Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Back Issue Box: Superman #123 -

I continue to figure out what to cover on this site with a complete dearth of Supergirl material to bolster new input. 

I sometimes am amazed at issues I haven't covered on this site despite this place being around for 12 years. One of those issues is Superman #123, the first appearance of a version of Supergirl. Here we met Super-Girl (notice the hyphen). 

It has always been said that this issue was a sort of trial run for Kara. But I wish some of the folks responsible were alive to discuss this more. 

Was there a discussion where it was said 'we should make a Supergirl but before we bring one into the universe, let's give a dry run to see how people like it'. Was there a discussion where they said 'if there is a big response we should consider making a Supergirl'? Or did they simply read the responses to this one-off character and say 'we should create one'? I know these are minor differences but I wish I could pick the brains of the creators to see if they remembered. This issue was released in June of 1958. Action Comics #252 came out in March of 1959. So we are 9 months away from our Supergirl.

I also wish I could find the letter column covering this issue to see what the letters were like to see if there was a feel about the fans' take from there.

I do wonder if the 'feel' of this story defined how Kara Zor-El would be treated in her own stories. If this was wildly popular, the writers might have decided to continue the relationship we see here between Super-Girl and Supergirl.

Lastly, I am presenting this from my copy of Supergirl Archives Vol. 1. If you see this in reprint form in other comics, they usually color Super-Girl's costume as green and orange and make her a redhead. It differentiates her from Kara and makes it less confusing. But in the original coloring (as presented here) she is in the red and blue. 

On to the story.

This is a three part story but I'll only be covering Chapter 1, The Girl of Steel.

The story is written by Otto Binder, who also wrote Action Comics #252 and Kara's first appearance. He also created and wrote Mary Marvel so certainly someone like Kara would be right in his wheel house.

But what I love here is that the art is done by Dick Sprang. I usually associate Sprang with Batman. So seeing his angular noses and brash style here in Superman is a treat.

The cover, a nice image of Superman teaming up with Super-Girl for a rescue, is done by Curt Swan.

Of course as this is Super-Girl. She isn't Superman's cousin so Lois can worry that Superman is gearing up to marry her.

We start with Superman helping with a tropical storm/flood of some sort. While he is making a giant raft to help clear out citizens, Lois and Jimmy look on in a helicopter.

For some reason, Lois thinks she needs to be closer to the action. So she jumps out of the helicopter to parachute to the surface. There are too many things wrong with that statement to parse out. But to make matters worse, her parachute doesn't open forcing a rescue.

As he cradles Lois in his arm, Superman says that only a 'Super-Girl' could keep up with him.

Later, as is classic in the Silver Age, Jimmy is given a magic totem that will grant three wishes.

Jimmy being Jimmy, he decided to use the wishes to help his friend Superman instead of helping himself.

And his first wish is to create a Super-Girl so Superman could have a companion. 

What a guy that Jimmy is!

Sure enough, the totem works and a Supergirl appears!

Her first act is to save a plane. 

When Superman sees her, he wonders if he is dreaming. That is close enough to the classic 'It must be an illusion' on Action Comics #252 for me to wonder if this was a dry run.

Here is that same panel as done in reprints with the orange/green outfit.

Thrilled to have a new friend, Superman immediately brings her to the Planet to meet his friends.

Jimmy is floored by Super-Girl ... who looks more like a Super-Woman. 

And, of course, Lois is jealous that Superman suddenly has someone powered like him who he could then court and marry without the fears of enemy retribution.

She is rather striking, isn't she.

Unfortunately, she doesn't really know how to use her powers yet. 

She accidentally blows the roof of a building. Her she explodes a safe. She later head butts Superman as they both try to save a falling elevator. It's almost like she needs to be thrown in an orphanage to hone her powers before being able to act publicly. 

And, of course, Superman chastises her and makes her cry.

Can you see how some of the feeling of this evokes those early Action Comics stories with Kara where she is worried about being exiled into space by Superman?

And then Super-Girl calls Clark 'Superman' in front of Lois.

Super-Girl is actually a Super-Nuisance.

Superman is so finished with Super-Girl's "help" that he tells her to never come around him anymore.

Ouch ... 

But once again, it has the feel of those 'you have to be my secret weapon/never show your powers/I'm upset with you Kara' themes of early Supergirl stories.

I really like Dick Sprang's Lois for some reason.

Despite being admonished, Super-Girl does indeed help Superman. She removes a Kryptonite meteor which is putting his life in peril as he tries to save an out of control train.

Initially she says she is immune to Kryptonite having been created magically. But it turns out it is a lie. Jimmy's wish was for a complete copy of a Kryptonian for Superman. So this Super-Girl is susceptible to Green K.

But nobly, she has sacrificed herself.

She crawls back to Jimmy's apartment in her death throes.

We had learned earlier that rubbing the totem again would undo the wish (Lois is tempted to do so but stops herself). She begs to be unmade and Jimmy obliges vowing to never forget her.

So, what do I think of Super-Girl?

Well, she was made to be a romantic companion for Superman which makes her a quite different vision than Kara, the younger cousin. But so many of the worries Super-Girl had of bothering Superman or letting him down carried forward into Supergirl stories that I have to feel this was a template for the future adventures of Kara. 

I would love to own this issue as a Supergirl fan as this is truly a petri dish of sorts for my favorite character. 

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for looking at this, and I love your insights. As for the lettercols, I had a cheeky dig around online and read all those after the issue; most letters were general queries about Superman ageing and secret identities and the like, but as we get closer to Kara’s debut in Action Comics, a couple of letters appear requesting a Supergirl, bringing responses to keep watching... it’s weird they didn’t use letters specifically commenting on Superman #123 to get their plugs in.

Funnily, there’s a letter from one Scott Snyder - this was 1959, 17 years before the writer we know was born. Or so he says! Anyone smell Time Bubble fuel?

Daxam1978 said...

Time bubble fuel~like it!😄👍
Very interesting review,
I'd certainly love to have that issue in my collection.
I'm a big fan of 1956~1963
Supes & DC in general from that era.
Very imaginative, creative & fun time in comicbooks.
As you said,anj,a drought atm for new Maid of Might stuff. But still,loving your back issue reviews & your other posts.
Looking forward to your review of LEGION of SUPER HEROES no.8
Yet to get it but really loving the new series especially the last 2 issues.
Take care bud🤓

Anonymous said...

There’s a feeling of deja vu seeing this Super-Girl sacrifice her life to save Superman and in spite of that being quickly forgotten. It’s enough to make someone cry, sis.

Martin Gray said...

Ha, I see what you did there, and, great point!

Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

Thanks Anj for you review, i didn't understand who the redhead girl with orange et green suit was. Thanks to you, i have my answer.

Anonymous said...

I love delving into this era, even if some aspects have become pretty dated.

Technically, though, it wasn't the first appearance of a "Supergirl". Leaving aside 40's and 50's stories where Lois and Lana gained powers and called themselves "Supergirl/Superwoman/Power Girl", the first DC character called Supergirl was Lucy of Borgonia in "Superboy #5" (1949).

If I am not mistaken, this story was later retconned out. It was not an imaginary story or an elseworlds, but a story which canonically never happened.

It is disturbing how all Supergirls have eventually been forgotten and/or retconned out of existence:

- Lucy of Borgonia: Never mentioned again.
- Super-Girl: Retconned out of existence.
- Earth-One Kara Zor-El: Retconned of existence by the Crisis.
- Matrix/Linda Danvers: Put in a bus to comic-book limbo, never mentioned again after the end of their book (unless you count you-know-what crappy mini-series) and retconned out of existence by Flashpoint.
- Pre-Zero Hour Andromeda: Killed off and retconned out of existence.
- Post Zero Hour Andromeda: Forgotten.
- Kara of Odiline: Forgotten as soon as that crossover ended, and retconned out of existence by Flashpoint.
- Cir-El: Retconned herself out of existence at the end of "Futuresmiths".
- New-Earth Kara: Retconned out of existence by Flashpoint.

It is a very disturbing pattern.

"Super-Girl is actually a Super-Nuisance."

It reminds me of Superboy coming upon Krypto and complaining -to his poor pet dog's face- that he wasn't super-fun but a super-trouble. Apparently, no one explained to Superboy that a pet is a serious responsibility and not a source of entertainment. In spite of his reputation as a paragon, Pre-Crisis Superman was someone hard to love.

Thank for reviewing this issue, Anj.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Silver Age Superman had serious issues with women, if it wasn't a relationship he could either dominate and or paternalize, he ended the relationship, which is what he did here. Lois Lane, he could dominate, but a woman his equal (at least in terms of power) repels him even as she sacrifices her life for him. Kalel is particularly cruelly sexist in this one, and that is saying a lot for 1958...I sometimes wish someone would write an Else worlds where Totem Supergirl left him for dead...:)
When Kara Zor El's turn came, Weisinger took pains to make sure Supergirl could never factor romantically in Superman's Life (since he'd only reject her as a threat to his masculinity) by making her a close younger relation. That in term meant he could endlessly patronize Supergirl and subject her to the usual parental tyranny imposed on girls at the time.
Agree with the above poster about the depressing litany of killed off and retconned Supergirls within and without continuity, its Kara's unique super power that she still somehow shines thru despite at times outright editorial hatred.


H said...

I believe that the ad from the issue before they introduced Kara said that they got 'thousands' of requests for a Supergirl. I feel like you posted the ad at some point recently but I can't seem to find it.

Whatever the case, it's interesting to see the differences between this one and the official Supergirl. She's somewhat more muscular than what we ended up with but that probably goes with her being designed as an equal instead of a protégé.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

It seems unlikely, but maybe there were no letters commenting on Superman #123. You would think Weisinger would have printed some had he received them, especially if they were positive. But this was the early days of letter columns (it looks like the first Metropolis Mailbag was in #124) and it could be that the idea of critiquing specific stories hadn't caught on yet.

I've also heard that Weisinger would sometimes make up letters when he wanted to plug an upcoming story or a new character.

Otto Binder is credited as the writer of this story in several places, including DC Database, but I remember somewhere seeing Bill Finger listed as the writer.

The full page ad in Action Comics #251 mentions thousands of reader requests for a Supergirl. That could be something of an exaggeration. Maybe in addition to requests by mail, they were counting the kids in Weisinger's neighborhood that gave him ideas from time to time.

"Super-Girl is actually a Super-Nusiance."

Yeah, this story didn't do much to promote the idea that a Supergirl (whether hyphenated or not) would be much of a help to Superman.

Not too unusual that Lucy of Borgonia appeared just that one time. That was fairly typical back then. Remember Mighty Boy in Superboy #85? I don't think Lucy was intended to be anything more than a one-shot character.

I've wondered occasionally about the timing of Supergirl's debut. The idea for a Supergirl had been kicking around at least since 1944, when DC/National published that ashcan issue. But why did it take 15 years to introduce an ongoing Supergirl into the mix?

Could Mary Marvel have been the reason? With the lawsuit over Superman and Captain Marvel going on (DC claiming that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman), did DC hold off introducing a Supergirl out of concern that Fawcett could counter-claim that Supergirl was a copy of Mary? Once Mary Marvel was no longer being published, did DC then feel free then to bring in a Supergirl?

Then again, Supergirl WAS part of Weisinger's "every six months a new idea" policy that started in the late 1950s. Weisinger was story editor of the Superman TV show, and spent much time in Hollywood with Whitney Ellsworth. When the TV show ended, Weisinger was able to devote more time to the comics and that's when the new ideas started appearing.

There was a Mego-like action figure of the red haired, orange and green costumed Super-Girl that came out a year or so ago.

Ratraco Solutions said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Glad I covered it and love the information dropped here.

I did cover the ad in my post on Action 251, including the 1000s of requests!

And interesting to hear about the other supers which came and went.

Anj said...

I do my best to monitor the comments and delete all the malware and spam I can when I can.

That post was deleted this morning when I reviewed the site.

I would advise everyone to not click links in comments on this site.