Friday, February 16, 2007

Memes that just won't die (first in a new series)

Or Shit I Don't Care About That People Just Won't Shut Up About

-Supergirl. I just don't care. Never cared about Supergirl, never saw her as some kind of icon. I'm skeptical that Supergirl was ever an icon for young female readers like, say, Wonder Woman, but I could be wrong. I can't imagine reading Supergirl even if Alan Moore and a resurrected Jack Kirby were the creative team. Or (more realistically) Linda Medley and Richard Sala.

Maybe I'm the unusual one--it could be that the life I've lived has conditioned me not to care about Supergirl. I never cared about Superman or his supporting characters, as I was more of a Batman (and later Spider-Man) kind of kid. She was killed off around the time that I became totally obsessed with comics, so to me she wasn't much more than an entry in Who's Who. I remember watching her movie, but it didn't seem to have any effect on me whatsoever--I can't remember anything about it. I don't really identify with Supergirl on any level; the only things we really have in common is hair, eye, and skin color.

I was initially under the impression that most of the furor over the new Supergirl was from enraged Peter David fans, angry that his version of the character had been supplanted by a throwback to the Silver Age. But I guess it turns out that the new Supergirl comic is really icky. Reviews I read characterize it as dark and possibly misogynistic (as I understand it, Supergirl's raison d’ĂȘtre is to kill Superman, which leads her to hate herself, or something like that--it doesn't help that every issue of the new Supergirl has been written by a man). And, needless to say, portraying a teenage girl as a sex object is, um, troubling. It's certainly hasn't added to my interest in the character/intellectual property.

But it seems like most of the recent anger stems from more than just generic opposition to Supergirl as an example of everything that's wrong with the portrayal of women in mainstream comics. Instead, it seems that people think Supergirl specifically deserves more than she's getting--that her rich legacy as a character and hero for young women is being squandered. I don't understand this. Frankly, I think people are playing right into DC's hands with this, considering that interest in/condemnation of the current incarnation of Supergirl was rekindled after the Eddie Berganza piece that ran in the weekly DC Nation column. I'm not sure that Berganza got the reaction he expected, but you can't deny that Supergirl is, bizarrely, back in the spotlight again.

So, Supergirl fans, please explain to me why I should care about Supergirl specifically, rather than lumping her in with other poorly-written female superheroes?

6 comments:

Ami Angelwings said...

I can only speak for myself. :) But I personally like Supergirl b/c she's a girl and she wears the S. :o

It may be silly, but the Superman S stands for a lot to me, and to have a girl wear it means a lot to me too. I know she's wearing the symbol of a male superhero, but that doesn't matter. :o Superman's a simple hero, he does good things b/c they are good things. He's not a warrior like Wonder Woman, or a complex character like Batman. :o

I like WW too :D But maybe it's cuz she's this mature warrior born woman that I dun rly associate with her. :o

Boys dreams of ripping off their shirts to show the big red S underneath. It makes them feel like even if ppl pick on them or see them as a regular guy, inside they are heroic and given the chance they will do the right thing and step up when it counts :)

I feel the same way :] I wanna be able to be Supergirl.

And that's why the character means so much to me and that's why I want her to be written right :) I want a Superman for me as a girl ^-^

Tamora Pierce said...

I think Ami hits it right on the head. Why can't a girl rip open her outer shirt to show the S, and not make it look like she's revealing the stripper outfit underneath, but a hero's costume?

And then we would like to go out and do hero stuff, not betrayer work. That's all we're asking for--parity. Guys get to be heroes, saving the world; we want to be heroes, saving the world.

And Supergirl is a teenager. To be powerful at an age when you are/were powerless--that is a major rush. Even adults like to read superhero teenagers, because we remember what it was like to be trammeled with rules and prohibitions, watched for every misstep, blamed for every word out of our mouths, or so it seemed. To be Super, particularly as a girl, when you have the added social burden to shut up, be pretty, be thin, be stupid, be the same, dress right--it matters. It matters a LOT.

Dick Hyacinth said...

I figured that most Supergirl fans would mention the purity of the Silver Age version and her greater power relative to other female superheroes, but these responses show a great deal more nuance. It's made me re-think the entire issue. There are two major points I'd like to address here:

First, the idea that Supergirl is a teenager: I don't think I gave this enough thought. I haven't read every recent comic Marvel and DC have produced featuring a teenage girl, the most relevant gaps in my knowledge probably being NYX and Runaways. Of the comics I have read, I can only think of two recent instances of a teenaged super-heroine going through issues particular to young women: the attack/rape of Kate Bishop in Young Avengers, and the rescue of the new Speedy from prostitution. Both of these instances show women as victims who use sexual trauma as a motivation to become superheroes. I've never been comfortable with this archetype, but it's certainly better than the (sadly) customary use of rape in comics--as a motivation for male characters to seek revenge. I wouldn't dare say the fear of sexual assault or exploitation is irrelevant to real-life women of any age. But it would be nice to see some less extreme characterization, where characters can deal with the many other issues of concern to teenaged girls. I can see how Supergirl would give hope for this sort of thing--but couldn't this be true of a new creation as well?

Second, the importance of the Superman insignia didn't occur to me at all. I did expect someone to mention the importance of having a super-heroine who was as strong as the most powerful male characters--which is why I mentioned Wonder Woman. I also thought that the association with Superman watered down Supergirl--that she would always be in the shadow of the original male character. (Which is a larger issue--there are only a handful of female superheroes who aren't cognates of male characters. Which, again, is why I think Wonder Woman is such an important character.) I didn't take into account the cultural signficance of Superman as a symbol for ultimate good. In this light, I understand the importance of Supergirl as a character who taps into that powerful symbol. That's undoubtedly the best argument I've heard on her behalf, and it makes me think that there is some inherent value in some character named Supergirl (or, potentially, Superwoman).

I still wonder if the best possible case would be a powerful-yet-realistically-written teenaged superhero who wasn't a female cognate of existing male heroes, yet who was shown to be on equal footing to the likes of Batman or Captain America. Of course I don't see this coming anytime soon, at least not to Marvel or DC. I suppose DC could publish a Supergirl OGN as part of its Minx line, but I wouldn't be suprised if no one at DC had even considered this prospect.

PS: Can anyone tell me if there is any popular manga featuring teenaged girls as superheroes? I'm under the impression that Sailor Moon's heyday is over.

Ami Angelwings said...

There are many XD Mangas LOVE using teenage girls with powers as their focus b/c it sells to teenage boys XD

However, not many are empowering. :O But I dun read a lot of manga, you'd have to ask somebody who reads much more :]

The problem with an original creation is that a lot of ppl might not jump on it :\ You'd have to rly put the full force of a company behind it to advertise, to promote and also to support the character. The company would have to be willing to keep the book on the shelves even if sales initially are bad and also to put real talent on the book as well. :|

I dunno if a company is willing to do that. :( Also it would take writers and artists who aren't just interested in turning the lead into cheesecake to get a quick reaction from horny fanboys. :\

MINX seems to be anti-superhero. Which saddens me. But DC's idea seems to be that girls wun read superhero comics, so MINX should be about unpopular girls finding their own path in highschool in normal settings XD

Which is fine, but I wish that the comic companies would get it thru their head that it's not superheroes that turn off girls but the way female superheroes are portrayed XD

I dunno why it seems like every female character needs a traumatic rape/prostitution/something event in their past to make them heroes XD Why can't we just.. be heroes? Like Superman?

I had the idea actually to write a story with Supergirl coming to Earth instead of Superman. So there is no Superman, but everything else is the same. The only diffrence is she moves to Metropolis for university, and seeing the crime in the big city makes her want to be a superhero and set a good example for people :)

I ended up changing that to use an original character instead XD But I think DC could do that. Then she'd still carry the Superman symbol but it wouldn't be like "oh I'm the cousin of Superman so I have to be a superhero" :]

It would be kinda like the Marvel Next comics with Spidergirl and Avengers Next. :o Or the Ultimate series. DC could just say "this is another universe, Kara came to Earth first" and you could build from there :)

Neways, that's just an idea. :) But I like your posts and I'm glad that you have an open mind on this topic :]

Dick Hyacinth said...

Okay, a series where Superman is a woman (or adolescent girl) instead of a man would be interesting, potentially very, very good. Naturally it would all depend on the creative team, but it's a concept that could work as either a feminist deconstruction of superheroes or as a comic which would fit into the Minx line. I'd be much more interested in the former. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, that's a take on superheroes which hasn't really been pushed to its limits. Hopefully someone will attempt it in the near future.

Tamora Pierce said...

I totally get behind female heroes who aren't cognates of male ones. (Still, you take what you're offered . . .) At the same time, the topic under discussion was Supergirl, so I restricted myself to just talking about her.

Since I just posted elsewhere about this, I'll bring it up again here. One issue librarians have with bringing in American comics is that too often there is mature content (like raped or prostituted teenagers) in books picked up by the pre-teen readers. It be really nice to have more girl heroes who weren't sexually exploited as a trope (annoying, lazy, demeaning, take your pick). It would also be a good thing if other ways were found to develop these characters. Then librarians would be able to put their books in their young reader collections, and they would reach more readers, expanding the American comics audience and market. Everybody benefits.

Sorry for the late reply--I just got back from a trip!