By Leo Dorfman, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Girls Are Super Heroes Too… 8/10
After decades as the distaff cousin of a Truly Big Gun, Supergirl is now a certified multimedia solo star of screen and page.
Such was not always the case, as this engaging trade paperback compendium (also available ins eBook formats) joyously attests. The gathered back-up tales from Action Comics #285-307 – and spanning February 1962 to December 1963 – trace the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City as she moves from hidden secret to star turn and minor player to public celebrity. From the back of the book to the front of the house is always a reason to celebrate, right?
Her story began as August 1958 try-out story ‘The Three Magic Wishes’ by Otto Binder, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye in Superman #123 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…
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, which was 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. He created the identity of Linda Lee and hid her in an orphanage in small town Midvale whilst she mastered her new powers in secrecy and safety.
This second collection sees her very existence kept secret from the general public whilst she lives with adoptive parents Fred and Edna Danvers. They are completely unaware that the orphan they have recently adopted is a Kryptonian super-being. That is all about to change as the Maid of Might finally graduates from superhero training…
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 were akin to situation comedies, and might occasion a shudder now and then from modern readers, but believe me compared to the times they were and remain light years ahead of the curve…
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 authors’ 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 – regularly 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 shrug off nukes and drop-kick planets…
You have been warned…
Hogging the cover (by Super-stalwarts Curt Swan & George Klein) the simpler times ended as a big change in the Maid of Might’s status occurred. When her parents learn of their new daughter’s true origins, Superman allows his cousin to announce her existence to the world in 2-part saga ‘The World’s Greatest Heroine!’ (#285) and ‘The Infinite Monster!’ (#286). Here Jerry Siegel & regular artist Jim Mooney detail how Supergirl becomes the darling of the universe: openly saving planet Earth and finally getting all the credit for it.
Action Comics #286 pits her against her cousin’s greatest foe in ‘The Death of Luthor!’, whilst ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge!’ sees her visiting 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) to save the Earth from invasion.
She also meets 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!’ signalled the beginning of Leo Dorfman’s contributions as scripter. Little is known about this prolific writer, other than he also worked under the name Geoff Brown and David George, producing quality material continuously from the Golden Age until his death in 1974, mostly for DC and Gold Key Comics.
In this tight little thriller Phantom Zone villains take control of Supergirl’s new dad in a plot to escape their ethereal dungeon dimension…
Siegel returned for Action #289’s ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’: something of a classic, as the Girl of Steel scours 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!’ finds both human Dick Malverne and Atlantean mer-boy Jerro catch super-powers after kissing her (I’m again saying nothing here except Red K!) whilst she doesn’t actually become ‘The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk!’ when the fifth-dimensional prankster transfers his unwanted attentions to her in Action #291.
An extended storyline by Dorfman began in the next issue when the typical (albeit invulnerable) teen got a new “pet”. ‘The Super-Steed of Steel!’ is a beautiful white horse who helps her stave off an alien invasion, but the creature has a bizarre and mysterious past, revealed in ‘The Secret Origin of Supergirl’s Super-Horse!’, before a resolution of sorts is 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 featuring 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 featured on alternate Action Comics covers, and was regularly breaking into the lead Superman story. Sadly, those covers, by art dream-team Swan & Klein are not included nor is their Dorfman-scripted Man of Steel tale ‘The Monster from Krypton!’ from #303, with Supergirl having to battle her Red K transformed cousin. We can enjoy the back-up though: the moving tragedy of ‘Supergirl’s Big Brother!’ whose misspent life is not totally wasted in the end…
Supergirl got a new arch-enemy in ‘The Maid of Menace!’ but Black Flame is not as problematic as ‘The Girl Who Hated Supergirl!’ (with art solely credited to Mooney. but I’m pretty sure it’s at least part-inked by John Forte).
Action #306 was a pure mystery thriller as Girl of Steel became ‘The Maid of Doom!’ after which the dramas pause after ‘Supergirl’s Wedding Day!’ which almost proves that no girl can resist a manly man… but only almost!
Throughout this 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 volume, unlike any “Bad-Girl” book – or male public figure – you could possibly name.
© 1962, 1963, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.