Saturday, July 21, 2012

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #271-Supergirl's Fortress Of Solitude

The description for Supergirl #13 in DC's October solicits states that we will see Kara's very own Fortress of Solitude. At SDCC, it was described as a 'fort of solitude', I suppose implying lass grandeur than a Fortress. It has been a while since Supergirl has had her very own private space. I already covered the 'closet of solitude' during Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle's run here.

But there is more to cover than just that recent history. So I figured I would go way back to Action Comics #271 for a Supergirl story from way back in the original Supergirl's history. She was still an orphan in Midvale and still unknown to the world at large, acting as Superman's secret weapon, details which factor in significantly to this story (and most stories from that era). While I wish I owned the issue itself, I don't. These scans come from Supergirl Archives Vol. 2.

'Supergirl's Fortress of Solitude' was written by Superman creator Jerry Siegel with art by legend Jim Mooney.

The story opens with Linda Lee lamenting her time at the Midvale orphanage and hoping to be adopted. Even playing with Streaky can't keep her mind off her problems.

Then she has a revelation! Why not make her own Fortress of Solitude, a place to head to and get away from it all. So she activates her Linda Lee robot and sneaks off to set up her new hideaway.

So she gather up scrap metal that no one will miss and head deep into the 'Arabian Desert' where she excavates a ditch and welds herself a true Fortress of Solitude buried deep within the sands.

And then we get to see her decorate the room, traveling to far away planets for mementos, and setting up a Linda Lee room, a Jerro room, and as a memorial to Argo City.

She even makes a play room for Streaky!

Of course, this is the Silver Age so things are never easy.

Supergirl buried her fortress right where a group of archaeologist is about to dig for an ancient tomb.

Talk about bad luck. Not only did she bury it where this group is going to dig but she put it there just days before their excavation. You just have to roll with these coincidences in the Silver Age.

And what a 'tomb' they discover! Things are pretty much spelled out for them, all of Supergirl's secrets are right there in front of them.

 Incredibly, the lead archaeologist, Professor Brant, immediately surmises that Superman must be keeping her existence hidden so that he can use her as a secret weapon. I am amazed he was able to jump right to that conclusion since it has never made sense to me.

Wanting to honor Superman and Supergirl's privacy, Brant hypnotizes his crew and makes them forget everything they saw. (His crew agreed to be hypnotized.) So not only did the crew happen to dig right where her Fortress was but it was headed by a world-class hypnotist too!

Brant did not remove his own memory though. Instead he figures he can turn this information into a profit, planning to adopt Linda and tricking her into making him and his wife rich.

So not only is he a famous archaeologist, and a mesmerizer extraordinaire, he is also a devious and nefarious man.

Now one thing that is tough to read in these old stories are the efforts Linda goes through to NOT get adopted (so she can remain Superman's hidden weapon). And what's worse are the actions of the potential parents. These folks visiting the orphanage seem to want an indentured servant and not a child, usually rejecting an adoption for things like burning food, cleaning poorly, or being lousy at arts and crafts ... those are not exaggerations! They happened in these stories.

But Brant won't let any 'fumbling' by Linda dissuade him from adopting her. So even doing such horrible things as ...gasp ... playing the piano poorly or burning cereal doesn't faze Brant and his wife. Not only do they adopt Linda but they shower her with gifts and win over trust.

And being the loving daughter and caring person she is, Supergirl wants to return their love. When Brant 'worries' about not having enough money to fund his projects, she decides to help out by anonymously donating crates of diamonds and pearls to Brant.

I think this sort of sweetness is a hallmark of this Supergirl.

Of course, even a chest of fist-sized diamonds and a box of pearls can't fill as empty a soul as Brant.

He loses his composure and lays it all on the line. He demands Supergirl make him the richest man on Earth. If she brings him that much wealth, he will willingly submit to her super-hypnosis to have the knowledge of her existence erased from his mind.

Do you believe him? Well, unfortunately Supergirl does. And 'for Superman's sake', she agrees to the terms.

She travels back in time and raids the past of tremendous treasures ... gold, jewels, and artifacts.

She sets up her adopted parents in a palace made of emerald, filled with 'treasures that stagger the imagination'.

No surprise, Brant reneges on his deal deciding it will be better to keep Supergirl under his thumb. So he will not allow her to hypnotize him or his wife.

But lucky (or unlucky coincidences) are par for the course in the Silver Age.

Streaky comes by to play with Supergirl and accidentally bathes Brant and his wife with his feline x-ray vision. And, as luck would have it, those xrays burned out the recent memories of the Brants. They no longer remember anything that recently happened.

Her secret suddenly a secret again, Supergirl sets everything to right. She hides the emerald palace, burying it in the sand before a horde of bandits can pillage it. And she returns herself and the Brants back to Midvale.

In classic Silver Age fashion, the Brants have to 'return' Linda because Brant is called away to another dig. They returned her? What is she, an appliance? Luckily it does reset the status quo - Linda is back in the orphanage and Supergirl is again a secret.

And then, in classic Supergirl fashion, she denies herself the joy of her fortress, destroying it with her xray vision after confessing the whole thing to Superman. At least here Superman says he admires Supergirl rather than berating her for letting it happen in the first place. Still, he could at least offer her a room at his Fortress.

So this is a nice example of the earliest Supergirl stories as she struggled to be a loving cousin and a sweet young woman while living under the tough constraints placed upon her by Superman. And yet, it is her self-sacrifice and eternal optimism that makes Supergirl such a wonderful character. Even when faced with this sort of absurdity, she tries to do what's right.

I think any of these earliest stories have to rank of at least medium importance to a Supergirl collection. It is these early stories which have helped mold the overall feeling of this character over these last 50 years. These books tend to be hard to find and expensive so best of luck to anyone looking. Again, it has been reprinted in both the Archive books as well as the Showcase 'phone book' style collections.

It is hard not to like these stories just for the nostalgia even when bordering on the absurd as this one does.

Overall grade: B+


Dave Mullen said...

For all the quaintness and moral dubiousness of these 'Secret Weapon at the orphanage' years the payoff in and around Action #285 makes it all worthwhile.
I've always found Action #285 very moving, a very rare example of actual evolution and character development at Mort Weisinger's DC comics during this time, when books were set in stone and characters almost fossilised due to the lack of any movement and change.

Any plans to cover #285 and the run-up Anj?

Anj said...

Hard to believe I haven't reviewed Action #285 in the 4 years I have been doing this. I guess I should put it on the docket!

Agreed that it is a wonderful moment in the Silver Age not just for Supergirl fans.