Thursday, August 28, 2014

Back Issue Review: Action Comics #318 - Supergirl Heads To Stanhope

Starting in Supergirl #36 as written by Kate Perkins and Mike Johnson, Supergirl will be attending Crucible Academy, a school for people of cosmic importance and training them to be forces of good.

With Supergirl once more entering an institution of higher learning, I thought I would take a look back into other school days for Kara. Certainly, it looks like entering colleges and acadamies have led to some dramatic events in Supergirl's life and I am sure Crucible Academy will be no different. Now I have already covered Linda heading back to school at Lake Shore University in Daring New Adventures #1, so anyone looking for that story can head here.

So let's set back the time machine to 1964 and look at Action Comics #318, the issue where Supergirl first went to college.

"Supergirl goes to college" was written by Leo Dorfman and had art by Jim Mooney. Dorfman was the primary writer for Supergirl's adventures at this time. And, of course, Jim Mooney is considered by many to be 'the' Supergirl artist, drawing her back up feature in Action Comics for her entire run of Action Comics (outside of her introduction in Action Comics #252).

I am continually amazed at just how much story is jammed into these stories. In 12 short pages, Dorfman has Linda graduate high school, head to college, deal with 5 different hazing incidents, and basically change the culture of the campus.

Now some may read this as an overly sweet, overly sentimental piece of fluff. And it may seem quaint and dated. But I would ask the readers to take a step back and look at the character themes here with Supergirl helping others, remaining optimistic, using her intelligence to outwit her 'enemies', and seeing the best in people. That version of Supergirl is timeless.

 The story starts with a bang as Linda heads to her high school graduation.

I love how Linda is proud of this accomplishment even though her 'super-intelligence' made school somewhat unnecessary. She could have been the best athlete and student but she didn't think that would be fair.

And I can't help but love seeing Fred and Edna Danvers as well, proud of their adopted daughter.

That doesn't mean Linda was a slacker at school. In fact, she wins a 4 year scholarship to Stanhope College for her 'modesty and excellent character'.

It would have been easy to not give Linda a scholarship, or have it be for a high grade point average, but it is for character. And we will see that played out throughout this story. She accepts the scholarship and heads to school.

 After being dropped off on campus by boyfriend Dick Malverne (who won the high school award for excellence in Math and Science and is attending State Tech down the road), Linda sees some sorority hazing.

The president of Alpha Lambda, Donna Storm, is putting some pledges through the paces. One is forced to roll a peanut uphill with her hose. The other is forced to stand in a fountain. I love how Linda feels she needs to right even these small injustices. She nudges the peanut along with her super breath. And when the other pledge leaves the fountain, Linda warms her with heat vision.

Linda is already a semi-known commodity on campus. The other Alpha Lambda sisters feel Linda would be a good member of their sorority. But Donna feels Linda is a small town nobody unworthy of their hallowed halls.

Isn't Donna Storm a great name for a 'mean girl' Sorority queen?

 In fact Donna decides to humiliate Linda through a series of hazing incidents which go from ridiculous teases to outright Herculean requests.

The first request was to head to a department store and get a date with the model appearing in the store front window. It turns out that the model is a monkey. But in a double twist, the monkey turns out to be Beppo, the super-monkey. He flies around the town with Linda which makes Linda even more popular.

The next haze Donna plans is for Linda to wear a ripped and shabby dress to the pledge dance. As Supergirl, Linda flings a planetoid around to Earth so that it causes a lunar eclipse for the outside dance, dimming the lights and hiding the dress's flaws.

Then Donna asks Linda to get an animal mascot for the football game even though all animals are quarantined because of a virus. Linda shows up with Comet the Super-Horse. Hmmm... seems convenient that Linda can get Comet to come.

 It is enough to make Donna suspicious that Linda is friends with Supergirl who is helping her.

She makes Linda promise that she won't use Supergirl's powers to work her way through the next of the sorority's 'tests' to see if she is worthy of being a sister.

And amazingly, Linda promises. And she means to keep her promises ... which means not using her super-powers for the next challenges.

Now that is high character! She doesn't need to agree to this. But she does.

Kissing a monkey and wearing a shabby dress are one thing. Donna decides to up the ante and make the 'tests' ridiculous.

She asks Linda to figure out the nationalities of ten visiting students who are strolling around campus. Now she could have used her xray vision to read their passports. But she promised not to use her powers.

So instead she finds the flags from the prior year's international track meet and runs them up the flagpoles. The international students each stop at their country's flags and salute their nations.

That is pretty slick thinking by Linda.

 So Donna decides to make things even more impossible. Stanhope recently built a new library on campus, a short distance from the old one. Unfortunately, the school didn't budget moving the books. (I hope that the finance people of Stanhope get fired for such an egregious mistake.)

Donna's next test for Linda is to have her move all the books from the old library to the new. These are rather insane tests for a sorority pledge though ... don't you think?

Amazingly, Linda uses her intelligence again as well as tapping into the unbridled power of school spirit. She holds an emergency campus meeting where she implores every student to check out 10 books from the old library and return them to the new one. With such a bucket brigade method, the new library is soon filled with books.

Suddenly Donna Storm isn't thinking that Linda is friends with Supergirl. She thinks Linda is Supergirl.

 In fact, Donna's belief is so great, she pulls a 'Silver Age Lois' maneuver, taking Linda for a ride on a winding mountain road and then intentionally driving the car off a cliff.

Using her super-speed, Linda hypnotizes Donna to sleep, catches the car as Supergirl, places it on a nearby haystack, and then becomes Linda again. This is a miracle that the car just happened to land on a giant soft pile of grass! There is no way that Linda could be Supergirl.

But look at the result. There is some introspection by Donna who realizes she was a snob who resented Linda for being so plucky and upbeat. She simply couldn't break Linda's spirit, tarnish that award winning character. Donna apologizes.

And Linda, again showing that character, accepts the apology without snark, superiority, or schadenfreude.

And, finally accepted into Alpha Lambda, Linda asks that all hazing stop and  the sisters agree. Now that is progress!!

Supergirl is barely in this story. This is a story about Linda. But we see that same hatred of injustice, that fierceness in fighting it, that intelligent mind here ... despite it being with the campus cuddle-bun hair and not the s-shield and cape. I love this story. I mean ... hazing is something I would expect Supergirl to hate.

Will there be a Donna Storm at Crucible Academy? We shall see.

As for this issue, I would hold it of high importance in a Supergirl collection. Linda graduating high school is a big deal in and of itself. But Stanhope as a school is a huge part of not only this Supergirl's history but others as well. We see Stanhope in an issue of Peter David's Supergirl. We saw it as a prep school in Cosmic Adventures. This is a key to her history and therefore crucial.

There is another academy that this Supergirl attended between Stanhope College and Lake Shore University. I'll take a look at that school soon.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

I've always liked this one, mostly because SG is displayed as empathetic and compassionate and an activist after a fashion....but mostly because she relentlessly uses her super powers to create an artificial lunar eclipse in order to conceal her gawd-awful gown from her colorless beau....CLASSIC CLASSIC CLASSIC!!!


Unknown said...

Wonderful review of Linda Lee Danvers entering college!

Kelly Sue DeConnick also sent Linda Lang to Stanhope College (complete with a Mooney Library!) in her fun three-part story.

Anj said...

I love this issue.

And I forgot that Stanhope was in the Kelly Sue issues! Thanks for reminding me!

Martin Gray said...

Top review, Donna Storm really did need her head examined. Still, I bet she never appeared again.

The US hazing business baffles us Brits.

Anonymous said...

Donna Storm showed up again a few issues later hell bent for revenge on Linda Danvers....that alas would be her final appearance. Thats a pity because somehow an opponent with really petty malevolent motives makes an interesting contrast with a compassionate altruistic Maid of Might.
Oh if only I ran The Silver Age....Then we'd see something
Boy Howdee!!


Martin Gray said...

Thanks John! You know the way these things work, now Donna's been brought up, some writer will bring her back without even having read this. Bloomin' morphic field!