Tales from the Calendar: Action Comics 276

Each month I'll be writing about the comic behind the cover featured that month in the 2018 Vintage DC Comics Calendar from Asgard Press.  The March entry is Action Comics #276, cover date May, 1961, with a cover drawn by the legendary Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.

Curt Swan is arguably, with apologies to Joe Shuster, Wayne Boring, and John Byrne, the artist most associated with Superman in the character's history, having drawn Superman and Superboy in hundreds of stories.  By the time this issue came out, Swan had drawn the character off and on for 13 years.  In the 1960s, he became the definitive Superman artist, inheriting that distinction from Wayne Boring.  He'd draw the character regularly for another 25 years until giving way to John Byrne's reinvention of the character, with periodic stories and special issues for another 10 years after until his death in 1996.

Stan Kaye had been a penciler during the Golden Age, primarily on humor strips like his co-creation, Genius Jones (created with legendary writer Alfred Bester).  During the Silver Age, he switched to primarily inking, first working with Wayne Boring on the Superman newspaper strip.  Kaye began working with Curt Swan when Swan took over the Superman newspaper strip from Boring, and he continued to be the primary inker for Swan's covers at DC until he retired in 1962.

Cover-dated May, 1961, Action #276 hit the stands sometime in February or March, 1961.  It was a progressive time in America, with President John F. Kennedy introducing both the Peace Corps and Affirmative Action in Executive Orders while this issue was on the stands.  The atomic clock was introduced.  Barbie got a male companion in Ken.  At the same time, the United States was planning the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and a bomber crashed in California, releasing two nuclear bombs that fortunately remained intact.  Still, the comics of the time largely featured an optimism that matched the mood of much of the nation under Kennedy.

The titular "The War Between Supergirl and the Superman Emergency Squad!" is somehow not considered a Supergirl story when examining Supergirl collections.  To date, it has not been collected in any omnibus or archive form.  The story was written by Robert Bernstein with art by Wayne Boring and cover inker Stan Kaye.

"Pick flowers" appears to mean something different on Krypton.
As with many stories of the day, the title and cover image belied the actual story, in which the "war" between Supergirl and the group of small Kandorians who periodically come to Superman's rescue was actually a performance to convince some criminals they were hallucinating.  A real estate tycoon/gangster tricks Superman into revealing his secret identity by pretending to be on his deathbed, then uses this knowledge to arrange a trap with his gang, creatively named the Anti-Superman Gang.  They trap Superman in a collapsed mine with a chunk of kryptonite.  The Kandorians, who monitor Superman and come to his rescue during emergencies (thus their name), see this and recruit Supergirl (who was still Superman's secret at the time) to come to Superman's aid.  They successfully thwart the kryptonite trap and stage a battle for the gangsters to convince them that what they've been experiencing were hallucinations, making them doubt their revelation that Clark Kent is Superman.

"Our old enemy... cork!"
The Superman Emergency Squad first appeared in the pages of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #48, by Otto Binder and Curt Swan.  They were a group dedicated to helping Superman, and whenever called upon, they would use growth gas to enlarge themselves from microscopic size to the size of dolls (though superhuman dolls in the yellow sun of Earth).  Once Superman was once again safe, they'd return to their bottled city in Superman's fortress.  They would appear periodically until Superman was able to restore Kandor and its inhabitants to their original size in 1979.  They would appear infrequently afterward, finally being written out of existence when Superman's continuity was reset in 1986.

Robert Bernstein, who first started in comics in the 1940s, was a frequent Superman writer beginning in the late 1950s until 1967 and also reintroduced Aquaman in 1959.  Along the way, he co-created Congorilla, General Zod and the Phantom Zone criminals, and Aqualad and Aquagirl.  He also wrote for Archie Comics, where he created the hero The Jaguar.

Seriously, you could chop wood with that chin.
Wayne Boring was another legendary Superman artist, first joining National Comics in 1942 and working with DC regularly for the next 25 years.  His lantern-jawed Superman became the defining look for the character until Curt Swan softened Kal-El's features.  The tilt he introduced when Superman lands gracefully from flight can still be seen in art of the artists currently drawing the character. Among the aspects of the Superman mythos that he co-created were the Fortress of Solitude and Bizarro World.  In 1967, he was summarily dumped by DC, who decided to get rid of many of their old time artists.  He did various jobs around the industry including a very short stint at (gasp) Marvel before retiring and becoming a security guard.  Boring passed away in 1987.

Though it was the backup story for the issue, the Supergirl feature by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney is much more historically important.  "Supergirl's Three Super-Girlfriends!" reintroduced her to the Legion of Super-Heroes and served as the first appearance of many prominent Legionnaires, including Brainiac 5, Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet, Triplicate Girl, and Sun Boy.  It is collected in multiple places, including the first volumes of both the Legion Archives and Omnibus editions and the more recently published Supergirl Omnibus.

It is my dream one day to sit in a meeting with a placard
listing my super power.
The story finds Supergirl in her guise as orphan Linda Lee wistfully wishing that she had a friend that she could confide in.  Conveniently, she's contacted telepathically at that time by someone offering to be her friend.  Changing into costume, she ventures into the woods where she encounters a girl whose lead mask is enough to conceal her identity despite wearing the exact same costume and jetpack that Saturn Girl wore when Supergirl first met the Legion the previous year.  Prior to unmasking, Saturn Girl introduces her to friends who can phase out of the ground and split into three exact duplicates.  Together, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, and Triplicate Girl invite her to come to the 30th Century and try out once more for Legion membership (the last tryout having been thwarted by accidental exposure to red kryptonite aging Supergirl beyond the Legion's age limit of 18).

Hey, what's wrong with Clarence?!
From there, the 12 page story hits overdrive, as it introduces fellow tryouts (and ultimately successful applicants) Shrinking Violet, Bouncing Boy, Sun Boy, and Brainiac 5.  Through Brainy, we learn the ultimate fate of the original Brainiac, who Superman effectively killed by turning the villain's one shrink ray back onto him.  In two short pages, Brainiac 5 introduces his force shield belt, saves Supergirl's life, gets inducted into the Legion alongside her, and professes his love for her.  She turns him down naturally, but takes his belt back to the past with her, where she ultimately breaks it but not before showing it off to her other suitor, Jerro the merman.  The story ends with her coyly telling her fellow orphans that she doesn't have a boyfriend because she really has two (that minx).

Supergirl was first introduced in 1959 after fan reaction to a story featuring a Super-Girl in 1958 was highly positive.  Created by Otto Binder, Al Plastino, and Curt Swan, she quickly received her own feature in Action Comics and Adventure Comics before getting her own title (which later merged into Superman Family, then spun back out into her own solo title again).  Superman kept her existence secret for several years before publicly announcing her arrival to Earth in 1962.  She would die during the Crisis on Infinite Earths event and wiped out of continuity soon after, but would eventually be reintroduced in 2004.  Along the way, she received her own movie and now her own television show, which has recently featured a version of the Legion and Brainiac 5 in particular.  She remains an active comics character and has had her own series (with multiple restarts) for several years, but reports are that the title will end in April.

The Legion of Super-Heroes first appeared in a Superboy story in Adventure Comics #247 (April, 1958) by Otto Binder and Al Plastino (they got around) and would appear with increasing frequency in Superboy and Supergirl stories over the years before finally getting their own feature in Adventure Comics #300 in 1962.  They eventually earned their own title (taking over Superboy's numbering), and then a second when, in the 1980s, they became one of DC's hottest books.  Unfortunately, several changes to Superman continuity, reboots, and restarts over the years resulted in the Legion becoming a mess of continuity.  The original version of the Legion was resurrected in the late 2000s, with (almost) all versions of the team validated as alternate universe teams in the Legion of Three Worlds event.   The restored version of the team continued publication for only a short time with their most recent title's cancellation in 2013.  The DC Rebirth event has reintroduced some characters from the Legion, and expectations are that the team will be fully reintroduced soon, though many fans' patience has worn thin.

I'm not crying, you're crying!
In the love triangle between Supergirl, Brainiac 5, and Jerro the Merman, Brainy was the eventual winner, if you can call mourning your girlfriend after she sacrifices herself for the multiverse winning.  Jerro, on the other hand, was wiped from continuity with Crisis.  A rebooted Brainiac 5 would find himself flirting with Supergirl's continuity replacement, Laurel Gand.  A re-rebooted (see above) Brainiac 5 would instead fall in love with Dream Girl and find the resurrected (see above) Supergirl annoying.  Ah, DC (dis)continuity at its finest.

You may have heard Jerry Siegel's name before, given he created both Superman and Superboy.  Among many others, his diverse portfolio of creations include The Spectre, Doctor Occult, the detective Slam Bradley, and the military adventurers, Red, White, and Blue.  He passed away in 1996, but post-death he has become the center point of discussion surrounding creator rights as his heirs have had several contentious legal actions with DC over his rights to the character.

Jim Mooney was a prolific artist, whose resume couples being thought of as the seminal Supergirl artist with a storied run of Spider-Man stories in various titles over at Marvel, including childhood favorite Spidey Super Stories.  His DC career lasted 22 years, Marvel over 20.  That's quite a career.

It's so funny I forgot to laugh.
Action #276 also included two humor strips by Henry Boltinoff.  I talked about Varsity Vic in my breakdown of Adventure Comics #207.  This issue also featured a story starring Boltinoff's Little Pete, who was a scamp in the same mold as Dennis the Menace or Family Circus's Billy.  Like Varsity Vic, each strip focuses on one minor joke for its humor.

Action Comics, of course, started the superhero genre by introducing Superman in its first issue in 1938.  It has been more or less published continuously ever since, going through more than one format change (most notably as a weekly anthology and as a Superman team-up book in the 1980s and 1990s) in the process.  Restarted with a new number 1 for the New 52 relaunch by DC, its original numbering was restored with DC Rebirth.  It is nearing its 1000th issue, the first title to hit quadruple digits naturally.

That's it for this month.  I'll be back in April with a look at Wonder Woman #2.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.
Tales from the Calendar: Action Comics 276 Tales from the Calendar: Action Comics 276 Reviewed by JL Franke on Thursday, March 01, 2018 Rating: 5
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