Friday, October 26, 2012

Introducing, the Supergirl of Earth-2! All-Star Comics 58

All-Star Comics #58 (January-February 1976)
"All Star Super Squad"
Gerry Conway-Ric Estrada/Wally Wood

Doug:  Now here's a series that was near and dear to Little Dougie's heart back as the calendar turned to America's bicentennial.  I am pretty sure I was in on the ground floor of the Justice Society revival and (distribution be damned!) followed it as regularly as I could through those first couple of years.  I had been exposed to the JSA during the annual JLA/JSA team-ups, so recognized immediately the characters you see defeated on the cover above.  That this story included Robin was only an extra bonus.  You may recall that while Marvel had for years credited their creators right on the splash page, All-Star Comics #58 was released during one of the periods when DC was not doing that; hence I had no idea that Gerry Conway scribed this.  Let's get into it and see how the man who had scripted the demise of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin and introduced many a monster over at the House of Ideas would do with some of DC's classic heroes.  I'll be using the Justice Society, volume 1 trade paperback for scanning purposes.

Doug:  We begin with a meeting of the Justice Society -- it's an all-boys club at this time, featuring Golden Age heavy-hitters Dr. Fate, Dr. Mid-Nite, Hawkman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Wildcat.  The fellas are looking at their monitors, and the news isn't good.  According to data fed their computer, the world is going to end.  As a 10-year old, I was probably thinking, "All right!  This is going to be cool!"  As a 46-year old, I was thinking, "Hmmph...  Sounds like a Bronze Age DC Comic!"  So what is Conway going to do?  This sure wasn't starting out like any Fantastic Four, Avengers, or X-Men comic I'd have also been reading.  Hawkman is the chairman at this time, and he's in the know -- he tells his colleagues that there are three major cities that are going to be decimated, and the resulting chaos in the biosphere will do in the remainder of the planet.  So he gives the order that always is given in a JSA or JLA book -- divide and conquer!  The teams will be:  Hawkman and Dr. Mid-Nite to Seattle, Flash and Wildcat to Peking (now Beijing, of course), and Dr. Fate and Green Lantern to Cape Town.  I don't know about you, but I'm thinking ol' Carter Hall didn't do such a swell job of dividing the power boys up equally.  Anyway...

Doug:  We jump ahead of the good guys to Washington state, and find the Star-Spangled Kid flying around, using Starman's cosmic rod.  Ted Knight (love that!  Ted Baxter, yeah!) was on the shelf with a broken leg, and so had given the youngster his weapon of choice.  The Kid was just checking it out when he spied a bank robbery.  He foiled it without breaking a sweat, but then went into a depression.  We the readers are then brought up to speed on the Kid's backstory as a member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory and how he's a man out-of-time -- he yearns to return to the 1950's rather than live in his future, the 1970's.  But his melancholy mood is suddenly interrupted by an earthquake!  The Kid springs into action, saving people and rising up to survey the situation.  As this is breaking, Dr. Mid-Nite and Hawkman arrive, but Mid-Nite talks Hawkman into holding back -- Mid-Nite has confidential information that the Kid is suffering from a lack of confidence -- so why not let him handle the earthquake?  Is this what heroes do -- put innocents in harm's way, deliberately, for some chump's self-esteem?!

Doug:  We get a scene shift to an orbiting satellite where we find Brain Wave working some gears and levers.  He's railing on like a Grade-A wingnut about being locked away and fantasizing about true beauty -- keep it up, mister.  He gloats that he fed the attack information into the JSA computers and has a reason why he chose the three cities that he did.  Uh, OK -- we'll find out later.

Doug:  Scene shift again to Cape Town, where United Nations envoy Dick Grayson is at a social function after having closed some sort of diplomatic deal.  Suddenly explosions rock the city and countryside, and we see Robin spring into action.  At the same time, Fate and Green Lantern arrive.  The JSAers notice that there is noxious gas that has been released, and as GL is about to be overcome Fate creates a thunderstorm to dissipate the fumes; GL then creates a giant cork to put in the fissure of the Earth's crust.  The heroes notice the fallen Robin and swoop down to help him.  Strangely, our young adventurer is questioned as to why he'd be in Cape Town exactly when the disaster struck -- Fate says it's an odd coincidence.  But before the conversation (read: blame game) can go any further GL's cork blows (literally!) and everyone has to spring back into action.

Doug:  Cut again to Peking, where Flash has run, with Wildcat drafting along behind.  A volcano has materialized and erupted in the heart of the city, and Chinese citizens flee in panic.  I have to say, at this point in the story the editors at DC really let some stereotypes fly -- the facial features of the Chinese are exaggerated, and their skin if of course a yellow hue.  Additionally, the only citizens to interact with the heroes in this story are the Chinese, and it is in the form of an uprising/fisticuffs.  At any rate, the Flash uses his super-speed to create enough friction to dig a trench that will catch the lava.  But as they remark that it's only a temporary fix, a red and white form streaks into the disaster area and somehow (anyone who wants to explain the physics of this is welcome to try) lifts the molten lava as if it were a solid sheet and stuffs it into the opening atop the mount -- I'm thinking that would create more pressure...  Flying down to ground level, she (!) tells Flash and Wildcat that they know of her cousin -- Superman!  She says her name is Power Girl, and that her cousin had wished her to remain hidden a bit longer.  At that point the Red Army attacked.

Doug:  Power Girl does her best Gorgon impression, stomping the ground hard to create a shockwave that scatters the troops.  Wildcat of course prefers his fists, and deals his own brand of crowd control.  After the soldiers have withdrawn, Power Girl begins to speak rather cryptically.  She tells the Flash that she knows about the 3-city disaster plan and even who is behind it.  Skeptical, Flash asks her how she would know -- not who it is, mind you -- how does she know?  This gives Conway an opportunity to draw up a little characterization that will become familiar over the next several issues -- Power Girl's snobbishness/snottiness and Wildcat's stubbornness at accepting her into the fold.  Power Girl asks the JSAers if they know that in all three cities it's younger heroes who are saving the day -- herself, the Kid, and Robin.  This is a definite conflict-creator, as in her next breath she christens these youngsters the Super Squad -- a new arm of the Justice Society?


Doug:  In the end, Power Girl tells her now-traveling companions that it will be Brain Wave that they must face.  But she never does reveal how she knows.  Funny thing I remember about Power Girl, and I'm sorry that I cannot for the life of me recall where I heard this -- it may have been from one of you, our regular commenters (if it is, please take the credit).  Someone once said that they always wondered why a character named "Power Girl" would have a "Y" on her chest for a logo!  And isn't that the enduring image of this Bronze Age heroine?  Right from the start, artists Ric Estrada and Wally Wood "endowed" Kara with certain, um, prowess.  And how about the rest of the story?  You know, I was initially planning to rip Conway's script and dialogue, denigrating what I often refer to as "the Bronze Age DC" feel of it all.  But, after a month (wait until you see Monday's BAB Frightfest, kids) of Marvel monsters, it was actually nice to see this play out as an all-ages sort of story.  The good guys were good (even if a bit cardboard and at times played for fools), there was some menacing set-up for the next issue, the art was decent -- Wood's inks helped along Estrada's pencils, and the young characters came off as the real heroes -- something this lil' fella really yearned for in 1976 (loved me some Secret Society of Super-Villains, too, as Kid Flash was a fave character, as well as most of the Legion).  Even though the DCs of this era only ran 18 pages instead of the Marvel-length of 20, this was still a nice almost-20-minute diversion.


Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, this brings back memories: I remember pulling this one off the spinner-rack at the age of 7, mystified by all of these brightly costumed heroes I didn't recognize - it was my introduction to Earth 2, the JSA and all that stuff.
However, the last time I read this story was probably some time back in the late '70s, so I really can't remember much about it, and I'm pretty sure I never read the conclusion to the story in the next issue, thanks to that spotty 1970s spinner-rack distribution...

By the way, one thing I find interesting is the issue numbering, i.e., the fact that DC just picked up from where the series left off in the early 1950s, rather than slapping a big #1 and "collector's item!!!" on the cover. Ah, how things have changed...

Dougie said...

It's interesting that a Supergirl-doppleganger actually emerges as the break-out character from this comic. It seems something ( other than her assets )struck a chord with readers down the decades so that this Kara has always stuck around ( via some heinous costume choices) while the original struggled.

Also, PG's cousin at the House of Ideas, Ms. Marvel - another blonde buxom Women's Libber- has followed a parallel path: short-lived series; substance abuse issues; tacky rape/impregnation plotlines; friendships with dark, detecting angels...Intriguing.

david_b said...

Looks to me like a very entertaining, competent story here.., tapping into Gold/Silver Age love, brimming with loads of potential for spawning future titles.

Doug, I too loved Kid Flash in the Super-Villains title, and is still one of my alltime fav DC characters. He was certainly better used than in the lousy Titans series at that juncture.

Actually, I believe I only have him and Speedy as my remaining DC Mego figures.

Pat Henry said...

Around 1975 or so DC began releasing some of its Golden Age reprints in large format, so many of these characters were familiar to me. I always liked how clunkily odd the GA characters were in the BA.

I confess, I’ve always liked the concept of Supergirl, a little teeny teen who could put Mongul into a hammerlock and make him start bawling. Then afterward, she would burst into because she was afraid she’d hurt him or because some cute boy gave her flowers.

"Why little girl give Hulk headache?"

Never really worked out quite that excellent, though. The best Supergirl we ever got was in the Justice League animated series.

I think Power Girl endured because they gave her a tough, asskicking aspect they could never imbue on Kara Zor-El because she wore the Superman brand. Constrained by that.

That freedom to act made PG interesting and fun.

But I never was a fan of the forced kind of feminism of Power Girl (or, for that matter, Ms. Marvel, et al). I always liked Supergirl’s essential sweetness sugarcoating her (alas, never used) capacity to turn Darkseid over her knee for a well-deserved spanking.

Garett said...

Memorable cover, with 3 of my favorites: Dr Fate, GL and Flash. I'd love to see a team book with just these 3, and throw in Power Girl. I liked her spunkiness and beauty--very funny about the "Y" symbol Doug! : ) Many comic females seem to have that logo--must be a secret supergroup!

Inkstained Wretch said...

I have almost the entire run of the 1970s All-Star Comics revival. It is one of those things that I wish was better than it actually is.

I mean, I really love the Justice Society of America and it was great to see them in action, but the stories and art were just ... off. Nothing really obviously wrong, but just not good either.

The art in the scans is good, but not really appropriate either. The JSAers look a little too young and the whole thing seems to lack the kind of gravitas the characters deserve. And the story is just thin. Ahh, if only Roy Thomas could have written this one!

Regarding Power Girl, I think one of the things that made her work was that her name was not Super-Something even though she was essentially the Earth-2 Supergirl.
Most of these type of characters suffer from being under the shadow of the characters they derive from. Batgirl is forever going to be tied to Batman and never developed as a character (at least until she stopped being Batgirl).

The simple act of not affixing "Super-" to her name or giving her a "S" symbol on her chest made Power Girl more of her own character, I think. Enough so that she was spared the Crisis on Infinite Earths anyway. And I'm thankful for that.

johnlindwall said...

I also remember buying this book off of the racks back in the day. I was a huge Mike Grell fan and was sold on that boom by the cover alone. Finding some Wally Wood going on inside was a huge bonus.

Reading Doug's recounting of the story was fun, though I have little recollection of it myself.

I seem to remember that with each appearance, Wally Wood's Power Girl sported larger and larger ... attributes.

Edo Bosnar said...

Inkstained, to your point about the JSAers looking too young, I think they always did, regardless of the artist, and that was a bit of ongoing problem. Even as a kid, this troubled me: I mean, these were guys who were in their 20s and maybe even 30s in the 1940s, yet in the 1970s, about 30 or more years later, they are drawn to look, at best, like they're in their 40s.

Humanbelly said...

It's just. . .
Wouldn't she get soooo sick of having say, "Eyes up here, Romeo!" to every darned villain she came across? Or. . . is it like w/ Spidey and his banter? Where it's a subconscious distraction to even the most disciplined opponent?

Hmm. Probably giving this too much thought. Which may be disturbingly revealing in itself. . . (oy). .


Unknown said...

One of my favorites issues of one of my favorite comics from the bronze age. Part two was never able to live up to this.

James Chatterton

Bruce said...

I bought this off the rack when it first appeared and I too thought that it had kind of an old-style feel to the story -- but that it fit the art well. Power Girl's 'assets' catch the eye, but I think it was her attitude that made her a fan favorite.
This series ended up being one of the few DC ones that I actually looked forward to reading every issue.
Nice job on the review.

Doug said...

Thanks, Bruce!

If you don't already have them, the two Justice Society of America tpbs reprint the entire All-Star Comics revival. There's also a Huntress tpb that dovetails nicely with the aforementioned material.


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