Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Back Issue Box: Superman Family #197

Welcome to the future when it may be that I review stories on a whim!

I pulled Superman Family #197 out of the long boxes because I wanted to reread the Private Life of Clark Kent, ' A Mynah Dilemma', one of my favorite stories ever. (Perhaps I should review that one at some point.)

While I had it out, I thought I would reread the Supergirl story. I was amazed. This is one of those  'buckle up your chinstraps' Bronze Age stories were so much happens in the span of 12 short pages that you are pummeled with ideas as a reader. Seriously, when I review the plot points, I want you all to consider just how many issues it would take to tell this story in the current market.

It is a very solid Supergirl story with her using brains and brawn. There is solid subplots and supporting cast moments. And she is clearly a well established and confident hero. Throw in some timey-wimey nonsense and a potential ghost, and you have a winner of a tale, neat and sweet in a dozen pages.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt to have Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praised be his name) doing the cover art. JLGL always draws a great Supergirl!

On to the book!

'The Man with the Eternity Hands' was written by Jack C. Harris with art by Don Heck and Joe Giella.

And you start out with a cracker jack first page! This almost opens like an issue of Unexpected or Ghosts. Kara acting a our host, telling us that she doesn't believe in ghosts bit then this story happened. We see her in darkness and cobwebs, an insane looking ghost lurking. 

Even better, while we get that opening monologue, the story immediately starts with Linda Danvers and her friends Val and Peter Barton heading into the Santa Augustus Theater. Barton wants to re-open but the place has been shuttered for 100 years because of the rumor that it is haunted.

Now I am not the biggest Don Heck fan but I think he does a fine job here. His Kara is lovely and the action is done well. I wonder how much Joe Giella helped soften what I usually think are harsh pencils.

As the group wanders through, sure enough a ghost does show up.

It is enough to cause the group to scramble. 

We see how Linda keeps teasing Val that Val is secretly Supergirl. Interesting way to divert any suspicion that Linda is Supergirl. 

But is it a ghost? Or actually some ruse to keep the theater closed.

In all the confusion, Linda is able to sneak off. 

Supergirl then arrive s make a sweep of the place. Alas, she can't find anything substantive to explain the ghost. Perhaps the place is haunted.

Then Peter is able to give a little backstory, including some flashback panels.

100 years earlier, an actor named Hector Mandela was given a starring part over an aging competitor Thomas Marshall. Marshall, considered something of a has-been, swore revenge. When the play opened, a prop knife was replaced with a real one. Mandela was stabbed on stage and died. Since then, the ghost of Mandela has haunted the place.

But it couldn't have been Marshall who switched the knives. He had died 3 days before the play opened.

With an honest-to-goodness mystery on her hand and a strange fascination with Peter Barton, Supergirl decides to solve the mystery. What is haunting the theater ... if it truly is haunted?

And so Kara decides to take a trip back in time and witness the play where Mandela was killed. 

And in a nice little 'spinning Wonder Woman' costume change, she dons a period appropriate dress.

Who knew Supergirl was such a seamstress?

Scanning the crowd with her xray vision, Supergirl finds an empty seat and sneaks in. After all, while she has period appropriate clothes she doesn't have late 19th century cash.

She knows she can't change history. She'll need to simply watch and try to solve the mystery. Getting anxious, she asks how soon until the curtain rising. 

As history dictated, Mandela is stabbed. 

Saying she can't watch, Kara realizes that a wristwatch didn't exist in 1879. That person next to her was a time traveler like her. And that is certainly a clue to this mystery.

Think this story is weird so far. Get ready! It gets weirder.

It turns out that the man Kara sat next to is Thomas Marshall's grandson. his grandfather lost that acting job, the Marshall family has been in ruin. This Marshall has become a crook to make ends meet.

When robbing a research lab, his watch was struck with an odd beam. When he trips, he lands 25 years in the past.

Yes, in classic Bronze Age comic science, she sat next to the villain and saw the anachronism which is the clue. And the villain had his watch hit with a ray which made it a time travel device. 

All this in about 4 panels! No further explanation needed!

It turns out the watch can only travel in 25 year chunks. Marshall begins bopping forward in time. He admits to switching the knives in the past to kill Mandela as familial revenge.

It gets even crazier!

Did you think a ray turning a watch into time machine was crazy? What if it also turned Marshall's hands into time weapons? With one hand he can age something! With the other, he can de-age things!

You'd think he should've de-aged his grandfather so he'd have a longer career. Or shake Mandela's hand to kill him. But instead, he went and switched props!

But with those hands, he can try and stop Supergirl from following. He ages a street in the 1900s so the earth collapes. He ages a lamp post in the 20s so it falls down. In the 50s, he de-ages a leather jacket back to a bull which stampedes the crowd.

But it is easy enough for Supergirl to stop these minor disasters and follow the murderer. Remember, Marshall can only go in 25 year chunks. 

In the time stream she zaps the watch with her heat vision to stop the traveling.

But before Supergirl can rescue Marshall, he grabs the exploding watch, flooding him with chronal energy. 

Hmmm ... maybe Supergirl isn't so super.

Back in the present, we get a wild wrap-up.

Marshall has been de-aged back to a baby. Even though Supergirl is responsible, she decides the best thing to do is drop off Marshall at the Midvale Orphanage! (Nice call back!) I guess our murderer gets a second life! Is he still guilty of killing Mandela? Hmmm ...

And it turns out that the ghost haunting the theater was indeed the ghost of Hector Mandela! Now that his killer has been brought to justice (sort of), the ghost can proceed to the afterlife in peace! It was a ghost! And then this weird hint about Supergirl being sort of dazzled by Barton as a hook for more.

Think of all that happens in this story. A ghost attack. A flashback. A time travel adventure. A crazy super-powered villain origin. Increasing powers of the villain. A second life for the antagonist. And a sort of exorcism.


Things are just explained in one panel and the story moves on. Odd rays bathing a watch during a botched robbery turning a simple time piece into a time travel device. Yup. Move on!

I am amazed at stories like this. You could pick this apart for the insanity it is. But why not just ride the wave.

All that with decent Don Heck art! 

I think I like this more that it deserves!

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

I think you like the story an appropriate amount, it’s a winner, fast moving, nice looking, compulsive in a typically nutty way - great value!

Now, if only I could remember if I ever found out the secret of Peter Barton... mind, the idea that a man has to have an actual super charisma or something for Kara to go gags over him is the silliest thing of all. She’s like a newborn chick, imprinting on whomever she sees.

And has Kara forgotten she met a ghost as recently as Adventure Comics #408.

H said...

Peter's secret was a two or three part story later on, if I'm remembering correctly.

I'm pretty sure I have this issue somewhere, because I definitely remember reading that mynah story and I don't think it's an update of an earlier story. I think there was a story earlier that set up the 'Val is Supergirl' gag of Linda's. Superman Family in general is an overlooked gem- so many great stories. It's a shame more of it hasn't been reprinted.

Anonymous said...

That is about as good a job as can be done on Don Heck's pencils, kudos to Joe Giella. And while I am here a friendly shout-out to Jack C. Harris, who was a more sympathetic writer with respect to Cousin Kara than a good dozen of her current scribes, "Peter Barton", Linda's Latest Puppy Love, notwithstanding. Someone should compose a list of ALL of Silver/Bronze Age Supergirl's BF's & Love'd be very long and very obscure...Anyone else out there fondly remember "Tony Martyn"?



Professor Feetlebaum said...

Wonder what would have happened if Marshall had touched something with both hands at the exact same time?

Aside from the ghost in Adventure Comics #408, Kara must have known about The Spectre, though I can't recall if they had met before. Of course, they did get together later in DC Comics Presents #29, but Kara wasn't exactly awake for that one.