Things I cannot believe

There are lots of things in comics I don’t bat an eye at. Superman lifting up apartment buildings so he can peer into the lead-lined basement? Cool. Batman getting knocked unconscious roughly 3,157 times without suffering any damage from concussion? No sweat. Other things, however, leave me completely incredulous and unbelieving, and this post is dedicated to them.

I can’t believe Linda Holland stayed dead

The standard joke in comics is that nobody but Bucky and Uncle Ben stay dead, and now it’s just Uncle Ben. Not so; there are quite a few characters who suffered death and stayed that way, though fewer every year (I was always surprised Iron Fist’s father, Wendell Rand, died from a mere fall, and it seems he eventually got better). Alec Holland’s wife Linda, for instance, died in Swamp Thing #1 and stayed that way. Swamp Thing had one brief encounter with a lookalike robot, but the confusion barely lasted a page.

That’s pretty remarkable given her death was the classic humongous explosion with no body left behind; we all know that never lasts. In 90 percent of comics she’d have resurfaced as a cyborg or a Swamp Thingess or something. But no.

Perhaps it’s not that unbelievable. That’s not the kind of twist the original Bronze Age Swamp Thing went for. Then Alan Moore established Swampie wasn’t actually Alec Holland and made Abby his great love, after which resurrecting Linda would have been pointless.

Who knows? Maybe if the David Anthony Kraft reboot of the late 1970s had lasted, we’d have seen her return to meet Swamp Thing and his new sidekick Hawkman.

I can’t believe anyone could make splitting in two a formidable power!

Becoming more than one person is an ineffective super-power unless you can split into lots and lots of people a la Jamie Madrox or Multi-Man of the Impossibles, Duo Damsel was never a serious threat in combat to anyone even when she was Triplicate Girl. So someone who can split into two people could never be capable of challenging Batman, Robin and Superman, right? Nevertheless Bill Finger pulled it off in World’s Finest #106, “The Duplicate Man.”

The villain of the story has some remarkably creative uses for his ability — not so much the splitting into two, but rejoining. For example, when he’s fighting Batman at one point, he tackles the Caped Crusader so that they both go off a high roof. The Duplicate Man then merges with his other self who’s safe on solid ground, leaving Batman to fall and die (spoiler: Batman survives). In other fights he splits in two, Batman or Superman follows one of the doubles, then Duplicate Man merges back with his safely hidden second body. On top of which, the guy is smart: rather than rely on his powers alone, he steals various high-tech gadgets (a powerful lens that can focus the sun’s heat, a blackout ray) so that he has more than one tool in his toolbox.

The story is entertaining and Duplicate Man’s smart use of his powers make him a worthy foe.

I can’t believe that girl died!

Despite Supergirl’s tragic backstory, her early Silver Age series was hardly doom-and-gloom. True, she constantly wondered if she’d ever be adopted when she had to keep her powers secret, but everyone else in her orbit did great. Lots of other kids got adopted during her years at Midvale Orphanage because of Kara’s work behind the scenes. So I really wasn’t prepared for the ending of “Supergirl Gets Adopted” in Action #264.

This was one of several stories where Linda Lee gets adopted — usually despite her best efforts to avoid it — only to end up back at the orphanage by the final page. In this story, the adopters are Police Captain Wilkins and his wife (we never learn their first names) whose biological child has died. Unable to discourage them — her voice is so much like their late daughter! — Linda settles into her new home and covertly helps “Dad” stay alive. Everything’s going great until the couple tell Linda they’re calling off the adoption. They reveal their daughter died when a vengeful crook pulled a drive-by shooting but got her instead of Captain Wilkins. They’ve decided the risk of losing Linda the same way is just too great, so they take her back to the orphanage.

At which point I kept feeling the TPB I was reading must have missed a page. Wasn’t this the point where Supergirl miraculously discovers the girl didn’t die and has been wandering around with amnesia due to her bullet wound? Is Jerry Siegel seriously telling me she died for real? And the parents are left grieving not only for her but for having to give up Linda? Seriously, that’s how this one ends?

I can’t believe it ended on such a sad note, yet it did.

#SFWApro. Art by Bernie Wrightson (top) and Curt Swan.

8 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    The tagline for Superman was “You will believe a man can fly”.
    I’ve always thought a better tagline would be “You will believe a man can work with the same people every day, but when he takes off his glasses they suddenly don’t recognise him”.
    Christopher Reeves makes that almost believable for me!

    1. Nobody has nailed the role as perfectly as Reeves.
      A friend of mine was a kid when she saw that movie and left absolutely convinced Superman was real. She wrote him a letter but didn’t know the address to send it to, so while she was out of the room her mother swapped it for Superman’s answer (“There was this rushing wind outside the window, gosh you don’t think …”). My friend was ecstatic.

    2. Gareth3

      I mocked the whole Superman-Clark Kent thing until they cast Melissa Benoist as Supergirl. I’d watched her for a couple of years on Glee but didn’t recognise her at all as the superhero. Never mind glasses, just a different haircut and the super-suit was enough disguise to work on me.

        1. Le Messor

          Sometimes, when I’m riding my push-bike, people don’t recognise me. I’ve carried on a whole conversation with a colleague I work with every day who didn’t know who I was. And I was trying to be recognised.
          I once waved at a woman I saw while I was waiting at traffic lights, and confirmed later she didn’t know me.
          She was my sister.

          So, I don’t make as much fun of the idea as I used to.
          (But on a bike, I’m wearing glasses of some sort, a helmet, and very, very hunched.)

          1. I had a conversation with a guy from my writing group once and didn’t realize he wasn’t just “some guy walking on the trails near my house.” Of course I was suffering from exceptional lack of sleep (even by my insomniac standards) at the time.

  2. Just read Wonder Woman 120 and if I were writing this piece today I’d definitely include it. In the course of battling a fire monster about to attack a helpless village, Wonder Woman seals it away from oxygen to destroy it, even though she knows this will suffocate Steve too. It’s really startling for a 1961 superhero to make a Needs of the Many decision like that rather than find another solution (even given that Steve, of course, survived).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.