Supergirl Mondays is a weekly celebration of the Girl of Steel, who has graced the pages of DC Comics in a variety of forms for more than five decades.
This feature’s primary focus is to take an issue-by-issue look back at Supergirl’s adventures in the post-Crisis universe. From an artificial being on a mission to save her home world, to an Earth-born angel on a mission to save her soul, each Monday, before the airing of “Supergirl” on CBS, reflect on the earliest days of the incredible and winding journey of a frequently divisive, sometimes confusing, but always entertaining era for the Maid of Might.
In this issue
Issue: SUPERMAN (Vol. 2) #21
Cover date: September 1988
Cover price: 75 cents ($1 Can./40p U.K.)
Cover by John Byrne
Story: “You Can’t Go Home Again”
Story and pencils: John Byrne
Inks: John Beatty
Colors: Petra Scotese
Letters: John Costanza
Mike Carlin, editor
Renée Witterstaeter, asst. editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
A group of people in battlesuits withstand a barrage on their high-tech fortress, the only thing left standing on the ravaged landscape of their world, as they watch on viewscreens as Superman soars through the sky. Suspecting he’s being followed, Superman doubles back and is surprised when he catches his pursuer.
The woman again identifies herself as Supergirl, further shocking Superman by shifting her likeness into that of Lana Lang and saying she got her powers from Lex Luthor.
Confusion reigns, and the exchange begins to grow heated, resulting in Supergirl hitting Superman with a telekinetic blast before turning invisible and attacking again, knocking him deep into the ground near the Lang home. Superman digs up through the cellar and finds Jonathan and Martha Kent, as well as the real Lana Lang, tied and gagged. Superman makes a realization about Supergirl and flies her to see Lex Luthor.
Supergirl is astounded that Luthor is so unlike the Luthor she knows. This leads Superman to later explain that he believes she is from the Pocket Universe (a dimension created by the Time Trapper, and encountered by Superman about a year prior, publishing-wise). As Superman explains and Supergirl’s memories begin to return in full, a teleportation field takes them to the Phantom Zone, where they are greeted by the red-haired, battlesuit-clad figure from the beginning of the issue.
This issue is part one of the three-issue story known as “The Supergirl Saga” (not an official part of the story’s title, but called as such on the covers of the first two issues). It’s also the final three stories in Byrne’s classic run on Superman, which rebooted the character in the post-Crisis era, starting with MAN OF STEEL.
But, we’re here to talk about Supergirl.
This is the character’s most extensive appearance to date, yet the mystery surrounding the character and her origins continue to build despite actually being somewhat more defined with the revelation that she comes from the Pocket Universe. Taking this tack is, perhaps, the first in a long line of missteps leading to the character’s eventual somewhat confusing backstory. But without the 20/20 hindsight of history, it was an inventive approach that allowed for the creation of a new Supergirl that paid homage to the past but still kept the “uniqueness” of Superman, which DC Editorial at the time wished to retain. (It also allowed them to hedge their bets should the character not have been popular, because a Supergirl from an alternate dimension would be easier to take off the table than on from “this” dimension.)
Regardless of where she comes from, though, one thing is pretty clear: She’s not Kryptonian. Her powers are full display here, as she exhibits the ability to fly, change her appearance at will, turn invisible and fire off telekinetic blasts strong enough to knock Superman into the ground. Her strength an durability aren’t clear because Superman never goes on the offensive, but she seems more than able to hold her own.
Other mysteries remain as well, such as why she was buried in the arctic ice for centuries, as well as, newly surfaced this issue, what happened to the Pocket Universe since it last made an appearance, and what that has to do with Supergirl’s mission she spoke of in previous issues.
Art-wise, while a strong outing, internal inconsistencies remain, particularly in regards to the coloring. Supergirl is portrayed as a redhead in some panels and a blonde an others. Some of that is intentional as she shape-shifts her appearance to that of Lana Lang, but other seem illogical given the storyflow.
And, hey! The new Supergirl gets her first cover appearance with this issue. Well, her legs are there, anyway. But, it’s the closest thing the character will get to a proper cover appearance until 1992!
The panel where Superman first comes face-to-face with Supergirl (seen above) is an homage — all the way down to the dialogue — to the Curt Swan-penciled and Al Plastino-inked cover to ACTION COMICS #252, which was the first appearance of Kara Zor-El.
Fans talk back
This issue was the first to feature reader response to the one-panel appearance of Supergirl in SUPERMAN #16 (see Supergirl Monday #1). While letters printed in comics are chosen by editorial and might not be a true representation of fan response, letters printed in this issue do seem overwhelmingly excited about the prospect of the character’s return.
While in the future I’ll be looking only at letters of note commenting on Supergirl’s story, due to the historical importance of the issue they’re replying to in this issue, here’s a look at the letter pages in full.
And as an additional note, Paul Anthony Lhossas, if you’re reading, I’m not sure if you were serious about that “55-page treatise,” but if you were, I’d love to read it.
But wait, there’s more
The blurb at the end of the story and next-issue chatter at the end of the letters column (both seen above) both give a preview of ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #444, which is part 2 of “The Supergirl Saga.” The latter also includes a sneak peak at the Supergirl-less cover art.
DC also sought to promote “The Supergirl Saga,” and the return of the character in general, outside the comics. Here’s a look at a poster, with art by John Byrne, released to comics retailers to promote “The Supergirl Saga.”
Next time on Supergirl Monday: Exposition. Lots of exposition.