Thursday, May 31, 2018

Back Issue Review: Action Comics #262

Over on the Supergirl television show,  Supergirl has had a sometimes overly emotional response to the very existence of Kryptonite on Earth. She wants it destroyed, controlled, and out of the hands of people like Lena Luthor. She describes the pain it inflicts quite eloquently as the skin being ripped from her bones and nails coursing through her veins.

With that complete fear of Kryptonite and any exposure in mind, I thought I would review Action Comics #262, an early story of Supergirl's in which she intentionally exposes herself to Kryptonite, all in hopes of finding a cure for K-poisoning.

It is a pretty classic Supergirl story for the time with a little bit of Midvale orphanage, a recap of her origin, some concern about Superman's thoughts about her, and some wild Silver Age coincidences. This could be a primer for this era in her life. You get a sense of the formula writer Otto Binder followed. And you see a lot of the classic art tropes that legendary Supergirl artist Jim Mooney brought to the table.

I'll also point out this cover by Curt Swan with a cool coloring error, showing how slick this costume looks with a red skirt as opposed to the blue skirt she wore at the time.

So settle in for a fun story.

"Supergirl's Greatest Victory" opens with a tremendous splash page of Superman weakened and dying near a Kryptonite meteor. Using x-ray vision, he spies Supergirl in another cavern standing next to another Kryptonite meteor. She seems fresh as a daisy, pushing over a stalagmite with one finger. How could she have acquired such immunity to Kryptonite?

We'll find out1

As was often the template, we start out with some minor super-heroics happening at the Midvale Orphanage.

As Linda Lee, Supergirl uses her xray vision to soften concrete to be smooth so some roller skaters don't take a tumble. She also uses her super-breath to get some kites into the air.

The staff has to wonder if there is a 'good fairy' watching over the place. I'll remind people that Supergirl saying she was going to be a guardian angel over Midvale in her first appearance was an impetus for Peter David's Earth Angel arc in his run.

Later, in her room, Linda writes about her history in her secret diary. She talks about how vulnerable she and Superman are to Kryptonite and how finding a cure is of the utmost importance. It was just last issue (Action Comics #261) that her experiments led to the creation of X-Kryptonite which powered Streaky.

This quest for a cure was a thread that went through the early parts of this Action run.

And, as was the custom back in those early days, we get a pretty in-depth review of Supergirl's origins. We see Argo fly off into space. We see the lead sheets applied to the Kryptonite ground, and we see the meteors come through the dome prompting Kara's rocket.

It is interesting that because Argo survived, life went on, and Kara was born years after Superman. Thus she is truly younger. It is only later that the 'rocketed at the same time but in suspended animation, technically older' wrinkle in her origin was added.

I'm a fan of simplicity. So I like this original take on Supergirl's age more.

It's then that Supergirl comes up with a brilliant idea. Maybe by slowly exposing herself to Kryptonite she can gain some acquired immunity. It would be akin to a vaccination like the polio vaccine. (I guess ... sort of?)

Of course Superman had tried that but it didn't work. Still Supergirl wonders if her young age might make it a viable solution. Finger to her cheek, a sure sign she is thinking hard, she decides she might proceed.

With her mind still on the experiment, Superman takes her on a tour of his Fortress. He shows her some fancy flowers and wild beasts.

Of course, this being the Silver Age, she knocks something over allowing one of the metal-eating aliens to temporarily escape. In a fascinating revelation, it turns out these things love Kryptonite. It is lured back into it's cage with a tasty K-tidbit. Of course, a fact like that can't be random ... can it?

I'll also point out the second panel where Supergirl is kicking herself for causing the ruckus. Superman seems like he couldn't care less over something so silly. But this is Silver Age Supergirl, wary of banishment and desperate for Superman's acceptance and pride.

Later, a Kryptonite meteor lands on Earth and Supergirl is able to safely guide it from a distance into a secluded cave. With it resting against a wall, she can begin her experiment.

Each day she goes to the cave and approaches the Kryptonite. And, over time, incredibly, she is able to get closer and closer.

Even Superman, creepily spying on her with his vision is intrigued. If this is true, Supergirl will be without weakness and therefore more powerful than Superman!

And that's some serious progress. In the end, she can actually walk right next to the chunk of green K without barely a tingle and with all her powers intact!

And thank goodness she is immune!

Because in a nearby cave,  Superman stumbles across a huge chunk of Kryptonite and succumbs.

Luckily, Supergirl spies him with her xray vision and speeds to the rescue, tunneling underground to reach him. (If you read these early Action stories, she always burrowed underground. Remember, she was a secret weapon and couldn't be seen!)

Once exposed to this Kryptonite however, Supergirl immediately falls ill. What happened to her acquired immunity??

Then we get the most Silver Age of escapes I can recall. The two heroes use their xray vision on a vein of gold in the Earth above the meteor. When bathed in the radioactive vision waves, the gold undergoes an alchemical reaction to become lead! And now, the radioactive Kryptonite encased in a protective lead sheen, the heroes recover.

But what about Supergirl's experiments?

Well it turns out the meteor in Kara's cave was being eaten from the inside out by a metal eater! Remember they find Kryptonite a delicacy. And there appears to be a dose response to Kryptonite. With only a thin rind of green K left, of course the radiation dose is much less and Kara would be uneffected.

As in many Silver Age stories, a ton of coincidences need to line up for this explanation to make sense. The metal eater that escaped was pregnant. It laid its egg when it briefly escaped. The egg hatched and slowly made its way underground where, lured by the delicious K, it took up residency in Kara's cave. That's some journey! We had seen the rescued metal eater sitting in the cage forlornly earlier. She missed her baby.

And so it was learned that Kryptonite immunity cannot be obtained through slow exposure. I do like that Supergirl had such a noble mission in mind and was willing to risk herself to accomplish it. And the other Silver Age tropes make this a solid read of what you get in those early stories.

So there we have it, a Supergirl who willingly exposes herself to Kryptonite, a far cry from the television Kara.

Hope you enjoyed this peek back.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

Crazy, silly, and still funny and very creative. I miss those crazy Silver Age stories where anything could and often did happen.

Although I'll agree so much Kryptonite in the most unexpected places strained the suspension of disbelief. Just today I was reading AC #284 and a random Green-K meteor flies past Kara all of sudden. They're drawn to the cousins or what?

By the way, I'm re-reading again the "The Unknown Supergirl" story arc (AC #278-285). May I suggest a review in the future?

"So there we have it, a Supergirl who willingly exposes herself to Kryptonite, a far cry from the television Kara."

Yes, but I'm pretty ticked off by the trolls who claim anybody with common sense would side with Lena instead of "Ms. Peanut Butter Allergy Who Throws Teenager Tantrums For No Reason". Did Kara overreact? Maybe. Does she has good reasons? Definitely. Regardless, I can't take seriously arguments starting off with "Ms. Peanut Butter Allergy"

Martin Gray said...

I remember this one, it's fun but I always get sad when I see the Interplanetary Zoo. I hope Supergirl and Superman at least took the critters out for air occasionally.

I don't recall any further instances of Supergirl and Superman combining their x-rays to beat kryptonite - just forgotten about, presumably. It's a pretty big revelation, wasted.

Anj said...

Don't recall the 'atomic vision' part of xray vision ever being seen again.

I just love these issues with an overly earnest Kara trying her best to find her place in the world.

Red Forever said...

I think it was a reccuring element in the mythos before the separated heat and x-ray vision, since they explained it as "oh yeah, Superman can alter the radiation emitted from his eyes to heat objects, therefore the heat is based on elements *insert more 50s misunderstood general science*".

And I'd be lying if I didn't miss this kind of adventuring. Fun, funny, heroes being heroes and willing to test something, even set an entire episode around it and see if the rules can bend or not instead of everything being so riggidly set in stone until another writter decides to retcon everything instead of finding a clever solution(or rule it out with a ruse). It's the kind of low-key adventures that warm your heart and make the face off against the big bads all the more impressive by proxy.

Anonymous said...

This is an extremely rare example of Superman saving his cousin from some peril, even so he more or less assists in saving her & himself from a joint preduicament. Normally Supergirl was the one saving him which I think contributed to the fan-toxic view that the silver - bronze age SG was entirely in Superman's shadow. I mean its not her fault the Dumb Lug keeps getting banished into the Phantom Zone or taken captive by Amazons or some damn thing...givedagirlabreak!


Carey said...

My god, that Jim Mooney art is gorgeous. Considering how much I like Supergirl I’ve read surprisingly little of her pre 70’s stories, and the Mooney art I’m most familiar with is his Marvel work. I may have to rectify that after reading this entry. Thanks for posting, Anj

Professor Feetlebaum said...

It's been a long, long, long time, but I'm fairly certain I bought Action 262 when it first came out. Or more accurately, my parents bought it for me. This is the time when Weisinger was adding something new to the Superman "mythos" about every six months or so. It's amazing how many of these new concepts that Otto Binder was involved in creating: Kandor, Brainiac, The Bizarros, The Legion and of course, Supergirl to name just a few.

I've mentioned this before, that I'm not sure if Supergirl's occasional red skirt was an out and out error, or if they just hadn't decided what color the skirt should be. When you think about it, the red skirt makes sense--Superman: red trunks, Supergirl: red skirt. I suspect that Weisinger's letter column answer that the skirt was reversible -red on one side, blue on the other- was made up on the spot. If I remember right, the skirt was consistently blue from then on, maybe to avoid the subject coming up again.

I preferred the red skirt and was always slightly disappointed when I got a new issue of Action Comics and the skirt was blue.

Regarding Supergirl's Kryptonite experiments in Action 261...wasn't it irresponsible of Kara to just toss that piece of Kryptonite into the woods when she was finished with it?

Back to Action 262, I like Supergirl's determination to find a cure for Kryptonite despite Superman telling her to "forget It".

"Then we get the most Silver Age of escapes I can recall..."

That "combined X-rays turned gold to lead" bit was pretty far out. Right up there though, would have to be baby Supergirl's "rescue" of Superman in Action Comics 260! Takes "suspension of disbelief" to a whole new level.

Combined X-ray vision also played a part in "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite!" from Superman 139 (Aug. 1960). There, Supergirl and Krypto combined their X-ray vision to help Superman solve a "hairy" problem. This story was reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl, volume 1, and Showcase Presents Superman volume 2.

A review of "The Unknown Supergirl" from Action comics 278-285 sounds like a great idea. If you can't do that in a single column, maybe a 2 or 3 part review.

Anj said...

Thanks for continued comments.

I might have to cover those Adventure issues eventually. Lesla Lar has turned up on this site enough.

Also, I am a huge red skirt fan. It is visually way more appealing. I do wonder if we will ever know if the occasional red skirt in the silver age was error or choice.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks for the info on the other instance of combined x-ray vision Professor, I’d forgotten that one (obviously). I do remember the lettercol bit about the skirt, clever stuff. More heroes should have adaptable costume bits. Didn’t Tim Drake have a yellow cape that was black on t’other side for night work? And of course, there was Barbara Gordon’s cape skirt, pull-down berry and... handbag that was a belt! Such fun.