Retro Review: Action Comics #252 The First Appearance of Supergirl!
The Menace of Metallo
After my interview with Corrine, a Supergirl cosplayer from Melbourne Australia, I wanted to know more about the girl of steel, so I bought a digital copy of Action Comics #252 on Comixology, where Kara first premiered. I was surprised to find that not only is it the first appearance of Supergirl, but it also debuts Metallo, the metal man with a heart of Kryptonite!
Action Comics #252 was released May 1959, and back then Action Comics still had more than one story. The first story in issue 252 was the origin and first appearance of John Corben, A.K.A. Metallo. Corben was a reporter who believed he had gotten away with the perfect crime until a car accident almost left him dead. Lucky for Corben, a scientist, Professor Vale happens to be driving by. Vale takes Corben back to his lab and saves his life, by turning Corben into mostly metal.
Corben’s power source was Uranium, but the Professor mentioned another power source, much stronger and longer lasting. We see Corben take a job at the Daily Planet and hit on Lois, who thinks Corben is Superman because his metal body protects her from gunfire.
Meanwhile, and this is really cool, Superman saves a woman in a barrel who purposely falls down Niagra Falls to prove Superman will save her. Superman saves her secretly, without her knowing. Some may remember that Lois jumped into Niagra Falls to prove Clark was Superman in Superman II. It’s fun to see where films get their references from, and before reading this issue, I never would have thought that the Niagra Falls scene was pulled from a comic.
In the end, Metallo disguised as Superman takes the Kryptonite out of his chest to set a trap for Superman and then steals more Kryptonite to put into his chest, only to discover the Kryptonite he stole was fake and he dies. At the end, Superman then makes a joke about his death, because old Superman was a dick.
The Supergirl from Krypton!
There is a second story, Congorilla, but I’m going to skip it and focus on the Superman tales.
All of the stories contained in Action Comics #252 begin in medias res for some reason. It’s used well in the Metallo and Congorilla story but seems unnecessary in Supergirl’s tale. The first panel mimics the cover and the second panel starts mere minutes before the first panel. Seems almost pointless, unless the first panel is acting as a pseudo cover.
We get Kara’s full origin here. We see what happens to her people after Krypton’s destruction and why she had to flee to safety as Argon city was about to suffer the same fate.
Superman and Supergirl realize they’re cousins and embrace in a heartwarming moment, only to be ruined by Superman coldly telling Kara she cannot live with him. He argues that his secret identity would be jeopardized, but I don’t see any reason why and no reason is offered.
Superman takes Kara to an orphanage and gives her a wig, telling her that she must create her own secret identity and learn the customs of Earth. Kara seems like a normal name, but she goes with Linda Lee.
Kara acclimates herself to her new home and prepares her future on earth.
Al Plastino is the artist and his art is generally good. It’s similar to other artists of that time period. His Superman feels awkward though. The arms and legs seem out of proportion. Superman’s cape is also too small and always in a weird position. I think Plastino wanted Superman’s chest large and didn’t scale the other appendages into proportion.
Curt Swan is arguably one of the best artists to ever grace Superman. I wish he had drawn the entire issue, but he only did the cover. Superman has better proportions and is less awkward.
Finally, this issue has the Comic Book Code Authority’s stamp of approval, which explains why Superman doesn’t actually touch Metallo or fight anyone. The CCA frowned upon violence, so Superheoes at the time would often beat their villains through circumstance or outsmart them, rather than pummle them to a pulp.
Story: Action Comics
Writer: Robert Berstein and Otto Binder
Cover Art: Curt Swan
Art: Al Plastino
Editor: Mort Weisinger