Thursday, August 11, 2016

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #295 - Lena Thorul

I am a little late in blogging about this but a while back Katie McGrath was cast as Lena Luthor on the Supergirl television show. Here is a link:

I have seen exceedingly little of McGrath's work although plenty of people tell me her work on BCC's Merlin was exemplary. So I am looking forward to see what she brings to the table.

The character of Lena is no stranger to Supergirl or the DCUniverse. She was a recurring character in Supergirl's Silver Age adventures, she popped up in Superman Family, she was an antagonist in Cosmic Adventures, in a vegetative state in the pre-Flashpoint world, and has been in opposition of her brother in more recent times.

I have covered Lena a lot on this site but I was surprised to discover that I have never covered her introductory story to Supergirl and so I thought it was time to rectify that. (As an aside, you know you have been blogging a long time when you can't remember which issues you have reviewed!)

'The Girl with the X-Ray Mind' was originally printed in Action Comics #295 back in late 1962.
For the sake of transparency, I need to let you know that my scans are from the Super DC Giant Supergirl issue from 1971. I don't own Action Comics #295 (yet).

The story is a brief 13 pages but, like many Silver Age stories, it is jam packed with story. This is no decompressed tale. Creators Leo Dorfman and Jim Mooney spin a yarn which introduces us to Lena and her power set, talks of Lena's early years, sneaks in a Luthor guest spot and reviews his origin, has Lena become a criminal, and wraps it all up in a bow. Whew ... they knew how to tell them back then!

I love this splash page. Lena is fetching in the red cocktail dress and domino mask, invoking images of the old pulp heroine the Blonde Phantom.

The story opens up with a meeting of the Midvale High science club. A man named Dr. Anton is there to test the students to see if any of them have ESP. This is before ESP became a widely known acronym; Linda has to explain what it is to Edna Danvers.

Amazingly, a young girl who just moved to the town named Lena Thorul nails the test getting every one right. For some reason, the man giving the test lies saying Lena was the worst guesser.

Linda assumes it was an innocent mistake and lets him leave without investigating. But it is clear he has something nefarious in mind. He calls his 'boss' and says that he has finally found the person they have been searching for.

The Danvers drive Lena and Linda back home. To further prove that Lena's powers are no joke, we see her predict a bridge collapse just before the Danvers drive over it. In the chaos of people watching the bridge teeter and shake, Linda is able to sneak away and return as Supergirl. Some heat vision soldering later, the bridge is safe.

But it is clear to Linda, Lena has powers.

Later, Linda visits Lena and they talk about their plans after graduation. Lena has applied to the FBI to be a secretary (to early in the 60s to think about female agents??) but she has been turned down.

The dream seems over but Linda wants to help. After all, someone with ESP would be valuable on the FBI.

This is classic Supergirl, immediately thinking about how she can help her friend.

As Supergirl, she flies to the FBI to ask why Lena was turned down.

It seems that she has no official past. She was found in a car wreck with no identification. Who is she? I guess with no idea of her past, the FBI had no choice but to deny her application.

But this is a mystery, one big enough to have Supergirl head into the past and figure it all out.

Heading back in time, Supergirl arrives at the scene of the car accident that killed Lena's parents. With some simple detective work (tracking down who the car belonged to), Kara discovers that Lena Thorul was actually born Lena Luthor!

I love that first panel. The look of shock and surprise on Supergirl's eyes is enough to tell the story. Mooney keeping her lower face covered adds a feeling of sneakiness to Kara's work as well as keeping that feeling of mystery. I love it.

That information isn't quite enough for Supergirl. She decides to go back even farther in time to seek Lena's earliest years.

Before he went bald and bad, Lex doted on his little sister Lena.

But one day he let her get too close to a 'space brain' he was studying. When Lena touched it, she was shocked by high energy. The brain dissolved. But that discharge gave Lena her telepathic powers. Shortly after this, she began reading minds.

And so we have a standard Silver Age origin!

Unfortunately, being a Luthor makes her even less desirable for the FBI. They tell Supergirl that Lena definitely can't work for them.

As for Lena, she is approached by Dr. Anton. He says he works for the organized crime gang called the Bank Busters. Lena might not be an attractive candidate for the FBI but the Bank Busters would love to call her an ally.

Perhaps the Luthor apple doesn't fall far from the family tree. With little coercion, Lena decides to become a criminal and join the underworld.

Lena's joining the Bank Busters is big enough news that it reaches Lex Luthor on his private crime radio station. Shocked by the news, Luthor spreads the word that he wants to meet with Supergirl privately. It is interesting that he asks for Supergirl's help and not Superman's. How did he know Supergirl knew Lena? Or is it his hate for Superman that drives him from the Man of Steel.

Luthor gives Kara short hand version of his own origin, how he came to hate Superboy. And more importantly, he talks of how the stain he put in the Luthor name led the family to be harassed until the family fled Smallville and became the Thorul's. Lena looks to be about 5 years old or so. She has never learned of her true identity or the existence of her infamous brother.

But Lex loves Lena immensely. He doesn't want his sister to go down the path he has. He begs Supergirl to stop Lena from becoming a criminal.

This idea of Lex staying far from Lena but trying to help her when he can was a running plot in the Lena stories moving forward. She didn't learn about her ties to Lex until the mid 70s in the Superman Family.

It seems Supergirl might be too late. Lena dons the domino mask, joins the Bank Busters, and helps open up a bank vault.

But it is a ruse. She actually leads the crooks into a trap, having them spring an alarm which releases tear gas. She has helped incapacitate the gang so they can be captured.

And Supergirl arrives just in time to see Lena doing the right thing!

Hooray! Lena doesn't have to be a crook like her brother!

Lena was hoping that capturing the Bank Busters might lead the FBI to reconsider her application. And Supergirl decides she'll push the Bureau a bit.

But how can Linda keep her secret identity intact around Lena whose powers seem limitless? We'll find out.

So what will Lena be in the show? Friend? Enemy? Frenemy?
Will she be like the Smallville Lex, trying to deny her familiar urges towards malevolence?

As for this issue, I love this story. So much happens! As Lena became a part of the Supergirl supporting cast for years, I would actually call Action Comics #295 an important issue to have for a Supergirl collection. Sounds like I have to hunt it down now! I love that Supergirl's immediate reaction is to help her friend. And Mooney infuses so much character into Kara. Just beautiful.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

They really knew how to compress a ton of storyline into a 13 page supporting feature back in the day didn't they? (the magic secret is HUGE I mean HEEE-UGE expository dialogue panels).
On a discursive note I love the way Jim Mooney depicted Supergirl in flight, arms and legs akimbo, it could look very clumsy indeed but he imparts poise into the pose.
And "I've a Big Secret and GalPal Bestie has ESP!" is soooo weirdly contemporary a half a dozen modern TV shows have likely touched on the very trope at one time or another....
Lena had a real arc within the Supergirl feature, in a subsequent story she gets married (Linda is suitably envious in a pre-women's lib sort of a way), has a son becomes a widow and is still an occasional supporting character in the feature well into the Superman Family Dollar Books period (where she was slated to become a villain before being written out entirely in one of those bewildering shake ups in SG's writing staff)....


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing as always, Anj. This gives me a better sense of Lena overall, and I can see how Landry et al built
on that when writing Cosmic Adventures. Will definately have to see how things play out come 2nd season, and whether
this Lena will be friend, enemy, or what...