Review by Win Wiacek
Superhero comics don’t do sweet or charming anymore. The modern narrative focus concentrates on turmoil, angst and spectacle and although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.
Such was not always the case as this splendid black and white compendium of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City joyously proves, kicking off in 1958 with a tryout. ‘The Three Magic Wishes’ written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Dick Sprang has a mystic totem conjure up a young girl with super powers as one of three wishes Jimmy Olsen makes. Such was the reaction to the plucky heroine that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family.
In 1959 Superman’s cousin Kara arrived, born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the giant world’s debris, and her dying parents, observing Earth through their scopes sent their daughter to safety as they perished. Landing on Earth, she meets Superman who creates the identity of Linda Lee and hides her in an orphanage in small town Midvale whilst she learns of her new world and powers in secret and safety. This groundbreaking tale was also written by Binder and drawn by hugely under-rated Al Plastino.
At the orphanage Kara met a boy named Dick Wilson (eventually Malverne) who would become her Lois Lane, a recurring romantic entanglement who suspects she has a secret. As a young girl, romance featured heavily in her thoughts and she met other potential boyfriends including alien heroes and even a Mer-boy from Atlantis. Many early tales involved keeping her presence concealed, even when performing super-feats. Jim Mooney was selected as regular artist and Binder remained as chief scripter for most of the early run.
Superman often comes off rather poorly when dealing with women in those less enlightened days, always under the guise of “teaching a much needed lesson” or “testing” someone. When Supergirl plays with Krypto, ignoring his secrecy decree, the Man of Steel banishes the lonely young heroine to an asteroid in ‘Supergirl’s Farewell to Earth!’ but of course there’s method in the madness.
Streaky the Super-Cat is introduced in ‘Supergirl’s Super Pet!’, but ‘When Supergirl Revealed Herself!’ (Siegel and Mooney) isn’t what you think. Siegel and Mooney, introduce Jerro the Mer-boy in ‘Supergirl’s First Romance!’ and ‘Pick a New Hairstyle for Linda (Supergirl) Lee!’ involved readers in the actual appearance of their heroine and gave the editors some valuable input into who was reading the series.
The last five tales form an extended saga taking the Girl of Steel in totally new directions. On the eve of Superman announcing her existence to the world Supergirl loses her powers, and resigned to a normal life she’s adopted by the childless Fred and Edna Danvers. But it’s all a deadly plot by Lesla-Lar, an identical double from the Bottle City of Kandor who plans to replace Supergirl and conquer the Earth. This mini-epic repositioned the character for a more positive and effective role in the DC universe and hinted of a more dramatic and less paternalistic, parochial and even sexist future for the most powerful girl in the world. But that’s a volume for another time. Vol. 2 in fact.