A while ago, I wrote about how I first became a fan of comic books. This led me to remember several issues from DC Comics that came out in the 1970’s, that were formative parts of my exposure to this whole medium.
So then I decided to track down some of those comics and buy them, and journal the experience. I got three of them, with the earliest cover date being July 1976: Superman Family #177.
This (and all three comics I bought for this series) are all stories I have never read since I had the original issues. And I’ve never seen the stories in any reprint collections…so all my memories of them are from about 40 years ago, at least. Those memories are generally vague and a bit confused. I remember never completely understanding what was going on in any of these stories, for example.
So now, years later, I can finally figure out what was happening, and also see if the issues hold up at all today.
Superman Family #177 is one of those oversized series that DC was publishing, with an original lead story (I think it rotated between Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane) and reprint stories featuring the other two. All three stories are centered around romance. And this time around, the lead story features Supergirl.
Bride of the Stars
The story is plotted by Cary Bates, with a script by Elliot S! Maggin, and art by Kurt Schaffenberger.
So, logging my response (these are from my notes as I was re-reading the comic for the first time)
The Splash Page. This was back when splash pages were more like a second cover. In this case, we see Ranar showing up and exposing Linda Lee’s secret identity in front of her school.
As a kid, I was completely confused by this. I couldn’t tell what was going on, whether this was part of the story or not, and how it flowed onto the next things. I even found the art, with Supergirl’s exposure being depicted with three different images of her to be confusing for my six year old self (or maybe only five years old, since comics were usually dated a few months into the future, I think).
Now we set up the story, and we learn about Ranar, who was prophesied to find his soul-mate out in the stars, and that when he married her he would gain her super-powers and become all-powerful. Potentially troublesome.
Supergirl goes to visit Kandor, but is confused to discover that nobody remembers her, including her own parents. There’s a very Jetsons looking robot that grabs her, believing her to be an intruder.
Supergirl goes back to her secret identity as Linda Lee, who is the girls’ class advisor a the New Athens School in Southern Florida. I don’t think I was aware of this chapter in Supergirl’s life.
Stressed by her circumstances, Supergirl laments that there is no one she can go to for counseling. What about Superman, surely? Or even Wonder Woman?
Ranar shows up and says that he caused a fire at an observatory by lighting a telescope on fire with “Stellar Parabola Beams”. What?
Supergirl and Ranar fight for a bit. They pause and there are some flashbacks that say that Ranar was there when Argo City was destroyed, and that Zor-El and Alura seem to be super-racist toward him, choosing actual death over allowing a Hawakee (Ranar’s people) to marry their daughter. But Ranar has a “Mystic Divining Rod” which tracks Kara’s cosmic wavelength to earth.
It’s interesting–at first I thought the issue was painting Ranar as a sympathetic character, but he gets increasingly megalomaniacal and crazy as he shares his story. He basically flat-out says that he wants the power he will gain when he marries Kara to rule over many different worlds.
Ranar has put a force field over New Athens, preventing Supergirl from leaving. In spite of all this power, Ranar is unable to detect Kara in her secret identity.
Kara remembers that the Hakawee are a legendary race of barbarian warriors with no concept of right and wrong. Presumably, Zor-El and the others in Kandor detected his approach. They didn’t have time to warn Kara, but they did have time to temporarily erase all their memories and records of her existence!
Incidentally, nothing in the issue says that Ranar actually did make it to Kandor.
We are 12 pages into an 18 page story, and there has been heaps of plot here. It’s interesting to see this story, created firmly in the Bronze Age of comics, still has that Silver-Age compression to its narrative. The idea of ongoing plotlines that became so popular with things like Chris Claremonts X-Men just was not touching this series at this point.
Ranar starts hypnotizing everyone and turning them into uniformed slaves. Kara tries to play along but ends up exposed instead.
The comic takes the time to explain to us that Supergirl’s secret identity is not compromised, because everyone else is a mindless slave. This focus on secret identity concerns is a real mark of an earlier generation of comics, as modern comics rarely give that so much attention.
The fight amps up, and Supergirl realizes she has no way of wining. So she agrees–on the condition that the people of New Athens are returned to normal with no memory of what’s happened, and that Supergirl herself has one hour to say goodbye to earth. And we know that she will use that one hour to do nothing more than say goodbye, right? Certainly she won’t use it to set up a carefully thought out ruse which undermine Ranar’s scheme and grant her a surprise victory…right? Right??
Ranar certainly seems to think so. In fact, he says, “I am quite acquainted with your silly concepts of honor and trustworthiness–which will do you little good among my people…” Brother.
On the way back to his home-world, Ranar suddenly realizes that the whole thing is fruitless, and calls off the marriage!
Now, when I was a kid, my original copy of this issue was missing page 18, as well as the first two pages of the Lois Lane story that follows. So I really confused. It was ages later before I even figured out that I was missing any pages. I thought the story just ended abruptly and that any explanation for why Ranar called off the wedding had just sailed over my head. I didn’t realize I was missing pages for a long time!
So…how does Kara get out of this? After so many years, I am about to find out!!
Hmm…she apparently used that hour to blot out a whole sun with space garbage, so that Ranar would think his star charts were wrong. Because of this, for some reason, Ranar would be convinced that Kara was not the girl for him.
Huh? What happened? Let me go back and see I can figure this out…
OK, back on Page 11, Ranar says that his people are ruled by a particular star-cluster, which he carries around a model of. “Look at it–for the precise position of its suns dictates that you and I are to be star-mates!” he declares. So, when Supergirl makes Rana think one of the suns is now gone, he looks at his star charts and realizes, I guess, that all his calculations are in error? Or are just moot? In any case, he decides that not only is Kara not the one for him, but if they got together it would somehow spell disaster for him.
Nobody comments on what will happen once Ranar realizes that the sun is only blocked from one particular angle with some space junk. It’s like Kara thinks he’s just going to go off and marry some other poor woman right away, and she won’t have to stress about it ever again.
Anyway, at the end, Kara is reunited with Zor-El and Alura (their memories restored) and caption promises “…and they all lived happily ever after!” Well, for about the next ten years, anyway, at which point Kara died!
Overall, it’s a fun story with good art by the stalwart Shaffenberger. The story is ludicrous, naturally, but holds up fairly well except for its disappointing resolution. It’s really a Silver-Age plot with a Bronze Age package (more developed action, more dynamic artwork, more diversity in the background characters), which is maybe how a lot of DC Comics were at the time? I don’t know. Anyway, there’s a lot of plot jam-packed in there along with a decent amount of action, so on the whole it’s a satisfying done-in-one sort of deal, which is perfect for a casual kid-reader like myself.
And um, my dog just jumped up on the comic and tore the front cover a little bit. Argh!
Anyway, in addition to the main story, there are two reprints, one featuring Lois Lane and the other featuring Jimmy Olsen.
When Lois and Lana Were Brides
Originally from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #53 from 1964. Art is once again by Kurt Schaffenberger, with the story’s writer being unknown.
So while the lead story shows Bronze Age influence, this story is straight up Silver Age silliness, with a Lois Lane who is love-struck and pathetic, and a Lana Lang who is spiteful and bitter. The conservative depiction of Lois is in contrast to the more modern, liberated version of her that is shown on the cover.
Basically, the story has Lois, Lana and Clark Kent as passengers on a new plane with lots of space-age features. A stewardess demonstrates the fire suppression mechanism by lighting an actual fire on board. The plane also includes an emergency eject button on every seat, and the one by Lois is missing a label…so she goes ahead and presses it, and the three reporters are shot out to a remote part of England which is inhabited by descendants of ancient Britons, who still live as their forebears did.
These guys insist that the women get married, or else be sent to the Cave of Doom, where strange water will turn them into stone. Lois agrees to marry one brute, but when he gets too violent, an enraged Clark almost attacks him. At the last second he remembers his “mild-mannered” act, but Lois is so impressed she decides to marry him instead. Nonetheless, she is miserable, always having been in love with Superman, and even tells Clark that she’s going to still love Superman after they are married…and even name a son after him!
Clark secretly changes to Superman to save Lana from marrying some warrior, and Lana takes the opportunity to snag Superman for a husband instead. She gloats in her victory over Lois, and rubs it in and laughs at Lois for having to marry Clark!
However, before this goes too far, both Lois and Lana realize that the silver lining of all of this is that they can use this situation to finally prove that Superman is Clark. Superman tries to be evasive but he’s in a tight spot. Luckily, a rescue helicopter shows up and gives Superman a way out of this mess.
As they all leave, Clark muses that the two girls are as clever as they are lovely, and that he’ll probably marry one of them someday…but which one?
The reader is left wondering many things. Why are there passenger-activated ejector seats on every seat of this plane? Where are these volcanic crevices in England? And why would Superman be remotely drawn to marry either of these two women, ever? It is, however, cool to see Clark almost lose his nut when someone mistreats Lois. He really does like her, which is I guess why he’s always saving her.
Jimmy Olsen’s Secret Love
Originally from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #74, also from 1964. Script by Jerry Siegel, and art by Curt Swan and George Klein.
This story is just as silly as the Lois Lane one, but ultimately funnier and thus more enjoyable.
In a wacky set of coincidences, Lucy Lane and Jimmy Olsen meet each other on an airplane when they are both in disguise. Lucy has become Sandra Rogers, a movie starlet from England, while Jimmy is Magi the Magnificent, a magician. Both are immediately smitten by the attractive stranger they are meeting, that they quickly decide they prefer this newcomer over their normal boyfriend / girlfriend (Jimmy and Lucy, obviously).
They even interrupt this new meeting to go to a costume ball with their regular date, both dressing up as the person that they met and wishing throughout the date that they could get away and get back to their new object of their infatuation!
Their plane must make an emergency landing in the ocean and they stand around on a glacier and kiss each other, commenting to themselves that their new partner actually kisses way better than Jimmy / Lucy normally do.
Superman arrives to arrest a criminal who accidentally activated Jimmy’s signal watch. After it’s all over, Magi and Sandra forgot to get each other’s numbers, and are stuck with their boring normal boyfriend / girlfriend.
The caption tells us that they did meet each other again, and that the adventure would be in a future issue of Superman Family (presumably this was not in the original story). Indeed, they Magi and Sandra met at least two times more before they discovered each other’s identities. I have no idea if those stories really were reprinted in Superman Family.
There’s also, by the way, a one page bit called Supergirl’s Boyfriends, which highlights Brainiac 5, Jerro the Merboy, Bronco Bill Starr who was really Comet the Super-Horse (!!), Dick Malverne from Linda’s orphange, and Mr. Mxyzptlk who wanted to marry her once!
Overall, the issue is a fun collection from the days before Archives, Showcases or the internet. Back then, it would have been a bit of a treasure for a young reader. Nowadays, with all those reprints available, it’s not as big of a deal. The lead story isn’t as good as I’d have hoped, especially in its denouement, but I guess I wasn’t really expecting much. I didn’t remember it very well, but I knew it was about Supergirl trying to avoid marrying some pushy suitor from space, so it’s hard to imagine that could be fantastic or anything.
Anyway, the final verdict: fun, but inconsequential, and one I’d not be likely to go back to much.
Next up: Justice League of America #134