The Hidden History of Superboy and Supergirl
By Dr. Peter Coogan
Al Schroeder's masterful history of Clark Hugo Kent uncovers the hidden connections between Philip Wylie's Gladiator and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman. They are one and the same. I have found some minor lacuna in his history which can be filled by proposing an alterative Superboy and Supergirl, ones whose history has, to this point, not been told.1
Superboy and Supergirl were not Superman as a boy and his cousin. They were (and are) his children.
Let's begin with Superboy. According to Wylie, Hugo Danner (Clark Kent) and Anna Blake (Lana Lang) consummated their relationship at age eighteen in the summer of 1911.2 They loved intensely over that summer. At the summer's end, "she lost weight and became irritable;" they quarreled. Her family "decided to send her away, believing the opposite of the truth responsible for her nervousness and weakness" (38). Shortly after her departure, Hugo "received a letter from Anna saying that she was gong to marry a man she had met and known for three weeks. It was a broken, gasping, apologetic letter" (39). Wylie presents this scene as the break up between Hugo and Anna, instigated by their growing apart due to Hugo's excessive sexual abilities and Anna's family's suspicion that she is pregnant. But Wylie reports that Hugo thinks himself sterile. Schroeder accepts Wylie's explanations, based as they on the story Hugo told Professor Hardin (Clark Savage Sr.) in Mexico.
But what if the family, and not Clark, were right. In 1911, a respectable family would have many reasons to send their pregnant daughter away to give birth in secret. Anna's sudden irritability and weight loss are consistent with a stressful pregnancy, especially with a half-Kryptonian fetus which would likely require greater sustenance and might suck nutrients from its mother. Remember also that Anna intended, perhaps only subconsciously, to trap Hugo into marriage: her "tacticswere too intensely human and too clearly born of social and biological necessity.She played a long game in which she said, 'If our love is consummated too soon, the social loss will be balanced by a speedier marriage'"(37). At the same time, she did not actually believe that she would get pregnant. But this plan, such as it was, did not pan out. Sent away during her second month, Anna apparently met a more conventional suitor. She might have had sex with him and used the pregnancy to convince him to marry her, which explains the shortness of her courtship.
We can presume that this happened because of the events Roy and Dann Thomas report in The Young All-Stars.3 The Thomases tell the story of Arnold Munro, the son of Hugo Danner, and his discovery of his father's identity.4 A priest in the Caribbean gave Arn Hugo Danner's journal. Reading it, he comes to believe that he is Danner's son. Arn confronts his mother, Anna Blake, and she admits the truth, repeating the story of her relationship with Danner related by Wylie. She adds a number of details. She married a young businessman named John Munro, who brought her back to Indian Creek (Smallville). She sees Danner at the funeral of his father, but does not speak to him. Danner's death in Mexico is reported in the newspapers and Anna thinks Hugo dead. But he returns to Indian Creek after his mother's death, telling Anna that he faked his own death by substituting the burned body of a Mayan Indian for his own supposedly lightning-struck body. Danner relates that he spent some time living as a god with a worshipful Indian tribe that had never before seen a white man.5 But this life paled quickly, and, as he tells Anna, "I thought of home, of you, and I came back" (#10 13). That night in 1922, Hugo and Anna conceived Arn, but he leaves early the next morning. She wakes to find an apologetic note from Hugo claiming, "You are another man's wife -- and it's too late for us" (#10 14). Arn grows up as a normal boy, albeit strong for his age, but without manifesting his father's abilities. John Munro dies when Arn is about ten. Arn's powers emerge a few years later when he and Anna are walking in the mountains and she is injured in a fall. The adrenal rush triggers the release of the full range of his powers, which he learns to keep to himself to avoid the fear and hostility that he expects from ordinary people. His mother made him promise to keep his powers secret until he turned eighteen, at which point he joined the Young All-Stars so that he could find a proper means of exercising his abilities.
But this story has a few lacuna of its own. Wylie does not record Anna's return to Indian Creek, nor her attendance at Abednego (Jonathon Kent) Danner's funeral. Schroeder does not report Hugo's return to Indian Creek in 1923. These events and dates are the Thomases' invention. Because of the continuity established by the Crisis on Infinite Earths and DC's enforcement of that continuity, Superman did not exist during the Second World War. The Thomases wanted to use Arn as a Superman-substitute for the Young All-Stars as Roy previously had done with Captain Marvel in the All-Star Squadron. For Arn to be 18 in 1942, he would have had to have been born in 1924. Instead of this date, we should accept the more reasonable one of June of 1912, which fits with both Wylie and Schroeder's time tables. This way, Hugo and Anna consummated their relationship in May or June of 1911; Anna becomes pregnant in July and irritable in August. She is shipped off in late August, and by September has met and become engaged to John Munro.
Schroeder speculates on the effect of a sex between a Kryptonian and a human woman and rejects much of Larry Nivens' reasoning from "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex." In "The Three Lives of Superman," Schroeder reports that the Project developed an artificial womb and brought a frozen fertilized embryo of Clark Kent and Lois to term to become Powergirl. But this artificial womb doesn't seem to have been a necessity. The strength of a half-Kryptonian fetus must not be as great as is often supposed, or perhaps Arn was merely a quiet baby, with few kicks or only minor ones. Kryptonians develop their powers slowly, and half-Kryptonians even more slowly. We have Anna Blake's assertion that Arn grew up as a normal boy. At any rate, Anna Blake Munro seemed to have survived the pregnancy, which seems evidence enough that a Kryptonian/human hybrid could be brought to term.
Returning to Arn's upbringing, it seems likely that John Munro did not take his bride and child back to Indian Creek. Perhaps he opened a small store in a Kansas town, thus generating the storekeeper identity of Jonathon Kent. We can take the Thomases' report pretty much at face value. Arn's abilities emerge slowly as he grows. His step-father dies and he discovers that Munro was not his father. Instead of being given Hugo Danner's diary by a priest, it seems more likely that he read Wylie's Gladiator in 1930 when he was 18, just as the Thomases intimate. He probably contacted Wylie, proved his identity, and was put in contact with Clark Savage Jr., the son of "Professor Hardin." Savage clearly would have had the resources to contact Danner, particularly after Danner began appearing in costume as Superman in 1933 and certainly by 1936 when the Man of Bronze and the Man of Steel shared an adventure.6 It's entirely unclear what happened when they met as Schroeder does not record the meeting, nor does record Munro's existence. But we can imagine that Superman attempted to bring his son in to his adventuring life. Perhaps Munro did join his father and the Thomases' record of his adventures in The Young All-Stars bears some relationship to Munro's life. Maybe he joined his father in costume.
It's likely that the legend of Superboy emerged from a conversation that Siegel had with Danner once they established the deal that allowed Siegel and Shuster to publish Danner's adventures.7 Superman might have mentioned having a son, to which Siegel might have replied, "Oh, a superboy then?" Some version of this idea must have ended up with Mort Weisinger, who began to publish Superboy's adventures in 1945 without Siegel and Shuster's knowledge or permission. Also, there is the evidence of the imaginary Super-Sons stories published in World's Finest in the seventies. These stories feature the sons of Superman and Batman carrying on in their father's names and identities. So the idea of Superman having a half-human son has been around for some time and likely the Super-Sons represents the first published version of Arn Munro's life. John Byrne's Generations series also hints at Superman's children, including both a boy and a girl. And it's to that girl that I'd like to turn.
Supergirl has always been imagined as Superman's cousin, the last surviving member of the El family to escape from Argo City. Schroeder proposes this version of Supergirl as the source of much of Superman and Siegel's knowledge of Krypton and a contributor to Otto Binder's stories about the Legion of Superheroes.8 But there was likely another explanation for Superman's knowledge of Krypton. In Gladiator Hugo Danner fights in the trenches of World War One and uses his powers. To explain himself, he tells his captain:
Have you ever heard of Colorado? A place in America. A place that has scarcely been explored. I was born there. And all the men of Colorado are born as I was born and are like me. We are very strong. We are great fighters. We cannot be wounded except by the largest shells. (104).
Schroeder says that Danner told this "modification of the truth, because he didn't want them to send him to their biologists, or to distrust him as they would a 'thing from another world.' So he made Krypton...what little he knew of Krypton, from what the Legionnaires told him...into Colorado."9 Schroeder supposes that Danner knew little of Krypton because he was sent as a baby to Earth. But why is it always supposed that his parents did not perceive the necessity of furnishing their son with knowledge of his home world. Jor-El worked for months building the model rocketship that eventually took Kal-El to Earth.. But what did Lara do all that time. We don't know Lara's precise occupation, "E. Nelson Bridwell thought she was an astronaut. Otto Binder thought she was a robot repair woman, and part time agent for the Krypton Bureau of Investigation. Byrne was of the opinion she was a librarian."10 Given the extended life-span of Kryptonians, she may well have been all these things. We do know that she was educated and intelligent. What would an educated and intelligent woman have spent the months that it took Jor-El to construct the space ship doing? What would you do if you knew the world was going to end in the near future? She spent that time compiling the knowledge of Krypton. Her collection, along with an "education-pillow" would have gone into the rocketship.11 Clearly it was big enough to have held such a device as it could have held Lara and Kal-El both and at any rate was likely not much larger than a portable computer or CD player.12 Kal-El would have spent the trip from Krypton to Earth learning the history of his planet and would have had access to this device on Earth. In this instance the first Christopher Reeves Superman movie gets it right when it shows the baby Kal-El learning all about the universe during his trip to Earth.
So Supergirl is not the necessary source for Superman's and Siegel's knowledge of Krypton. Besides, space for a Hugo Danner's daughter exists in Wylie's story and a tale of her birth and youth was published.
First to establish the mother of this girl. Hugo Danner had many dalliances with women, apparently without issue, according to Wylie and Schroeder. But we have seen that he had a son. The pattern established in Danner's relationship with Anna Blake was duplicated in another of Danner's relationships. After receiving Anna's break up letter, Hugo went East to Webster University. His first year ended with a letter from his father explaining that their money had run out and Hugo would have to care for himself. Looking for a woman who had stolen money from him, he wandered to Coney Island where he met Charlotte and took up with her. That summer, the summer of 1912, he worked a strongman act under the alias Hogarth Smith with Charlotte posing as his wife. They made friends with Valentine Mitchell, a fellow collegian who studied art at the School of Design in the winter, and during the summer did signs and portraits for the shows on the board walk. Danner met up with some of his college chums, and it was obvious that Charlotte was painfully out-of-place in this part of his life. While he is at work, she leaves with Mitchell. Mitchell's note reads, "Charlotte and I have fallen in love with each other and I've run away with her. I almost wish you'd come after us and kill me. I hate myself for betraying you. But I love her, so I cannot help it. I've learned to see in her what you first saw in her. Goodbye, good luck." A shorter note from Charlotte reads, "Goodbye, darling. I do not love you any more. C." (78).
As with Anna Blake, Hugo engaged in a sexual relationship with a woman who left him abruptly and took up immediately with another man. We can imagine Charlotte learning that she is pregnant. She would understand that Hugo is not the marrying kind, but Valentine is. Rather than sticking with Hugo, she runs off with Valentine and convinces him the child is his, just as Anna did with John Munro. For what happened after this, we need to turn to the story of "another super-character, possessing super-strength and X-ray vision, with roots in a super-civilization from another world," Olga Mesmer, the girl with the x-ray eyes (Murray 25-26).13
Dr. Hugo Mesmer saves Margot, a beautiful amnesiac, from a sinister shadowy assailant, and quickly falls in love with and marries her. He conducts experiments on her, injecting her eyes and stomach with "soluible x-rays." These treatments take their toll and Margot is bedridden for months with her eyes bandaged while they heal. Meanwhile Mesmer takes up with party girls in his very house. The noise of his carrying on stirs Margot, who rips the bandages from her eyes, and staring right through her bedroom wall, fixes her gaze on her unfaithful husband. He and his companion are killed by a blast of x-rays from her eyes. She dies a few hours later while giving birth to Olga. The story leaps twenty years ahead. Olga has been raised by her crotchety god father, Hugh Rankin, who counsels her to keep her powers secret. She does so, but, spying a murder of a couple taking place out her home, she burst through the house's walls, grabs the killer by the throat and swings him around until his neck breaks. The female victim lies dead, but her male companion, Rodney Prescott, has survived, though he is gravely injured. Olga takes him to a doctor and offers her own blood for transfusion. Prescott immediately recovers and they discover that the blood transfusion has transferred Olga's super-strength to Rodney.
Rodney and Olga return to the Rankin home, where the lecherous grandfather moves to take advantage of the now-normal Olga. Rankin binds Rodney to a chair and chains Olga to the wall. Before Rankin can molest her, Rodney bursts his bonds, busts open a wall, and the young lovers leap to freedom. As Rodney is a graduate physicist, they decide to track down the formula that gave Margot and Olga their powers in order to duplicate it. Starting at the Mesmers' graves on the chance that the formula might be buried with them, they are attacked by devil-eared giants, whom Rodney quickly dispatches. Other giants emerge, led by the supposedly-deceased Margot, who turns to be the immortal queen of the underground realm of Sitnalta. Silly adventures ensue and Margot, Rodney, and Olga end up on Venus, home of the Sitnaltan civilization, where Margot marries Prince Boris of Mars, instituting interplanetary peace.
Poppycock, mostly. But Olga's story does contain enough hints to extract Supergirl's life story. This story ran as comics from August 1937 to October 1938 in Spicy Mystery Stories, published by Harry Donenfeld, the publisher of what became DC Comics. The strip itself was packaged and sold to Donenfeld by Adolphe Barreaux, the founder of probably the earliest comics shop and a supplier to DC's first comic book, New Fun Comics#1 in 1935. The strip was apparently drawn at first by Watt Dell, an unknown artist who might have also used the name Watt Dell Lovett, and then taken over mid-way by Paul H. H . Stone, another Majestic house artist. Barreaux may have written the strip, or may not have. The true identity of the writer is unknown, but I have my suspicions.
Let's return to the story of Charlotte and Valentine Mitchell. They marry and give birth to a daughter in the late spring or early summer of 1913. Charlotte dies in childbirth and Valentine abandons his daughter to be raised by Hugh Rankin. Perhaps Rankin runs an orphanage or perhaps he has some connection with Charlotte or Valentine. The girl is raised as Linda Lee and keeps her powers secret, at Rankin's suggestion. Linda saves the life of Rodney Prescott through a blood transfusion, but without the loss of her super-strength. I suspect that the murder of Prescott's companion and the attempted rape of Olga by Rankin were added to make the story fit the "spicy" label of the title. Prescott and Linda set out to track down her parents and the secret of her superpowers. Rankin supplied them with what he knew. At some point, they come across Philip Wylie's Gladiator; if we accept Linda's age as 20, then these events occurred in 1933. Linda and Rodney contact Wylie. He makes the connection between Linda's mother and the Charlotte and Valentine Mitchell of his story. He has no way to contact Hugo Danner, but contrives to place the story of Olga Mesmer with Barreaux as a way of advertising Linda's existence to Danner. The parallel of a scientist who injects his pregnant wife with substances that give powers to their child would have struck Danner immediately. It's telling that Olga's father's name is Hugo. Olga's published adventures tell the story of a superpowered girl who seeks out her parents and finds a connection to her lost home world, which is exactly what Linda attempted to do.
Would Danner have seen the story and attempted to contact Wylie or Donenfeld? Perhaps, but a more likely explanation exists. Wylie, the unknown writer of "Olga Mesmer," happened to place his story with the very publishers who employed Siegel and Shuster. Siegel and Shuster began selling strips such as "Slam Bradley" and "Dr. Occult" to Donenfeld in the mid-thirties. I suspect that they saw the Olga Mesmer piece and contacted Hugo Danner. He tracked down his daughter, perhaps through Wylie perhaps through the detective agency maintained by Doc Savage. Linda and Danner were reunited and she served as the model for Supergirl so many years later.
There are a few additional issues raised by Schroeder that I would like to take up. Schroeder suggests that Supergirl was fascinated by Superman's dual existence as both a real person and fictional character. He proposes that she wrote to Otto Binder and suggested the idea of a super-girl as well as material relating to the Legion of Superheroes, Braniac, and Bizarro. Linda/Olga may well have done this. Her fabrications may have been the source of much of the Olga Mesmer story and Schroeder probably has insight into her character and her imagination.
The other issue is the longevity of Lois Lane. Schroeder suggests that Lois gained longevity from an exposure to the "chronal energy" of Ian Karkull, which also retarded or stopped the aging of the members of the All-Star Squadron.14 Perhaps there is another suggestion, one implied in the published adventures of Olga Mesmer. In Action Comics#60 (May 1943), Lois is injured and dreams that Superman saves life with a blood transfusion, from which she temporarily gains superpowers and a marriage proposal from Superman. She awakens to find it all a dream. Similarly, Olga's blood transfers her super-strength to Rodney Prescott permanently. But we know that Lois never gained superpowers in this way and that Olga/Linda kept her strength in her Supergirl identity. We may be looking at a metaphor here. In both cases, the transfusion of blood causes an immediate recovery in the recipient and they exhibit greatly increased vitality thereafter. What if, instead of transferring superpowers, a blood transfusion invested the recipient with added life. The Kryptonian blood might act as a form of stem cells, constantly refurbishing the ordinary human's cells, rejuvenating them. Lois' transfusion suggests that the effect is short-lived, but Rodney's suggests that it can be permanent. Perhaps the answer lies in between the two. A Kryptonian blood transfusion likely effects a rejuvenation in the recipient, but it is only temporary. Repeated transfusions can stop the aging process in a human being. Likely Superman has continued to transfuse Lois with his blood, and I suspect the same for Linda/Olga and Rodney Prescott.
Olga goes on to give birth to Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel, but this may not be Rodney's child. She may have had a child by a member of the Kree - perhaps Marvell himself. Danvers and Danner are very close -- Maybe she's returned to her father's name in some way?
I believe I have presented a reasonable explanation of the source of the Superboy and Supergirl stories. Perhaps someday definitive evidence will come to light to confirm my speculations.
1. Schroeder's Speculations should be read before reading this essay.
2. All dates given follow Schroeder's timeline. See "Superman/Gladiator Chronology".
3. In "The Three Lives of Superman", Schroeder reports that Roy Thomas often corresponded with Gardner Fox and got details about the adventures of the Justice Society from him. It's likely that he heard about Arn Munro from Fox or possibly from other writers and artists at DC.
4. The name "Arn Munro", like all published Wold-Newton names, is fictional. Arn Munro seems even more fictional as it is the name of John Campbell's Jovian superman from The Mightiest Machine and is clearly a nod by the Thomases to the tradition of science-fiction supermen exemplified by Campbell's Munro and Wylie's Danner.
5. Schroeder makes this point as well, adding that the tribe was the Xinca Indians and that Danner escorted his cousin, Allard Kent Rassendyl (or Kent Allard, soon to become the Shadow) out of the jungle. See Schroeder's "From Gladiator to Superman".
6. See Schroeder's "Man of Tomorrow, Man of Bronze, Man of Steel".
7. See Schroeder's "The Thirties: Social Reform and a Reporter's Beginnings".
8. See Schroeder's "The Once and Future Superboy".
9. Schroeder's "Weariness and War Years".
10. Schroeder's "This is the Way the World Ends".
11. "Education was mainly a product of some sort of advanced sleep-learning (an 'education-pillow' could give one all the facts one needed for a highly skilled technical job in one night---if one had the aptitude.) There were also education centers where advanced students got additional facts "fed" into their minds while they were awake, wearing caps tied directly into some main information conduit or computer." It seems highly likely that Kryptonian homes would have been equipped with these devices, just as we have access to the World Wide Web from home. Schroeder's "Strange Visitor From Another Planet".
12. Starting in 1948, many versions of the origin show Lara refusing Jor-El's suggestion that she accompany Kal-El in the rocketship. At any rate, the model flier would have held any one of the El family, indicating that the ship had a fair amount of cargo space with a single small passenger.
13. My information about Olga Mesmer comes exclusively from Will Murray's article. Murray is reliable, but I hope some day to track down reprints of her adventures of the issues of Spicy Mystery Stories (August 1937-October 1938) that feature her story.
14. Schroeder's "The Three Lives of Superman".
Murray, Will. "The Superheroine Before Superman." Comic Book Marketplace. September 1997: 24-29.
Thomas, Roy (w), Dann Thomas (w), and Brian Murray (a). "Like Father, Like Son." The Young All-Stars. #10-11. March-April, 1988.
Wylie, Phillip. Gladiator. 1930. New York: Lancer Books, 1965.