Monday, August 31, 2009

Retro Review - Action #252

Action Comics #252
Many collectors focus their efforts on a specific area of the hobby when dealing with back issues. This is logical because, unless your last name is Gates, you cannot afford to collect EVERYTHING. My focus is mainly on collecting Silver Age Superman Family books (although I AM building an impressive run of FF as well). For those of you who don’t pay much attention to the various “Ages” of comics, The Silver Age began with Showcase #4 and the intro of the Barry Allen Flash and nominally ended with Spiderman #121 and the death of Gwen Stacy. It was an era of great innovation and the reintroduction of many of the World War II (Golden Age) characters that had been cancelled during the period when Superhero comics fell out of favor with the comic reading set in favor of War, Horror, Western and Romance comics (plus Archie!)

Among the gems I have accumulated over the years are very nice copies of Superman Annual #1, Adventure #260 and #300 as well as Action #242 (1st Brainiac) among so many others that I may have to buy a second house just to store them! BUT my favorite Silver Age book is a very solid copy of Action #252…the first Appearance of Supergirl (AND the first appearance of Metallo).

Like Action #242 which introduced Brainiac and the bottle city of Kandor, the introduction of Supergirl was in keeping with DC head honcho Mort Weisenger’s introduction of a variety of new concepts and supporting characters, to the Superman mythos. This in effect created the “Superman Family” which would eventually include Supergirl, Kandor, Krypto and a litany of super pets, various forms of Kryptonite, “Imaginary” stories etc.

Of course any reader of comics knows the story of Kara Zor-el, the last survivor of Argo City (which had been conveniently blown off of krypton in ONE chunk!) and Superman’s cousin!

Superman finds out from Kara that he was not the only one to escape the destruction of Krypton and among the survivors in Argo City were Zor-El, a respected scientist and Jor-El's brother. To the surprise of the surviving Kryptonians, the surface of the fragment like all other pieces of Krypton, slowly became Kryptonite and began poisoning the survivors. Luckily, Zor-El had a roll of lead shielding in his laboratory which they used to cover the land surface of the city and protect the inhabitants from Kryptonite poisoning (BIG ROLL. Zor-El married Allura and she gave birth to the first child born in Argo City. They named her Kara and lived peacefully for 15 years until a freak meteor shower smashed holes in the lead shielding. Unable to repair the damage to the shield, the Kryptonite radiation again began poisoning the inhabitants of Argo City.

Desperately, Zor-El began constructing a rocket and searching for a suitable planet to send Kara to safety.Yes you guessed it… Using a super-telescope, Kara and her mother Allura discover Earth and listening to a radio broadcast learned English and that the Superman was also a survivor of Krypton. As final touches are made to Kara's spacecraft, Allura finished making her a costume similar to Superman's so he would recognize her as one of his own (huh?). With no time to spare, the rocket is launched sending Kara to Earth, believing that her parents would die with the rest of the population of Argo City. As Kara finished her story, Superman recalls a similar situation when Jor-El sent him to earth. "Jor-El? Why, my father's name was Zor-El, your father's brother," exclaims Kara. "Great Scott! Then you're my... cousin," Turning to the girl, Superman says, "We may be orphans, but we have each other now. I'll take care of you like a big brother, cousin Kara."

Kara is overjoyed, expecting that she would come to live with Superman. However, he explains that he has adopted a secret identity, and it would become difficult to explain the sudden appearance of a cousin. Instead, Superman and Supergirl fly to Midvale. Assembling a dark wig to cover her golden hair, and a new set of clothes, Superman decides to register her in the orphanage. Considering that decades earlier the Kents gave little to no explanation regarding young Clark coming into their lives, this seems a little arbitrary and cruel on Clark’s part but it WAS 1959 after all and the Comics Code Authority would have had a problem with Superman having a teenage girl in the house! After Kara chooses the name Linda Lee (another "LL" name) Superman takes her to the orphanage telling the headmaster that, "The poor girl lost her parents in a big disaster that wiped out her whole community." Which, of course is also pretty flimsy since an entire community being wiped out SHOULD have made the papers.

The accommodations at the orphanage were not plush, and Kara uses her powers to "spruce up" the place using super-strength to repair the broken bed, her x-ray vision to fuse the cracks in a broken mirror, and her super-breath to dust the room in one blow.

Eager to try out her newfound powers, Linda Lee/Kara changes to Supergirl and slips out for a "secret" patrol of Midvale. Flying over the local theater, she sees that they are showing a film documenting Superboy's career in Smallville. Smiling to herself, Supergirl thinks, "Will I someday do as good a job in Midvale, as Supergirl? What will the future hold for me?"

Yes, the story IS a little thin and more than a bit contrived. However, it is important to remember that, in The Silver Age, DC would typically populate their books with three eight page stories. This left little room for character development or for subtle plot turns. It is also very important to remember that comics were written for a much younger audience than they are today when young (and not so young) adults are the major consumers. Where this story wildly succeeded was in the CONCEPT. Weisenger was a great idea man and he had introduced a character who would inject a shot in the arm to the entire franchise, create a ton of new stories and provide a back up feature in Action Comics. Not bad for an eight page story. As in Action #242 this brand new character was brought to the page by artist Al Plastino. Plastino was third on the Superman artist list behind Curt Swan and Wayne Boring but he seemed to be in the right place at the right time for new characters. His pencils were simple but very solid and he was an excellent story teller. The cover, realized by Curt Swan, is one of the iconic covers of the Silver Age and has been paid homage to in the current Supergirl series.

Never one to take “shots in the dark” Weisinger did not just drop Supergirl on the comics world. DC used Superman #123 (August 1958) to gauge interest in a “supergirl” character. Jimmy Olsen uses a magic totem to wish a "Super-Girl" into existence as a companion and aid to Superman; however, the two frequently get in each other's way until she is fatally injured protecting Superman from a Kryptonite meteor. At her insistence, Jimmy wishes the dying girl out of existence. The response to this story was very positive and lead to the creation of Kara a year later.

The other new character introduced in Action #252 was Metallo. John Corben was originally a thief and murderer who had just committed what he thought was the perfect murder. While fleeing from the scene of the crime, Corben suffered a near-fatal accident that mangled his body beyond repair. However, elderly scientist Professor Vale happened to come upon Corben, and used his scientific skill to transfer Corben's brain into a robotic body covered by a fleshlike artificial skin. Those elderly scientists were all over the place back in The Silver Age!! However, Corben discovered that his power source, a capsule of uranium, would only last a day, but was told by Vale that kryptonite would provide him an indefinite power supply. Of course Superman defeats Corben and Metallo “dies” in that story but we are given a new villain whose very presence can destroy the Man Of Steel. Again we see here an eight page story that is short on subtlety but long on concept! Metallo, while certainly not Luthor or Brainiac, has proven to be a durable character and has been featured in The Superman Animated series.

The final story in the issue was a Congorilla story. There is not much to be said about this one aside from an observation that intelligent Gorillas were a staple of the DC Silver Age universe.

So there you have it! One of the seminal and my personal favorite DC Silver Age comic. Supergirl has now been with us for FIFTY years. Here’s to another fifty!

Next: Who knows? I’ll make something up!

That’s 30!


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