Legion of Super-Heroes Re-Read – “Supergirl’s Greatest Challenge” (Action Comics #287, April, 1962)

At DC, Silver Age comic stories tended to be laid out differently than modern comics, in that the splash page was not a page of the story, but a representative piece of artwork and a text box that summarized what was about to happen, like jacket copy on a book. Marvel abandoned this style immediately—in the first issue of The Fantastic Four—but DC continued it up into the 1970s. The first Legion story to omit this representative splash was (I believe) in Superboy Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #220. Part of the reason for this sort of “internal cover” was that not every story was represented on the cover, back in the days where a standard comic book contained two or three stories. Did anyone read the” jacket copy?” Good question. But it was there.

In the case of this Supergirl story, the opening text, to modern eyes, draws negative attention. It tells us that Supergirl has all the powers of Superman (important, because every story is someone’s first, and readers of Action Comics would always meet Superman first, because he always had the lead story.) BUT it also laments that she’s “a mere girl.” She therefore might be overwhelmed by the upcoming story’s dilemma.

Now, I suppose that the “mere girl” line might simply have been referring to her youth. Supergirl was 15 years old at the time. If this had been a Superboy story, the text might have said, “He has all the powers of Superman, but he’s a mere boy.” It might have. Somehow I doubt it. But it was 1962, so I think it’s important to focus on the fact that having a female hero was empowering to girls, even if the writer wasn’t enlightened in 21st Century eyes.

Speaking of the 21st Century, both Jerry Siegel and editor Mort Weisinger seem to have once again forgotten that the Legionnaires live in the 30th Century, not the 21st. After Supergirl completes what seems to be a fairly meaningless—or at least completely unrelated to the story—mission at home, it’s only 100 years forward that she flies through the time barrier when the Legion calls her. They also seem to have once again forgotten that one of their Legionnaires is no longer named “Lightning Boy.”

But they haven’t forgotten, and they won’t let us forget, the terrible inequality of the power gap: Saturn Girl pointlessly tells Supergirl, ” You have many super powers, while we have only one each.” Ultra Boy cannot show up in this strip soon enough! Supergirl goes on a mission to destroy the Positive Man, a space being who flies through the galaxy destroying every planet he meets. Only someone with multiple powers can defeat this terror, so the Legionnaires just sorta fold up and throw Supergirl at him. (Glad they all grew some stones before the Sun Eater showed up!)

A stray comment from Brainiac 5 is his only line this time—”Our prayers go with you.” Really, Brainy? To whom do Coluans pray? A flash drive copy of Bill Gates, perhaps?

Supergirl takes out the menace of the Positive Man, but it apparently costs the Legionnaries their one power each. So she starts patrolling the Earth of the future. The first criminal she meets is a telepathic panhandler named Whizzy, who claims to be descended from her pet, Streaky. Uh huh, ya bum, pull the other one and go ask some other mark to help you out with a bottle of milk. Well, that’s what I’d tell him, but my cats will tell you I’m not of a generous nature. Supergirl, while she doesn’t ever feed Whizzy, takes the panhandling pussy (I’m talking about a cat!) along on her adventures. She also explains to him that he must have gained telepathy via the “process of evolution.” You would think a girl who actually attended Argo City public schools would have a little better grounding in biology. Evolution takes a lot more than the thousand years intervening between Supergirl and the Legion, much less the mere century posited in this story.

Evil chameleon men (probably no relation, but Chameleon Boy is suspiciously absent) project Supergirl and Whizzy into the Phantom Zone, which is empty. She guesses that all the criminals must have made parole. Yeah, I imagine General Zod’s probably on a beach somewhere, writing his memoirs and sipping pina coladas. Of course, Mon-El’s nowhere to be seen either. So either this story takes place after he was freed from the zone, or he’s off in… some other part of the… no, let’s just say Weisinger was off his game this month.

Membership: 14, since Bouncing Boy is now a member, with no fanfare. Possibly 15, if Shrinking Violent joined when Sun Boy did.

 

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