Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 1


By Otto Binder, Al Plastino, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7292-0

Superhero comics seldom do sweet or charming anymore. Modern narrative focus concentrates on turmoil, angst and spectacle and although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Such was not always the case as this superb trade paperback compendium – spanning Action Comics #252-284 (May 1959 to January 1962) and also available in eBook editions – of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City joyously proves.

Also included and kicking off proceedings is the delightful DC House Ad advertising the imminent arrival of a new Girl of Steel. Sadly missing, however, is the try-out story The Three Magic Wishes’ – written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye from Superman #123, August 1958 – which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

Here, then, the drama commences with ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’, the third story from Action Comics #252 introducing Superman’s cousin Kara, who had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded.

Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the giant world’s debris, and Kara’s dying parents, having observed Earth through their scanners and scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she meets Superman who creates the cover-identity of Linda Lee whilst hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale allowing her to learn about her new world and powers in secrecy and safety. This groundbreaking tale was also written by Binder and drawn by the hugely talented Al Plastino.

Once the formula was established Supergirl became a regular feature in Action Comics (starting with #253), a residency that lasted until 1969 when she graduated to the lead spot in Adventure Comics. In ‘The Secret of the Super-Orphan!’, at her new orphanage home she makes the acquaintance of fellow orphan Dick Wilson (eventually Malverne) who would become her personal gadfly (much as the early Lois Lane was to Superman), a recurring romantic entanglement who suspects she has a secret. As a young girl in far less egalitarian times, romance featured heavily in our neophyte star’s thoughts and she frequently met other potential boyfriends: including alien heroes and even a Merboy from Atlantis.

Many of the early tales also involved keeping her presence concealed, even when performing super-feats. Jim Mooney was selected as regular artist and Binder remained as chief scripter for most of the early run.

In Action #254’s ‘Supergirl’s Foster-Parents!’, sees an unscrupulous couple of con-artists easily foiled, after which Linda meets a mystery DC hero when ‘Supergirl Visits the 21st Century!’ in #255. Her secret is almost exposed in ‘The Great Supergirl Mirage!’ before she grants ‘The Three Magic Wishes!’ to despondent youngsters and teaches a mean bully a much-needed lesson.

The Man of Steel often came off rather poorly when dealing with women in those less enlightened days, always under the guise of “teaching a much-needed lesson” or “testing” someone. When she plays with Krypto, ignoring his secrecy decree, cousin Kal-El banishes the lonely young heroine to an asteroid in ‘Supergirl’s Farewell to Earth!’ but of course there’s paternalistic method in the madness…

‘The Cave-Girl of Steel!’ then sees her voyage to the ancient past and become a legend of the Stone Age before Action #260 finds her transformed by the mystical Fountain of Youth into ‘The Girl Superbaby!’

The next tale introduced feline fan-favourite Streaky the Super-Cat in ‘Supergirl’s Super Pet!’ after which ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Victory!’ delivers a salutary lesson in humility to the Girl of Steel. Binder moved on after scripting ‘Supergirl’s Darkest Day!’ in which the Maid of Might rescues an alien prince, after which Jerry Siegel took over the storytelling as ‘Supergirl Gets Adopted!’: a traumatic and sentimental tale which only ends with the lonely lass back at Midvale orphanage.

I’ve restrained myself so please do the same when I say that the next adventure isn’t what you think. ‘When Supergirl Revealed Herself! (Siegel & Mooney from Action#265) is another story about nearly finding a family, after which Streaky playfully returns in ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’

Supergirl encounters fantastic fellow super-kids in Action #267’s ‘The Three Super-Heroes!’ but narrowly fails to qualify for the Legion of Super Heroes through the cruellest quirk of fate. Picking herself up she then exposes ‘The Mystery Supergirl!’ before Siegel & Mooney introduce Mer-boy Jerro who becomes ‘Supergirl’s First Romance!’

‘Supergirl’s Busiest Day!’ is packed with cameos from Batman and Robin, Krypto and Lori Lemaris all celebrating a very special occasion, after which Streaky makes another bombastic appearance as the wonder girl builds ‘Supergirl’s Fortress of Solitude!’.

Otto Binder wrote ‘The Second Supergirl!’, an alternate world tale that was too big for one issue. A sequel, ‘The Supergirl of Two Worlds!’ appeared in Action #273 – as did a novel piece of market research. ‘Pick a New Hairstyle for Linda (Supergirl) Lee!’ involved eager readers in the actual physical appearance of their heroine and gave editors some valuable input into who was actually reading the series…

Siegel & Mooney then soundly demonstrate the DC dictum that history cannot be changed in ‘Supergirl’s Three Time Trips!’ before ‘Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl!’ offers a truly nightmarish scenario, rapidly followed by a return visit to the Legion of Super Heroes in ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!’, whilst Action #277 featured an animal epic in ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’

The next five tales in this volume form an extended saga taking the Girl of Steel in totally new directions. On the eve of Superman announcing her existence to the world, Supergirl loses her powers and – resigned to a normal life – is adopted by the childless Fred and Edna Danvers. Tragically it’s all a deadly plot by wicked Lesla-Lar, Kara’s identical double from the Bottle City of Kandor. This evil genius plans to replace Supergirl and conquer the Earth. This mini-epic – ‘The Unknown Supergirl!’, ‘Supergirl’s Secret Enemy!’, ‘Trapped in Kandor!’, ‘The Secret of the Time-Barrier!’ and (following the results of the Hair Style competition) ‘The Supergirl of Tomorrow!’ ran in Action #278-282 and solidly repositioned the character for a more positive, effective and fully public role in the DC universe. The epic also hinted of a more dramatic and less paternalistic, parochial and even sexist future for the most powerful girl in the world, over the months to come…

The young heroine still in very much a student-in-training, her very existence kept secret from the general public and living with adoptive parents who are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being.

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-saving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Plots akin to situation comedies often pertained, as in ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in author Seigel’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was simply unladylike.

Red Kryptonite, a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world and was a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets…

Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat (I’m not going to say a single bloody word…).

The drama continues and concludes – like this initial Silver Age compilation – with the next instalment ‘The Strange Bodies of Supergirl!’ wherein Linda Lee Danvers’ travails escalate after she grows a second head, gains death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and morphs into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a big change in the Maid of Might’s status but that’s a volume for another day…

Throughout her formative years Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that, these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the very last time a female super-character’s sexual allure wasn’t equated to sales potential and freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few truly strong and resilient female characters parents can still happily share with even their youngest children.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade


By Landry Q. Walker, Eric Jones & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2506-3

As a rule, superhero comics don’t generally do whimsically thrilling anymore. They especially don’t do short or self-contained. The modern narrative drive concentrates on extended spectacle, major devastation and relentless terror and trauma. It also helps if you’ve come back from the dead once or twice and wear combat thongs and thigh boots…

Although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that – other than the inappropriateness of striving to fix wedgies during life-or-death struggles – sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Once such continued cosmic cataclysm was the exception, not the rule, and this enchanting collection first seen in 2009 harks back to simpler days of complex plots, solid characterisation and suspenseful fun by way of an alternative take on Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, late of Argo City and Earth’s newest alien invader…

After a few intriguing test-runs Supergirl began as a future star of the expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety even as they perished.

Landing on Earth, she met Superman, who created the cover-identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage in bucolic small town Midvale whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

In 2009 much of that treasured back-history was euphorically reinstated for a superb miniseries for younger readers with Saturday morning animation sensibilities. Kara Zor-El was recast as a plucky 12-year-old whose world was suddenly turned upside down, forcing a decidedly ordinary kid to adapt to and cope with impossible changes at the craziest time of her life…

It all begins as Superman and Lex Luthor again indulge in another life-and-death duel. The battle ends suddenly as the evil genius’ war machine is wrecked by a gleaming rocket, from which emerges a dazed girl in a knock-off Man of Steel outfit. Panicked by the press pack that converges on her, the waif jumps back and suddenly catapults into the air…

Soon however Superman has caught and calmed the careering child and explanations ensue. She’s his cousin Kara from Argo City, which escaped the destruction of Krypton by a fantastic fluke: being hurled by the blast unharmed and entire into another dimension…

The Argoans thrived in their pocket reality and watched baby Kal-El become a mighty hero. In fact, it was a message-probe aimed at him that Kara sneaked onto before being accidentally sent to Earth. It is a horrific shock to learn Superman has no idea how to get her back to them…

Marooned on a weird, primitive planet with powers she doesn’t understand and cannot control is bad enough, but discovering her cousin has no time or space to look after her is the worst. Soon, wearing a pair of awful glasses, orphan “Linda Lee” begins a new life at Stanhope Boarding School

The lessons are dull or baffling; nobody likes her; Principal Pycklemyer is a snide, snarky ass and worst of all, Kara’s superpowers keep turning off and on without any rhyme or reason. The first week is sheer hell, but ends on an up note as, after another fruitless attempt to get home, Linda heads back to the girls’ dormitory and finds a present waiting: a super-phone which can reach her mum and dad…

The Pre-Teen Powerhouse is still screwing up in class and her troubles multiply in detention when an odd green mineral interacts with a light projector in the science lab and creates an evil doppelganger.

Smug, arrogant Superiorgirl calls herself Belinda Zee and is instantly more popular. She also sets out to make Linda’s life an unending succession of petty aggravations and annoyances…

However, Belinda’s greatest scheme to humiliate Linda is foiled by a new transfer student. High-maintenance misfit Lena Thorul is a scary genius who takes an instant liking to fellow outcast Linda and saves the day with a mind-control helmet she whipped up…

Soon the weird pair are dorm-mates, even though Lena is a bit clingy and rather aggressive. She might even be preventing other students befriending Linda…

Life is never quiet and when Supergirl intercepts a glowing red meteor in space the fallout scatters scarlet debris all over Stanhope. The effect is amazing, as almost everybody develops superpowers…

Naturally Linda can’t reveal her own hidden abilities so she and a few pitiful others are quickly relegated to a remedial class for the “super-heroically challenged”. When the powers all suddenly fade, Supergirl is kept busy saving the students from their own youthful follies and is astonished to later discover the power drain was caused by Lena…

And that’s when things get truly complicated, as her solution to the on-going problem gives Supergirl the ability to time-travel and the notion that she can warn her earlier self to respond differently to the crisis…

Another day, and another disaster dawns as Linda’s experiments with Green Kryptonite – in hopes of finding a cure – instead give an alley cat incredible super-powers. As Streaky stalks the halls of Stanhope, Lena reveals her true nature and Superiorgirl is forced to choose sides…

The adventure concludes on ‘Graduation Day’ as chaos reigns and the real reason for all the incredible events Linda has endured are finally exposed. Luthor escapes jail, Streaky returns, Belinda becomes queen of Bizarro Zombies, Fifth Dimensional Sprites attack and Supergirl meets Supragirl before ending with a new trusty companion – Comet the Superhorse. Sadly he won’t be enough to aid the Maid of Might as she strives to prevent the destruction all there is…

With Reality unravelling Supergirl needs a little help and it comes from the last person she expected…

Joyous, thrilling, warm-hearted and supremely entertaining, this festival of Fights ‘n’ Tights fun is a delightful romp for youngsters and a fabulous tribute to DC’s Silver Age, and fans can also enjoy bonus features including sketch sections on ‘Redesigning Supergirl’, lovely pencil roughs and a full cover gallery.

Some characters are clearly capable of surviving seemingly infinite reinvention and the Girl of Steel is certainly one of those. Here in this charming, engaging, inspiring yarn for older kids and young adults you can enjoy a pure and primal romp: simultaneously action-packed and funny as it perfectly demonstrates how determination, smarts and courage trump superpowers and cosmic omnipotence every time
© 2009, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman: Supergirl

New Revised Review

By Jeph Loeb, Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald (DC Comics)
ISBN: 1-4012-0347-7

In a shock of sheer horror, I realised over Christmas that I’ve been doing this for over 20 years: firstly in magazines like Comics Forum and books like Slings and Arrows, then as an online critic for the Comics Creators Guild website, before starting the independent Now Read This! in 2007.
Moreover many of those early efforts weren’t particularly fair or good – a side-effect of being literally bombarded non-stop with volumes one wouldn’t generally pick to read.
Thus in a probably futile effort to be less judgemental I’ve been going over older reviews, rethinking some previous pronouncements and will be making amends over the months to come.
What’s really worrying is how many I haven’t changed my mind about…

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were best friends and the pairing made perfect financial sense as National/DC’s most popular heroes could cross-sell their combined readerships.

When the characters were redefined for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths 1980s, they were remade as cautious but respectful co-workers who did the same job whilst deploring each other’s methods. They preferred to avoid contact whenever possible – except when they were in the Justice League – but then, the character continuity of team titles has always been largely at odds with heroes at home in their own titles…

After a few years of this new status quo the irresistible lure of Cape & Cowl Capers inexorably brought them together again with modern emotional intensity derived from their incontestably differing methods and characters.

For decades DC really couldn’t make up their minds over Supergirl. I’ve actually lost count of the number of different versions that have cropped up over the years, and I’ve never been able to shake the queasy feeling that above all else she’s a concept that was cynically shifted from being a way to get girls reading comics to one calculated to ease young male readers over that bumpy patch between sporadic chin-hair outbreaks, voices breaking and that nervous period of hiding things under your mattress where your mum never, never ever looks…

After a few intriguing test-runs she debuted as a future star of the ever-expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris and her dying parents, observing Earth through their vision-scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they apparently perished.

Landing on Earth, she met Superman who created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

Her popularity waxed and waned over the years until she was earmarked for destruction as part of the clearout of attention-grabbing deaths during the aforementioned Crisis on Infinite Earths.

However as detailed in scripter Jeph Loeb’s introduction ‘On the Roller Coaster or, How Supergirl Returned to the DCU for the First Time’, after John Byrne successfully rebooted the Man of Steel, non-Kryptonian iterations began to appear – each with their own fans – until early in the 21st century the company Powers-that-Be decided the real Girl of Steel should come back… sort of…

Thus this visually intoxicating version (reprinting Superman/Batman #8-13, May-October 2004) resets to the original concept and has a naked blonde chick arrive on a Kryptonite meteor, claiming to be Superman’s cousin…

Written by Loeb with captivating art by Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald, the action commences in the aftermath of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies wherein a Green Kryptonite asteroid crashed to Earth. Now in ‘Alone’, as a quarantined Superman chafes at enforced detention, the Dark Knight explores a section of the meteor submerged in Gotham Bay.

The JLA have all been active, clearing away the deadly fragments, but this last one is most disturbing. As Batman quickly grasps, it’s a ship but its single passenger is missing…

Soon the Gotham Guardian is tracking a wave of destruction caused by a seemingly confused teenaged girl with incredible powers and only Superman’s unwise early intervention stops the mounting carnage. Their subsequent investigations reveal the comely captive to have all the Man of Tomorrow’s abilities and she claims – in fluent Kryptonian – to be the daughter of his long-dead uncle Zor-El

The mystery further unfolds in ‘Visitor’ as a deeply suspicious Batman and ecstatic Superman continue their researches, arguing their corners as the most powerful girl on Earth becomes increasingly impatient. Fuelling the Dark Knight’s concern is superdog Krypto’s clear and savage hostility to the newcomer and Kara’s claims that she has amnesia…

Then as Clark Kent endeavours to acclimatise his cousin to life on Earth, on the hellish world of Apokolips vile Granny Goodness and her Female Furies are ordered by ultimate evil space-god Darkseid to acquire the pliable naive newcomer…

Before they can strike, however, an attack comes from an unexpected source, as former ally Harbinger, ruthless hunter Artemis and beloved ally Wonder Woman ambush the Kryptonians. …

Princess Diana has acted arbitrarily nut from necessity: kidnapping Kara and bringing her to the island home of the Amazons to be trained in the use of her powers as a ‘Warrior’. Superman’s growing obsession has rendered him unable to see her potential for destruction, despite a cryptic message on her space ship from Zor-El, and Wonder Woman decided to strike first and ask later…

With tempers barely cooled, Dark Knight and Man of Steel are invited to observe Kara’s progress weeks later, just as the tropical Paradise is assaulted by an army of artificial Doomsdays manufactured on Apokolips…

The wave of slaughter is a feint, but by the time the horrors are all destroyed, the Female Furies have done their work, slaughtering Kara’s only friend and stealing her away…

In ‘Prisoner’, DC’s superheroic high trinity enlist the aid of Apokolyptian émigré Big Barda and stage a devastating rescue mission to Darkseid’s homeworld, but not before the Lord of evil apparently twists the innocent Girl of Steel into his tool: a ‘Traitor’ to the living…

The Master of Apokolips has never faced a foe as adamant as Batman and the quartet are unexpectedly victorious, but after returning Kara to Earth and announcing her as the new Supergirl, the heroes discover that they are not safe or secure, and in ‘Hero’ Darkseid horrifyingly returns to exact his ultimate revenge…

This hardcover collection also includes a covers-&-variant gallery by Turner, Steigerwald, Jim Lee & Scott Williams, assorted roughs and a wealth of production Sketches, and a nifty 2-page translation key for the Kryptonian Alphabet.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of this sometimes overly-sentimental tale is Batman’s utter distrust and suspicion of Kara as she is hidden from the world while she assimilates, but there’s plenty of beautifully rendered action (plus oodles of lovingly rendered girl-flesh and titillating fetish outfits jostling for attention amidst the lavish fight-scenes and interminable guest-cameos) and enough sheer spectacle to satisfy any Fights ‘n’ Tights fans.
© 2004, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Supergirl volume 2


By Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-055-0

Superhero comics don’t often do whimsical and thrilling anymore. They especially don’t do short or self-contained. The modern narrative drive concentrates on extended spectacle, major devastation and relentless terror and trauma. It also helps if you’re a hero who has come back from the dead once or twice or wear a combat thong and thigh boots…

Although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour. Once this continued cosmic cataclysm was the exception not the rule, and this second enchanting black and white compendium of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City happily displays why.

After a few intriguing test-runs Supergirl began as a future star of the expanding Superman pocket universe in Action Comics #252 (May 1959). Superman’s cousin Kara had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the detonated world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished. Landing on Earth, she met Superman who created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage in small town Midvale whilst she learned of her new world and powers in secrecy and safety.

This second collection, encompassing all the Girl of Steel’s adventures from the back of Action Comics #283 (December 1961) to #321 (February 1965), finds the young heroine still in training, her very existence kept secret from the general public and living with adoptive parents Fred and Edna Danvers – who are also completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being.

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-preserving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring that readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Such plots, akin to situation comedies, often pertained, as in the first story represented here: ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’, by Jerry Siegel and regular artist Jim Mooney.

Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of 1960s comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in the author’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was unladylike. Red Kryptonite, a cosmically altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world – a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets…

Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat (I’m not going to say a single word…).

The drama continued in the next instalment, ‘The Strange Bodies of Supergirl!’ wherein she grew a second head, gained death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and changed into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a big change in the Maid of Might’s status as with the next issue her parents learned her true origins and her existence was revealed to the world in the two-part saga ‘The World’s Greatest Heroine!’ and ‘The Infinite Monster!’ both appearing in issue #285, as Supergirl became the darling of the universe: openly saving the planet and finally getting the credit for it.

Action #286 pitted her against her cousin’s greatest foe in ‘The Death of Luthor!’, whilst ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ saw her visit the Legion of Super-Heroes (quibblers be warned: initially their far-future era was the 21st century. It was quietly retrofitted to a thousand years from “now” after the tales in this volume) and save the Earth from invasion. She also met the telepathic descendent of her cat Streaky. His name was Whizzy (I could have left that out but chose not to – once more for smug, comedic effect…).

‘The Man who Made Supergirl Cry!’ signaled the beginning of Leo Dorfman’s run as scripter. Little is known about this prolific writer, other than he also worked under the name Geoff Brown, producing quality material continuously from the Golden Age until his death in 1974. In this tight little thriller Phantom Zone villains took control of Supergirl’s new dad in a plot to escape their ethereal dungeon dimension, whilst #289’s ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’ is something of a classic, as the Girl of Steel scoured the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. Charming at the time, modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that his perfect mate was just like Supergirl herself, but older…

‘Supergirl’s Super Boy-Friends!’ saw both human Dick Malverne and Atlantean mer-boy Jerro catch super-powers after kissing her (I’m again saying nothing here) whilst she didn’t actually become ‘The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk!’ when the fifth dimensional prankster transferred his unwanted attentions to her in Action #291.

An extended storyline began in the next issue when the girl got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ was a beautiful white horse who helped her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature had a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’, and a resolution of sorts was reached in ‘The Mutiny of Super-Horse’.

A new cast member joined the series in ‘The Girl with the X-Ray Mind!’, a psychic with a shocking connection to the Superman Family, and her secrets were further revealed in ‘The Girl who was Supergirl’s Double!’ It was the beginning of an extraordinarily tense and epic continued storyline that featured Phantom Zone villains, Luthor, Supergirl’s arch enemy Lesla Lar, the destruction of Atlantis and genuine thrills and excitement. Earth was threatened by ‘The Forbidden Weapons of Krypton!’ and it took ‘The Super-Powers of Lex Luthor!’ to finally save the day.

Action #299 returned to whimsical normality with ‘The Fantastic Secret of Superbaby II!’, and the anniversary 300th issue featured ‘The Return of Super-Horse!’: another multi-part tale that revealed ‘The Secret Identity of Super-Horse!’ in #301, only to suffer ‘The Day Super-Horse went Wild!’ in the next episode.

By this time Supergirl was featured on every second Action Comics cover, and was regularly breaking into the lead Superman story. All those covers, by art dream-team Curt Swan and George Klein are collected herein, as is their Dorfman-scripted Man of Steel tale ‘The Monster from Krypton!’ from #303, with Supergirl having to battle her Red K transformed cousin. Sadly the art is misattributed to Mooney in the credits, but he actually did draw the moving tragedy of ‘Supergirl’s Big Brother!’ for his regular second-feature in that issue.

Supergirl got a new arch-enemy in ‘The Maid of Menace!’ but Black Flame was not as problematic as ‘The Girl Who hated Supergirl!’ (again solely credited to Mooney but I’m pretty sure its at least part-inked by John Forte). Action #306 was a pure mystery thriller as Girl of Steel became ‘The Maid of Doom!’ whilst ‘Supergirl’s Wedding Day!’ almost proved that no girl can resist a manly man… almost!

‘The Super-Tot from Nowhere!’ proved to be a most difficult adventure in babysitting and #309’s ‘The Untold Story of Argo City!’ began another long saga revealing the true fate of Kara’s Kryptonian mum and dad, whilst ‘Supergirl’s Rival Parents!’ saw her having to chose between them and her Earth family.

More equine revelations came on ‘The Day Super-Horse Became Human!’ whilst eerie coincidence was examined in ‘The Fantastic Menace of the “LL’s”.’ ‘Lena Thorul, Jungle Princess!’ brought the troubled psychic back into the Girl of Steel’s so-complicated life, and the soap opera screws began really tightening when parent trouble resumed in ‘Supergirl’s Tragic Ordeal!’

It was the start of another wicked plot, continued in ‘The Menace of Supergirl’s Mother!’ and concluded in ‘Supergirl’s Choice of Doom!’, but the heroine’s problems were only beginning. In Action #317, Luthor’s latest scheme resulted in ‘The Great Supergirl Double-Cross!’, after which her life changed forever when ‘Supergirl Goes to College!’

Now nominally on her own at sedate Stanhope College, the dramas of catty rival and suspicious sorority sisters were added to identity preserving, boy-chasing and superhero-ing, but first she had to prove she wasn’t ‘The Super-Cheat!’ to keep her place at university. ‘The Man Who Broke Supergirl’s Heart!’ was not only a cad but an alien one, and this volume finishes on an emotional high with #321’s ‘The Enemy Supergirl!’ stuffed with intrigue, imposters and even coma-patients…

Throughout this four-odd year period Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres had in twenty years, as the editors sought to find a niche the buying public could resonate with, but for all that these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing. Possibly the last time a female super-character’s sexual allure and sales potential wasn’t freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time and display one of the few strong female characters that parents can still happily share with their youngest girl children. I’m certainly not embarrassed to let any women see this book, unlike any “Bad-Girl” book you could possibly name.

© 1961-1964, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: Candor

Supergirl: Candor 

By Joe Kelly, Greg Rucka, Ian Churchill & Ed Benes and others (DC Comics)
ISBN 1-84576-354-8

Comics isn’t baking. The theory goes that with the right ingredients and the correct recipe you get perfect results every time. Sadly we’re not talking about baps but the new incarnation of Supergirl. Hang on though…

Supergirl first gained popularity as the back-up feature in Action Comics, as a tag-along (and trademark protection device) to her more illustrious cousin. After many years of faithful service, she was killed as a sales device in the groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series in 1985. Since then there have been a number of characters using the name – but none with the class, nor the durability of the original (and it’s always useful to have a trademark protection device).

The latest incarnation has much of original’s trappings – Superman’s cousin, close variation of the suit and symbol – but a much more modern attitude and edgier origin as suits today’s readership (and modern kids understand the value of a trademark protection device).

Candor is a dreadful mish-mash. It starts with Power Girl (herself once a Supergirl substitute) in a story from JSA Confidential #2 (and recently reprinted in Power Girl’s own trade paperback), and a selection of pages from JLA #122-123 which had Supergirl on them (no cohesive narrative, just the bits with her in). Then a team-up with her cousin from Superman #223 and a Power Girl/Huntress team up from their Earth 2 days originally seen in Superman/Batman #27.

Confused? If you’re not a comic collector then I’ll just bet you are. Such out-takes and shavings might fill up the book, but they have no real relevance to the narrative. Some depictions – all culled from before DC continuity ‘re-set’ in the Infinite Crisis storyline – actively contradict their later characters. So let’s be straight here: Either these books are a way to get more and new people reading comics or they are just another way to get extra cash out of the same poor suckers who buy the monthly pamphlets. If it is the former then a lot more editorial planning is necessary. These convolutions frankly baffle the casual reader.

After the never-ending calamity of the DC Infinite Crisis event, the company re-set the time line of all their publications to begin One Year Later. This enabled them to refit their characters as they saw fit, provide a jumping on point for new converts and also give themselves some narrative wiggle-room.

One year later, Supergirl and Power Girl are in Kandor, a miniaturised city full of assorted aliens, trapped in a bottle in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Krypton worshipping supremacists are instigating a species-pogrom, using Superman’s likeness as the basis for a hate-based religion. Our heroines are part of the resistance, taking the identities of legendary heroes Nightwing and Flamebird. But a hidden villain is behind all the horror and Supergirl is drawn to the dark side by…

Candor is a mess. There’s no real hook or bite – just aimless flailing about, trying to fill pages with pitifully uninspired stock scenarios pilfered from dozens of other stories, and someone, someday, is going to have to acknowledge the difference between Graphic Novels and periodical comic publishing. You just can’t have ‘big reveals’ of mystery villains in ‘proper’ books – and simply assume your audience recognises them because they buy all the books you publish. That’s purely an astonishing – but increasingly diminishing – facet of comic-book readership. It’s no way to grow the sales base. And even in comics it is SUCH a cliché.

So what can I say about this book? I wish I could be more positive. I’m here to make comic reading more popular, not to warn potential readers off. You can see the largest breasts on a super-heroine? There are many great artists producing cheesy, prurient puberty-porn? It’s all blithering nonsense and a there’s total disregard for the reader’s intelligence plus a truly harrowing reliance on the modern fashion for story resets whenever things start getting too complex to solve with a well illustrated punch? There’s certainly all that and less…

I’ll always try to say something nice or positive. Taken out of the book’s context, the Power Girl solo tale is very good – so you should buy the Power Girl collection and read it in its entirety. The Huntress/Power Girl story from Superman/Batman #27 is funny and beautifully illustrated by Kevin McGuire. The final story of the volume, wherein the inexplicably returned to Earth Supergirl goes clubbing and reminiscing with a coterie of fellow youngbloods is both poignant and amusing, so kudos to Kelly, Churchill and Norm Rapmund for that at least.

Otherwise? This is rubbish. I’m absolutely positive. Only get this if you’re blessed with a very short attention span, or haven’t had a girlfriend yet.

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