The "Gender Through Comic Books" online class is just a few weeks from wrapping up, and it's been an interesting experience to this point. The most interesting part of it, to me, has been the weekly interviews with various comic book creators, but not far behind that are all of the books that we're reading. I am, of course, a pretty regular reader of comics even when I'm not taking a class on them, but I still have enjoyed getting to read some books that I otherwise might not pick up.
Case in point, Action Comics #267. This book is among a handful of fairly well known Silver Age Superman issues, owing a lot to its memorable cover. Even though I'm a pretty big fan of Superman in general, I wouldn't have bought this issue if it wasn't required for the course. I'm sure that most people taking the class, if they bothered to read the book at all, just downloaded a digital copy from ComiXology. Besides enjoying paper comics more as a rule, I'm glad that I found a physical copy of this book, because some of the extras - the letters page specifically - were worth the price of admission alone.
The book, over 50 years old at this point, is fairly ridiculous from cover to cover. Robber Baron Lex Luthor, using what amounts to mirrors and wire, brings Hercules to the present from the confines of his prison cell in an attempt to, I don't know, rob some banks and kill Superman or something. There's real genius in the dialogue, including Luthor's expository description, telling all who might be interested that he learned to speak ancient Latin from a "prison book". Apparently, though, "ancient Latin" consists of using the word "thee" in the place of "you". Poor Lex...an evil king (choke!) took all of his gold.
Lois plays an interesting role in this issue. Well, I mean, she plays the damsel in distress, of course, but she also plants a big sloppy kiss on Hercules after he saves her from a falling fake moon (really). Afterwards, she blows him off. "Slow down, fella! Just because I gave you an open mouth kiss doesn't mean I actually want to see you again!" That's fairly aggressive for the normally prudish Lois of the 1950s and '60s. And apparently, upon seeing a picture of Superman, Hercules's clothes fly off.
The issue also includes a backup story featuring Supergirl in which she dries herself off in the above fashion.
The real gem of this issue, though, is undoubtedly the letters page. I'm a fan of old-timey comic book letters pages for a few reasons, but even if I wasn't, this would still be something to behold. The types of ridiculous questions that are asked and the level of contempt with which they are answered makes a great show of this letters page. I have this mental image of Mort Weisinger sitting at a desk in the DC offices late at night, opening letter after letter and just getting angrier with each one. "These damn kids!", he'd shout. "I'll show them!!"
You can't go wrong with any of the letters, really, but let's take a look at some of them and see just what Superman fans of 1960 had on their minds.
First off, we have David Judd of Staten Island, New York, who asks one of the classic Superman questions. Why doesn't Clark, who often leaves for days at a time with no warning or explanation, get fired from his job at the Daily Planet? Because screw you, kid, that's why. He can leave the Daily Planet office whenever he chooses.
Next up is John Poppen of Western Springs, Illinois, who wonders why people think that Superman has a secret identity. After all, it's not like Superman goes around telling everyone that he pretends to be someone else when he's not patrolling the skies. Well, John, just what the hell is wrong with you? What, you think Superman is some kind of hermit? That he doesn't have any friends? How dare you, sir.
Bill Mason of Ontario, Canada, apparently asks a question that others have brought up before, and the editor is none too pleased to have to be answering something more than once. I suppose the decision could have been made to just not print the letter, but no, he might as well answer it again for these damn readers. Bill wants to know why Supergirl's skirt changes colors from red to blue sometimes. The answer is simple, Bill. Supergirl gets bored and also has a reversible skirt. And besides, no one sees her anyway, so what's it to you? Punk.
This next letter from John Pinette of St. Paul, Minnesota, is perhaps the best letter-and-response combo that I've ever seen - anywhere, ever. John brings up the painful fact that since Superman and Supergirl are first cousins, they can't get married even though lots of other fans are apparently clamoring for it (which is pretty uncomfortable to begin with). John, this makes a lot of sense, and you'd think that the Superman editor would appreciate what you have to say. But no! The editor rebukes your claim for a solution all his own. Cousins can marry - and why not? It's perfectly legal and there's nothing strange about it. The primary reason why Superman and Supergirl can't get married, it seems, is because Superman is older than Supergirl. Incest? No big deal. But a difference in age? Hold on now, mister. The fact that the editor takes such pains to explain why two (first!) cousins are legally allowed to marry is eyebrow-raising at best.
"John Pinette" is the name of a fairly recognizable comedian (born in 1964, so it's not the same guy), so there's little chance that this letter writer, if he is still with us 53 years later, will find this mention if he searches for his name on Google. But John, if you by any chance do, I would like to pass along my greatest appreciation for you in writing probably the best comic book letter I've ever come across.
Charles Johnson of Evanston, Illinois wants to know if DC preserves all of their books with some special type of gas. No, Charles, they don't.
Here's another unbelievably great letter from Dawn Zamudio from Laredo, Texas. Apparently, Perry White eats a fish, bones and all (perhaps in a similar fashion to Dr. Zoidberg), in a previous issue of Action Comics. Dawn is understandably concerned about this situation, and who among us can blame her? For starters, the editor can. Hey, Dawn? It's simple. Perry White was in a universe where the fish all have edible bones. Yes, Dawn. THAT IS THE SIMPLEST AND MOST OBVIOUS EXPLANATION WE CAN GIVE YOU.
Lastly, here's a letter from Janice Gilbreath from Butte, Montana. I drove through Butte a few years back. I have no interesting story about it...I just thought I'd mention it. Anyway, Janice wants to know how Supergirl can keep her handy Supergirl robot stashed in the trunk of a live tree and not have the tree wither and die. Well, Janice, you're in luck, because the editor has a foolproof answer for you. Rather than saying that Supergirl has some sort of fake tree setup, he comes up with the much more plausible answer that Supergirl simply tears branches off of live trees and sticks them onto the dead tree trunk, and that she apparently does this all the time. Of course that's what she'd do! Why WOULDN'T she do that?
It's interesting to note that the editor lists an address and solicits further letters at the end of the column. After one such as this issue brought us, you'd think that they'd just announce that the column had been cancelled. Instead, it's "see you next time, kids!"
What a great find this letters page was. I think I'm a better person having seen it.