I Didn’t Know I Loved Her Until They Killed Her

Let’s talk about comic books.  And boob windows.

Before Scarlett Johanssen became Black Widow; before Jamie Alexander was Sif; before Lynda Carter was Wonder Woman; before Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Merriwether were Catwomen…there was Supergirl.

1st sgirl

By the time I was 3.5 years old, I was reading.  Two reasons: my mother was ingenious in her own way.  And, although I will never know her rationale for doing this, I will always love her for it: she taught me to read using comic books.

I grew up on Casper, and Richie Rich, Little Lotta and Little Dot.  The first two tv shows I remember watching were reruns of the Mickey Mouse Club (I’ll always love you, Annette) and the Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves.

I loved Superman.  But the 1966 Adam West Batman I loved even more.  I collected comics throughout that period, and well beyond.  If it was cool, I liked it.

And in there were many issues of Supergirl, with and without her 1970s costume changes.  And with her ’60s pantheon of super-animals–Streaky, Comet and Beppo (Krypto not included)–

superman's super-pets

–she was a constant in my four-color collection.  Yet Kara Zor-El remained only a secondary character in the DC Comics roster…until they killed her in 1985.


As melodramatic and as cheesy as is that cover (and I won’t discuss that early ’80s headband she’s wearing), I wept.  I don’t think I’d ever cried reading a comic book before.  But I cried.  A lot.


It was the writing.  It was the art.  It was the pacing.  It was cinematic.  Then I reread the issue, to make sure they killed her.  That it was permanent.  That her death really was what I read.

And MAN did I cry.

Supergirl had always been only a secondary character…yet this one comic book made her more important, more significant, than ever.  Here’s  Jason Motes from sciencefiction.com in July 2015:

Thirty years ago this week, DC Comics released what still stands as one of the most shocking and emotional single issues ever, ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ #7, featuring the highest-profile super hero death ever at that time; that of Supergirl.  One didn’t need to be a comic book fanatic to know who she was!  Debuting in 1959, Kara Zor-El was Superman’s cousin, who also escaped the destruction of Krypton to arrive on Earth, now blessed with the same amazing powers he had.  The character caught on quickly and soon found herself starring in her own solo tales.

‘Crisis’ was both a celebration of nearly everything DC had published in its 50 year history, but also a closing of that chapter, with big plans in place to overhaul the fictional universe into a more simplified, modern concept that was new reader-friendly. As such, plans were on the table to update its biggest stars, including Superman, shedding the weight of 50 years worth of continuity and starting fresh, taking the character back to basics and hopefully making him more contemporary.

One of the huge changes that architect, writer/artist John Byrne planned was to restore Superman’s uniqueness, making him the sole survivor of Krypton as he was in his creation. This obviously required that Supergirl be taken off the board. That’s where ‘Crisis’ came into play.  …Characters that died in ‘Crisis’ were and would remain DEAD. There would be no quick, happy “undos” after the dust had settled. And while the first several issues were filled with death and destruction, as entire populated worlds were wiped out by the Anti-Monitor, it was Supergirl’s that was the most shocking.  Sure super heroes had been killed in the past, but none of them appeared on tee-shirts, Underoos and lunchboxes. None of them had their own action figures.

It wasn’t until her character was dead and gone that she was truly missed, and her death became an iconic moment in comic book history.  And until then, no one knew how important she really was.

Earlier, though, Supergirl did give birth to the comic book boob window.


Late in 1975, Power Girl made her first appearance in All Star Comics #58 (dated January/February 1976).  I bought this issue from Rose’s at Mercury Mall in Hampton, VA, back when there were more local department stores, and they all sold magazines and books.  From Wikipedia:

Power Girl is the cousin of DC’s flagship hero Superman, but from an alternate universe in the fictional multiverse in which DC Comics stories are set. Originally hailing from the world of Earth-Two, first envisioned as the home of DC’s wartime heroes as published in 1940s comic books, Power Girl becomes stranded on the main universe where DC stories are set, and becomes acquainted with that world’s Superman and her own counterpart, Supergirl.

Wally Wood, a classic EC Comics artist and good girl illustrator, provided the pencils.

In a famous comics anecdote of unknown veracity, artist Wally Wood reportedly told friends that he planned to draw Power Girl’s breasts larger and larger, issue by issue, until told by his editors to stop. According to the story, no one ever did before Wood left the title. His editors may have thanked Wood had they known, and Wood had never pushed her bust size beyond believability — or at least what’s considered believable in the realm of super-hero comics, accustomed to bulging muscles and beautiful women with enormous tits. Later artists, as if honoring Wood’s intent, would sometimes seem to continue his dastardly plan…


Power Girl proved a winner.  And so did the demand for the return of Supergirl.  Because of financial and legal reasons, DC would have brought her back anyway.  But DC brought back Supergirl, and they figured out to to have a Supergirl who wasn’t the real Supergirl…and another who was…and another…

What brings us to here is the latest incarnation.


Meet Supergirl: Kara Zor-el, Superman’s cousin, with all her back story reattached and retconned for the 21st Century.

Melissa Benoist is the second actress to portray the Last Daughter of Krypton, and Helen Slater, the first Supergirl in the lackluster 1984 enponymous movie, plays her adopted mother on Earth.  Even though I thought, before I saw the pilot, that Benoist looked a little bland for the role, she has proved me wrong.  She is great as a perky, spunky hero-in-training, trying to make her way in the world just like the rest of us.

Like its tv brothers Arrow and The Flash, this Supergirl is highly structured with a season-long big bad storyline, and each hero gets a team of assistants and a secret lair.  Unlike its brothers, this Supergirl does one thing that the others have not yet done: in four shows, it’s already made me cry in three.  More than the others, this show is about family.  This show is about wonder.

The true legacy of Supergirl is about life and hope and optimism…and the innate strength of womanhood.  I’m hooked on Supergirl.  Just please stop making me cry.

Lord of the Undead

The most popular image is not necessarily the best.
Boris Karloff’s portrayal of The Monster is arguably the first and strongest image that springs to the collective mind when the word Frankenstein is spoken; yet there have been other visions of The Monster, such as Bernie Wrightson’s: beloved by comic art fans because of the artist’s intricate line work, shadow play and evocative stylistics–yet the masses are barely aware of his arguably finer version of Mary Shelley’s creature.
Most people are familiar with Conan (not O’Brien) because of Ahnold Schwarzenegger.
But Conan the Barbarian never would have been produced in the early ’80s if writer Roy Thomas had not started adapting Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories for Marvel Comics in the early ’70s.  The most popular version of Conan was that drawn by veteran comics artist John Buscema.
Musclebound, gorilla-like, savage, and certainly primitive.  But this vision of Conan, the one that found mass popularity around the world, was not the Conan of the first, classic issues.
This first issue was an artistic anomaly.  Artist Barry Smith was heavily inked to make his illustrative style more like Jack Kirby–more Marvelesque.  The right inker was quickly matched with Smith’s pseudo-antique style, and Barry Windsor Smith’s Conan exploded into the public consciousness.
By Crom!  Isn’t his black and white work simply amazing?
Ultimately, Smith’s Conan is the consummate Conan.
Unfortunately, Buscema’s Conan is the one people remember.
Now, let’s talk about the prince of darkness, the king of the vampires, the lord of the undead.  No, not Rush Limbaugh.
Of course, Bela Lugosi immediately springs first to mind–it was his 1931 portrayal that solidified the image of the aristocratic Count as the typical, popularized vampire.  And each culture or generation has tried to make Dracula in its own image.
 Max Schreck, Nosferatu, 1922
In case you didn’t know, this was the first–and completey unauthorized–adaptation of Dracula.
 Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula, 1958
Primal bloodlust and eroticism at its finest.
 Frank Langella, Dracula, 1978
Disco hair.
 Gary Oldman, Francis Ford Coppolla’s Dracula, 1992
My mind is still trying to grapple with Keanu Reeves’s awful English accent.
Buffy met Dracula on TV in 1997.

For comic book fans, the single best version, as imagined by the late Gene Colan, Tomb of Dracula, 1970s
Lee’s Dracula is far superior than others, to me, at least, because of the sheer ferocity of his portrayal.  The imagery of the Hammer Dracula embodies blood and violence and sexuality in ways that would best be explored in a doctoral thesis.  Nevertheless, each version of Dracula captures the imagination of many . . . but it’s Lugosi’s image that the world still remembers most (even though the 1931 version may possibly be the dullest version ever made.  Sorry, purists).
Besides being popular and beloved fictional characters, Conan and Dracula now have something else in common.  New illustrated versions of their stories are currently being published, both drawn by a relative newcomer to illustration and comic art, but one whose artistic voice is essentially 21st century in style, yet as evocative and inspiring as Barry Smith’s Conan and Gene Colan’s Dracula (and let’s include Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein, as well).
The illustrator is Becky Cloonan, and you can see for yourself at her website and in these few samples that her artistic vision is uniquely contemporary, yet she captures the timeless essence of the stories she transforms.
 Cover of Conan: Queen of the Black Coast
The queen of the Black Coast, Belit
Dracula just came out in hardcover, and its illustrations are, perhaps, the best I’ve ever seen in any edition, combining the color and sensuality of a Hammer production with the gentility of Victorian romance and gothic mystery.
 Publicity poster
 The brides of Dracula
I urge you to buy these books and love them, especially Dracula.  The story is as wonderful today as it was when it was published in 1897–and this edition is magnificent in terms of Cloonan’s illustrations and Iris Shih’s book design.

Becky Cloonan is one of today’s best.

Get Becky Cloonan’s Dracula.
Get Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein.
Get Becky Cloonan’s
Conan comic books at Stories Comics.

Len Needs Your Comic Books

From Mark Evanier in L.A.:

You know Len Wein. Award-winning comic book person. Co-creator of Swamp Thing and Wolverine and various other X-Men. Editor of Watchmen. Writer, at one time or other, of all the major characters: Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Hulk, you name it. That Len Wein. A great guy.

On April 6, 2009, a fire destroyed most of the home he was sharing with his wife Chris and their son Michael. As Len tells us, Chris was out when it happened. The men were home and asleep. He awoke to find the world in flames around him and he managed to get himself out and to save Michael, as well. Sadly, their beloved dog Sheba perished that day.

So did Len’s collection of books and toys and games and artwork and those things we accumulate that help define and enrich our lives. You have stuff. He had stuff. Insurance will fix the house but many things, including his comics, were not covered. Some of us thought it would be grand if his friends and fans pitched in to help him recreate those shelves of the comic books he’s worked on.

My sympathies to Len and his family on their losses, especially Sheba.

Please clink on the banner at the top to get more info and to download a checklist if you think you can help Len out.

Coleen Doran

I haven’t seen Colleen Doran in ages — well, since I stopped going to comic book and fantasy conventions because they got so expensive — so when a mutual friend mentioned that he had spoken with her at the New York Comicon last month, I found her on Facebook and we’ve renewed our friendship.

Colleen is a wondrous artist of comic books and illustration, and I suggest you go to her website and investigate for yourself the realms of wonder which she creates. Her resume is long and varied, perhaps capped by her own creative visions in the 1000+ page epic she draws and writes, A Distant Soil.

In a recent blog post about Write Now, a magazine for aspiring comic book writers that will soon cease publication, Colleen was kind enough to mention me and this blog and my posts about the death of print. While I will not go so far as to say all forms of print are dying, this economy is certainly having a terrifying impact on print, especially periodicals of all forms. Comic books, however, are actually showing growth; which adds credence to my argument that, for a periodical to be successful today, it must find its niche audience and cater to it, constantly surprising and amazing its readers, and growing with the times.

Thanks for the nice words, Colleen. Stay in touch!