Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Black Orchid Review: Action Comics #260 (?)

I have been reserving Wednesdays recently to look at Black Orchid's pre-Crisis history, looking through the lens of a fan theory in the 70's that Black Orchid was, indeed, Supergirl.

I have one more Black Orchid story to review from the Phantom Stranger series. But before I review that last look at the Orchid proper, I thought I might review Action Comics #260, a story cover dated January 1960, a full 13 years before Black Orchid was introduced.

Now you might ask yourself why I am reviewing this book but that should all become evident by the end. Perhaps you are a long time fan and you already know. But I promise you, I will bring this home. 

"Mighty Maid" was written by Otto Binder with art by Al Plastino. 

This reads more like a classic Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, with Lois upset and frazzled that a superpowered female might become the love of Superman's life. We get a Lois rescue, some Lois shenanigans, and even the occasional <sob>.

But perhaps, best of all, it is a classic Silver Age story with enough insanity crammed into 12 pages than the average trade these days. 

It is all beautifully rendered by Plastino who brings a sort of angular beauty to all the people in the book. His women all resemble Joan Crawford.

The book opens with Perry telling Clark that Lois is out on a story in Tornado Alley, the midwest area of the country prone to twisters. As is Lois' luck, she gets caught up in a twister. Clark changes to Superman and speeds across the plains to save her. But before he gets there, she is already saved by ... Mighty Maid??

Mighty Maid is as strong as Superman and can fly like him. And she is quite the fetching brunette.

Mighty Maid comes from the 4th dimension and the people there have been watching Superman. 

She has dared to cross the dimensional barrier to meet him and she clearly likes what she sees.

She is quite forward with her come hither looks and touching Superman's face. And with her powers, perhaps she is a good fit for Superman. He immediately invites her on a tour of the world.

Poor Lois. She is vexed by how Superman is 'lapping up' the affection of the hussy! Lois is downright angry in that second panel, almost pushed out of the panel, symbolic of her place in Superman's heart right there.

As they fly around the Earth, Mighty Maid asks all about Superman and tells him how great he is.

In Egypt, a freak earthquake nearly destroys the Sphinx. Superman and Maid save the day. She hoists the Sphinx like nothing and comes out unharmed when it falls on her. 

With powers on par with his, he is completely overwhelmed. In front of news copters, he plants a huge kiss on Mighty Maid's lips!

It is clear that Superman is in love. And that means a proposal is imminent. 

Perhaps cruelly, Perry asks Lois to cover the story.

And, as if on command, Superman does just that. Mighty Maid accepts and there is yet another long, full kiss.

Binder gives Lois some dignity. Rather than sulk, she congratulates them both, albeit somewhat haltingly. 

At least at first she has dignity. Almost immediately after this acceptance, Lois tries to prove that Mighty Maid is a robot. But nope ... she is a living, breathing woman.

With the engagement on, the two heroes ... Superman and Mighty Maid ... leave for a happy life in the 4th dimension.

That's right! Superman is quitting Earth.

Or is he??

Superman and Mighty Maid arrive at an underwater cavern at super-speed! They never really teleported away.

Moreover, Mighty Maid removes her wig, make-up, false legs, and padding. She was Supergirl all along! False legs and padding? I suppose to make her seem taller and more shapely. 

But that means Superman definitely deeply kissed his underage cousin at least twice. 

And then, the reason behind the charade. Superman picked up angry voices with his super-hearing one day.

Invaders from the stars, still a million miles away, were racing to Earth, intent on destroying it.

Years earlier, their fleet had been flying in space and were mistaken as invaders by Krypton's defense system. The fleet was decimated.

The survivors vowed revenge on all Kryptonians but they were too late. Krypton was destroyed. The only person left to have their vengeance on is Superman.

Knowing they were eavesdropping (although their tech couldn't pierce underwater), Superman concocted a plan to have the race think that he was no longer on Earth.

With Superman in 'The Fourth Dimension', the aliens went back into suspended animation to head back to their home planet.

Earth is saved.
Despite having saved the Earth, having done everything Superman has asked, Supergirl is once again thrown into the orphanage to continue to languish as a secret weapon.

As for his 'wedding', Superman 'returns' from the 4th Dimension and tells Lois that Mighty Maid was only 15 years old, too young for him to marry. Lois is once again able to pursue him. 

Whoa ... now that is a lot for 12 pages. Beautifully drawn. I love all the twists. I love the trip around the world with Superman taking Mighty Maid to the Taj Mahal and the UK.

But let's talk about why this is being discussed on Black Orchid Wednesday.

Well, this is the first time we see Kara dress up as someone else. In fact, she is quite adept at her disguise. Supergirl can disguise herself ... and do it very well. Here she looks like an older Brunette. And as Linda Lee, she is very used to using wigs.

One of the main tropes of Black Orchid is that she can disguise herself as anyone. Heck, in the Super Friends #31, she is disguised as a heavy set man. 

As Mighty Maid, she has all the powers of Superman. Despite Supergirl being asked to remain in hiding as a secret weapon, as the Maid, she acts freely and without issue. She can be who she wants to be and act as she wants because she isn't openly Supergirl. 

If you subscribe to the fan theory, you can substitute 'Mighty Maid' with 'Black Orchid' in that last paragraph and you can read it truthfully.

So I read this as an adventure Supergirl had that informed her that another identity not only was possible but effective. 

Now I do have to slide over the phony romance between cousins that got downright physical. I'd prefer not to think about that stuff. This is also very early on in Supergirl's history, a mere 8 months since she was introduced. Nice to see her in the main story. 

So what do you think? Is this another brick supporting the fan theory? Or am I grasping?

Regardless, fun Silver Age story capturing much of the feelings of that era.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Oh, clever Anj. This story supports the BO theory very nicely. Shame about the kissing, mind… they could’ve at least had a rubber mask as a barrier!

And Superman’s insistence on keeping Linda unhappy was heartbreaking. As I recall, he never so much visited her as Clark Kent after dumping her in the orphanage. There’s a terrific untold tale to be told with an adult Supergirl confronting her cousin about his treatment of her, his reasoning was so brazenly selfish - can’t live with Clark because it would compromise his secret ID, but hey, she can be Superman’s Secret Weapon. Now that IS Superdickory.

I hadn’t realised quite how much Wayne Boring was THE Superman artist back then, Al Plastino was doing such a great job capturing his style, right down to aping that famous snogging scene from Lori Lemaris’s first appearance… I shall tweet the images to you!

Steve said...

I've missed the original Black Orchid and Supergirl so much since the first Crisis that messed up the DCU. This weekly look at them is a ton of fun.

Anonymous said...

Superman as Clark Kent visited Linda in the orphanage exactly once, but only as part of one of his abusive and traumatic training exercises to teach Supergirl to guard her dual identity...she sussed him out all the same.
The “ick factor” here is pretty high, although I will resist accusing Kal El of grooming or anything (I cannot speak for other though), clearly though Kara develops an early interest in what we would call “cosplay” these days, ergo precise costumery and performative skills moving in lock step. So yeah maybe her notional “Black Orchid” persona had its origins in “Mighty Maid”...
in fact mimicry and impersonation where a regular part of her power set right thru the Bronze Age...she seems to be constantly either debuting new costumes or taking on disguises or various type. All this in addition to her rigorously managed Kara Zor El, Linda Danvers, Supergirl personas, I wish more could have been made of this in some fashion.


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for the info, JF!

Who would ever accuse Superman of grooming his lonely, younger, orphaned cousin whom he banned from having a family or telling anyone about their relationship, which occasionally involved on-the-mouth kissing?

Great points about the acting skills… and I’d always considered the Secret Hearts business had come out of nowhere.

H said...

It makes sense, especially since Superman somewhat regularly used disguises in this period. He probably would have taught Kara those skills, and she might have even surpassed him in that regard at some point. It certainly wasn't the last time she did it explicitly as Supergirl.

For some reason, I mixed the ending of this story up with another one where Kara tried to find a super-wife for Superman and one of the things he mentioned was that cousins marrying was forbidden on Krypton.

Anonymous said...

Yeah too bad the “Acting Student “ interlude was so flatly written could have been something great in the right hands. I do recall Supergirl impersonated SuperMAN on two separate occasions in the silver age, and even cosplayed as an OC bad guy as part of a plan to outfox Luthor in the late Bronze Age...i mean clearly the girl loved disguises...


Professor Feetlebaum said...

I would not be surprised if this was one of those times when the cover was drawn first, and Otto Binder had to come up with a story to go with it.

Supergirl disguised herself as Superman in Action Comics #264 (May 1960) "Supergirl Gets Adopted!" and in Superman #149 (November 1961) "The Death of Superman!" Of course, THAT one was an imaginary story.

But if you're looking for more stories similar to "Mighty Maid!" and a possible tie-in to Black Orchid, check out "The Girl With Green Hair!" in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #51 (March 1961). If you don't have the original comic, the story was reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Volume 1, and Showcase Presents Superman Family Volume 4. If you can find the story in color, you'll notice something interesting about the green haired girl's costume.

Yeah, Wayne Boring was THE Superman artist back then. Plastino, Jim Mooney, and Curt Swan (at first) all copied Boring to some degree. Years ago I read an interview with Swan, in which he said that he drew Superman in Boring's style at first, and later developed his own way of drawing Superman. Even Kurt Schaffenberger copied Boring at first. The "tryout" pages he submitted for Lois Lane in the late "50s are very Wayne Boring-ish.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh Jimmy Olsen #51, I had forgotten that one, thanks Prof! I agree there is some trace Black Orchid evidence present in that story, but even better we get to see Supergirl do some grooming for once.
Strongly recommend “The Girl with Green Hair” as well...


Anj said...

Thanks for great comments.
I don't recall 'green hair' so I'll have to check it out.

thanks for humoring all this

H said...

It's more or less the same story as this one, as I recall, but it's definitely well done. Then again, a lot of the best stories in this era were remakes of older stories. Goes to show, it's more about how you tell it than anything else.