Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Back Issue Box Review: Supergirl #5

 Today I thought I would dip into the back issue boxes and look at an older story of our hero Supergirl. 

Given Superman's fight on Warworld to free people from their chains, my mind went to Supergirl #5 from her first volume in the early 1970's.

Yes, in this story Supergirl is inserted into a fight between tyranny and freedom. But it is everything else that happens around that which is crazy.

This one has just about everything. 
Depowered Supergirl? Check.
Stern Superman? Check.
Lookalike for Supergirl? Check.
Some ingenuity from Supergirl to save the day? Check.

But the twists and turns and plot leaps beyond even all that will make you dizzy. I don't know if I understand all of the machinations of the villain in this piece. And don't blink or you'll miss a crucial detail. 

All this in 16 pages!

'The Devil's Brother' was written by Arnold Drake with art by John Rosenberger and Vince Colletta. 

Given the time, you can see Rosenberger doing his best to channel Art Saaf's style. There is plenty of va-va-voom in this issue with this very leggy Kara.

As for Drake's story, you get a sense of one aspect of it here on the opening splash. A powerless Supergirl is being tossed around a horned alien that looks like a mix between Brainiac and Dubbilex. 

Whomp, there it is!

We open up at Vandyre University where Linda is a student. What a groovy opening line! "What's the sweetest word in any college girl;s dictionary? Weekend!'.

As was the norm for this time period, both in Adventure Comics and Supergirl, we get some gratuitious shots of young women in various states of undress. Here, Linda walks in on Sabra and Terri, her roommates, getting dressed.

Linda opens up a package she has received. It is an odd book in an unknown language. Sabra, who speaks different languages, sees some things that look familiar but still isn't sure. But how strange that on opening it, Linda gets suddenly weak.

I'll again applaud the book for it's diversity back then. Linda being close friends with an African-American and an Israeli was pretty progressive for back then.

Linda has to rush out because she is meeting Superman at an amusement park to host some inner city girls. 

However, her trip over is interesting as her powers fade one after another. She can barely stop a radio tower from toppling. She can't fly. She even has to ride the bus to the amusement park. I just love the dejected Supergirl riding mass transit.

Superman wonders why Supergirl is late and wonders if there is trouble. But Supergirl doesn't open up about her powers.

Supergirl leads some of them around the park, including one sassy youth named Rowena. And Rowena is completely unimpressed with Kara, verbally jabbing at her throughout.

Inside the funhouse, Supergirl and Rowena tumble through a door only to wake up in an alien world. 

Supergirl has been brought there by Dax, someone who looks like Satan's brother (hence the title). He opened up the portal to deliver her the book and he has reopened the portal to bring her there. He imbued the book with Ganon radiation and has been pelting her with Ganon rays from afar. This is what robbed her of her powers.

And to prove it, he tosses her around the room for a little bit.

He needs Supergirl to help him squelch an uprising by the planet's youth against his oppression. 

The youth movement reveres Urani, a goddess of youth. And, of course, Urani looks just like Supergirl. 

Dax wants Supergirl to lead the rebellion into a trap so Dax can end them once and for all. He will return Supergirl's powers to help her fulfill this mission. But he also has Rowena. He shows Supergirl that he has Rowena's watch.

If Kara doesn't help Rowena will die. Also, he won't return Supergirl to Earth meaning she won't be able to help the people of her adopted planet.

She reluctantly agrees. Given this, Dax returns all her powers.

So he depowered her to then repower her? Seems like a bit much for this plot. After all, he could have just kidnapped someone, his only true leverage right now. Heck, fully powered, Supergirl could just thrash him now. So weird.

But Supergirl plays her part in this deception.

The rebels have taken over the nearby Nbraka University and have threatened to blow up a nuclear plant there if Dax attackes. These are well armed rebels, firing on her as she approaches. 

But it also looks like there are some peaceful defiance in their search for freedom. Here are some rebels chained to a statue of Urani.

Nbraka is so close to Nebraska, I wonder if there were protests there on our world. This book was on the shelves nearly 3 years after the Kent State shooting, so I don't think it is a riff on that.

But crazy to see Supergirl following Dax's rules.

Supergirl promises the rebels she knows a weakness in Dax's forces, one they can exploit if they follow her. She flies them all into Dax's fortress only to initially betray them. The troops surround the rebels who call Supergirl a traitor. Dax opens up the portal so Supergirl can return home. 

But then ... surprise ... when Supergirl examined Rowena's watch in that prior panel, she booby-trapped it so Dax would get a face full of sleep gas.

With Dax out, Supergirl flies around beating up all of his troops.

Now I suppose that Supergirl needed to play along until Dax opened the portal home. But maybe she could have just demolished his troops beforehand. Or let the rebels know her plans before dropping them off? 

And how did she do that to Rowena's watch? 

Whew ... but that is a lot of plot in basically 3 pages!

Supergirl makes the rebels to promise to guard their freedom moving forward. Now the goddess statue will be of Urani AND Supergirl.

In just the nick of time, Supergirl flies through the door and back to Earth. After this adventure, even sour Rowena has to admit Supergirl is pretty cool.

Wow ...

Anyways, I think there is so much here that could be unpacked that maybe should be left where it all is. These were simpler times. With little information about the two sides, Supergirl decides the rebels should be in control and Dax our of power and she uses her powers to make it so. 

Dax taking away her powers and returning them, relying on Supergirl's honor to not simply attack him is an odd turn. 

All that said, Rosenberger's art is sharp. He makes the most of the action here. You can feel a Saaf-ness here, even through Colletta's inks. 

This isn't an important book in Supergirl's history so no need to seek it out as a key issue. But the inclusion of this supporting cast, the Superman cameo, and the story being written by Drake make it a bit of a novelty.

Overall grade: B-


Professor Feetlebaum said...

"The Devil's Brother" was also the title of a 1933 Laurel and Hardy film. But aside from Supergirl finding herself in something of another nice mess, there doesn't seem to be any other connection.

Still, I wonder if Arnold Drake might have seen the movie and "borrowed" the title.

It looks like there were possibly some deadline problems with this issue. The Zatanna backup is a reprint from Hawkman #4 (1964).

"This one has just about everything."

Yes, the only thing missing here was "Bad Boyfriend". Somehow, that one slipped by.

Anonymous said...

There is so much sheer chaos, cheesecake and nonsense in the 1972 solo book, its hard to get any perspective at all on it, save to be somewhat dismissive of a run that foreshadowed the character’s slow decline and downfall...but you’ve heard that all too often from me, da hell with it. No, I am gonna suggest that Arnold Drake might’ve been Supergirl’s missed opportunity writer back in the day...yes Dax is a cookie cutter alien warlord, but Drake’s standout title “The Doom Patrol” was full of them, it was the team’s dynamics and tensions that brought the readers back month after month. Plus Drake’s greatest creation Rita Farr “Elasti-girl”, the closest thing to an emancipated woman in all the silver age. How I wish he could’ve brought some of Rita’s oomph to this book. Despite a contrived storyline, Kara does manage to master the situation (although we do learn she never leaves home without tiny sleeping gas bombs on her person) and depose a tyrant. And she didn’t fall in love with anyone at all, stern puritanical work ethic from this Supergirl indeed. Dax didn’t deserve a rematch but Drake should have had another shot at Supergirl...


William Ashley Vaughan said...

Thank you for finally reviewing this. Arnold Drake's two Supergirl issues in this run were an enjoyable relief from CaryBates' bad Supergirl romance comics. Some parts of this story are ridiculous, but Supergirl using her wits to undo a villain is always fun. I agree that Drake's off-the-wall sensibility could have given us some interesting and original Supergirl stories. Letting Drake be her regular writer or keeping Eliot Maggin as her writer during her Superman Family run might have given her the creative boost she needed in the mid to late '70s to vault into the first string of DC superheroes.

Martin Gray said...

I missed this at the time. What nonsense. What fun. So Linda, like Diana and Lois, had diverse roommates, it’s a shame no one but Julie in Lois Lane ever got much to do.

So, no on-off super powers, but we get on-off super powers. So many amazing villains in the DCU and Kara gets a generic pseudo-Satan. Hey Ho, it’s is nice to see Arnold Drake’s name, and John Rosenberger’s elegant lines were always good to encounter.