A couple of times each week I look around Ebay for gay related items, mainly comics. Sometimes I’m just looking to fill in a gap in a Silver Age series. During one of those searches I came across a listing for Adventure #384 with an intriguing description that alluded to a lesbian element in the story. The comic has been in my collection since it was printed in 1969 and my curiosity was piqued, so I managed to pull the box with old Adventure with Supergirl comics out from the very bottom of the closet.
This gem of a Supergirl story is titled “The Heroine Haters” and was cover dated September 1969. Cary Bates was responsible for the story and Win Mortimer and Jack Abel for the art. I know many bloggers and fans have expressed their extreme distaste and disappointment in the handling and portrayal of the current incarnation of Supergirl. Honestly, I couldn’t read more than a couple of issues before giving up, and I couldn’t agree more with them about the character’s state. In reading this story, I wondered if Supergirl was ever treated well.
Avert your eyes now! I don’t think any spoiler warnings are necessary for a 38-year old comic, and what follows is a bit of a synopsis with commentary.
At this point in time and more importantly, continuity, Linda is a student at good ol’ Stanhope College. She’s completely jealous that two roommates/friends have been matched up with dates by a computer. That’s right, the idea of computer dating happened long before the Internet and Gay.com! Thanks to thought bubbles, a wonderful storytelling device, we can eavesdrop. “I envy Becky and Jan…They’re perfectly happy with guys the computer chose for them. But even with fellows I like, I still have the uncomfortable realization that I’m super and they’re not! No boy on Earth could meet my standards…” The caption reads: And then, inspiration strikes the Maid of Might… “Wait a sec! No one on Earth…but who’s to say there isn’t a super-guy somewhere in the universe, who’d be the perfect match for me?”
Hmm. What would Mera, Sue Dibny, Invisible Woman, and Wasp think about Supergirl’s attitude? Well, apparently Marvelwomen had it a little easier, not taking into account later changes that made Hank Pym a wife beater. Or maybe Linda had heard one too many stories about Wonder Woman taking time out of her busy super-heroing schedule to rescue Steve Trevor.
So off she flies to the Fortress to program her cousin’s wall-spanning computer to find her a super-beau. What a great use for a super computer, Kara! Not very much time passes before Superman shows up and wants to know what his little cousin is up to. The “Stanhope Sensation” (gotta love that!) explains her plan. Big Blue mildly rebuffs her just as the monitor announces finding a perfect choice for romance. Voila! It’s Volar, a super hunk with groovy sideburns from a planet far, far away. Will Supergirl be ready for a long distance relationship? Big Kal warns Kara that appearances are deceiving. Of course they are! Otherwise, there wouldn’t be half as many surprises in life. Kal tells himself: “I’ve visited Torma and I’m sure that’s the last place for Supergirl to find the perfect match! Our Supergirl’s in for a real heartbreak if she falls for Volar! But she’ll have to find out for herself!” “Hmm” indeed.
In short time, our Maid of Might has flown vast distances through space to Torma, the second planet of Star Sun 4478. She descends planet-side to a large, futuristic city where a somewhat phallic-shaped building is in danger of collapsing (or just getting soft) from an oh-so convenient super-heated cloud menace! Pause to recover from cringing in terror. A blast of her super-breath takes care of the cloud when a mysterious blue beam freezes the skyscraper in place, keeping it semi-aroused. And where did the blue beam of energy come from? Why, Volar, of course! Introductions are made and Volar, being a good host, invites Supergirl home to meet his parents. Meeting a potential boyfriend’s parents is a good thing, right? A thought bubble reveals that Supergirl thinks, “Volar is a real dream! Something about his face — almost seems to have an hypnotic effect on me!”
Oh, I’ve missed the days in comics when exclamation marks ended almost every sentence of dialog!
Supergirl gets her first clue that something is different on Torma. Following Volar, Supergirl wonders to herself why the locals are laughing and mocking them. Her second clue comes after meeting Volar’s father, Danon. He seems friendly enough till his wife Mara brings out a tray of lovely tray of Torman canapés she’s made. Danon is quite dismissive of her, ordering her back to the kitchen, which she mildly complies to do. Then he tells his son he has work to do in the lab, and urges Volar to fly off with Supergirl to show her the quaint sights Torma is known for.
The sight seeing tour turns into a history lesson as Volar enlightens Supergirl about “the Visitor” who came to their world “long ago” to spread his message of bitterness and ignorance after being jilted by a woman. He even projects her image onto the sky in a fancy PowerPoint presentation. She’s a gorgeous woman with fair skin and strawberry hair. He is a dweeb that sports a strange beard and who may have used too much “Just For Men” hair dye if the black splotch for his hair is any indication. And his clothes! That cloak comes from the clearance section of Geeks’R Us.
So, yeah, this “Visitor” travels throughout the galaxy using his suppressor beam to hypnotize each planet’s women into thinking they’re inferior. And every straight male believes they’ve got it good now, and as on Torma, the men keep it that way by teaching little girls they’re good for servitude. And probably a wink and a nudge, too.
Intermission time. Stop by our snack bar for fresh, hot-buttered popcorn, and ice cold Pepsi’s for you and your gal or guy.
Settled in? Okay.
Supergirl must be spending the night or a long weekend (she’d already told cousin Kal she’d activated a “Linda” robot to take her place on campus). The pair is on patrol when she spots three capsules shooting through the air and uses her X-ray vision to peek inside them. She remarks that men holding bags of glowing pebbles are in each capsule.
Oh, no! Volar explains the pebbles are Torman money, and the men are thieves making a getaway after robbing the largest bank on Torma. Volar must have some sixth sense to know this. Or maybe it’s shoddy scripting?Volar shatters one getaway capsule with his Magna-strength. A second thief remarks, “A girl — flying? But no female can stop me!” Supergirl decides to teach him a lesson. “For starters, I’ll show you what a super-hard fingernail can do!” And he’s done for. Did Superman ever do this in the Silver Age? Not wanting to be a complete show off, she lets Volar capture the third robber.
Thanks to super-compressed storytelling it appears that Linda has decided to continue her visit with Volar while trying to destroy the planet-wide belief of female inferiority. “Time after time, the dauntless Maid of Might proves her super-worth to the watching public, but– ” old ways die hard, especially when they move a cheesy plot forward.
Still here? Good. There’re just another three pages of cheesiness to go.
On a mountaintop outside the city our pair have a little talk.
Volar (hands oh hips): “I know you’re having it rough on Torma! The men hate you because you’re obviously so superior to them! I know how you must feel!”
Supergirl (arms crossed, hair flowing in the breeze): “Do you? I wonder if anyone can really understand prejudice unless he feels it?”
Supergirl thinks: “There’s something strange about Volar — I can’t quite put my finger on it! Something in his mannerisms — but I don’t know just what!
“Still, there’s one thing I am certain of — I could really go for Volar! But he’s not serious about me — at least not yet! He treats me like a buddy! He’s never tried to kiss me — or even hold my hand!”
Oh, you are in for such a surprise, Kara! Later that night, Kara is flying back to Volar’s home when her super-hearing eavesdrops on part of a conversation between Volar and Pops. She hears Volar pleading for more serum before the sun rises on X Day (not a Marvel Mutant reference).
Danon convinces him to get rid of Supergirl before she sees him the next morning. Volar tries, but Kara is defiant in her love (or rather her desperation) and stays the night again! And it’s never made clear just where she’s sleeping. Certainly not with Volar because the Comics Code wouldn’t have allowed it. Likely Torman social values wouldn’t have either.
And indeed, the next morning, Supergirl rushes to see Volar. The next panel is a close up of a shocked Supergirl’s face.
“No, that can’t be you, Volar!” she exclaims. Off-panel, Volar replies, “It is though, Supergirl! Now you know the secret I’ve kept for years!” The revelation is so traumatic for Supergirl (now teary-eyed!) that she’s streaking homeward and beating herself up over the matter mere seconds later.
Just what was the scandalous surprise? It’s all revealed in the next panel. Volar is really a woman who wore a “living mask” to become Torma’s superhero. Danon’s serum, made from those conveniently and clichéd rare chemicals, made the mask appear to be real flesh. Danon tries to persuade Volar to give it up, but it’s useless. Some of Supergirl’s attitude has worn off and Volar proclaims: “I’ll teach people that a girl can be as good as many man — and better than some!”
Props to Volar for learning this lesson, and having the conviction of her feelings to patrol her planet “au naturelle.” Obviously, Linda returned home quite disappointed and feeling unlucky in love. Alas, it needn’t have been so, except for social attitudes and the once all-pervasive Comics Code that governed material. It’d be many years later when Peter David introduced Andy Jones and the Comet matter before any overt lesbian plot or characters would be seen in Supergirl.