Bizarro Back Issues: Supergirl Battles Black Flame — The Maid of Menace! (1963)
It wasn't that long ago that the Bizarro Back Issues column turned its focus to Action Comics #304 and "The Interplanetary Olympics," but there was something I didn't mention in the write-up of that story. As it turns out, the strange saga of Superman going out into space and totally choking at a sham Olympics that's actually just a cover for three alien crooks who want to steal his power? Not even close to being the single weirdest thing that happens in that issue.
That honor belongs to Supergirl's battle with her own great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter, which can only be waged through a knowledge of alien dentistry. Seriously.This particular gem is an easy contender for C.O.A.T. status. Brought to us by the team of Leo Dorfman (one of the unsung heroes of Silver Age comics who was responsible for quite a few truly bizarre Superman family stories) and Jim Mooney (the artist who defined Supergirl's look over nine years), this story seems to be an attempt at finally giving Supergirl a Rogues Gallery of her own. Even though Supergirl was a pretty popular character, she never really had her own Lex Luthor. The closest she came to an actual villain of her own was a toss-up between the sheer creepiness of secretly dating a horse (long story) and the perpetual annoyance that was Dick Malverne, a boring, gender-swapped Lana Lang who was always doing something stupid that got in her way.
Case in point, this story opens with Dick burying Linda in the sand at the beach, which apparently imposes severe limits on her effectiveness as a crimefightress:
Aside from the splash, this is really the first actual panel of the story, and already I have so many questions.
1) If she's so worried about this being a problem, how exactly did Dick heap that much sand on Linda without her stopping him? Did she forget she has super-powers?
2) If "being buried in sand" is that much of a hindrance for her, is she really cut out for this whole saving-the-world thing?
3) Is this how teenagers used to flirt before sexting was invented? Were parents gnashing their teeth and reading breathless, scandalized news articles about the new trend of teens burying each other in sand and how it led to hand-holding? When will this scourge of King Tutting stop?!
Fortunately, Linda remembers at least a few of her super-powers, and is able to keep an eye on things through the use of telescopic vision. What she sees, however, is downright horrifying: Just as a "notorious gambling ship" is about to be brought down by the real heroes of the Coast Guard, a strange, super-powered woman shows up and hauls them out to International Waters, where there is no law!
Well, except Aquaman's law. You'd think that guy would be all over this stuff, since that is literally the only reason he exists, but I guess he had a fundraiser for the Old Seaman's Home that day. Either way, once the law has been evaded, this mysterious Maid of Menace vanishes through the rainbow-colored, clearly labeled time stream. And really, before we get too harsh on Aquaman for dropping the ball on this particular sea crime, it should be noted that Linda stays buried in sand for this entire sequence. Not exactly living up to the legacy there, K-Z.
Needless to say, Supergirl's pretty upset by all this criminal nonsense, but it only gets worse when she finds out that Comet, the telepathic flying horse that's also a cursed centaur that's also her secret boyfriend (I told you it was a long story) has gone fool and started wrecking the statue of Supergirl out at Mount Rushmore. Why?
Because of BRAIN COMMANDS!
With a pretty fantastic flair for the dramatic, the Maid of Menace introduces herself by using her heat vision to carve her name into the side of a mountain: The Black Flame, a villainess from the year 4000! And to back up her story, she invites Supergirl over to a nearby glass bubble to try on a magic future hat that handles all the exposition.
As it turns out, Black Flame hails from a distant world that would tie with Jack Kirby's Transilvane as the most ballerest planet of all time until that issue where Darkseid redesigned the entirety of Daxam to look like a gigantic version of his own head:
That's right, y'all: It's a Pirate Planet. How that managed to never come back, I will never know.
Anyway, in the year 4000, Black Flame is the Pirate Queen of Outer space, who collects tribute from a thousand different worlds, and threatens any that don't fall in line with a massive "cosmo-tronic cannon" that can destroy an entire planet. As a result, she's pretty thoroughly despised by the people she's terrorizing. But what's more, this "cold-hearted female desperado" is actually Supergirl's direct descendent, Supergirl XXV!
According to Black Flame, she's come back for a vacation in the 20th Century to avoid the space-cops until the heat is off, which kind of completely misunderstands the very concept of time travel, but whatever. Point is, she knows all of Supergirl and Superman's secrets, and threatens to reveal them if Linda keeps getting up in her business.
As you might expect, this leaves Supergirl pretty upset, but after a tearful conversation with her adopted mother -- referred to only as "Mrs. Danvers," because presumably Leo Dorfman knew how to show some respect unlike you kids these days -- Linda decides to check the story out for herself. She heads to the future, only to find that the 41st Century is doing just fine and that no one's heard of this space-pirate queen that she's babbling about.
Clearly, there's something amiss in Black Flame's story, which is why Supergirl takes her investigation to the next logical step: She asks her horse to read her enemy's mind.
Black Flame is too well-protected for Comet to get the whole story, but he picks up a fleeting image of the Bottle City of Kandor, so Supergirl shrinks down and heads in there to check things out.
As it turns out, there was someone down in the Bottle City that fit the description of Black Flame: Zora, a known associate of Kandorian Kriminal Lesla-Lar, who was recently vaporized whilst trying to crack open the Phantom Zone. But Zora's whereabouts are accounted for, and she's still down there working in her lab. So instead of further questioning, Linda just decides to learn a little more about Kryptonian dentistry:
Who says comics aren't educational?
Having pursued exactly two (2) leads, Supergirl decides that Black Flame's story checks out, and that she has no recourse but to end her entire family line right here and now and eliminate the possibility of Supergirl XXV ever being born by exposing herself to Gold Kryptonite, which permanently removes a Kryptonian's powers so that she can't possibly pass them down!
If you ask me, that seems a bit extreme, especially considering that there are XXIII other Supergirls between them that just got backhanded out of existence too, but it's all for naught anyway. Not only does Black Flame not fade out of existence, she doesn't even lose her powers -- because she's actually Zora!
Yes, the Zora that was spotted down in Kandor was just an android duplicate that was apparently used as both a distraction, and for a bit of sexy technological autodominatrixing:
With the android in place, Zora escaped from Kandor using a jetpack belt, and then increased her size by flying through a cloud of Red Kryptonite that grants wishes. I mean, obviously.
But just as though this was an M. Night Shyamalan movie about Chubby Checker, a twist is added to the twist when it's revealed that Supergirl didn't really take away her own powers! It was all a ruse meant to trick Zora into using up the last of her time under the effects of the wish-granting Red K (obviously) that was pulled off by wrapping her yellow belt around a rock and then making it glow with X-Rays.
That's how X-Rays work, right? Of course it is.
A few flakes of Gold K in Supergirl's makeup are enough to strip Zora of her powers without affecting Linda -- because at this point, why not -- and Linda drops her back in the bottle to deal with the harsh justice of Kandor. But the question remains, how did Supergirl know that Black Flame was bluffing?
She had a cavity.
So let this be a lesson to you, aspiring super-criminals: Always, always floss. Otherwise, all the magic wish-granting Kryptonite, Brain Command rings, cosmo-tronic cannons and Jolly Roger planets won't help your sinister plans.