Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Those Darn Gigantic Alien Kids!

The back-up stories in Action Comics in 1968, including the issues I reviewed last week, were Supergirl stories usually written by Otto Binder. I mentioned in my review of the Superman tales that writer Leo Dorfman embraced comic book logic and ran with it. But Binder pretty much left everyone else in the dust in this area. Whether he was pitting Captain Marvel against a tiny, intelligent worm or having Superman join the Capone mob, Binder never worried about applying even the illusion of real-life logic to his stories. His stories were well-constructed in terms of internal logic--that's what mattered. The heck with you, Real Life. You're not wanted here!

That's why his Supergirl story from Action Comics #363 (May 1968) is so much darn fun, especially when enhanced by Kurt Shaffenberger's art.

Someone is stealing landmark buildings from around the world, lifting them into space with giant tweezers. Supergirl investigates, saves the Taj Mahal when the tweezers suddenly drops it, then hitches a ride with the Statue of Liberty when that's taken.

It turns out that a pair of giant alien children are taking the buildings. Is it a precursor to an invasion? Is it part of a plot to somehow subjugate mankind?

No. Actually, the two little brats are playing an alien version of Monopoly and need the buildings as tokens.

I really need to tell my board game group about this. We'll never be satisfied using tiny plastic or wooden pieces again.

The kids need a good spanking, but they are invulnerable and also have a "super-rope" that they use to imprison Supergirl until she agrees to play. So the Maid of Might finds herself zipping back to Earth herself to snatch up the "tokens" she needs as the game progresses.

Fortunately, she notices that, when the kids need to retrieve a museum, they reject a "Museum of Gold." The Taj Mahal contained gold as well, didn't it? Ha! The brats are weakened by gold, aren't they? Gold is their Kryptonite!

Well, I'm sure any one of us would see the obvious thing to so at this point. Supergirl studies their language at super speed, uses her super breath to manipulate the die roll so it comes up "concrete structure," then brings up Fort Knox into the alien ship. The gold weakens the aliens. She busts up their game and returns the stolen buildings. The aliens fly off, cheering themselves up with the thought that they can play marbles with asteroids.

Someone on a forum I was following once said that when Otto Binder went to DC, he was essentially still writing Captain Marvel stories, using Superboy, Jimmy Olsen and Supergirl as Billy Batson surrogates. (I apologize for not being able to find this statement again and properly credit the source.)

This, I think, was an insightful and accurate assessment of his comic book work. In a general sense, Binder had a formula for telling superhero stories--start with a premise involving super-science, magic or something else fantastical, then take it wherever its own logic leads. It worked for Captain Marvel and it worked for Superman's corner of the universe. And within that framework, we get an infinite variety of plots set in a world where carrying Fort Knox into space to discipline a couple of gigantic alien kids makes perfect sense.

Next week, we'll go a-pirating with Robert Shaw in a look at an adaptation of an old TV show.

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