Monday, February 17, 2014

Showcase Presents: Supergirl, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Supergirl, Vol. 1 cover

Showcase Presents: Supergirl, Vol. 1 reprints the character's initial installments in her ongoing series within Action Comics, as well as her earliest appearances in various other concurrent titles. Included are stories from Action Comics #252 (May 1959) through #282 (Nov 1961), Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #40 (Oct 1959), #46 (Jul 1960) and #51 (Mar 1961), Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #14 (Jan 1960), Superboy #80 (Apr 1960), and Superman #139 (Aug 1960), #140 (Oct 1960) and #144 (Apr 1961), as well as the earlier Superman #123 (Aug 1958), which presented a story involving a "Girl of Steel" named "Super-Girl" conjured up by Jimmy Olsen using a "magic totem," whose hairstyle is curiously completely different on the cover than in the actual story:

I won't spoil why she never makes another appearance after that issue, but she doesn't. The story was used to gauge reader interest in stories about a female counterpart to Superman, and 9 months later, Supergirl was born. It should be noted that that story, as well as several others in this volume, also appear in the Showcase Presents: Superman volumes.

First, a brief intro on the character: Supergirl is Superman's teenage cousin Kara.

How can that be, you ask? Krypton exploded when Kal-El was but a babe, did it not? How can it be that Kara is a teenager, while Kal-El is fully grown? What be this filth?! I shall read not one blasphemous word farther! Such garbage be not for the likes of me! 'Tis naught but a load of shit!

Well, calm down. Despite DC having a tradition of blatantly disregarding continuity, this seeming inconsistency is indeed rectified, albeit in typically absurd DC Silver Age style:

However, like other pieces of the planet outflung by the explosion, the chunk turns to Kryptonite. Luckily, Zor-El has a rolled up sheet of lead in his lab (for some reason), that they (somehow) use to cover the entire area, blocking out the harmful radiations.

Meanwhile, Zor-El sticks it to his unnamed wife, resulting in the birth of Kara. When a meteorite swarm destroys the lead barrier, exposing the deadly Kryptonite, the now teenage Kara is sent off in a rocket to Earth, where she and her parents had previously observed Superman via "Super-Space Telescope" (a normal telescope wasn't good enough, I guess).

Superman decides she needs to keep her powers secret until she gets enough practice with them, and that she will live in an orphanage. I know it wasn't intentional, but a lot of the time it seems like Superman is cruelly taunting Supergirl. He brags to her, "In my youth in Smallville, I was honored as Superboy!" and says "You too can gain fame as Super-Girl [sic], the girl of steel!" But then he tells her she has to wait to use her powers in public until he says it's okay, and that she has to live in an orphanage instead of living with him. Then he goes on and makes her do something that makes no sense:

If she's not allowed to let anyone see her using her powers anyway, what in hell is the point of her wearing a wig? Did she not look like an Earth girl to him before? And doesn't he think it would increase the chances of people suspecting something about her if she always had to be worrying about her wig?

She chooses the name Linda Lee, and Superman muses, "Lana Lang was my girl friend when I was Superboy, and Lois Lane replaced her when I became Superman! By sheer coincidence, she picked the initials…L.L.!" As I mentioned in my review of Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 2, the pattern with the initials "L.L." is directly addressed often, but never explained.

Superman then sets her up in Midvale Orphanage, explaining to them that she "lost her parents in a big disaster that wiped out her whole community."

From there, the stories involve Linda getting into lots of situations that require her to use her powers in secret, while still changing into her Supergirl outfit when she does so for no particular reason. She often has adventures in the past or future, where she "doesn't have to hide her powers." Of course not hiding her powers makes no sense for the past, as she finds out:

Not that she learns anything from that, judging by later stories. Here she is helping to commit genocide:

I'm kidding, she doesn't actually kill anybody.

Her arch-nemesis is Getting Adopted, and she often has to come up with ridiculous ways to avoid it, such as:

So not only does she have to live in an orphanage, but she can't even get adopted because people might find out who she is. And of course she also has to deal with other kids at the orphanage suspecting who she is. My favorite scene comes when she tries to throw off suspicion at one point:

I don't know if even Superman could have pulled that much craziness off. The whole turning-coal-into-a-diamond thing does come up all the time in both these stories and the Superman ones though.

Partway through, Linda gets a robot of herself that hides in a tree near the orphanage and comes out to take her place when she has to go off to use her powers elsewhere. That seems like it would only cause more problems, but whatever.

Apart from Linda and Superman, there are a few other recurring characters, none of them people at the orphanage oddly enough.

First up is Streaky, the Super Cat, who gets powers from, depending on the story, either the radiations or the fumes given off by X-Kryptonite, a variation of Kryptonite accidentally created by Supergirl when she was experimenting to find an antidote. His powers are only temporary, but he keeps managing to find the piece of X-Kryptonite that Supergirl "super-tossed" into the woods. Neither she nor Streaky realize that that is the source of his powers, despite him getting powers over and over. I will also note here that the thought-voices given to Streaky and other animals, like Krypto, are usually painful to read.

Next, there's Jerro, the mer-boy from Atlantis. 

There isn't much to say about him, other than that he has a fish tail for legs.

There are a few adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes here, one of which introduces another love interest for Supergirl in the form of Brainiac 5.

He actually only shows up once in this volume, but it's worth noting as his first appearance.

Supergirl has one more "boy friend" here: Dick Wilson, the boy from the orphanage who suspected her identity in those panels with the diamond silliness above. He only shows up that one time at the orphanage though. She doesn't see him again until both of them are adopted (I'll get to her adoption in a bit), when his name is now Dick Malverne.

There's nothing to say about Dick either. These are some boring characters. Just look at that panel, they even look the same.

Throughout the book, Supergirl's introduction to the world keeps getting teased, but something always comes up to stop it. It's pretty frustrating to be honest. The best instance is when Supergirl loses her memory due to red Kryptonite and exposes herself in Smallville. Superman goes to extreme lengths to keep his "secret emergency weapon" a secret:

Finally, Superman decides it's time to reveal her existence to the world, and…she loses her powers. It turns out that an evil scientist living in the bottle city of Kandor named Lesla-Lar, who just happens to look exactly like Linda (and also has the initials "L.L."), stole her powers:

She then takes Linda's place and strikes up a deal with Lex Luthor, leaving Linda in Kandor thinking she is Lesla-Lar (if my 'L' key still works at the end of this review, I'll be surprised). It doesn't make a lot of sense and goes on way too long, but that's actually part of what's interesting about it.

Until then, almost all DC superhero stories were one-and-done tales with no permanent effect on future stories. Apart from some 2-part Superman stories in Action Comics, this is the first instance I know of from the era where a story continued across multiple issues. If only it had been a better story. In fact, it doesn't even feel like an ongoing story so much as a temporary change in the status quo. Instead of Linda going back to the orphanage at the end of each story, she goes to her room in her foster parents' home (Superman lets her get adopted after she loses her powers), while Lesla-Lar schemes and points:

After treading water for what feels like forever, the situation is resolved via an unsatisfying deus ex machina, because why should we expect anything more?

There is another particularly interesting story here called "Mighty Maid!" but I already covered it in my review of Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 2, so I won't talk about it again.

The stories are written by Otto Binder and Jerry Siegel, with Siegel eventually taking over as the sole writer of the Action Comics Supergirl segments. As usual for the time, there is no discernible difference in their writing styles.

Jim Mooney is the artist for all the Supergirl stories from Action Comics. I'm used to his later work in Amazing Spider-Man at Marvel in the '60s, and his style here is recognizable . He seems to use more blacks and shadows than most artists at DC at the time and avoids the stiffness of artists like Wayne Boring. I would guess he was put on these stories because he can draw pretty girls. I don't really have any complaints with his work, but he does reuse some of the same stock images/positions a lot, like the aforementioned Lesla-Lar evil pointing: 

There's also Linda on her bed: 

Despite a couple of important issues, this volume just isn't that interesting on the whole. And as those particular issues are also included in the Superman and Legion of Super-Heroes volumes anyway, I'd say that this book, while demonstrating a sign of changes in storytelling to come, ends up being pretty skippable.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, the Food Machine.

    And no one at the orphange has any other questions about her cover story? It's way too over the top to resist further inquiry. "Yeah, the whole town is dead except me. I'm starved, what's for lunch?"

    The Food Machine. The freaking Food Machine.