A Tribute to the of
DC Comics undertook a very bold move to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary in 1985. They took the whole year to do it and it changed the face of the DC Universe--Multiverse really, in a dramatic way. The series of stories was called Crisis on Infinite Earths and the real-world notion behind it was to do a top to bottom housecleaning of all the continuities and characters created and/or acquired by DC over the preceding 50 years. No longer would the editors, writers or the readers have to try and keep track of all the various earths that had evolved over the years and the occasional paradox that is bound to emerge after so many years and so many writers and so many characters are introduced. I recently got my own copy in a collected format and found it to be a pretty darn good read. It was quite impressive to me the way they touched on pretty much every character, even the minor ones, that had been created over the timeframe. The story wasn't without casualties however and the writer, Marv Wolfman in his intro to the collected edition, went to painstaking lengths to explain that this wouldn't be your typical story where characters wake up from a dream or it's a modern Elseworlds or Silver Age/Bronze Age "imaginary" tale. This was for keeps. While few would probably miss the first casualties of the Crisis, the Crime Syndicate of Earth 3, (that included in its ranks the evil incarnations of some members of the Justice League of America, such as Ultraman [Superman], Power Ring [Green Lantern], Johnny Quick [The Flash], Superwoman [Wonder Woman] and Owlman [Batman]) there were other familiar faces that were wiped out as well. Lori Lemaris, Huntress, The Flash (Barry Allen) and perhaps the most dramatically of all, Supergirl, the cousin of Superman. She really went out in a heartbreaking blaze of glory and that's what made me settle on the Silver Age comic to review this time around.
Follow me now as we go back to a happier time when Supergirl made her first official appearance. Just like her famous cousin, Supergirl's debut happened between the covers of Action Comics. Issue #252 [Cover art by Curt Swan & Al Plastino] to be precise from May of 1959. "The Supergirl from Krypton" was written by Otto Binder. Artwork came from Al Plastino and Mort Weisinger took care of the editorial details. Just like my last review, coincidentally enough, this is the third story of three within the magazine, but it is the most significant for our purposes. The other two, just for fun, were the Superman story "The Menace of Metallo" [Not to be confused with the Metallo featured in Superboy #49, 1956] and "Congo Bill Dies at Dawn" featuring Congorilla. On to our story.
The tale begins with our favorite reporter, Clark Kent, detecting via his super hearing and telescopic vision the roar of a guided missile that is about to crash to the Earth. Stripping down to the familiar red and blue togs, he flies to the scene of the rocket only to discover it's already crashed. Using a little foreshadowing, Superman thinks to himself that it reminds him of the same craft that delivered him years ago. Rightly so, Supes, as you open the crumpled door to discover a young blonde girl wearing a facsimile of your costume but with a skirt in place of the rest of the leotard. After greeting him by name and revealing she's from Krypton also, the girl begins to explain from whence she has come.
Now you're going to have to really suspend your disbelief for this imaginative origin from Mr. Binder. It goes way beyond fortunate coincidence as you'll soon see.
It turns out that after the chain reaction that caused the destruction of Krypton blew things to bits, a large chunk of the planet was hurled away. It just so happened that it had people on it and a handy air bubble tagged along. Local scientist Zor-El was amongst the survivors and he gleefully revealed that a food machine was with them and in perfect working order, allowing them to survive indefinitely. It wasn't quite time to don the hats and break out the cake, though, as they soon discovered that the very ground they were standing on had been transformed into Kryptonite. Well, Zor-El must have been a boy scout once to have been so splendidly prepared. He pulls a handy roll of sheet metal from his lab and it's composed entirely of lead, allowing them a shield from the deadly radiations of the kryptonite. This worked satisfactorily for enough years that Zor- El was able to marry and have a daughter, named Kara, who grew to girlhood before the next unfortunate event. A meteor shower happened upon the space chunk and breached the shield of lead. In a fit of inspiration, Zor-El hastily constructs a rocket so that his daughter can survive on another world. Unlike Jor-El, he has a little bit of time and at least one more resource, a super space telescope, to find a suitable destination for Kara. They discover the Earth and it's Superman and further learn that he was also a survivor of Krypton and that his powers come directly from his new planet. Deciding this is the best place for their daughter, the El's make final preparations, including a replica of the costume they saw on Superman.
As she tearfully completes her tale, Superman sympathetically tells him that he was orphaned in the same way and that his father, Jor-El, shot him into space with a rocket as well. When she hears the name of Superman's father, Kara excitedly reports that Jor-El was Zor-El's brother, making them first cousins. Overjoyed, she asks if she can live with her new found relative, but Kal-El explains that under the guise of his secret identity, it wouldn't be a feasible plan. He does have an idea, however and after a brief test of her powers, they fly to Midvale Orphanage. Superman instructs his eager young cousin that she needs to have practice and experience prior to embarking on her own super-career. Providing a brown wig and a set of clothing to help her blend in, Kara adopts the identity of Linda Lee, the latest in a long series of "L. L." names in Superman's life.
"Linda Lee" soon settles into the orphanage and begins to adjust to life on this new planet. She decides to get her bearings after lights out and goes on a short night time patrol to check things out. In the final panels of this introductory story, Kara ponders her future by thinking "Will I someday do as good a job in Midvale, as Supergirl? What will the future bring for me?" The editors then tell us to look for future stories about the girl of steel in the pages of Action Comics.
Supergirl became a strong enough character to later take over Adventure Comics from the regularly featured Legion of Super Heroes (of which she was also a member, incidentally) when they moved to Superboy's title and as the end notes in the Silver Age Classics issue that I used for this review mention, she has consistently been one of the most well-known of the female superheroes in comic lore, equaled only by Wonder Woman.
Another interesting bit of trivia is that the name "Supergirl" was first trademarked in 1944. The earliest incarnation of the character then appeared in Superboy #5, 1945. Another variation was given a try-out in Superman #123 in 1958: "The first chapter of a 3-part
story in which
Jimmy Olsen gets three wishes from a magic totem and sees him conjure up "
The Girl of
Steel" as a perfect mate for Superman. This Super-Girl falls in love with him and saves
him from death by Kryptonite before Jimmy causes her to be drawn back to the
mysterious limbo from which she came. This Super-Girl was a blonde with powers and a
costume virtually identical with Kara's, and the story was evidently a trial balloon for an
ongoing series with a brand-new character." So speaks Kim "Howard"
Johnson in the
same end notes.
Unlike both the J'onn J'onzz story that I reviewed last time and the origin of Green Lantern, this story broke precedent by going 2 pages over the 6 pages used to introduce the Martian Manhunter and the Emerald Gladiator. Perhaps the extra pages were needed to tie in Superman to his cousin. I'm sure it definitely gave her a leg up to have a famous relation.
That, my friends, is how Kara El, better known as Supergirl, flew into our lives back in 1959, only to leave us roughly 26 years later. While my preference has always been toward the male heroes, I did appreciate Supergirl and am saddened that she is no longer with us. Thankfully she will exist forever in my favorite era, which is the Silver Age.
Short, sweet and to the point, I give this classic tale a rating of 8 on my 10 point scale. With a pedigree like hers, Supergirl could not but succeed and she certainly did so throughout the years. Lord knows I preferred her appearance to say that of Streaky the Super cat.
Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I like to hear from my readers and always welcome your comments and point of view. Join us here at the Silver Lantern again in about two weeks for another edition of the Silver Age Sage.
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