Supergirl #1

After spending most of the 1960s as a backup character, Supergirl was finally granted full cover billing when her solo series debuted in Adventure Comics #381. In a strange switch around, editor Mort Weisinger moved the previous stars of Adventure — the Legion of Super-Heroes — into Supergirl’s now vacant position at the back of Action Comics. Supergirl remained Adventure‘s headliner for several years before finally being given a shot at superstardom with her own title.

Supergirl #1 arrived cover dated November 1972, with a story by long-time Super-scripter Cary Bates and art from the appropriately named Art Saaf. “Trail of the Madman” opens with Supergirl overflying her beloved San Francisco, preparing herself for her move to Vandyre University some ten miles away. She swoops down and removes all her posessions and takes them to Vandyre, where she finds her new roommate — the ominously named Wanda Five — absent.

Linda Danvers

Changing to civilian clothes as Linda Danvers, Supergirl is not afraid to show off her shapely bottom in a micro mini skirt. She goes exploring around the campus, but hears a girl scream. It transpires that it’s only a rehersal for a play directed by the University’s drama teacher, the one-time movie star Basil Rasloff. But then, in an alarming revelation, the actor playing dead… is no longer just playing! Crumbs!

Linda switches to Supergirl, and goes looking for a blonde girl she saw acting suspiciously. A search of the University records reveals that the girl is none other than Wanda Five. Supergirl is mentally compelled to meet Wanda, and the girl reveals that she has weird mind powers that she can’t understand. Suddenly, she ‘sees’ a second murder being committed and cries out.

Wanda sees

Arriving at the Industrial Arts building on campus, Supergirl finds a young man about to be carved up by a giant buzz saw. She shatters the saw, but the man has died of fright. There’s an insane serial killer about — and the only link between the dead pair is that they were both drama students.

menaced by buzz saw

Then, Supergirl realises the plays the two dead students were about to star in were new productions of ones in which Basil Rasloff had found fame. The Dean says that a third Rasloff play revival is in preparation, and Wanda uses her mental powers to track down Rasloff. Racing to the scene, Supergirl finds the quite mad actor about to drop a student from a crane onto a bed of spikes. He’s upset that these young men were about to recreate roles that were his greatest successes! “You think I could allow three amateurs to ruin the most famous characters of my stage career?”

Dropped to death

In a brilliant move Supergirl sucks the air out of the crane’s cab, incapacitating Rassloff.

Back at her room, Linda Danvers ponders the mystery of Wanda Five and her strange telepathy. There’s a knock at the door, and two girls pop their heads in: Sheila Wong and Terry Blake welcome Linda to her new dorm.

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A wonderful first issue. Cary Bates’s script is full of incident and moves a fair clip. It has to be said that the mystery is not that baffling — it’s pretty clear from the off that Rasloff is the killer — but that doesn’t spoli anything. The subplot about the decidedly odd Wanda Five is intriguing, and I’m sure we’ll find out more in subsequent issues.

The real joy here is Art Saaf’s beautiful artwork. I’m not too familiar with his career, but on this showing it’s well worth investigating. He draws a lovely Supergirl, the flying scenes being particularly effective: she looks carefree and joyous. Look at this panel of Supergirl flying alongside a police car:

Supergirl flies

Sad to say, Saaf recently passed away — but he leaves behind a huge body of work.

The cover to this issue is by Bob Oksner, who also recently died.

©2007 DC Comics