History of Comic Books Chapter IX: Supergirl

During the Silver Age, DC spent a lot of time building on Superman’s mythos. They introduced Superboy in order to explore his youth with the Clarks on their farm in Smallville. And they introduced one character who has endeared for years: Supergirl

Supergirl was introduced in Action Comics #252 in 1959. However, a similar character was actually already introduced in a one-off story in Superman #123, a year earlier. In this story, she had red hair and was created when Jimmy Olsen found a magical totem that granted wishes. After seeing Superman rebuff Lois Lane for probably the umpteenth time, Olsen thought maybe Superman wanted a lover who could handle herself and was his equal, not someone who needed saving all the time. At the end of the story, Supergirl is weakened by kryptonite so much that she might die. The story was done as a test to see if readers would want her story.

In Supergirl’s original origin, her Kryptoninian name is Kara Zor-el. She is introduced as Superman’s cousin, the daughter of his uncle Zor-el and aunt Alura. To hand-wave her being of the same race even though Krypton was destroyed, it was later revealed that she lived in Argo City, which had been protected by a force field, and that she had been put into a different rocket after Superman. The rocket had been knocked off course, which explained why her rocket arrived later. Kara has the same powers as Superman, but lacks his experience.

Just as her cousin pretended to be human by naming himself Clark Kent, Kara was given the civilian identity of Linda Lee Danvers. Because she is a teenager, she is enrolled in a boarding school. She wears a brunette wig to retain her secrecy, just like the glasses Superman wears as Clark Kent.

Supergirl also had an affinity with animals. While Clark did have a dog named Krypto, we never saw the dog in stories where he was an adult. Supergirl, however, had both a cat named Streaky and a horse named Comet.

Streaky was originally an ordinary cat. One day, Supergirl was doing experiments on Kryptonite, in the hope of neutralizing its effects. She tossed it out the window, and Streaky found it. The cat gained the same powers as her owner.

Comet, however is a prime example of just how wacky DC could be in the Silver Age. Comet was an enchanted centaur who was imprisoned in an asteroid in the constellation of Sagitarrius. When Supergirl’s rocket sped by the asteroid, it freed him and he landed on Earth as a horse. And to make things even stranger, Comet fell in love with Supergirl.

Supergirl would also eventually join the Legion of Superheroes alongside her cousin, despite this being his younger version. Big changes came when DC did its first reboot after the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Today, she is still a beloved character, and even has her own show on CW.

Next: Hulk Smash!

History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter VIII: Underground Comix

In the 1960’s, the hippie subculture was in direct opposition to the Vietnam War and the government. Naturally, this subculture would influence comics as well. But with the Comics Code prohibiting depiction of drug use, opposition to the government, and sex, how could anyone express this rebellion? Enter the Underground Comix movement.

The first Underground Comic was God Nose, pictured above. It was published and created by Jack Jaxson. It mocked Christianity, calling them the “fools [God] rules. Like many Underground Comix, this was self-published, and in black-and-white. It was also not sold on newsstands or in grocery stores, the usual venues for comics in those days. Instead, it was sold in “head shops” . Both of these factors allowed Underground creators to bypass the Comics Code.

Underground Comix were filled with everything the Code prohibited: drugs, social commentary, bad taste, sexuality, nudity, bad language –it didn’t matter. Some of the noteworthy creators included the following:

Gilbert Shelton: created the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (a trio of hippies) and Wonder Warthog (a superhero parody starring a super -powered pig who masquerades as a human)

Robert Crumb: created Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat. The iconic image of a man walking with the caption “Keep on Truckin'” is probably his most famous artwork. Fritz the Cat was animated by Ralph Bakshi, and became the first cartoon to receive an X rating.

Vaughn Bodé: creator of the Cheech Wizard.

Denis Kitchen: This underground publisher founded the Krupp Syndicate and Kitchen Sink Press in 1970, home to such creators as Will Eisner, Trina Robbins, Art Spiegleman, Robert Crumb, and S. Clay Wilson. He also founded the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to protect creators from censorship.

Trina Robbins: one of the few women involved in the movement. She would go on to help co-create Vampirella with Frank Franzetta for Warren Publishing. In the 1980’s, she became the first woman to work on Wonder Woman.

Bill Griffith: creator of Zippy the Pinhead, who he would later publish as a newspaper comic.

Kim Deitch: creator of the Sunshine Girl, a character he created in a psychedelic strip for the East Village Other. He founded the Cartoonists Co-Op Press.

The Underground Comix movement was soon followed by the Alternative Comics movement in the 80’s, which I will discuss when we move into the Bronze and Iron Ages of Comics. It also helped lead to a weakening of the Comics Code’s restrictions, leading to more mature publications, and allowing comic books to gain a wider audience.

Next: Supergirl

The History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter VII: Fast-Forward

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Cover to Adventure Comics #247, the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Both Lightning Boy (who was later renamed Lightning Lad) and Saturn Girl would have new costumes in later appearances. Artwork by Curt Swan.

Before there was the Teen Titans, there was The Legion of Super-Heroes. The team was founded by three teenagers from different planets: Cosmic Boy, Lighting Boy (later renamed Lighting Lad), and Saturn Girl. They were created by Otto Binder (co-creator of the original Captain Marvel) and Al Plastino, and made their first appearance in Adventure Comics #247. In the story, the Legion travels from their time in the 30th Century to Smallville in the early years of the 20th Century. There, the three founders met Superboy, the younger version of Superman, and tell him that he is their inspiration. They also decide to induct him into their ranks. The team was originally only going to appear in one story, but the comic did so well that the team returned two years later in Adventure Comics #259. By the 1960’s, the Legion would recruit the following members: Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Star Boy, Brainiac 5, Triplicate Girl (who would later become Duo Damsel after one of her copies died), Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, and Ultra Boy. They would become a regular feature in Adventure Comics #300.

Continue reading “The History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter VII: Fast-Forward”

History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter VI: Honey, I Shrunk the Superhero!

Despite the Comics Code restrictions, Marvel and DC did still try to publish science fiction and horror-themed comics. But some comics were eventually changed to superhero comics. One was Tales to Astonish. At first, it was a horror comic, and even gave us the first appearance of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. In the 27th issue, we were introduced to a future Avenger.

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Hank Pym was introduced in “The Man in the Ant Hill” . He discovered what he called “Pym Particles”, which shrunk him to microscopic size. He didn’t gain his superhero name until his next appearance, in Tales to Astonish #35, when he became Ant-Man. He had now designed a helmet that gave him the ability to communicate with and control ants.

Continue reading “History of Comic Books: The Silver Age Chapter VI: Honey, I Shrunk the Superhero!”

History of Comic Books –The Silver Age Chapter V: Dell and Gold Key

I briefly mentioned Dell as one of the companies that did not follow the Comics Code. They were a company that lasted until 1974. The reason they didn’t turn in their comics to the Code Authority is that their titles were almost entirely licensed properties such as Disney and Tarzan. They already had to follow the guidelines that were given to them by the licenses ‘ holders. To assure parents that they didn’t even need the Code in the first place, Dell would declare “Dell Comics are good comics!” in their ads.

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In 1938, Dell partnered with Western Publishing, allowing Western to publish the comics they produced. In 1962, the company switched to in-house publishing, and created a new comics company called Gold Key. This version continued on through to 1984.

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Continue reading “History of Comic Books –The Silver Age Chapter V: Dell and Gold Key”