Monday, November 9, 2015

Supergirl Almost Joins the Legion -- Action Comics 267

Doug: Since Supergirl is getting a lot of attention these days I thought it might be fun to review another comic that featured her. And what could be better than combining that goal in a book that features another Silver and Bronze Age favorite of many of our readers -- the Legion of Super-Heroes? We're jumping into the waaaaaaay-back machine today, friends, back to a time before the Marvel Age of Comics. Today's fare would have been on the newsstands in the early summer months of 1960, a time when my parents were finishing their junior years of high school and this BABer was more than half a decade away! So buckle in -- should be nostalgic, wholesome fun. By the way, I'll be reading and scanning from Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 1.

Action Comics #267 (August 1960)
"The Three Super-Heroes" (2nd feature)
Jerry Siegel-Jim Mooney

Doug: I had to do a little research before I chose the issue to review. I was actually going to try to find a Supergirl/Legion yarn from the days of Mike Grell or Jim Sherman, but had no luck. So I kept going farther back until I settled on Action #267. I was surprised to find that this story features only the Legion's 3rd appearance (following their debut in Adventure Comics #247 and the follow-up in Adventure  #267). Of note about today's issue is the artist, Jim Mooney. Mooney is known to many of us for his Bronze Age work on Spider-Man titles such as Peter Parker and Marvel Team-Up. But Supergirl is his signature character. Shall we?

Doug: We open with a Superman trope, that of affecting some situation to keep the world running on time. After all, if you or I had those powers you know darned good and well we'd use them to keep the buses running on time! A convoy of buses has left the Midvale Orphanage (home of Linda Lee) on its way to Metropolis to see the Superman Fair. But wouldn't you know it? There's a large ship about to pass under the bridge -- that's right, a drawbridge. Definitely gonna set everyone back a spell. Except that one of the passengers is indeed the lovely Miss Lee, who rockets out the emergency door (must have been in the days before they added the annoying sound to alert the driver that the door isn't latched) faster than the eye can follow. She flies straight into some shrubbery where she stashes her outer garments and wig, to emerge as the Maid of Steel. She hits the drink and pulls the ship's rudder, effectively causing the vessel to sail at a deeper depth (that sounds weird...). The guys in the bridge house see this phenomenon and decide to leave the bridge down -- "tragedy" averted for the fair-goers. But the best part of this scene is Supergirl shaking herself off like a dog before changing back to her Linda Lee outfit.

Doug: At the fair, we the readers are clued in that Supergirl is Superman's cousin and knows his secrets. Superman himself is present and does a few Super-feats for the attendees. As he flies away he gives Linda a knowing wink, which makes her feel warm and fuzzy. Moments later, however, one of the devices that had been used to test Superman's vulnerability goes all haywire and begins to emit electric charges at a dangerous level of frequency and intensity. Linda frets about giving up her identity, but like a true hero knows that in spite of her promise to Superman to remain his secret weapon, lives are in danger. But before she can act, a youth who could be Jimmy Olsen's twin brother points his hands at the cyclotron and fires electric bolts of his own at the chaos... and addresses Linda as Supergirl! Linda whispers back to the teen, who promises her that a) she won't have to give up her secret ID and b) she'll find out who he is and what he's all about at the proper time.

Doug: So, proper time must get closer to "now", don't you think? Later that day while at a circus-like exhibit Linda witnesses the escape of a male lion. The jungle king charges straight for Linda (natch), who recoils not in fear of harm, but in fear of what people will think when she's not harmed by the mauling she's about to get. But wouldn't you know it -- a pretty young lady emerges and orders the beast to return to its cage. As the lion complies Linda looks on in amazement, and is then addressed again as Supergirl by this teen beauty. And the message is the same -- secret's safe, and you'll find out more later.

Doug: So what's a super girl to do? Just what you and I would do: hop on the Kryptonian Rocketship ride. And wouldn't you know it? Dang ride breaks loose and hurtles through the air, sure to crack up on impact. And oh yeah -- Linda won't be harmed. You got it -- gonna give up that secret. And, here's where the third member of our mysterious party enters. Yup, magnetic powers catch the "rocket" and direct it gently toward some hay bales so that Linda won't have to face an uncomfortable situation. And you're right again -- the raven-haired youngster calls Linda "Supergirl".

Doug: Back at the orphanage, Linda Lee's head is spinning. She's still unsettled at what she'd seen, and even more fearful about her secret being out and what Superman will think. Just then she spies a bulldozer clearing land not far away. Trouble is, it's headed right at a tree that had been hollowed out to house the Linda Lee robot (because it was the Silver Age after all). New dilemma -- topple the tree and people find the robot, or go into action as Supergirl and some teens playing nearby see her rescue the robot. As the bulldozer strikes the tree, though, Linda sees that the tree is not hollow after all. Whirling around, her telescopic vision spies the robot emerging from a hollow tree in another forested area. What the what?!? Enough, she says, and changes to her Supergirl togs to investigate. And as she lands near her robot double, who does she find but the Legion of Super-Heroes!

Doug: The game is apparently still on as Saturn Girl gets a bit coy with Supergirl, who is having none of it. She wants answers, and now. Sensing that the time is now proper, Cosmic Boy says they'll reveal all, and Lightning Lad spills it. He asks if Supergirl has ever heard of the Legion. She tells them what Superman had told her, basically relating the events of Adventure #247. And then we get what surely must be one of the reasons for the Crisis... Supergirl says "You're the Cosmic Boy... Saturn Girl... and Lightning Lad he knew!" Not so fast, Girl of Steel! Saturn Girl says nope -- we're their children. Let me repeat... What the what?!? Why on earth did Jerry Siegel take that route? They're from the future, doggone it! They could land anywhere at any time -- second here, decade there. Why did he make these three characters the offspring of the originals? And in their third appearance, no less? The teens from the future tell Supergirl that all of the trouble they'd caused earlier was part of her initiation into the Legion, should she want to join. Of course she says yes. Saturn Girl invites her into the time bubble, but Supergirl says she'll breech the time barrier on her own (how did she know she could do this?). It's off to the Metropolis of 2960!

Doug: Once in Earth's future, the Legion shows Supergirl some of the modern miracles of science, like robot laborers and galactic sight-seeing tours. They do manage to work in a visit to a 30th-century ice cream parlor, though. And then it's on to the Legion's clubhouse. Once inside, Supergirl (and us -- yep, these characters all debuted in this issue) is introduced to Legionnaires Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy, and Invisible Kid. Stepping outside, Supergirl takes Cosmic Boy up on his offer to see these other team members strut their stuff. And here I come back to the problem Siegel has created: are we now to assume that the "original" Legion was never more than the three founders? Because two appearances later (in Adventure Comics #282's "Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes" [March 1961]) we meet Star Boy for the first time and see him in the presence of the founders and Chameleon Boy. Crisis, indeed.

Doug: You know the drill here -- Supergirl must prove herself through use of her super-powers in order to be granted membership in the Superhero Club. She must do some feat that is better than whatever competition she faced for membership. Asking Saturn Girl what the major method of travel is on the Earth of 2960, she's told it is jet-craft. She's also told that there's gridlock in the skies. Supergirl then begins to use her hands and arms at super-speed, tunneling through the Earth's surface, only to emerge on the other side of the planet. She had created a super-tunnel to alleviate the congestion. Asking if she had made it, to her surprise she's told "no". Standing in front of reflective glass, Cosmic Boy says she's denied because she's over 18. "I'm only fifteen years old!" exclaims our heroine. But indeed, seeing her reflection, she's somehow aged to a Superwoman! Mystified, Supergirl turns her telescopic vision back to the tunnel she'd dug. And wouldn't you know it? Buried in the walls she's created and passed through was a chunk of a meteorite of Red Kryptonite. Talk about a temporary, unpredictable effect... Saddened, Supergirl returns to her time and waits for the change to wear off. It only takes an hour, but that makes her all the sadder -- Saturn Girl said she'd have to wait a year to apply again for membership (although she'll meet the Legion and the love of her life, Brainiac-5, again in Action #276 [May 1961]).

Doug: Don't think I'm a total curmudgeon on this story, because I actually had quite a fun time reading it. The art is so clean and the story is so formulaic to DCs of this era. But that's OK -- I think it would be swell (ha!) to use the word "charming" to describe the tale. And I've given the great Jerry Siegel a hard time, haven't I? I do think he and National's editorial felt stuck on the issue of time travel. Sure they'd opened that door, but as we've oft-remarked on DC's target audience of 10-year old boys, did they think those readers could deal with the notion that the kids from the future could be friends with youthful Superboy and Supergirl -- probably at least 10 years apart in age in "our time"? Obviously later on it would become a non-issue, but in these seminal tales told amidst the science fiction tropes of the Silver Age, erring on the side of nonsense (to me) was perhaps the better road to choose. Again, Jim Mooney's art was a treat -- I've always loved the way you can spot his work by the eyes of his characters. And in spite of some perspective/proportion issues, the Colossal Boy panel had some serious potential. This was 13-pages of solid time-well-spent -- no complaints out of me overall!


Redartz said...

Ah, charming indeed Doug! Thanks for the Silver Age time trip today (seems I made my first appearance about the same time as Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid). Some 'silly' elements to be sure, but that's all part of the appeal of DC books from that era, when comics didn't take themselves quite so seriously...
And yes, that panel of Supergirl shaking herself is great. Plus, it seems Lightning Lad disguised himself as Peter Parker (albeit with a Jimmy Olsen wig and shirt); from the looks of that second panel!

Anonymous said...

Only one more year till the Fantastic Four and the Marvel Age of Comics - hooray !!

david_b said...

Agreeing with Redartz, there is a nice early Silver Age charm to this. But all in all, I love the classic Superboy and Supergirl stories.

Keep up the great column ideas.

WardHill Terry said...

My daughter just turned 11. I've been reading Supergirl stories to her each night for the last 3 or 4 months.(The second big B&W collection. It was her gift to me for my birthday.) They are right in her wheelhouse. She loves that Supergirl has a horse for a friend, and friends in Atlantis, and is like-able and nice. The stories, mostly by Seigel, are rather Byzantine and oddly complex, but emotion and action packed. I think it is worth noticing the amazing consistency of Mooney's art! Is it a story form 1959 or 1964? No clues in the art. He's fantastic.
As far as this story with the the Legion being the children of the Legion, I can imagine Seigel and or Weisenger justifying it because Superboy and Supergirl lived in different times, so they each must have their own Legion. Of course, they weren't really thinking about how they would re-use those characters in future stories.

Doug said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone.

WardHill Terry, I think you're right about the Legion and our Super kids being years apart in age. It's something that I'm sure made perfect sense were we to have been in on the ground floor but now seems pretty silly. But I'm sure here in the distant future of the 21st century, we have that time travel thing all figured out!


Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, this story is a far cry from the Bronze Age stuff most of us were accustomed to, but as you said in your review, Doug, it's still fun (and charming - as several here have noted). I remember spending many hours enjoying Silver Age Superman, Superboy, Supergirl and Legion stories like this in reprints, mainly in the DC digests.
And I have to add my own praise for Mooney's art - except for that panel with the off-kilter Colossal Boy, it is indeed quite lovely.

Doug said...

Let me interrupt today's Supergirl discussion to encourage our readers to head to the following link to see one of our regular commenter's thoughts on the new Peanuts flick:


Pat Henry said...

I've always thought DC should have moved Supergirl permanently into the 30th Century to join the Legion rather than killing her off post-COIE. She seemed to belong there more naturally than Superboy. She was born and raised in a modern Kryptonian city, so she was very much at home in 30th Century Metropolis.

It was incredibly stupid marketing of DC to kill her off post-Crisis, since she served as an icon (albeit often a terribly written icon) for young girls. The fact they keep bringing Kara Zor-El back in different incarnations (none as charming as the original) shows how myopic they were in removing her from continuity.

I always liked the idea of a cheerful little girl who could put the rampaging Hulk in a hammerlock and make him cry Uncle!

Humanbelly said...

Redartz, I had the exact-- the EXACT!-- same thought about Peter Parker suddenly showing up in Supergirl's neighborhood!


Anonymous said...

"I've always thought DC should have moved Supergirl permanently into the 30th Century to join the Legion rather than killing her off post-COIE. She seemed to belong there more naturally than Superboy. She was born and raised in a modern Kryptonian city, so she was very much at home in 30th Century Metropolis."
You're not alone in that. The JLU animated series, Smallville TV series, and pre-Flashpoint Legion comics all utilized that scenario. (I kind of liked her in the 20th century being more a fish-out-of-water than her cousin, who was an Earthling by experience and not really a Kryptonian.
Kara's problem with the LSH was that she was always participating contemporaneously with whatever age her character was being published as at the moment, while her cousin would be plucked from the Superboy series, which took place during his teen years. Fun stuff, though.

MikeS said...

How about a review of that "Hercules in the 20th century" story? That one really highlights what a shallow bitch silver-age Lois Lane was.

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