Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

An unusual role for a woman: Karel Sorensen

Revisiting the old Star Rovers stories as part of my Silver Age reread, I suddenly realized how unusual a character Karel Sorensen was.

The Star Rovers debuted as a backup feature in Mystery in Space #66. In “Who Caught the Loborilla?” (Gardner Fox, Sid Greene, cover by Carmine Infantino) three space adventurers arrive on the planet Zaddara to hunt the Loborilla, a gorilla with lobster claws for hands. Our three heroes are:

  • Rick Purvis, playboy/amateur athlete.
  • Homer Glint, sportswriter/big-game hunter.
  • Karel Sorensen, beauty queen/champion markswoman.

As the story opens, each of the three is convinced they have captured the elusive beast. Karel describes how she did it, then Rick shows that the creature’s illusion powers tricked her — he‘s the one who caught it! Nope, Homer says, Rick was tricked too, I bagged the beast! Nope, says the Loborilla, I was the one who caught all three of you — on camera! At which point the creature disappears, heading home to show off its Funniest Human Videos to the other loborillas.

That set up the format for the remaining eight stories: Homer, Rick and Karel share an adventure with a mystery element and all disagree on the solution. In the second story, “What Happened on Sirius-4?” (MIS #69), they investigate the eponymous dead world to figure out what happened to its people; all three of their theories turn out wrong. When they find they all agree in their next adventure “Where Is the Paradise of Space?” (MIS #74), they realize that’s kind of weird.

That’s the first story where they refer to themselves as the Star Rovers. They’re not a team in any formal sense; like the Defenders, they simply enjoy hanging out together in between adventures on their own.In “Who Saved the Earth?” (MIS #80) for example, the trio discover that their recent solo exploits have earned them medals for saving the Earth but  they’ve no idea how. When they learn the truth, they also realize they only succeeded because they used a trick one of the others taught them. Karel, for example, used a hunting strategy she remembered Homer talking about — — and so at the end of the story, they all swap medals according to whose idea they used to unwittingly save the world.

For all the quarreling and competitiveness, they became a tight trio. In “Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth?” (Strange Adventures #159), all three are forced to leave Earth due to various accidents. It turns out Rick and Homer are faking it. They know Karel’s going into exile — she can no longer survive Earth’s gravity — so they’ve made up excuses to join her (of course they figure out how to cure her condition instead).

That friendship is what leaped out at me rereading. At no point is there any hint of romance or flirtation between Karel and the two guys. They’re not dating her or fighting over dating her; she’s not wishing they would. Nor is there any indication she has a guy anywhere, or that she’s even looking.

That’s anomalous for the Silver Age when pretty much every prominent female character had romance in her life. Women were primarily there as girlfriends; the female superheroes were all dating or crushing on someone. Karel was just one of the guys. And even though she’s a beauty queen, a distinctively female role, she’s also a champion sharpshooter and adventurer, which aren’t typical womanly roles at all.

#SFWApro. Star Rovers art by Side Greene.

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