Minor Detour: Everyone’s a Critic

Metropolis mailbag

Shortly after Supergirl’s first appearance in Action Comics #252 (May 1959), letters started flooding in to editor Mort Weisinger with comments, questions, criticisms, ideas, and corrections. Presented below is a sample of the letters published in Action Comics during the first fifty issues of Supergirl’s run. The editor’s replies usually amounted to nothing more than a thank you, or an off-handed dismissal of a criticism or correction, so they’ve been omitted unless pertinent… or unintentionally amusing.

Metropolis Mailbag header
Action Comics #289: “Y’know Superman, this might be a lot easier if we just opened the envelopes…”

Corrections, particularly, often generating feeble face saving replies. On more than one occasion readers would note that a single panel had seen Supergirl’s skirt shift from blue to red. Rather than admit an error by the colourist, Uncle Mort (for we assume it was he!) would explain that Supergirl’s skirt was reversible — blue on one side and red on the other — and that she would sometimes flip it around on a whim for a single panel. History does not record whether Mort really expected readers to buy such a flimsy excuse, nor how many expletives were uttered by the readers who read it.

By many accounts Mort’s ranking on an emotional intelligence test might not have been too high: when he died he left behind the reputation of a man who was shrewd in business, and a domineering taskmaster to his staff. He was, however, always keep to learn what his young readership thought of the Superman family of comics — legend has it he would survey kids on the street in his neighbourhood. It is assumed Mort wrote (or at least approved) the answers given to each reader, as some of them seem to betray his (for wont of a better term) personality quirks.

Supergirl transforms.
Action Comics #252: Into action for the first ever time.

So, where better a place to start than the response to Supergirl’s first ever story, published in Action Comics #255 (Aug 1959). David Mitchell has the honour of being the first letter published about the Girl of Steel, and he kept his praise short, sweet, and to the point :

Dear Editor,
Congratulations! Your introduction of SUPERGIRL was terrific. I almost like her better than SUPERMAN. Many thanks.
— David Mitchell, Garland, Texas

Steady on there David… almost better than Superman?!

Sadly, not everyone was as overjoyed to see Kara Zor-El leap from her rocket ship. Herbert Linsey felt he could authoritatively speak on behalf of all male readers in petitioning to have Supergirl evicted to another magazine:

Dear Editor,
I read every issue of ACTION COMICS and find them very interesting. But I protest against this addition of SUPERGIRL in the magazine. I’m sure most of us boys would prefer the book much better with something else. So how about moving SUPERGIRL to LOIS LANE Comics or some other comic and make everyone happy?
— Herbert Linsey, Bronx, N.Y.

It should be noted that Action Comics began publishing in 1938, so to have read every issue Herbert would need to have been in his mid-twenties, at least — a bit too old to refer to oneself as one of “us boys”, surely?

Fortunately other fans immediately embraced Kara, and treated her like she was an established part of the DC universe — that is to say they bickered over details and nitpicked continuity:

Supergirl and the whale.
Action Comics #263: Supergirl KO’s a sperm whale. Nuff said!

Dear Editor,
Can you explain why SUPERGIRL’s rocket-ship crashed when it landed on Earth? Wasn’t it made from indestructible metal from the planet Krypton?
— Russell Kridel, Fort Lee, N.J.

And Action Comics #263 (Apr 1960) saw further examples:

Dear Editor,
I like SUPERGIRL very much. She is my favorite feature. But I often wonder how she conceals the long sleeves on her costume when she wears a short-sleeved dress as Linda Lee.
— Helen Silberman, Irvington, N.Y.

Almost immediately, however, Supergirl attracted some criticism of a more serious kind, as Action Comics #257 (Oct 1959) carried one mother’s letter questioning the depiction of orphans in Supergirl’s second story, The Secret of the Super Orphan. The plot saw Supergirl help Timmy, a fellow orphan passed over for adoption because he lacks any special skill that gets him noticed when couples visit Midvale Orphanage.

Linda and Timmy.
Action Comics #253: Little orphan Timmy learns that the world is a cruel, cruel, place.

Dear Editor,
I am shocked to think that you could have such poor taste as to portray an orphanage as a place where childless people go to pick out a talented entertainer to adopt! My children showed me this story in the June issue of ACTION COMICS, in the SUPERGIRL story called “The Secret of the Super Orphan.” One of their friends was adopted as an infant, and they asked me what talent a baby would need to have, to please its prospective parents. Also, what happens to the untalented and homely children at this home? Please let us know that this was a “joke” on your part and that children are not valued for their show-business appeal. My kids and I are fans of all your publications. (Please withhold my name.)
— Mrs A.S., White Plains, N.Y.

A begrudging apology, of sorts, came from Uncle Mort. Then, a few months later in Action Comics #264 (May 1960), it was the turn of a young orphaned girl to comment:

Dear Editor,
Of all the characters you’ve ever created, the one my friends enjoy the most is Linda Lee, the orphan who is secretly SUPERGIRL. We’re very happy that so many of your readers have found SUPERGIRL a favorite. You see, we are all orphans ourselves, and we live in a city orphanage. Your readers don’t know how lucky they are to have mothers and fathers. For many of us here, every time we see SUPERGIRL help some kid get adopted, we could just break out and cheer. The least you could do is tell your readers to love and obey their parents — we sure wish we had some.
— B.L.S., Chicago, Ill.

Kara helps her fellow orphans.
Action Comics #268: Kara helps her fellow orphans.

Quite an emotionally charged read. The editor replied, “We’re sure that somewhere in your large city an eager couple is searching for a child as full of affection as you are — and will find you soon.” Other reader’s also apparently wrote in with their own responses, and one example was published in Action Comics #270 (Nov 1960) :

Dear Editor,
I would like to tell you something that comes from the bottom of my heart. In ACTION COMICS No. 264 you printed a letter from and orphan, B.L.S., of Chicago, who told you how she felt about SUPERGIRL. I think you did a wonderful thing when you printed that letter. I hope that the girl who wrote that letter gets adopted soon.
— June Rives, Crane, Texas

Which caused Mort to reply: “[…] as a result of having her letter published in this department, several childless couples have inquired as to how they can adopt her. The various couples are now being screened by the authorities, so it looks as if our friend B.L.S. will have a home soon.” The Girl of Steel was already helping orphans in the real world, it seems… it’s certainly a nice thought.

On the topic of adoption, readers often wrote in with suggestions of who should adopt Linda Lee — some exhibiting a beautifully naive view of what was allowed to pass as a happy family in the 1960s, as this example from Action Comics #269 (Oct 1960) demonstrates:

Supergirl at the Batcave.
Action Comics #270: Supergirl performs emergency repairs to the Batcave.

Dear Editor,
[…] I have a great idea for a SUPERGIRL story. Linda (Supergirl) Lee is at the orphanage when two men come in to adopt a girl about her age. These two men are really Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen. You can figure out yourself what happens next.
— Fred B. Weissler, Chevy Chase, Md.

What happens next, Fred, is that Focus on the Family — or its 60s counterpart — comes down on DC Comics like the proverbial ton of bricks with lobbying and boycotts, and the company is bankrupted within months. Sadly Linda would have to have waited until she was middle aged for an opportunity to be adopted by a same-sex couple. (The idea of Batman and Green Arrow as Supergirl’s two dads is certainly an interesting one, however!)

Moving on, Linda’s haircut was the topic of many a letter, of which a typical example was published in Action Comics #276 (May 1961) :

Dear Editor,
I am 17 and actually too old for this nonsense, but I enjoy being a Supergirl fan. I’d like to see you give Supergirl the Kitten Cut hair-do, as that is my hair-style. Your SUPERMAN family of magazines are enchanting. I only wish I was five years younger sometimes!
— Judie Sims, Tampa, Fla.

Supergirl loses her powers.
Action Comics #278: Get used to it Supergirl, it will happen a lot in your Adventure Comics run.

Another comment, in Action Comics #284 (Jan 1962), came from a rather familiar name:

Dear Editor,
Now that Linda Lee has been adopted by the Danvers, shouldn’t she be called Linda Danvers instead of Lee? […] Incidentally, the results of the hair-do poll for Linda’s new style shows excellent style on the part of your readers.
— E. Nelson Bridwell, Oklahoma City, Okla.

In 1962 Edward Nelson Bridwell was a budding fantasy and comedy author who had had only a little success in getting some of his work published. By 1965, however, after successful scripts for Mad and Archie comics, he would find himself hired to work as assistant to Mort Weisinger on the Superman family of comics at DC. From letter writing fan to junior editor, in just three years..!

Other readers took a more practical approach to Linda’s new grown-up hair style, like this example from Action Comics #288 (May 1962) :

Dear Editor,
Now that Linda Lee Danvers (Supergirl) has a new hair style — which is really a wig — how does she sleep with it on, because I think it would fall off. I know, because I once had to wear a wig and every time I went to sleep it always fell off.
— Trudy Blugerman, Toronto, Ont.

Supergirl amd Comet.
Action Comics #294: Linda and her super sticky wig, apparently.

The answer: “Linda’s wig has a special non-sticky adhesive which enables it to adhere to her real hair.” A non-sticky adhesive, Mort? Really?! The reply continues, rather flippantly, “As for your particular problem, we suggest you keep your wig from falling off by sleeping standing up.” A young girl wearing a wig to bed — did it not occur to Uncle Mort that there might possibly have been some unfortunate medical complaint behind this..?! Not very thoughtful.

In Action Comics #285 (Feb 1962) Supergirl had finally been revealed to the world, and inevitably this caused the mailbag to bulge for the #288 (May 1962) issue.

Dear Editor,
How can we fans ever thank you for the wonderful present you gave us in ACTION COMICS No. 285? […] All through it, and even when it had finished, I still could not believe that it was not an imaginary story. I kept waiting for the final act of fate to step in in the form of flashbacks and tell us that SUPERGIRL was not really revealed, but such a thing never happened.
— Louis B. Cohn, Baltimore, Md.

Dear Editor,
I’m glad you’ve finally given in to popular demand and revealed the existence of SUPERGIRL. However, I myself was against her being revealed to the world. Well, all I can say is that there goes a little suspense, mystery, and some surprise endings from your stories — right down the drain!
— Stanley Chan, Los Angeles, Calif.

Supergirl and Kryptonite.
Action Comics #300: Another deadly Kryptonite trap for the Girl of Steele.

Mort responded, “Thousands of readers have written us expressing their joy about SUPERGIRL’s revelation to the world. While the reaction of the vast majority has been favorable, a few would have preferred the have seen SUPERGIRL remain anonymous […]” And the compliments were still coming in a few months later, in Action Comics #291 (Aug 1962) :

Dear Editor,
May I compliment you and your staff on the excellent way in which you handle SUPERGIRL? She is consistently portrayed as a human being, not just a crime-fighter. Your recent series, in which Lesla-Lar of Kandor stole Supergirl’s powers was, in my opinion, a milestone in comic magazine history. Needless to say, now that Superman has revealed the Girl of Steel to the world, it should provide angles for even better stories… if that is possible.
— Douglas Musick, San Francisco, Calif.

The majority of reader may have been thrilled by the “even better stories” that were to follow, but some still had more mundane matters on their mind. Action Comics #300 (May 1963) finally saw a reader ask the question that must have been bugging quite a few fans:

Linda consults a fortune teller.
Action Comics #302: Careful Kara, that’s not a real professor.

Dear Editor,
How many doubles is SUPERGIRL going to have? Thus far you’ve given us Lesla-Lar, Luma Lynai (an adult double of Supergirl) and Supergirl on the twin planet of Terra. Isn’t this stretching coincidence too far?
— Evelyn Petrivelli, East Boston, Mass.

Mort called upon Professor Warren Dow, an expert on genetics and heredity no less, to explain that statistically the world should have at least twenty Kara Zor-El doubles. An internet search reveals no evidence that anyone called Warren Dow ever published any academic books or papers on genetics, or heredity, or any other subject, by the way.

Ironically this letter was itself doubled, because just two issues later (Action Comics #302, Jul 1963) it was accidentally reprinted with a fresh reply. This time the excuse involved each Supergirl double existing on a different world..! No fictional professor of Astrophysics was quoted to support this theory, however.

NEXT >

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2 thoughts on “Minor Detour: Everyone’s a Critic

  1. I am the David Mitchell (although I have gone by “Dave” since 1964) who wrote the first LOC (Letter of Comment) about Supergirl. I am 68 years old and recently retired after a 48-year career as a broadcast personality in Miami, Florida and Dallas, Texas. I lost my copy of Action #255 some years ago, but it was great to see my comments were preserved here. Thank you so much.

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