Tuesday, July 8, 2014


I am not at all embarrassed to say I wish more superhero comics involved the main characters going clothes shopping.

I like to imagine that somewhere amidst all of DC Comics’ alternate Earths – somewhere on the periphery of Earth-1 and Earth-2, beyond the Planet of the Capes and Cary Bates’ effed-up Wild World (by the way, remind to write about the Planet of the Capes and Cary Bates’ effed-up Wild World) there lies an idyllic and super-groovy Earth. Draped in flared cuffs and fringed vests, ascots and student demonstrations, macramé and casual sex – an Earth-1970, if you will, and at the center of that world there’s Supergirl.

Mike Sekowsky took over Supergirl’s slot in Adventure Comics with issue 397, the cover of which famously depicts the Girl of Steel (not to be confused with the Lady of Iron or the Broad of Molybdenum) reclining before a wall which is plastered with potential new costume designs. With this issue, Supergirl began to cycle in new uniforms which had been designed and sent in by her readers, many of which were, admittedly, bonkers. It also launched a completely new direction for a character who’d previously had difficulty emerging from the template established by her more famous (and more franchised) cousin.

Misandry is real!
If you’ve seen this cover online, there’s a good chance it was appended to an article that went on to sneer about the content, with a hand-to-cheek amazement at its presupposed daffiness – fan-designed costumes, good heavens, what is this, Katy Keene? Fetch my smelling salts.

Don’t get me wrong, this era of Supergirl is packed with utter insanity (see “L.Finn” below), but surely letting the readers – many of whom were young women and whose individual voices weren’t accommodated much in comics back in those days (by which I mean “including up til now”) – have a say was just making the character more accessible, unique and interesting. Even on the off-chance that the “contributors” of Supergirl’s many new costumes were manufactured wholesale by the editors (which is, you know, a possibility, sometimes the letters pages were completely fabricated), the mere fact that a female readership was acknowledged in the title at all, in 1970, is worth admiring.

Not that this era wasn’t otherwise absolutely bugnuts. Sekowsky had been, after all, one-half of the team which had created B’wana Beast, a character I think we can all roundly agree was among DC’s most thoroughly wackadoo executions (much thanks to his co-creator, of course, Bob Haney). From his first issue, in fact, Sekowsky’s Supergirl seems like a mostly-new character – not only was she wearing a whole new outfit (or series of outfits), but she was facing a newly-crafted rogues gallery and exhibiting full-fledged telepathic powers (an outgrowth of, ahem, super-feminine intuition).

Yup, that girl's gonna be hell on steel balls.

Even Supergirl’s Kryptonian super-powers weren’t up to their previous standards – she struggled against merely strong foes, and proves vulnerable not just to magic and kryptonite but also to poisons and other toxic concoctions. In fact, the alternate costumes take on a sense of purpose when a male mata hari doses Supergirl with a power-sapping serum in the middle of a passionate clinch. Now with her powers turning off and on erratically, Kara Zor-El relies on a set of high-tech charm bracelets and Kandorian Grranimals provided to her by the scientists of the shrunken city to leap tall buildings and all the rest.

The intermittent powerlessness experienced by Supergirl comes at the hands of Starfire, a one-eyed female crimelord who commands an army of henchwomen decked out as Carnivale clowns. As you drink that in, I’ll run by you some of Sekowsky’s other new or revamped villains – the evil Kandorian scientist Black Flame returns, having invented a microbus which can drive into the Phantom Zone. There, she’s collected three very non-Kryptonian villains – The Toymaster (indistinguishable from the Toyman, for the most part), the insidious Inventor, and a magical leprechaun named “L.Finn” (I had to say it out loud), three apparently earth-born villains whose presence in the Zone might have benefitted from a tetch of backstory.

Who are you people and how did you rate the Phantom Zone?
Supergirl also faces the supernatural, fang-toothed Zond in her new debut duds (purchased, by the way, from Wonder Woman’s fashion boutique, another intriguing oddity of that era), but Sekowsky’s best invention is Nasthalthia Luthor – evil niece of Lex Luthor!

“Nasty” is a top-notch villain – she figures out Supergirl’s dual identity and manages to actually best her in a direct confrontation! The thing is, Nasthalthia is part of that continuity-baffling puzzle which makes me think that there’s a 1970s-specific Earth in the DC multiverse, and that we’d been reading stories from that world during that era. Do this math: Nasthalthia is the same age as Linda Danvers, but her uncle is Lex Luthor, who was in Clark Kent’s grade in high school and whose only sibling is his sister Lena. Lena, we know, is younger than Lex by a factor of at least ten years. If we accept the chronology as established in previous issues, then either both Superman and Luthor are about fifty or we’re dealing with an alterna-a-a-ate universe.

"All I had to do was take a painful dump behind this tree!"
It’s not the only complication. After Sekowsky leaves the Adventure strip, Supergirl ends up in her own title – the final issue of which notoriously established that America’s commander-in-chief was Prez Rickard (America’s first teen president!), even though that book was assumed to be taking place in its own continuity.

Which I hope it is, and I hope it’s a continuity which embraces all of DC’s best creations from the years surrounding 1970; a super-telepathic clothes-horse Girl of Steel with on-again/off-again powers, America’s first teen president, possibly Brother Power (finally a senator, perhaps!), the Super-Sons of Batman and Superman, the swinging teens of Titans West, Diana Prince running a boutique (maybe financed by the Green Team) and then slugging it out with Farfhd and Gray Mouser or The Shadow … Isis, Earth-2ers like Wildcat and Vigilante running around on Bob Haney’s instructions in defiance of all continuity, maybe even Welcome Back Kotter - and Superboy with sideburns! Ah, the possibilities ...


Magnus1964 said...

Yes! We should see DC take a crack at re-exploring Earth-1970. It'd be like Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman, only, y'know, kinda weird!

Calamity Jon said...


As an aside, it's worth mentioning something I neglected to point out in the article - Mike Sekowsky's version of Luthor looks and acts very much like the post-Crisis revamp, despite appearing fifteen years earlier (wearing a suit, content to manipulate events from the background, wielding apparent influence in the corporate world, etc)

Casanova Frankenstein said...

Thank you for the site! I may not comment frequently, but I am reading! I've included GAF in the acknowledgements of my revised book.
I'll send a link when it's posted.

Michael Hoskin said...

As soon as I read "you can crush a steel ball in your hand" I knew you wouldn't let it slide.

And in the next image you posted it's... the Elf With a Gun?

neofishboy said...

Maybe the Inventor and Toymaster never actually laugh ... they just flat-out say "cackle" and "hee hee". That's gotta be worth a Zoning right there.

Calamity Jon said...

"Sentenced to fifty cycles in the Phantom Zone for the crime of unrelenting campiness."

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