Supergirl made her debut in Action Comics during the period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age, by far the most important addition to the Superman mythos at this point. After teasing the concept in many stories in the years before this, Kara Zor-El was launched directly into her own solo series, and within the first year would gain an inquisitive boyfriend and time travel to meet another young hero.
Action 252 featured the new heroine on its cover. Superman sees a rocket crash outside Metropolis, and, investigating, finds a young girl dressed in a matching outfit. Supergirl claims to be from Krypton as well, though Superman is highly suspicious. She explains how a chunk of Krypton, at this point containing only “a street of homes,” was ejected intact during the planet’s destruction. Her father lead the survivors in laying lead shielding on the ground, to prevent the kryptonite from killing them. There is no mention of the city being domed, the atmosphere just “came along with them.” Friendly atmosphere! The girl was born on this floating neighbourhood, but sent away to Earth after meteors pierced the lead shielding. Her parents had observed Kal-El, and sent her, in a matching outfit, to join him.
Only as her tale ends does Kara actually start using names. Her parents were Zor-El and Alura, the brother, and sister-in-law, of Jor-El. She is Superman’s cousin. Having finally found a living relative, Superman does the tender thing, forcing her to adopt a disguise, and leaving her at an orphanage in a different city to be raised. I guess she should be glad he didn’t send her to a work house. She chooses the name Linda Lee. Because there can never be too many characters with the initials L.L. in Superman’s world.
Supergirl gets a gentle adventure in her first solo outing, in Action 253, by Otto Binder and Jim Mooney. Because Superman has ordered her to stay at the orphanage, she scuttles her own chances of being adopted by a couple. But she goes out of her way to get one of the boys at the home some new parents. When a couple who want to adopt the boy are rejected for being too poor, she drills a hole through the Earth on their property, which becomes a tourist attraction, and enables them to afford to take the boy.
Despite her efforts to prove Linda Lee unworthy, Supergirl gets taken by a foster family in issue 254. They run a carnival sideshow, and plan to use Linda in the act, as a strong girl. She figures that it’s all just entertainment, so goes along with it. When she is whisked away before the show is over, she gets suspicious, and uses her vision and hearing powers to learn that her foster parents are using her as part of their phony strength serum scam.
Linda uses her Supergirl powers to trick them into thinking the formula really works. It’s easy when she just has to appear strong herself, more difficult when she has to make her foster father think it worked on him. The couple fall for her scam, and bankrupt themselves on worthless serum. No longer able to support Linda, they return her to the orphanage.
Many of Supergirl’s early stories revolved around life at the Midvale Orphanage. In Action 257 Linda is reading fairy tales to some of the young orphans. One of the boys insists that fairies do not exist, so Linda decides to mess with him. I loved this story as a kid, when I read it as a reprint in an issue of Superman Family, but now it all seems pretty cruel, especially since the boy is right.
Supergirl disguises herself as a fairy, and uses her powers to perform feats of magic. Eventually she traumatizes the boy into submission. Good for you, Supergirl, you taught that rotten kid a lesson for insisting that fairy tales are not reality.
Supergirl is given a mission by Superman to test her skills, as he orders her to fly to the 21st century, in Action 255. Supergirl finds a space orphanage, and hangs around after repairing the dome, helping out two boys, Tommy and Jik, who remain unaware of her presence. Tommy does save Supergirl from some kryptonite, but really it was a fluke, as he had no idea she was around. Supergirl arranges an adoption for Tommy before heading back to the present, and her orphanage. We learn that the boy became Tommy Tomorrow. So presumably he and Tim, Tommy Tomorrow’s younger brother in his own series, are not biologically related.
Dick Wilson is introduced in Action 256. He sees Supergirl flying near the orphanage, and tries to figure out who she might be. As Linda is not aware that Dick is onto her, her carelessness leads him to suspect her. From then on, the story is a gender reversal of the Lois Lane or Lana Lang stories, as Linda has to prove that she is not Supergirl. The odd thing is that no one yet knows Supergirl even exists.
I do love the panels where Linda super-snorts the steel from the dumbbell up her nose, and then sprays it into another one. Superman has created a Supergirl robot, and gives it to Linda as a gift, to help protect her identity. Dick Wilson will return. He eventually gets adopted, and his last name gets changed to Malverne. A version of this character, "Rick" Malverne, was introduced in yesterday's episode of Supergirl.
Supergirl gets the cover feature for Action 258. Supergirl will get the cover spot far more often than any other back-up series, largely because it was often possible to include Superman in the cover image for the story. Supergirl meets Krypto in this story, to Superman’s anger. He is upset that she revealed her identity to the dog, who might give it away. Yes, the dog might reveal Supergirl’s existence to the world. Somehow.
At any rate, Superman exiles her to a far off world. After a while there, Supergirl receives a message from Superman that she is to return to Earth for one day, to avoid a kryptonite storm that will hit her exile world. She comes back to the orphanage, pretending to have been lost in a swamp for a week. The press show up, questioning her about her story.
One reporter in particular seems intent on exposing her lies, but she turns the tables when she admits that she is Supergirl. The reporter is Clark Kent, who is dismayed that she revealed herself so easily. But Supergirl explains that she only did so once she figured out that Clark was really Superman. The entire series of events, right from the meeting with Krypto, is revealed to have been a test, which Supergirl passed with flying colours. Ironically, Superman had been planning to reward her by revealing his identity. Too late.
Supergirl continues in the next period, 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age.