I feel like I’ve described the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman family of titles from the early Silver Age so many times by this point that there isn’t really any way of doing so again. So take it from me, as silly and ridiculous and even childish as these comics seem, they were by far the best-selling things in the marketplace, buoyed by the man of Steel’s appearances on television in the live action ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN series, which played steadily in reruns. These books have a simple charm to them–Mort wasn’t looking to create great literature, he was hoping to entertain children and separate them from their dimes and pennies. And he was extremely good at doing so.
Page reductions and the desire among the reading audience for longer, more nuanced stories had shrunk the number of features in former anthology series ACTION COMICS down to just two: Superman himself and his relatively recently introduced young cousin Supergirl. This particular issue splits the book between the two, and even gives over the cover spot to a scene from the Supergirl adventure, a rare occurrence. Both stories in the issue were written by Leo Dorfman and illustrated by regular Supergirl artist Jim Mooney. Mooney didn’t get to do too many solo Superman adventures (though he drew the character a lot in the pages of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, so he was adept at it) so this was something of a rarity.
This story is actually the second part of a two-part adventure, but Mort was always canny enough in his structuring so that if you only read the second part you might not even realize that there was a first part. And this issue is no exception. It’s about a pair of intergalactic kid pests, Zigi and Zagi, who came to Earth and bedeviled Superman. Wanting to continue to play with the Man of Steel, the pair permitted an escaped criminal to sneak into their spaceship before they departed for their homeworld in Alpha Centauri. The reckon that Superman will pursue the felon to their planet, and there they can connive to keep him around by promoting a romance between him and their older sister Zyra.
In a break from tradition, before the lead story is even finished we get the issue’s Metropolis Mailbag letters page, in which Mort as the anonymous editor answered his young audience’s questions. This issue also included a short write-up on Supergirl’s boyfriends as a space-filler at the bottom of a 2/3 ad for Trix cereal.
For his part, Superman is aware in broad terms of what is going on, and he’s also come to realize that Zyra is actually pining for her lost boyfriend Zarthur, a scientist who disappeared while searching for a legendary graveyard planet in the Krob sector of space. The Man of Tomorrow wastes no time in locating Zarthur and rescuing him from the menacing Krobs, returning him to Alpha Centauri so that he can pick up his relationship with Zyra and Superman will be off the hook. As for teh escaped crook, Zigi and Zagi sent him back to prison in a teleport capsule earlier, with the intent of keeping Superman around while he searched in vain for him.
This issue also included a full page advertisement for the World’s Fair, with special emphasis on the wax tableau of Superman battling a giant cyclops. Sadly, the real life exhibit wasn’t as amazing as the ad copy made it out to be.
The Supergirl strip, meanwhile, had been moving events steadily forward for its protagonist, changing up her status quo in a manner that would have been unthinkable in the Superman series. Recently, Supergirl had discovered that her true parents Zor-El and Allura were alive in the Survival Zone, and she managed to liberate them from it. But in order to get them back to their full size, her foster parents the Danvers had to take their place in Kandor, a sacrifice they were only too happy to make for their child. So now, Supergirl was living with her true Kryptonian parents in a new Fortress of Solitude while her foster folks were attempting to adapt to life in the bottle city.
But Zor-El wasn’t a top Kryptonian scientist for nothing, and he realizes how secretly unhappy his daughter is with having given up her life as Linda Danvers. And so, he and Allura set out in a ploy to repair the damage they’ve inadvertently done. Zor-El offers to use his super-science to show Supergirl what their future life will be like through a predictive computer that he’s built. But the vision Supergirl sees includes the return of the Zygor, a cruel space entity that Zor-El had once driven away from Argo City. The Zygor defeats Supergirl, Superman and Zor-El and then forces the Maid of Steel to choose one of them to kill in order to save the other one. Supergirl is so horrified, she smashes the device rather than seeing which she would have chosen.
So the future seems doomed, but Zor-El has a plan! He points out that this future only comes to pass if he and Allura remain outside of Kandor. And so, he arranges for he and his wife to once more switch places with the Danvers, so that they can resume their lives on Earth with their daughter Supergirl. And they’re not lost either–Supergirl can still come to visit them inside the Bottle City. It’s a win-win for everybody, and Supergirl never knows that the whole thing was a fake arranged by Zor-El and that he’d succeeded in capturing the Zygor years ago, and it lived out its lifetime in a Kandorian zoo, so there can be no danger from it.
3 thoughts on “WC: ACTION COMICS #316”
I wish there were a line of Superman comics intended for children now that didn’t rely on hyperexaggerated cartoon art.
We have to give Weisinger for allowing the creators of the Supergirl feature to indulge in longer arcs than we saw in Superman, Superboy or even Legion. That was probably because he saw Superman as the lead act for ACTION. At the same time he must have thought that Supergirl’s presence might bring in more girl readers. That might be the only reason MW allowed arcs as long as the “Lesla-Lar” narrative, about four years before Marvel tried something comparable in the Inhumans Saga. All that said, MW’s main reason for being more ambitious with Supergirl might be because he or someone else at DC believed that girls might be more amenable to long-running soap operas than boys. Or so I speculate.
The abrupt end of the Lesla-Lar arc — Mxyzptlk largely fixes everything — is so frustrating. It had been a great story to that point.