Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tie-Ins, Part V / The Fairer Sex, Part VIII / Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, Part III: Supergirl #24



Which one is this again?



In 1985 DC killed Supergirl.


Battling alongside her cousin, Superman, and a giant fistful of other superpowered heroes, Kara Zor-El died at the hands of the Anti-Monitor. The Crisis on Infinite Earths bad guy had Superman unconscious and helpless. Kara zoomed in to take down the armored foe while Dr Light (not the rapist) made off with Superman’s injured body. Kara destroyed the Anti-Monitor’s armor, freeing his energy form. While this decreased his power greatly, he still had enough muscle to fire a death dealing energy blast at her.



She died in Superman's arms.

 
One of the two biggest deaths spinning out of CoIE, Supergirl’s demise was part of a concerted effort by DC at cleaning up Silver Age Superman’s history. Superman was the sole survivor of Krypton for several years. Then we found out about Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El a/k/a Supergirl. Next came the whole host of Phamtom Zone villains. 

They were followed by Beppo the super-monkey, a test animal Jor-El used in an earlier space flight. Then Krypto the superdog, who also got Jor-El’s test flight treatment. Seems any animal in the El household was fair game to shoot into space. 

The young Kryptonian Dev-Em avoided destruction when Krypton blew by being a juvenile delinquent so bad that he was placed in a suspended animation space capsule that was blasted into space before Krypton even started having problems. First time anyone could say "shooting spitwads saved my life." 

Brainiac got in the act by shrinking Kandor, the capital city of Krypton, down to the size of a large bottle and carting it off. All of its inhabitants survived. And finally the entire population of Argo city survived the initial explosion, but they were done in years later by a mishap that caused their protective dome to rupture.


With all these Kryptonian survivors, it seemed that the only two people to die in the destruction of Krypton were Superman’s parents.


CoIE sought a way to wipe the slate clean of all these “lucky” individuals and restore Kal-El to the rightful place of sole survivor. Supergirl got killed in issue number 6 and by the end of the series she and all other Kryptonians were erased from continuity permanently. 

So it goes. 

It’s interesting to note that most, if not all of these elements CoIE tried so hard to remove from the Superman mythos have been brought back into continuity by subsequent writers. Not even an exploding planet and the destruction of infinite universes can keep a good super-monkey down.

So post-Crisis there was no Supergirl. For about a year. Then John Byrne reintroduced the character in a totally retooled fashion. Supergirl was created by a good Lex Luthor who resided in a pocket universe where the three Phantom Zone villains had murdered the entire populous of Earth. Yes, I said pocket universe and I realize that post-Crisis there shouldn’t have been any of these. Dubbed Matrix, Luthor created her to find our universe’s Superman in hopes of saving the few survivors of his world. Alas it was not to be. Only the protomatter Supergirl survived, as the P-Zone criminals killed off the last remaining refugees, including Lex Luthor. In an uncharacteristic act, Superman exposed the three to green Kryptonite and killed them. Matrix was brought back to our universe as the pocket Earth’s sole survivor.





The “Superman kills” story was controversial then and is still to this day. It contained elements that clearly went against the new mandate that CoIE was written to establish: i.e. no “other universes”, no excess baggage. Not to mention the change to a “no code against killing” Superman. Yet it did so in a very entertaining way. And the spirit of no other survivors of Krypton was kept since this was clearly a new type of Supergirl. She could change shape, turn invisible, use telekinesis and reverted to a pasty proto-humanoid when gravely injured. She settled in as Mae Kent in Smallville and even started dating a young, rejuvenated Lex Luthor. For several years Matrix held up as a Superman supporting character without making too many waves.



Then Supergirl got her own series around September 1996 and Peter David took the reigns. His efforts revamped the character dramatically. First off, David had Matrix forfeit her life by grafting herself to a dying woman by the name of Linda Danvers. In saving Linda Danvers life, she also imbues her with the power of the original Supergirl, including flight and super-strength. The result was that all the character development of Mae done over the years was rendered moot. Some might argue that she was pretty generic and in need of a boost. 

Yet removing the Matrix character wasn’t enough. David next tweaked Supergirl’s powers by making her an “Earth-Born Angel” due to her selfless sacrifice. Thus she gains the additional powers of teleportation, fiery angel wings and a few more I try not to think about.

This Matrix/Linda Danvers/Earth Angel character has a pretty long run even if those powers didn’t. Eventually Linda has a “fall from grace”, loses the her extra powers and Matrix splits from her. Linda’s retains some of Supergirl’s powers and operates as her for a time trying to regain her angel powers. Matrix merges with another hero and eventually helps Linda recover those flaming wings. After that, things get complicated.

Next Linda travels back in time to take Kara’s place pre-Crisis in an effort to sacrifice herself fighting the Anti-Monitor, thus saving Kara’s life. Since CoIE was suppose to be a continuity-erasing event, don’t ask me how this is possible. That timeline to the past shouldn’t even be there. It’s a boondoggle, however. They have to switch back to save the daughter of Superman and Lois in the pre-Crisis timeline.  This daughter becomes Supergirl for a short time later on.

I told you it got complicated.

Then it gets MORE complicated.

Linda then abandons the Supergirl mantle. Matrix has since been wiped from continuity (too bad) by Infinite Crisis Superboy punches at this point, so she's gone. There was a very brief Supergirl stint by the future daughter of Lois who is known as Cir-El, but the less said about her the better.


Finally we come full circle, as Jeph Loeb reintroduced Kara Zor-El in issue 8 of Superman/Batman in 2004. She’s a new creation based on the old classic “Superman’s cousin” mold and eventually got her own title. During Infinite Crisis she is flung into the far future allowing Supergirl to take the place of Superboy and be a part of the Legion of Super Heroes as well as have her own ongoing solo series grounded in DC’s present. Conversely she made appearances as a member of the Teen Titans.




So who is our young lady in this particular issue? Which of these SuperFems do we get to work with?

It’s the Peter David creation Linda Danvers / Matrix. I’m going to admit that this is my least favorite Supergirl. It’s hard to judge her on her own merits. David destroyed a perfectly good character in Matrix just to fit the storylines he wanted to advance in this book. Linda Danvers’s parents are on the cusp of divorce, something David couldn’t do with Ma and Pa Kent. He made her mom an alcoholic, again not something you can do with Superman’s Mom. He introduced a whole new town called Leesburg that had a supernatural river running under it and made it Linda’s hometown. All of these plot elements he grafted to Supergirl the same way he grafted Matrix on to Linda.



And speaking of that “new” grafting power, why hadn’t Matrix done that before? One might argue that while she didn’t have a chance to save the Lex Luthor of the pocket universe with it, she sure had a shot with Superman himself when he fought Doomsday. It truly is a huge gaff that this power of hers went unused until now. It’s easily explainable as a writer's crutch because she didn’t have the power to do it until David needed a different Supergirl for his title. It’s a very cheap trick on his part given that the stories in this run of Supergirl aren’t exceptional enough to warrant a full-scale character assassination of poor Matrix. She really got the shaft on this one.



Want to see what I mean? Let’s dive right into the thick of things. This issue features a D-grade hero called Resurrection Man. His power is very similar to The Sleeper character from George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. Every time the Resurrection Man dies, he is instantly reborn with a new set of superpowers. Neat idea, even if it has been done before. He had a whole series at one point, a few of which I’ve got lined up with the rest of the failed superhero comics. The good news is that his tale allows us to focus on something other than the soap-operatics of Supergirl’s family deteriorating. Here’s some of what we will get to miss as Linda visits her Dad at the Leesburg Centenary celebration fair.





Swell, a bunch of shills standing in for Supergirl and the Kents because David wants to write a daytime drama show. Grrrrr! I should stop, because I know this makes me look like some kind of Matrix fanboy or something. I guess having read her origin in the original Byrne books when it was fresh and new endeared me to the Mae character. This chick’s got a way to go before she can take her place with me. So no mis-steps, missy. It could be worse, I guess. It’s not like David is trying to reintroduce all the crappy Supergirl stuff like…





…Comet, the Super-horse? He doesn’t appear this issue, but is slated to come up in the next one with a “surprising origin” story. That sound you hear is not me gritting my teeth. I swear.



No, the Lincoln costumed mayor has a different flying object for everyone to stare at. And no, it’s not one of those dildos with the RC helicopter engines in it. It’s something even more retarded: an authentic blimp filled with hydrogen. Which promptly catches on fire, threatening to kill all aboard and several people on the ground. Come to the scenic Leesburg Centenary everyone, and die a horrible fiery death.





So Supergirl flies into action and uses the special “flame absorbing” powers of her angelic fire wings to suck up the blaze. Does it hurt as much to read that last sentence as it did to type it?



This new superpower is just silly. The “Superman” set of powers are iconic. Flaming angel wings just don’t jive with the rest of the set. She doesn’t need them to fly, she could do that already. Being invulnerable, it’s not like she needs special protection from fire. Plus there’s about 10 different ways for her to put out fires without them. The new powers make her like the “New Coke” version of a superhero. Why mess with what works? I know most of you agree and if you don’t, I’ll post one of those electric-blue Superman pictures to convince you.



Flamebird nee Supergirl catches the gondola and deposits it safely to Terra Firma. Then a nasty werewolf-demon-monster comes jumping through the trees at the folks she just rescued. For some unknown reason, it really isn’t their day.





That “Chaos Stream” mumbo-jumbo is David’s ongoing plot device allowing him to add in mystical elements whenever and wherever he wants. It has been present under the town for at least a century, a fact that should mean that the town would have been overrun by so many weird occurrences by now that everyone would have moved on. Or it turned into a village of reclusive shut-ins a' la Innsmouth. Especially since there wasn’t a Supergirl there to save their butts until just recently.



Oh, getting back to the story: the werewolf guy sees SG’s flaming wings, mis-recoginzes her as someone called Amber and, deciding that he’s not strong enough to fight her, fatally impales himself through the heart with a tree branch.





At this point, I’d say that Supergirl's rogues gallery is full of villains that are a lot easier to defeat than her cousin’s. While examining the body, both Supergirl and Peter David become skeptical about where this plot is going.





I’m still wondering why this version of you even exists, so I share some of those questions.



As all werewolves do, he transforms back into a man after being killed. And not just any man, either. He’s Mitch Shelley, the Resurrection Man. And true to his name, he comes back to life in the very next panel. Unfortunately, he’s not in control of himself and warns Supergirl that there is some sort of “rider creature” that’s taken over his body. True enough, “rider” grabs him again and starts using his new power of super-speed on the Girl of Steel.







In the story, all he does is try to punch her half a dozen times. This has the same effect that punching her at regular speed would: none. So he quickly runs off in search of a method of doing himself in and gaining a different set of powers.





That’s a lot harsher than what you find on “Cops”. Now RM comes back as a giant rock pile while making his way to the Chaos Stream multi-issue plot device. Supergirl combines all her powers to kill him before he can reach it.





“Flame-vision” is not to be confused with “flamer-vision” which is the superpower that allows you to instantly spot all the homosexuals in a bar. I personally prefer Superman’s “heat-vision” to this off-shoot flame-vision power. It’s not like she has tiny Zippos behind each eyeball folks.



The fact that she kills him using this is pretty freaking sweet. I don’t know how many times we see Superman fighting normal guys wearing armor and he’s tossing them through walls and such. Do they ever die? No way, it’s Superman. Only in the comics can the main character dial it back after fighting giant cosmic beasties to the point that knocking simple Earthmen about doesn’t result in some form of homicide. Here we don’t have to worry since R-man is up in a pinch with a new power.



Our story takes a divergent track, however. We end up being shown Leesburg’s oldest living citizen Wanda Lee, a woman over a century old. She’s in a rest home on life support. A few pages later we find out that Wanda Lee is the “rider creature” that’s taken possession of Resurrection Man. He’s not the first either. Wanda has been body hopping since she first tasted the water of the Chaos Stream over a hundred years ago. Since then she’s used others lives to fulfill her desires, jumping to someone new when they are “used up”. A hospice nurse and reporter have just arrived at the facility.

Meanwhile Resurrection Man makes it to the cavernous home of the Chaos Stream by turning Supergirl temporarily transparent. Her intangible state wears off just as RM takes a dunk in the supernatural pool. The stream’s water now burns Supergirl’s skin when she tries to enter, a problem that could be fixed by posting a couple of signs saying “No angelic superheroes in the water AT ANY TIME!”





…if we put them together we get the Ozzy-less Sabbath album from 1980 that featured a yet-unknown Ronnie James Dio?





No? How about that little known Vangelis one that had the theme to the PBS show Cosmos on it?




No again? How about the ultra-sweet “Heaven & Hell Cake”, Stephan Pyles created at the Dallas restaurant Star Canyon that is made by alternating layers of angel food and devil’s food cake? 

Still no? 

Ok then, I’m leaving he question alone and getting back to the story. Supergirl tries to figure out what happens when you mix those two things together. But that will have to wait for later, because as Resurrection Man sinks her flame wings appear without her summoning them.






The “Oh, good Lord” comment mirrors my feeling exactly. So now Supergirl has a flaming angel-wing version of spidey-sense? Next thing you’ll know she’ll be able to stretch her body like rubber or turn into vapor. David, please for the love of all that’s right in the DC Universe just stop now. I get that you want to make Supergirl your own, but please let her at least resemble the character I knew from my childhood.



In the end, our hospice nurse prevents the intern from resuscitating Wanda Lee’s body as it flatlines when her consciousness enters the Chaos Stream. Supergirl throws herself into the stream causing a massive explosion that both kills Lee’s spirit and blasts her and the “rider-less” Resurrection Man miles away. The final curtain is unconscious Supergirl looking all burned and blistered from her dip. 

Let's pretend none of this really happened before I remember how badly this has raped my childhood.  

On a more hopeful note, CBS's Supergirl series premiers on Monday, October 26, 2015. It looks pretty faithful to the original idea of Supergirl and DC's TV shows have been pretty solid. Mark me down as hopeful it will wash the taste of this version of Supergirl out of my mouth.

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