Review by Win Wiacek
Superhero comics don’t often do whimsical and thrilling anymore. They especially don’t do short or self-contained, but once continued cosmic cataclysm was the exception not the rule, and this second enchanting black and white compendium of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City happily displays why.
This collection, encompassing all the Girl of Steel’s adventures from the end of 1961 to early 1965, finds the young heroine still in training, her very existence kept secret from the general public and living with parents Fred and Edna Danvers. They’re completely unaware that their adopted orphan is a Kryptonian super-being.
These stories generally revolve around problem-solving, identity-preserving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring that readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Such plots are akin to situation comedies, such as in the first story: ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’, by Jerry Siegel and regular artist Jim Mooney.
Peculiar transformations were a Supergirl mainstay, and a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, but the true answer can be found in the author’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was unladylike. Red Kryptonite, a cosmically altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world – a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets.
Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat (!). The drama continues in the next instalment, wherein she grows a second head, gains death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and is changed into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a big change in the Maid of Might’s status as with the next issue her parents learned her true origins and her existence was revealed to the world. Supergirl became the darling of the universe: openly saving the planet and finally getting the credit for it.
‘The Man who Made Supergirl Cry!’ begins Leo Dorfman’s run as scripter. In this tight thriller Phantom Zone villains control Supergirl’s new dad in a plot to escape their ethereal dungeon dimension, whilst ‘Superman’s Super-Courtship!’ is something of a classic. The Girl of Steel scours the universe for an ideal mate for her cousin. Charming at the time, modern sensibilities might quail at the conclusion that his perfect mate was just like Supergirl herself, but older.
Kara’s life changes forever when ‘Supergirl Goes to College!’ Now nominally on her own at sedate Stanhope College, the dramas of catty rival and suspicious sorority sisters were added to identity preserving, boy-chasing and superhero-ing.
Throughout this four-odd year period Kara of Krypton underwent further changes, but for all that these stories remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.