How Did Supergirl Learn Superman’s Secret Identity in the Comics?

Summary

  • Mort Weisinger used striking covers to attract young readers and keep the Superman titles popular during the 1950s comic book sales boom. One of these striking covers showed Superman punishing Supergirl by exiling her from Earth!
  • Superman imposed a secret status quo on Supergirl, making her keep her powers and true identity hidden from the world, but she eventually learned his secret in Action Comics #258.
  • Superman tested Supergirl’s character by exiling her to an asteroid, but she proved herself and earned his trust, leading to her revelation of his secret identity as Clark Kent (he was going to tell her, but she beat him to it)


This is “Got Me a Secret,” a feature where I spotlight notable instances of comic book characters revealing their secret identities to people (or people figuring out the secret identities themselves). Today, we look at how long Superman waited before planning to allow Supergirl to learn his Clark Kent secret identity (but Supergirl beat him to the punch).

Mort Weisinger was the editor of the Superman titles during its peak dominance on the comic book sales charts. Note that this wasn’t Superman’s peak sales success PERIOD at the time, as it was selling nearly a million copies a month during the heyday of the Golden Age, but a LOT of comic books were selling a ton of comic books at the time, and Superman’s rival, Captain Marvel, was doing just as well if not better during the 1940s. However, while the rest of the superhero market fell by the wayside in the the 1950s, Superman continued to sell well, and Weisinger’s Superman was a class above every other superhero for years until the Batman TV show flipped the script on the World’s Finest heroes.

One of Weisinger’s most popular sales techniques was to use striking covers to suck in the young audience of comic book buyers of the 1950s. Weisinger would solicit cover ideas from the young readers of the titles, and he would also ask his children’s friends what kinds of things they’d like to see on covers. Weisinger would then reuse cover ideas (applying the “cycle” theory of comic book sales, which suggested that you would refresh your audience every few years, as one group of readers aged out, and a new group of readers started). One of the most popular types of covers are what led to the term “Superdickery,” which is a reference to the fact that a number of the covers showed Supermen being cruel. Kids would pick up the comic, wondering why their hero was being such a jerk, and the writers inside would have to come up with an explanation for why it only APPEARED as though Superman was a jerk, but he actually had a very good reason for his actions on the cover.

One of these covers, Action Comics #258, sees Superman seemingly being a total jerk to Supergirl, but in reality, the issue would end with Supergirl learning Superman’s secret identity!

The cover of Action Comics #258

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What was Supergirl’s status quo, imposed by Superman, at the time?

Introduced in 1959’s Action Comics #252 (by Otto Binder and Al Plastino), Superman’s young cousin, Kara Zor-El, came to Earth in a rocketship of her own (Al Plastino drew her SO DARN ADORABLY in this first issue). Her origin was a clever one, explaining that she was part of a city that managed to initially survive the destruction of Krypton, but as their atmosphere began to deteriorate, they sent Kara to Earth to save her life (giving her a costume based on Superman so that he would more easily accept her). Binder then embroiled her in a classic set-up.

Superman makes his cousin, Supergirl, promise to stay hidden

She lived in an orphanage (choosing a “Double L” name, Linda Lee) and worked as Superman’s secret weapon, kept hidden from the rest of the world and only to help Superman in an emergency. Can she keep her powers a secret from the rest of the orphanage? That was the basic set-up of her series and it was a good one. However, while it was a good setup for an ongoing backup series, it also made Superman look a BIT unreasonable. While we have always known that Superman is one of those dudes who thinks that any idea that he has is automatically the best idea, it is still strange to me that he was SO adamant about her keeping her identity a secret. Plus, of course, he knows her secret identity as Linda Lee, but she doesn’t know that Kal-El uses the name Clark Kent on Earth. That seems pretty harsh of Superman.

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Why did Superman exile Supergirl from Earth?

Now, you see, while the Superman writers were often challenged to make Superman not look as cruel as he does on the covers, it still resulted in a WHOLE lot of stories where Superman puts his friends through elaborate “tests” of their character, so even while he isn’t ACTIVELY cruel like the covers show, he still often comes off as not a dude you’d really want to hang out with a lot. In Action Comics #258’s Supergirl backup story (by Binder and Jim Mooney), we see that it was not just Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen that Superman would subject to elaborate scenarios where he appeared to be a jerk but was actually trying to do some good (in his own mind, at least), as this time, Supergirl got in on the action.

She meets Krypto in the story, and talks to him, assuming that that would be okay, but Superman punishes her for violating his command to not reveal herself, so he exiles her to live on an asteroid…

Superman punishes Supergirl for revealing her identity to Krypto

After a week on the asteroid, Superman lets her know that she must return home for a day, as the asteroid is about to be exposed to a Kryptonite cloud which would kill her if she remained. She returns to Earth, and has to come up with an explanation for how Linda Lee has survived after being missing for a week…

Supergirl comes up with a reason for her absence

She convinces most of the reporters with her SUPER SKETCHY explanation, but one reporter is insistent on checking her for mosquito bites in another room.

That reporter is Clark Kent, and Supergirl shocks him by revealing her secret identity to him, but then reveals that she knows Clark is Superman!

Supergirl turns the tables on Superman

Once he realizes that she WOULD have fooled anyone but him, Superman reveals that the whole exile was a ruse to see if she could explain away a week-long absence for Linda Lee. Now knowing that she could, Superman was willing to trust her with his secret identity, but she beat him to the punch!

Superman reveals that he was going to tell Supergirl he was Clark Kent, but she beat him to it!

Of course, he still makes her remain secret for…reasons, but hey, at least it’s something!

If anyone has a suggestion for a new Got Me a Secret, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com.

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