(Supergirl (2nd series) #13-15, 1983)
Writer Paul Kupperberg. Pencils Carmine Infantino. Inks Bob Oksner
I probably have a certain affection for this early 80s era of Supergirl because, a few years ago, I picked up almost the complete series on a whim after coming upon it in the back issue bins of a local shop, dirt cheap, and in excellent condition. This three-part story in particular has stuck in my mind, and become even more significant, after I read Peter David's Supergirl: Many Happy Returns. In that story he had his post-Crisis Supergirl meet the Silver Age Supergirl (essentially, this one) and part of the point was to gently lampoon the original as silly and unsophisticated when compared to David's version.
Hmmm. Wonder if he missed this story...in which Supergirl tackles neo-Nazis?
It's always a juggling act with super hero comics that tackle serious or gritty subject matter -- do it too earnestly, and the comic seems self-conscious and stuffy, do it too much like a super hero adventure, and it can seem tactless and exploitive. But here, I think Paul Kupperberg strikes a reasonably good balance.
It's a super hero adventure, as Supergirl battles the leader of a neo-Nazi rally who has super powers, and there's plenty of time put aside for on-going soap opera-y stuff of Supergirl's then- romance and stuff...but it also quite effectively tackles the serious side of things, reflecting the story through Supergirl's landlady (and regular supporting character), Mrs. Bukowski -- a holocaust survivor who lost her family in the Nazi death camps. As I said, it would be so easy for someone to react with affront -- how dare they deal with such sensitive, painful subject matter in a goofy story about super heroes??? But, as I said, Kupperberg handles it all with reasonable deftness. And he does it without (too often) straying too far into the lecturing. That is, we believe in the characters, like Mrs. Bukowski, and their pain, as characters -- not as ciphers to illustrate a lesson.
Although Nazi villains are not uncommon in comics (the medium largely started during World War II), the focus on neo-Nazis is more intriguing, reflecting the modern movement more than the historical archetype, as the neo-Nazis here spout on about "Zionist conspiracies" and the like, emphasizing that modern racist are, in a sense, kind of self-pitying -- painting themselves as the victims! Kupperberg also reveals some secrets to the characters that add some twists to the story and an unexpected emotional complexity. He also touches on reactionaryism, as Linda becomes concerned her fellow tenants might slide into vigilantism to defend against Nazi vandals.
I often have mixed feelings about Carmine Infantino's art -- the artist who drew most of this run. With his penchant for squat, angular figures, and a sometimes loose, scratchy line work, he often worked best (in my opinion) with a strong inker who could add a better finish to his pencils -- Murphy Anderson on old Flash comics, Gene Day on Star Wars, Tony DeZuniga, etc. Oksner provides a looser finish than some, but a stronger one than, say, Bob Smith (who inked some of Infantino's 1980s Flash comics), providing some better definition to some of the faces -- like Supergirl, who can be pretty enough. But Infantino does have an interesting eye for composition, particularly with talky scenes, and there is a decent drama to how he presents a scene -- plus he and Oksner make some effective use of shadows in a few spots. Though Infantino isn't as strong with the action scenes, particularly in the climactic battle where both he and Kupperberg seem to be playing it a bit loose.
The story is heavy on the talky, but it's an energetic, compelling talkiness. And there's not just the Nazi stuff, but also, as noted, this series overall was big on the Supergirl-as-Linda-Danvers side of the equation, which is maybe why I have a certain fondness for the series. It's about the "girl" as much as the "Super" -- and Linda Danvers/Supergirl is a pleasant enough lead.
Nicely rooted in the real world and real issues (in a way too few modern comics are), while still being an entertaining fantasy-adventure and character-driven drama, this story arc juggles a lot of balls, and drops very few of them.