Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #326

These are interesting times here at the blog as I approach my 14th year posting. Supergirl is starring in a critically acclaimed mini-series which I find distasteful. The television show is off the air. And outside of reviewing current books (which don't star Supergirl), I have been trying to find some sort of enthusiasm or avenue for new posts. In the last few years, things like Black Orchid or Mark Shaw have been good side projects to keep my energy up.

One of the things I have been mulling around is the 'new' timeline Tom King has pushed forward in Supergirl Woman of Tomorrow. He has sort of mashed together all the minor variations of her origin but amping up all the possible psychological trauma she could have witnessed. For King, she is alive when Krypton explodes and therefore has to deal with all the terrible things which happen to Argo City.

Of course, in the original timeline, Kara is not alive when Krypton explodes. She is born on Argo City and lives there peacefully until she is rocketed away in her mid-teens. It made me wonder just how much of Kara's life on Argo we saw in the Silver Age. Certainly looking back at this blog, I have covered several stories filling in some of her youth.

And then, as luck would have it, my LCS had the hardcover Supergirl Silver Age Omnibus Vol. 2, a hole in my collection. (Even better, it was 50% off.) There are a lot of stories in there I haven't read and I am just starting to scratch the surface of this new material. One of the stories I did read was the Supergirl back-up in Action Comics #326.

Written by Otto Binder with art by Jim Mooney, 'The Secret of Supergirl's Suitor' is an insane story with so many plot twists that it would take up a 12 issue maxi-series these days. Instead, curveball after curveball is thrown in the last several pages, making it a dizzying read.

It plays up one of the more interesting tropes of Silver Age Supergirl, her miserable love life where every man she falls for hard has some backstory which makes it impossible. Poor Dick Malverne and Jerro ... they can never seal the deal.

It also plays up another common theme of this time, Supergirl trying desperately to get Superman's approval and respect and coming up short. I love this opening panel of her looking sheepish as she bails out her new criminal boyfriend Al Mintor, all while Superman derides her.

All this plus a look back at Argo!

On to the book!

We start out at a college dance! Dick Malverne has brought Linda as his date. But in the middle of the event, Linda is literally swept off her feet by a newcomer to the area.

Al Mintor from Tarryville is there. And he knows they belong together.

Even crazier, Linda feels the same tug of attraction. 

Poor Dick. Forced to drive her home and listen to her apologies. 

Indeed, Linda is so smitten her only thoughts are on Mintor. She can't even concentrate in class.

You would think her thoughts would change when she sees him fleeing from a freight barge after having stolen their payroll cash. 

But instead of turning him in, she super-speed grabs the cash and throws it back on the freighter. When the cops come for Al, his boat has no evidence so he is let go.

Why would she help him like this?

In fact, she is truly tormented by this decision. 

In my favorite panel of the story, we see her distraught, hugging her knees, wondering why she did it!

Great expressive work by Mooney. You really feel the anguish. 

But things get nuttier.

She see Al trying to steal a bunch of gems from a jeweler. Al seems to have some powers because he was mesmerizing the jeweler to just hand them over. Luckily Supergirl (as Linda) was t here to secretly stop it.

And then, Jerro, her merman sometime boyfriend says he loves her so he will undergo experimental treatment to get legs instead of a fishtail just so they can be together. But without even considering it, she says her heart belongs to someone else ... Al!

What hold does he have over her?

Poor Jerro though! Willing to go all out for her only to be spurned yet again.

As if all this wasn't bad enough, Al gets picked up by Superman for trying to rob an armored car.

Instead of letting the law deal with him, she digs up chunks of gold to use as bail money to spring her man.

It is clear that Superman disapproves but before he can really chastise her ... or maybe help her get to the bottom of all this ... he is pulled away for a space mission. Superman disapproving of Kara is something we see over and over in the Silver Age.

But Al is thrilled. He even gives Linda a thankful kiss. That's right, somehow Mintor has figured out Supergirl's secret identity.

That is the last straw. Supergirl needs to figure out who Mintor is. 

First she tries using a super-computer in the Fortress. But the strain is so incredible that it blows up.

Then she does old-fashioned detective work and heads to his Tarryville apartment. Al hasn't lived there because he couldn't pay the rent. But his belongings are still there. Included are dolls of Zor-El, Allura, and a young Kara. Weird!

Heading back to Metropolis, Supergirl sees that Al's new apartment is on fire. She initially rescues him. But he runs back into get his new set of dolls and succumbs to the smoke.

As if this story hasn't been crazy enough, the last three pages are bonkers.

Dying, Al tells his story.

We start on Argo where Zor-El pays a famous doll-maker named Magus to create a 'living doll' for Kara. You can see how much she loved him and played with him. 

See! Life on Argo wasn't all bad! You could have some play time! And Zor loved her enough to have an android playmate built!

While experimenting to see if a 'Survival Zone' was an option to escape the fate of Argo City, Zor-El had Magus make a Synthetic Man to trial run. Magus used some meteorite rock to craft this new 'man'.

Al Mintor is the Synthetic Man Zor-El threw into the Survival Zone.

Somehow the Survival Zone opened and Al was suddenly on Earth. He was compelled to make dolls like Magus and so stole to sustain his needs.

This is why Kara was so enthralled with Al. He looks like an older version of the Dolly she loved and played with so much!

Al continues to lay out his story.

Before being released from the Zone, he watched Supergirl as a wraith. All of Magus' dolls had some plastoid brain link. So this Al remembered the love Kara had for her Living Doll and so was compelled to seek her out.

But Al must truly be a synthetic man and not a robot. Because he succumbs to the burns he suffered in the fire. He dies. 

'Goodbye ... Dolly ...'

And then all the caveats we need to explain all this away.
This was an unperfected Survival Zone ray so it made Al's synthetic brain befuddled.
Al was made from a meteor not from Kryptonian elements so he had no super-powers.
The super-computer couldn't figure out who Al was because Kara never asked if he could be from Argo City.
He stole all that money to try and get his dolls back. (Seems easier to just ask for his things or break into that place and get the dolls rather than knock off an armored truck.)

Whew ... okay.

Kara ends up buying the doll Al made of a young her to keep in her Fortress, a reminder of the suitor who was a literal 'living doll'.

All right. That was a wild ending to a relatively standard Silver Age story. But I love it for the glimpses into the loving and semi-normal life a young Kara had in Argo. Binder sure could weave a wild tale.

And I have gushed about Mooney's work for over a decade here but this is a very soulful issue. The expressive work is incredible.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Now that’s a story! I spent ages trying to work out an anagram of ‘Al Minter’ but no luck. I do wonder how Linda explained all this to Dick(at least she could be honest with Jerro). I suppose she could have said Al was from an orphanage in another town, and his special talent to help him get adopted was hypnotism…

Anonymous said...

I have the original. This was 1 of my favorites.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Yeah, this story would rate high on the "Weird-o-meter" alright!

Kara looks a mite too old in the flashback scene here to be using the standard Weisinger "me do this, me do that" baby talk. Maybe it's a poor translation from Kryptonese (which you have to assume she was speaking) to English.

There was a television program called "My Living Doll" that ran on CBS from September 1964 to March 1965 (just one season). It starred Bob Cummings and future Catwoman Julie Newmar. Newmar played Rhoda the Robot. Considering the time frame, I can't help but wonder if the references to Al Mintor as a "living doll" came from that. This story would have been in preparation when the series was running.

Finaly, I was wondering where the Otto Binder credit came from? The Omnibus and DC Database credit Jerry Siegel as the writer.

H said...

That must have been one well constructed 'synthetic man' if it fooled Kara. 'Robot' is a common enough solution to these stories that I figure x-ray vision was one of the first things she used to solve the mystery. It brings up a surprisingly deep question- where's the line between real life and artificial life?

Anonymous said...

Ever noticed how the Silver Age Kara kept falling for Mechas? There was an an earlier android driven plot to seduce & depower her, this "dollie" and later on some jobber name Kimor who was merely impersonating one of Brainiac's robots, in yet another plot to drive Kara Cray-Cray...
For that fact, Dick Malverne always did have a blank robotic affect?
So who wrote this one? Otto Binder or Jerry Siegel? Because it's way bonkers in a wierd slightly cringy way.
But in its own bizarre fashion it's a good precis' of everything that we loved and or hate about SA SG, Jim Mooney's impeccable pencils and excellent emotional content, Supergirl sorting thru a contrived mystery dilemma driven in part by the dumpster fire that is her love life, some cringiness, some emotional transparency...a contrived mystery with a contrived ending, in it's own way, it's perfect.


William Ashley Vaughan said...

Pure Silver Age lunacy. This goes down in flames nearly as badly as Tom King's Supergirl mini series, but at least it goes down in flames in an imaginative and wildly entertaining way. There are good things ahead in the Action Comics run after this, especially Action Comics #337-339-a blazing run of three of Supergirl's finest stories one each written by Jerry Siegel, Otto Binder, and Jim Shooter.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments!

I will do some digging on the writer. I may have had a brain cramp! We shall see and I will correct/edit if needed.

Will be mining these 'new to me' stories more. Thinking of reviewing Schaffenberger's first story ...

Anonymous said...

I just love how Superman reprimands Supergirl at the first sign on trouble, granted she was seemingly bailing out a mecha-hoodlum for no good reason, but Rao SA Superman holds everyone else up to impossible standard he himself routinely ignores. And not for nothing but how many times did Supergirl either save his life, preserve his secret identity or just in general reinforce his patriarchy? You'd think she'd come in for a little slack...