Think you know the whole story of Kara Zor-El’s trek to Earth, thanks to that newfangled Supergirl show?  Well, maybe you do and maybe you don’t!  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Action Comics #252 awaits!

ActionComics252CoverACTION COMICS #252
Writer: Robert Bernstein/Otto Binder
Penciler: Al Plastino/Howard Sherman
Inker: Al Plastino/Howard Sherman
Letterer: Uncredited
Editor: Mort Weisinger
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12,000.00

Previously in Action Comics: We all know the drill on this on: Rocketed from the lost planet Krypton, Superman is secretly Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet!  His life and family on Krypton were forever lost to him in that long-ago explosion…

…or so it would have seemed until now.  (For our purposes, “now” means “Spring of ’59.”)  First though, we get the introduction of the OTHER major character who makes their first bow in these issues, one John Corben… ActionComics2521

I guess that, even if you’re sharp enough to pull off the perfect murder, you still might be enough of a cheese sandwich to whip your high-powered convertible around a steep curve with enough force to throw it down the hillside (though, to be honest, it seems a bit suspect.)  Fortunately for John, his utter lack of roadworthiness is witnessed by eccentric Professor Vale, who not only collects his broken body from the wreckage, but saves Corben’s life…

…in a manner of speaking.

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Whereas Cliff Steele was driven nearly made by his sudden transformation to cyborg, Corben takes the whole “brain transplanted into a robot body” thing as a blessing in disguise, immediately channeling his strength and durability into a life of crime, while also pilfering the radioactive Uranium that will keep his robit form up and running.  After he accidentally saves the life of Lois Lane (assassins perform a drive-by in revenge, only to have the bullets bounce off his armor-plated chest), Corben realizes that he looks a lot like Superman.

This bodes ill for all involved…

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This Uranium heist goes badly, as the real Superman arrives to stop him, snatching the radioactive ore away.  Corben discovers that his body can also be powered by the radiation of Kryptonite, and breaks into Superman’s “charity souvenir show” to steal more Green K.  He sets off to deal with Lois Lane, the one person who knows of his secret…

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Fortunately, the story runs out of pages, and Metallo keels over dead of a heart attack, the victim of the ol’ Fake Kryptonite Heart trick.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve fallen for THAT one!  The second story of the issue (remember, the majority of comic books were anthology stories well into the Silver Age Of Comics) features an adventure of Congorilla, aka Congo Bill, whose adventures date back to the dawn of the Golden Age of Comics.

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Spoiler warning:  Nobody dies in this issue, which most readers probably already guessed.  Since Congorilla was a member of the Justice League as recently as 2011, it’s easy to assume reports of his demise were premature.

Still, none of this is the reason why we’re here, Faithful Spoilerites (though it is pretty interesting to find this issue as a key first appearance of two different member of Superman’s cast.)  We’re here to figure out what the deal is with that cute Melissa Benoist character we’ve been seeing on Monday nights, right?  Wait no more, dear friends, and hearken back to a dull day at the Daily Planet for our intrepid reporter, Mister Kent…

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One great joy of older comics stories is the economy with which the creators tell their story.  Sure, it’s down to the page-count limitations of the anthology comic, but you have to respect the ability of veteran science fiction writer Otto Binder to introduce place, character and plot in the space of two panels, both of which are close up shots of a dude in shirt-sleeves.  Having seen the rocket plummeting down, Superman is struck by the parallels to his own arrival on Earth some years before.

Funny thing about that, there, Clarkie…

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Like Athena from the brow of Zeus, Supergirl leaps fully formed and costumed from the wreckage of her escape rocket, all ready to explain her origins to the kindly man in the blue tights.  It’s a story we all know by now, the tale of how the “Last Son” of the dead planet wasn’t actually the last survivor so much as the herald of many survivors, including an ENTIRE CITY…

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Later stories would change the utterly-by-coincidence survival of Argo City into an intentional save by Zor-El, whose genius and reputation would grow to rival his brother Jor (who, ironically, would become more and more of a wild-eyed Cassandra prophet in later appearances, losing some of his stature as legendary genius.  Bygones…)  And isn’t it lucky that Zor-El happened to have a sheet of lead big enough to cover the ground of his entire hometown?  What a stroke of good fortune!  Still, it wasn’t all beer and Skittles for the survivors of Argo, as even with the lead shield, their deaths were still a forgone conclusion, leading Zor and his wife Alura to scan the heavens with a super-space telescope for a suitable haven.  It is that telescope that shows them the exploits of Superman, and gives them the idea to rocket their daughter to his world for safe-keeping…

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Overcome by emotion, Supergirl tearfully pauses her story, leading her super-genius cousin to comfort her, and also prove that he’s a terrible listener…

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The text explicitly shows us Kara saying Zor-El’s name a number of times (and it’s in quotes, so I don’t think it’s meant to be omniscient narrator V/O), but this time finally stick in the Man Of Steel’s mind, and the survivors of the El family are reunited at last.  After a big hug, Kara joyfully exclaims that she’ll be able to stay with someone she loves on this strange new planet, someone who shares her Kryptonian heritage, someone who is even family and will take care of her after her terrible orphaning by deep-space Kryptonite e’splosion.

Quoth the Superman: “Naaaah.”

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Because of his own secret identity, Superman feels that it will be much safer for Kara to live in the nearby town of Midvale, ensconced in a disused and clearly shabby orphanage.  (The Big Red S can’t have some kid relative around to cramp his swingin’ bachelor style, after all.)  Sweet, upbeat Kara takes it as an adventure, though, and makes the best of things in her own way…

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The saddest scene in nearly any DC Comic ever comes as Linda is given a truly terrible room full of broken furniture and filth, but uses her superpowers and her sunny nature to clean and repair things, even preparing to make friends with the other children in the orphanage.  You have to admire her stiff upper lip…  But as for her cousin’s directive to stay undercover and live an ordinary life?

Yeah, that one ain’t happenin’…

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And so it was that Superman’s sweet young cousin became a cornerstone of the Superman family for 27 years, until she gave her life to stop the menace of the Anti-Monitor in the Crisis On Infinite Earths.  This being comics, she was eventually resurrected as a hypersexualized willowy girl with a perfectly triangular face, but all of that is still ahead of Kara here.  It’s a cute story with tons of potential, and for my money, Al Plastino’s fifties Superman art is a hoot.  While he isn’t the draftsman that Curt Swan would prove to be in coming years, his barrel-chested, hawk-nosed Superman is a lovely window into decades past.  With the first appearances of Supergirl AND Metallo, Action Comics #252 is a very memorable and hard-to-acquire comic book, with charming art and clever story, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Many of its elements will be massaged, adjusted and retconned in coming stories, but the basics of Supergirl’s origins are hammered out solidly here, and have survived even 50+ years later…

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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.

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