Monday, May 9, 2016

Thank You for Being a Friend - Action Comics 276

Action Comics #276 (May 1961)(cover by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye)
"Supergirl's Three Super-Friends!" (2nd story)
Jerry Siegel- Jim Mooney

Doug: Today's sort of a perfect storm, isn't it? Supergirl's a hot property these days due to the TV show. This short story was created by Superman's original scribe, Jerry Siegel, and the artist perhaps most recognized with Supergirl in Jim Mooney. Toss in the Legion of Super-Heroes and a whole bunch of new super-teens from the future, and I'd say this qualifies as a fun read. And boy, am I glad all that Civil War nonsense if over ;) ...

Doug: Around six months ago I reviewed Action Comics #267, where our heroine first met the Legion. If you'll recall, the Legion's founders (Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad) had offered Supergirl membership in their "superhero club". However, through a twist of fate Supergirl was aged to an adult -- thereby disqualifying her for membership in the teen supergroup! Once back in the 20th century, the aging process reversed and she returned to normal. One had the sense that she'd be seeing her new friends again at some point, and that's today's story. Action Comics #276 was only the 6th appearance of the Legion -- considering Superboy had only participated in Legion adventures four times before this story was published, I'd say it's pretty significant that Supergirl had 1/3 of the 20th century interactions with these 30th century kids so early in Legion history. Today I am using the Supergirl Archives, volume 2 for reading and scanning. I'd mentioned a few weeks ago that I was able to score volumes 1 and 2 in a lot for $30 via eBay. Not bad! How about a 100-Word Review?

Linda Lee sits with other girls, watching television at the Midvale Orphanage. She’s sad, however, because unlike other girls she has no girlfriend in which to confide. Getting out for some fresh air, Linda suddenly hears a voice in her head, telling her that she does have a super-girlfriend, and to go to Cranston Creek. Once there (as Supergirl), she meets Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, and Triplicate Girl – they’ve come to invite her to another Legion of Super-Heroes tryout! This time she’s accepted, has a parade in her honor, and meets a boy who like her: Brainiac-5. But his heritage…
The story is 13 pages long, and follows the standard formula for these adventures: Our protagonist is faced with a dilemma, the dilemma is met, complicated, and resolved. The story concludes with an "aw shucks!" moment. Yep -- that's how this one runs, and that leads us into --

The Good
: Do you remember our conversation based on Paul O'Connor's posit that Silver Age DC Comics can be enjoyed "with the right mindset"? I agree with his position, but strangely, this ain't that. Why? First of all, I love the Legion. So by extension I love Superboy and Supergirl, because you can take the Krypton Kids out of the Legion, but you can't take the Legion out of the Krypton Kids! At least that's the way I see it. I didn't feel like I had to put any haughty sensibilities aside to enjoy this story, and that's saying something as I'm not certain who the target audience was for these Supergirl stories. One might assume if Superman and Superboy were both written for "10-year old boys", then Supergirl should have filled that role for 10-year old girls. We'd be wrong if we didn't think she existed to somewhat broaden the demographic for Super-books -- and sales, man! I didn't approach this as if I was a 10-year old girl -- instead I just read it as I would have when I was a kid, and I thought it was great. It's tough to free oneself from the weight of nostalgia, but that's OK. I think it's the main reason I keep returning to characters and stories that are familiar.

Jim Mooney's art is wonderful. I don't believe we've reviewed too much of his work on Bronze Age Spider-Man, whether it be the Peter Parker book or in Marvel Team-Up. Some people criticize Mooney's drawing of eyes (seems to be his trademark), but here his style is perfect. Mooney does a fantastic job of making these characters look like kids, something that's not always all that easy -- particularly with teenaged characters. He employs a conventional 5-6 panel lay-out with the art contained within the borders -- this was pretty standard in the Silver Age, and long before the "innovators" (Adams, Steranko, etc.) came along. The story is well-paced, and efficient. Part of that is due to the length (again, 13 pages), but that in itself has to present a challenge.

As stated above, we see the debuts of several new Legionnaires: the aforementioned Triplicate Girl (later revealed as the team's 4th member), Phantom Girl (later revealed as the team's 5th member), Brainiac-5, Sun Boy, Shrinking Violet, and Bouncing Boy. With the founders and Superboy, plus those we'd seen debut in Action Comics #267 (Colossal Boy, Chameleon Boy, and Invisible Kid), Supergirl would bring team membership to 13! How exciting that must have been to a young Legion enthusiast. I am not sure if Jim Mooney is credited with designing the costumes of these new youngsters, but if he is then it must have been fashion design of the volume undertaken later by Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell!

There's no messing around with Supergirl's trial this time, which was welcome. Sometimes these stories from the 1960s try too hard in creating obstacles for our heroes. No, the focus here is on getting Kara into the group. The antagonist in the story is actually a teammate who also gains admittance -- a young genius named Brainiac-5. She is taken aback upon meeting this handsome green-skinned young man (you know what? Here's another "good" about this story -- all these kids with strange powers, different colored skin, etc. and no shaming, no prejudice... Of course, we all know that the DC powers wouldn't here of a Black Legionnaire... so maybe nevermind), thinking he looks familiar. But Brainy launches a pre-emptive strike, owning his heritage immediately. He is the great-great-great-great grandson of Brainiac, 20th century foe of Superman. I'm no math major, but it's tough to get 1000 years time out of only five generations, ya think? Minor quibble. Brainy quickly falls for Supergirl, and she apparently has eyes for him. He even saves her life from a green Kryptonite meteor by giving her his forcefield belt, and then gifts it to her. She later uses it to destroy a green Kryptonite meteorite on Earth in our century (with assistance from Lori Lemaris and Jerro), protecting Superman from any future trouble. The problem is, the forcefield belt malfunctions during the operation. But all's well.

Krypto makes a cameo near the end of the story -- gotta love that! And overall, what could be better than Supergirl not only getting some new super-girlfriends, but a new super-boyfriend as well?

The Bad
: The more I think about it, the illusion that DC was "integrating" the Legion with characters like Chameleon Boy, Brainiac-5, and Shadow Lass but would not have a leading Black character is bad. That's not a gripe specific to this story, but across the line. And Marvel wouldn't deal with this until a few years hence. But as to elements directly tied to today's story, the only overall aspects I'd complain about are broad tropes in the Supergirl mythos: Linda Lee's placement in an orphanage, and Jerro the merman pining for Supergirl. He seemed a bit too eager. I'd have blown him off, too, if I was Kara.

The Ugly: Nada.

My burning question for DC Comics is: Why aren't there Superboy Archives? I know there is a trade that reprints his earliest Golden Age adventures, but I'd love to re-read the Silver Age material. It's great that there have been two Supergirl Archives, and looking at some advance solicits I see DC is going to release a Supergirl Omnibus. That really does not further what we already have available to us. Let's go, DC! And get that 14th volume of Legion Archives out, already!


Anonymous said...

Isn't great-great-great-great grandson seven generations rather than five - the "grandson" bit is three generations then another four generations for each "great". And that would cover maybe 200-250 years at the most, definitely not 1000 years.

Anonymous said...

Unless the Brainiac generations live a lot, lot longer than normal - I know absolutely nothing about DC characters beyond Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman :D

Humanbelly said...

Cumulatively the four "greats" equal four addt'l generations, yup. You are correct on that one, Colin! Even as a youngster I tended to stop and think about this kind of thing as well. (My poor Mom ultimately just gave up trying to find a rational explanation for why- right there in the Old Testament!- people were listed with just impossibly long lifespans. Heh.)

Gosh, I wish that this appealed to me more-- but I do recognize that it's a product of its times. The art is clean and bright-- possibly a bit sterile? I don't mind Mooney's eyes, really. They have a kind of exaggerated-reality to them that goes a long way toward conveying expression and involvement without getting full-on cartoon-y.

The cover depicting the teeny Supermen actually caught my interest far more-! What the ding-dong dell--??


Redartz said...

Hmmmm, perhaps the denizens of Colu have much longer lifespans?

Thanks for today's dose of Silver Age fun, Doug! As a fellow Legion fan, and also a Kara Zor-El fan, this was a treat. By the way, my wife and I love her show; really hoping it gets renewed, perhaps on CW. Like Flash, it heavily mines it's four color source material, and does so proudly...

Also good to see some love for Jim Mooney. A distinctive style; you can usually recognize his work pretty easily. His inks over Romita on Spider-Man were dramatic. In your samples today, his clean, straightforward approach is displayed; a good solid storyteller.

Martinex1 said...

HB I thought that Supergirl in the cover was a giant not that the Supermen were small. But when I look at it the perspective is kind of wonky. The men are much too small compared to the telephone pole but Supergirl is much too big. Strange.

Likewise, I appreciate the art but Jim Mooney's style always kind of reminded me of the art in those Dick and Jane early readers for children. I think it is the coifed hair and neatness of everything. It gives it a very old fashioned feel. Now that I am looking at it more closely it is actually quite intricate and detailed. The lines are quite fine and I'm surprised the printing showed it all. Interesting but so diametrically opposed to Kirby and the things to come.

Unlike Doug, I could count on one hand the number of Superboy and Legion stories I have read. At some point I should read some. Any recommended starting points?

Doug said...

I think the "Superman emergency squad" were a bunch of little robots. I could be wrong.

Martinex, most Legion lovers who are about our age would probably say start with the Dave Cockrum stuff, then the Mike Grell books. Cary Bates was usually the writer. Superboy #197 would be as good a place as any to begin. And do check out BAB library, as we've reviewed quite a few Bronze Age Legion stories.


Martinex1 said...

Thanks for the info Doug. Like Star Trek I may be surprised by trying something "new".

Anonymous said...

HB, thanks for interpreting what I meant - the four "greats" equal four generations - not as I said, "four generations for each great" which would be sixteen !!

Humanbelly said...

Ah, you bet Colin. You were exactly right-- the darned words just weren't serving you to the best of their ability. (They have a life all their own, it sometimes seems. . .)

Say, does Linda Lee (Stan's niece??) ever end up having the trational- or cliche'- "normal human" love-interest in her stories? Did the book ever have a tendency to trend toward Romance Comics--- or was it faithful to its super-hero genre roots?


Anonymous said...

The Superman Emergency Squad were a team from the bottle city of Kandor. When Superman needed their help, they would leave the city and temporarily enlarge themselves from their usual microscopic size to about six inches or so. Like all Kryptonians/Kandorans, they gained super-powers in Earth's atmosphere. Members included Superman's cousin Van-Zee.

There was also the Look-A-Like Squad. It turned out that all of Clark/Superman's friends (Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White) had Kandoran doubles, who would leave the bottle city, temporarily enlarge to normal human size, and impersonate them when needed.

Then there was the Superman Revenge Squad, a gang of alien villains.

Linda Lee had a boyfriend, Dick Malverne, whom she met when they were both living at the orphanage.

Humanbelly said...

Huge shout-out for this wealth of background info, Anon.
And then-- oh my head-- 6 Advils to combat the headache it gives me--!

Uhm-- WHY, exactly, did all of these Kandorans choose, then, to live in (basically) this little space-age interment camp?? Cultural separatism was more highly valued that actually LIVING IN THE REAL UNIVERSE-??? Boy, if ever there were a goofy Silver Age scenario ripe for a more socially-relevant retcon. . .

Exact, non-related doubles. From a non-human, possibly genetically incompatible alien race. Who happened to live in the one last surviving city. Doubling all of the key players in Clark's immediate environment. Thank you, Silver Age DC.

Why 6" for the Emergency Squad??

Ohhhhhh, I know how deeply beloved all of this stuff is, but it TOTALLY makes me remember why I almost immediately preferred Marvel over DC once I'd learned to read. Ho-hoooooo--!


Doug said...

That being said, HB, DC was always steeped in more minutiae, which is part of the attraction -- in an absurd way.

And I'm saying that as a Marvel zuvembie who came to enjoy DCs at a later age.


Anonymous said...

Well, the Kandorans didn't exactly choose to live in the bottle. In Action Comics #242 (1958), the villain Brainiac shrank Metropolis and bottled it, as he had done with cities from other planets, including Krypton before it exploded. Superman defeated Brainiac, returned the cities to their home planets, and restored them to normal size. But there was not enough energy left in the de-shrink ray gun to restore Kandor, so Superman kept it in his Fortress of Solitude.

Several stories (e.g., Superman #158 and #167) involved attempts to restore Kandor. In Adventure Comics #356 and World's Finest #166, it was mentioned that, by the 30th century, the city had been restored, either on another planet or in another dimension. That was finally depicted in Superman #338 (1979).

Don't know offhand if any reason was given why the Emergency Squad didn't enlarge to 6' instead of 6". Or if there was an explanation for why they could enlarge temporarily, but not permanently. (The story in Superman #158 did involve an enlarging method that proved impractical, because the people or objects would disintegrate if they remained at full size for more than 24 hours or something.)

BTW, DC admittedly did not have a lot of ethnic diversity in the early 1960's, but then, neither did Marvel or anyone else. And when ethnic characters did appear, they were often embarrassing stereotypes. But DC did often run one-page public service ads promoting tolerance and condemning racism.

Anonymous said...

It was not firmly established at this time that the Legion were 1000 years in the future. Some stories from the period say they live in the 21st century, others the 30th.


Related Posts with Thumbnails