Helen Slater movie. The Elseworld's Finest book. The Supergirl mini-series by Roger Stern and June Brigman. Even Action Comics #252. I'll get there; I promise.

One of the things that also stood out was that I never covered The Supergirl Saga, the re-introduction of a Supergirl character into the DCU in the post-Crisis era. I have exhaustively covered Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 in particular. So why not Supergirl's return ... okay a sort-of return of Supergirl?

This was brought a bit more into focus this summer when I met John Byrne at Boston Fan Expo (here's a pic of him holding my signed copy). I had grown to love the Matrix version of Supergirl, mostly in the post-Death of Superman time period, when she left Lex, became an independent hero, and ultimately an Earth Angel. I thanked Byrne for bringing Supergirl back and he looked at me wryly and said 'in way'. I wished I could have talked to him more about this decision but the line to see him was enormous. You got your 30 seconds of time and you left happy.

So I thought I would cover this three part story over the next few Mondays, Matrix Mondays if you will. Today we'll cover Superman #21, the first chapter as written and drawn by John Byrne.

And I'll do my best to go back in time and remember what I was thinking at that point in time. This hit the stands on May 17, 1988, almost 3 years since Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 was released. What were Supergirl fans thinking?

We had been teased with glimpses of this new Supergirl in earlier issues of Superman. She was found in the Arctic ice in Superman #16. She left the research base there in Superman #19. She found her way to the Kent Farm in Smallville in Superman #20.

Byrne does a great job with the art here. It is done in a letterbox sort of format with most 2 page layouts done in three horizontal rows which span the fold. This is big art for a big story.

Superman #21 opens up with a shot of an Earth completely charred. The only viable area is a small section under a forcefield dome being pummeled with energy.

Where the hell is this? What is this place?

Inside the dome we see a high tech headquarters manned by people who seem familiar. A red-haired scientist who is leader. A blond man named Pete. And they know they don't have much time. Whatever is hammering on this dome is going to break through in 10 hours or so. It might seem like we know them but for now they are unknown.

There only hope lies in the greatest hero returning to aid them. Will he arrive in time? It is clear they are talking about Superman.

On the main Earth, Superman flies into Metropolis only to be confronted by ... gasp ... Supergirl.

And look at the dialogue here. "Great Guns!" "It must be an illusion!" Even their positioning! It should seem familiar.

Yeah this is classic Byrne for this era, leaning into the history of Superman as he creates this new timeline. For this old time Supergirl fan, that panel above was bittersweet. She was back ... maybe. But it reminded me of what had been lost.

Things get a little weirder though.

The blonde Supergirl morphs somehow into Lana Lang. And she drops quite the bomb. She was given her powers by ... gasp ... Lex Luthor!!

That gives Superman pause. He asks all the right questions. Doesn't Lana know how evil Lex is? Hadn't he kidnapped here earlier? Did she divulge Clark's secret identity.

But all this talk of the wickedness of Lex seems to confuse and ultimately anger Supergirl. How dare Superman disparage Lex. And does this mean 'they' have broken through here too? With a sneer she lashes out with a psychokinetic blast knocking Superman for a loop!

Supergirl is Lana? She can throw mental blasts? She has chameleon powers?? Whoever this was, she wasn't Kara!

And then things get even wonkier.

She simply vanishes. Her powers will hide her from his 'Kryptonian senses', a line that puzzles him. For us, it should have been a hint that she isn't Kryptonian ... even if her odd power set didn't clue us in already.

Even invisible, she can toss Superman around like a beanbag with her psychokinetic blasts.

In a little nod to the Silver Age, Superman tunnels into the Kent's farm to check on his family. There he finds his parents and the 'real' Lana Lang trussed up in the basement.

Just like that a lightbulb goes off in Superman's mind. Two Lana's. A discussion of another Superman. It's almost as if there was another world ...

Ding ding ding ding.

Flying back into Metropolis airspace, Superman lures Supergirl to follow him. Together they break into LexCorp and confront Lex. After all, this Supergirl had already said that it was a beneficent Luthor that gave her the powers she has.

This Luthor is angry at the sight of Superman. He scoffs at Supergirl calling her Superman's sister. He has never seen her before. But more importantly, she has never seen him.

I do find it interesting that this Supergirl, at this time, seems to stick in her Lana form. And you would think Lex might remember his own interaction with Lana and recognize her. But he doesn't.

This revelation about Lex seems to shake some of the cobwebs out of Supergirl's mind.

It also gives Superman the time to do a little bit of an exposition dump about his interaction with the Legion, meeting Superboy, and learning about the Time Trapper and the 'pocket universe'.

I think there could be whole blogs devoted to explaining the 'pocket universe' but I will spare the details now. Just now that was a band-aid to explain the continuity kerfuffle of removing Superboy from canon and the Legion history.

Trust me, there is a lot more talk about this in the next chapter so I may rant more then.

But now remembering everything she forgot, Supergirl is able to activate a dimensional interface to bring her and Superman over to that science headquarters we saw at the beginning.

Nice effect by Byrne showing the two realities as they phase over.

And then the cliffhanger.

That red-headed guy from the beginning is Lex Luthor. And he seems to be the good guy. The red hair is a nice touch of continuity. Perhaps it should have tipped me off on first reading. And great closing tag line!!

And so a new Supergirl with the beginnings of a new origin appeared.

Here is what I can tell you of my vague recollections. There was a hole in me left when Supergirl died. So I was thrilled to see some Supergirl back in the mix. And I loved the costume design (except for the boot heels). She looked great.

But there was a part of me that was concerned about the Lana-ness of her. And the odd powers. I worried this might be some cruel sacrificial lamb, a character brought back only to be killed to 'cash in' on the Crisis history. And it certainly wasn't Kara Zor-El, something I would definitely need to come to terms with.

Still, back then I was glad I could say the word Supergirl again. And I was willing to see how it all turned out.

So what did you guys think? Or what do you think?

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

I remember being annoyed at the appearance of a Supergirl lookalike so soon after we’d been told Kara positively, absolutely HAD to die to keep Superman ‘unique’. And if DC weren’t actually bringing Kara back, they were at least trolling us.

And yet.... this was a really intriguing story, which I enjoyed right to the final chapter. But that can wait for another Monday.

I like Byrne’s visual Supergirl, apart from the trunk-alike skirt, which looks like an awkward flap.

Anonymous said...

Byrne referencing Supergirl's arrival and first words, even though she is completely different is Classic Byrne. When he writes a character, he often will copy some superficial details, botch up or change the rest, and then he'll declare he's captured their "essence".

And that "Oh, no, they're not like yours, Superman!" sentence reads like "I know we're reintroducing Supergirl just two years after declaring she wasn't wanted or needed... but she's totallly different! We haven't just proved that killing Supergirl was pointless because she was necessary after all!"

"Here is what I can tell you of my vague recollections. There was a hole in me left when Supergirl died. So I was thrilled to see some Supergirl back in the mix. And I loved the costume design (except for the boot heels). She looked great."

Back then fans seemed to be split between "Please, let it be Kara, don't play with my emotions like this" and the "Superman must be the last only son of Krypton and he doesn't need horrible, lame spin-offs stealing his thunder" drivel that years later would make its way to Superman Homepage.

Interesting to hear your reaction back then. My first meeting with Matrix was very different. I was born in the early 80's. When I was a kid I watched Superman's films, including Supergirl, but I barely remember those movies. I also KNOW I read two Superman Family stories featuring Supergirl (now I know they were #165 and #180). I didn't care very much for the character back then, and I didn't really read DC comics during the 80's and 90's, so I completely missed that era and that Supergirl.

It wasn't until the early 00's -several years prior to Kara's return- when I finally read "The Death of Superman". When I came across Matrix, I thought "Wasn't Supergirl supposed to be Superman's cousin or something? Who is that chick and why she can shape-shift?"

In my opinion, the fact that someone who was so UTTERLY CLUELESS like myself thought that Supergirl was Superman's cousin nearly two decades after her death proves that DC's attempts to excise her from their universe were doomed to failure and only succeeded in complicating (and damaging) the mythos needlessly.

Anyway, I look forward to more reviews. Can I suggest to add "The Supergirl From Krypton" to the list? I'd like hearing what your thoughts were back when you learned Kara was making her comeback after Linda's banishment and Cir-El's mess.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. I just found out about the November sales and it's back to get worried and anxious. Nonetheless, I went back and checked October comic sales and the WHOLE Super line has dropped, not only Supergirl.

Anonymous said...

I recall thinking that the "New Supergirl" had a pretty convoluted origin with a seemingly random collection of powers. I remember at the time thinking overall it was a pretty transparent ploy by DC to retain copyright & trademark on a character they did their level best to humiliate and destroy two years prior...after all they didn't want Marvel or whoever publishing their own "Super-Girl" stories...can't have that can we?
And that was my attitude right up to the Earth Angel days. I read all Matrix's substantive appearances but from an headspace where I said to myself "My Ghod and they said Kara Zor El was a Bimbo, she's Margaret Thatcher compared to Matrix..."
Its important to recall none of this ever came from place of respect within DC Comics, none of it.


Anj said...

Thanks for comments! So interesting to read what others were thinking back then and when they read it!