Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, September 04, 2006

My So-Called Supergirl

I have mixed feelings about this month's Supergirl, I really do. On one sense, I actually like that they're giving Kara a personality. Sure, she's being an angsty, angry, self-absorbed little twit, but she's also a teenager. And I remember my own teens regretfully well enough to be stuck acknowledging that she's a pretty natural example of a teenager.

Getting Kara out of Kandor was probably a good idea. I still haven't forgiven Kelly for the whole Kal-El thing, mind control or not. I still don't believe the plot needed to have gone there. But now she gets to be free of that, and seems to be actually developing a personality suiting her age.

Though, NO, awake in stasis or not, she's STILL only got sixteen years of life experience and thus is NOT an adult.

Supergirl this month was interesting enough in establishing a screwed-up teen hero in a way that I could buy and even sympathize with as she makes her idiot mistakes. It's a good sort of character to have, a good perspective for storytelling.

I have one problem with it though.

This isn't some new edgy teenage girl superhero that's free to explore these sorts of issues with no baggage. This is Supergirl.

I was always a little shaky concerning arguments against Cassandra Cain and Kara saying that Batgirl and Supergirl should be characters for kids. I despised Kara for her very male-reader oriented lolita-characterization that seemed to lack any sort of recognizable depth. But I don't mind Cass in general (though I've never connected with her).

I have argued for Supergirl to be written with teenage girls in mind because that's the natural audience, and thus certain elements should be toned down. But she's got an interesting angsty dynamic that I think would appeal to teenage girls right now.

I've never agreed with censorship, and I do think mature topics can be handled in a way to make them suitable for young adults.

But there's something I was missing, something that I only understand now. Because now I work in a toy store.

At the very large toy store chain where I work, we have a lot of comics related goods. Among them, we have Supergirl. Supergirl lunchboxes, Supergirl skates, Supergirl bike helmets. And the girls that light up seeing them, the girls that convince their parents to buy this stuff for them...

Well, they're not teenagers. They're nowhere near teenagers. They're little girls ages 5-10. They're little girls who like pink and they like sparkly and they like the thought of Superman as a pretty blond girl that can fly.

Their moms like her too. I've seen mothers and grandmothers light up seeing those lunchboxes, thrilled to see something sparkly and pretty that their little girls would like that doesn't involve something like Barbie or Bratz dolls. They think, "Well, Supergirl is a step up."

As a sales associate, it isn't my place to tell guests what I really think about their purchases. I can sometimes (depending on customer mood) strike up a conversation, make some recommendations, but that's about it. Critiquing is out of the question, of course. Guests just want to shop in peace.

But I keep seeing the mothers pick up the lunchboxes with interest, and I wish I could say "Oh! Supergirl! You know, the comic book is really good right now!" Sure some parents are against comics in general, but a lot of parents are always interested in ways to get children interested in reading. A lot of mothers are looking for role-models and cute idols for their young girls that don't involve the distorted body image and fashion obsessed mindlessness of the usual fare. (Speaking of, what happened to being able to dress Barbie as an astronaut or airline pilot? It seems a lot of the career doll costumes have gone out of style!)

I'm not saying that I think the series should be written for five-ten year olds. I don't think it's a bad thing to have mature topics in comics. Subjects like grief and loss, action and horror always make good stories. And children are quite capable of dealing with them. Supergirl could easily be a book like that. One that does occasionally deal with adult subjects, but manages to keep it on an accessible level for young people.

It'd be nice to be able to tell interested parents, "Well, the series does cover some mature topics, so it would be a good idea to read it ahead of time to decide if your little girl is ready for it."

I can't do that with this Supergirl though. Pre-Crisis Kara, definitely. Peter David's Linda, possibly, with a warning that it might be a bit complex in scope for a young one. This Kara? With her cigarette masochism, inappropriate relationships, and over-sexualization? No.

It's possibly a good story, sure. She could be a really interesting character, definitely. But Supergirl's supposed to be more than that. Supergirl's an icon. Supergirl's recognizable to even non-comic fans. She's got a decades-old reputation for wholesome, child-friendliness. She's a young girl with special powers that can inspire little girls to be proud of their own abilities and strengths, while still being non-threatening and sweet enough to appeal to both mom/dad and child.

Times change. Characters change. That's a good thing, in general I think. But when it comes to Supergirl. As interesting as this new angry, edgy adolescent is, she's not one that can be recommended toward kids anymore. And I can't help but think we've lost something important in the trade.

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  • At September 04, 2006 10:31 AM, Blogger Centurion said…

    I want to like Supergirl as a comic for good reasons, but instead I like the comic becuase in my mind it is terrible.

    I have kept reading it, hoping there is a point to destroying her character. Sadly this point has yet to manifest itself, and the comic feels like a bad movie and I am Crow T. Robot.

    They really do need to make the character more appealing to the obvious target groups if they are selling other related goods to that group. Isn't that why they are called 'tie-ins'?

    I suppose I can just look forward to other characters getting angry with Supergirl and try to beat her up for now.

  • At September 04, 2006 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think the treatment of the current Supergirl is emblematic of the larger problem gripping the industry...namely the irresponsibility of so many of its leaders and creative movers-and-shakers.

    In the past, I think older generations felt a real responsibility to bring the younger generations "into the fold", but I don't see much of that now. When asked about it (repeatedly), guys like Dan Didio pull the same old dodge by deferring to their three or four "Johnny DC" titles, or sniffing about how "times have changed". How's that for thoughtful reflection?

    Sadly, the reason we see an anorexic, neurotic Supergirl is becasue that's what the jaded thrity-somethings who crank the comics out think their equally jaded audience wants to read. Why, a more optimistic, less angsty Supergirl would surely be seen as "unrealistic" or "too whitebread" for their cutting edge audience. Or something like that.

    I think it's also sad that it's gotten to the point where people who are honestly conflicted about the presentation of these characters, especially highly visible "iconic" characters like Supergirl, or who raise good questions about that presentation are made to feel like their somehow calling for censorship or the usual hysterical label applied to cooler heads. There's nothing wrong with questioning who we are as a comics industry and fanbase, and those who resist those questions tend to be selfish bullies who don't care much for bringing younger readers into the fold.

    As for the Supergirl lunchboxes, hopefully none of them featured Ian Churchill's anorexic version of the character. After all, we want these little girls to EAT their lunch, don't we?

  • At September 04, 2006 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My 7-year-old sister is the same way. She has a pink backpack with a sparkly silver S-symbol on it, and wants to be Supergirl for Christmas, and...

    ...then we have the character who's appearing in the comics. x.x I hope they move past this version quickly. Maybe the version that's currently living a fantasy life in 3006 can come back and displace this doppleganger.

  • At September 04, 2006 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Robin under Beechen and Williams III is a comic that I think fits your idea here. It hasn't been this kid-friendly since Dixon left. It's also good, and has attractive art, so that's like the "Give it to kids" trifecta right there.

  • At September 04, 2006 1:11 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    centurion: Heh, MSTing's rough for me because I do think there's the potential for a good story here. Just not one I want linked to Supergirl. :-(

    mark: that could be the case, but I do think examples like Robin or even Teen Titans show that there's still some marketing toward young readers. There are mature issues raised in them, but overall, I think they're done well enough for teenage audiences. (Though naturally, Teen Titans is more geared, I think, to teen rather than pre-teen readers...but that's truth in advertising. :-)) I also think the new Flash, like the Kyle-era Green Lantern, is pretty applicable to younger readers too.

    Supergirl doesn't have to be Johnny DC for me, but I do think they're making a mistake with her right now.

    ununnilium: Yeah. I think that Supergirl isn't what she seems but I definitely wouldn't mind trading the current for her.

    david: *nod* Robin's another well known icon that should be young people-friendly in my opinion. I'm liking that the current one is actually working toward that. :-)

  • At September 04, 2006 2:16 PM, Blogger Doc Hall said…

    I'm with Mark on this one.

    I really got into comics in the mid to lat 90s, but I've had chance to look at collected editions of earlier stuff, and it strikes me as a very noticeable trend that comics target demographic has moved away from kids and into the twenty and thirty somethings.

    I find the focus on the adult market (as in adults, not triple X stuff, although I'm sure there's a market for that too) is a little too insular. It's like the comic's industry has decided it’s easier to pander to the consumers it already has rather than try to appeal to new markets.

  • At September 04, 2006 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's interesting how the two Supergirls currently in the DCU are as different as the two Nightwings. I'm not saying that there are actually two of them (although, in this day and age, who knows), but the Supergirl in Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes seems more like the Silver Age hero of yore while the Supergirl in Supergirl has more of a modern edge to her. I like them both, but I think the Legion one is probably more accessible to younger girls. Then again, I know that young girls do love and guy Supergirl. I see them excitedly reach for the comics in the stores.

  • At September 04, 2006 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    To me, the interesting thing about seeing the Supergirl merchandise is that it rarely ever actually has her on it. Usually it's a silver and baby blue s-shield on a pink backdrop with a silver "Supergirl" logo atop it. Compared to Superman's material which is either decked out in Jim Lee art or a movie-tie in, it's a rather striking difference in approach.

    Really, the only time I have seen Supergirl actually on the products it's been some variation on the animated version, the same holds true for Batgirl as well. It's sort of a visable sign that DC and it's parent company are on 2 completely different wavelengths. WB knowing it can sell Supergirl and Batgirl to the public at large provided that they're some variation on the classic/iconic ones (which is why Cassandra Cain always had an uphill battle) but DC having no clue on how to appeal to that demographic what-so-ever.

  • At September 04, 2006 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hey boyf. showed me your blog cause it's in his favourites. i'm glad i'm not the only one to dismiss this supergirl comic (and t&a stupidity in general). a few months ago i had a long message board argument over ed benes being "talented" or not. ian churchill seems to be a little better.. i guess it's all kelly,right?

    the real reason i'm commenting is so you can put your rss entries in full, so i can read you at thanks!

  • At September 04, 2006 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yeah, the aforementioned sister also has some other, similar ones - dark pink S-shield on light pink shirt, etc.

  • At September 04, 2006 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, a few hours after my original post, I saw a commercial for the horrid "Bratz" dolls (the dolls for young Hootchie Mamas in training), and I came to the sad realization that maybe the kinda sleezy Supergirl of DC is gearing toward the young girls of least the girls whose autopilot parents buy those haughty little dolls for them.

    There are some days where I just feel like I'm 100 years old.

  • At September 05, 2006 12:19 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    doc: I can see what you're saying. I don't know that I agree completely though. Superman and Legion of Superheroes are both I think still geared toward younger readers as well. And even the comic makers admit that.

    It's weird though that Superman is written for younger readers while Supergirl doesn't seem to be. Which is my problem, honestly.

    loren: I can believe some girls like Supergirl...I guess it's for the idea of Bratz dolls versus Barbie. Sure Barbie's unrealistic and silly, but the Bratz dolls disturb me a little. They're cute...but I don't think I'd feel comfortable with my own future child playing with them...

    Supergirl reminds me of that. While the character intrigues me, I'd much prefer her to have a different identity. One that'd let her develop and even appeal to girls as she does, without the baggage, while a more conventional heroine character could have the iconic name.

    jr: Yeah. Cassandra Cain was an interesting character, but I have to admit, I always felt a bit..uneasy about a batgirl with a sewn up fetish mask. Though in her case, I think she might have had more acceptance if her costume was more standard. Like Tim Drake, she's edgier than her original counterpart, but ultimately a good, interesting, even inspiring character

    The image, while cool, wasn't very kid friendly though.

    anon: I'm glad you like it. Personally Benes doesn't bother me much, and I like Churchill's Kara's face...just I wish he'd draw her with less bones showing. The writing isn't even bad. It's's Supergirl.

    I'm glad you like to read me! However, I'm afraid that I don't keep my rss entries in full because many of my posts are reactions to the comics of the week and contain heavy spoilers.

    I use a cut tag in blogger, but Bloglines and other RSS feeds don't recognize it. I'd hate to have anyone stuck being inadvertantly spoiled by scrolling down their flist/bloglines, so I prefer to leave it as just the short description.

    It's inconvenient, but that's a small price to pay I think. :-)

    ununnilium: They're so cute!

    mark: They make *me* feel old too. Egads. Barbie might be ridiculous proportioned, but...

    There's a difference, darnit! :-)

  • At September 05, 2006 8:47 AM, Blogger Tom Foss said…

    I think it's time for All-Star Supergirl.

    Anyway, just to play the devil's advocate here, if Kara's years awake in stasis don't deserve consideration regarding her age, then doesn't that mean that Superboy was like, three, when he died? After all, his only life experience was fed to him through TV screens in a tube.

    Same with Impulse. Physically, he's late teens, early 20s. Mentally, he's sixteen or so. But, since he was raised in a hyperaccelerated VR world, he's really just a little kid.

    Don't get me wrong, I think the "I'm mentally legal" concept is a load of crap, and I think the best way Kelly could play it is as Kara's way to get people to treat her like an adult (since clearly, from her attitude on, she isn't). But it's not like there isn't a precedent for this kind of thing.

  • At September 05, 2006 8:54 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I think the difference is that Conner and Bart were portrayed as mentally and emotionally in their late teens. The age they looked and are argued to be, rather than their chronological age. The narrative treated them according to the age we're supposed to consider them as.

    Kara in contrast is chronologically older, but physically, mentally and emotionally very much the sixteen year old she looks. Kelly keeps reassuring us she's legal and an adult, but his narrative treats her like the 16 year old girl. Which is the problem. Either she's a teenager, looks and acts like one, or she's an adult. Can't really have it both ways...

  • At September 05, 2006 10:12 AM, Blogger Tom Foss said…

    And that's why I think it's a little white lie so that people will treat her like an adult. "I'm like reverse Lion-O, my brain grew up in stasis, but my body's still a teen. Anyway, that means I'm mature. Let's smoke and dance and complain about our parents!"

    No matter how much time she spent in semi-lucid stasis, she has all the attitude problems, fickleness, arrogance, and self-centeredness of a teenager. She's playing the part of adult, trying it on the same way she tries on smoking and Conner's shirt, as she tries to sort out just who she is.

  • At September 05, 2006 10:43 AM, Blogger 100LittleDolls said…

    Woo hoo, let's hear it for toy store jobs! I worked in one for five years, so I can kinda relate with that frustration you're feeling in regards to this.

    I still remember fondly the comics based on the animated Batman series from the 90's--and while I think it succeeded in not alienating little girls, I had a hard time understanding why there wasn't an equivalent that starred a woman, like Wonder Woman.

  • At September 05, 2006 12:41 PM, Blogger R.Nav said…

    fI just can't read Supergirl. I tried with the first issue, and I tried when Kelly took over.

    It's like the story and artwork each take turns making my brain-baby kick.

    But man.. I can totally see how Supergirl sells. If it's not the lolita complex story, it's the nipples-ahoy! artwork. I swear, Supergirl is exactly one ginormous gun from being every bad 90's comic book ever.

  • At September 05, 2006 1:23 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    I'm one of those that's of the opinion that you should have comics aimed at a broad age range of readers, possibly in multiple continuities: e.g., Teen Titans Go! (based on the cartoon) vs. the primary Teen Titans title; Ultimate Spider-man vs the Mary Jane series. It's ironic that so many people think comics are just for kids when so many mainstream comics aren't suitable for a young audience anymore. I don't favor censorship, I favor diversifying the product line. The comics industry should take notes from the tobacco industry: hook `em young, hook `em for life.

    I'm also trying to think: has young Clark Kent ever gone through an "angry bad boy" phase the way Supergirl is? I don't mean in "Red Kryptonite stories of the week," I mean in a sustained character arc like this. Because I've always seen the Super-franchise as inherently, well, "wholesome" for lack of a better word. Not that you can't deal with mature themes in a Super title, but the characters are always meant to be fundamentally decent people. What little I've seen of this version of Supergirl seems to be lacking that basic quality.

  • At September 05, 2006 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So, I finally sat down and read some Supergirl, the first since her intro arc in Superman/Batman.

    It's kind of hilariously dire for the first 8 issues, but I found issue 9 leagues beyond the other 14 issues she's been in. I really got the feeling that Kelly knew that the Kandor plot was stupid, so he nixed it asap and got down to what he wanted to do. Her speech on that first page, about how she doesn't know who she is yet, but she's not who you think she is (paraphrasing, i'm at class right now) just smacks of authorial voice. Kind of a "stick around, the crap is almost done. I'm going to get rid of the dross and something else."

    It's got me interested enough to want to check out a couple more issues, particularly the upcoming Supergirl vs Batgirl issue. I still don't like Churchill's art, and haven't since his run on Uncanny with Joe Casey. Pete Woods and Pacheco are delivering a fun, not-quite-cartoony look for Superman and Action Comics and I'd like to see a Steve Rolston or Amanda Conner on Supergirl, instead of just on the covers.

    Then again, that might lead parents to think that cartoony = child-friendly, and that's something Kelly doesn't necessarily do.

    To be quite honest, though, I'm just psyched to see Joe Kelly write Batgirl again. I loved the last time he got to play in that sandbox.

  • At September 05, 2006 1:52 PM, Blogger Tom Foss said…

    I'm also trying to think: has young Clark Kent ever gone through an "angry bad boy" phase the way Supergirl is? I don't mean in "Red Kryptonite stories of the week," I mean in a sustained character arc like this.
    Clark hasn't, but Conner went through similar phases. In fact, when Superboy first showed up and met Lois (IIRC), she remarked that he was kind of like what Clark might have been if he hadn't had the influence of good, wholesome parents like the Kents. Supergirl's problem is not simply the lack of wholesome parents, but a past with decidedly unwholesome parents, and a present with surrogate parents divorced from the mundane lives of normal people.

  • At September 05, 2006 2:17 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    tom: I see what you're saying. It's part of why I'm interested in it really. But at the same time, I get the impression, perhaps unfairly, that it's being used to justify the sexualization they use to portray her.

    A girl trying on adulthood...that's a teenager by definition. And that means that while she certainly can be delinquent like, there should, ideally be some restraint.

    Also, I agree Conner had his bad-boy phase. There's a difference in the portrayals though. Superboy got to be a delinquent teenager without all the shower scenes, would be incest, and rampant sexualization.

    For all that the libido seemed a great deal of a motivator for him, he himself was written like a teenager first and a sex object second. Kelly seems to, for me, not have quite decided between them and is hovering in a very irksome middle ground.

    100: Yeah, that'd be great! Though WW does still manage some wholesomeness in general I think. I'm not a huge fan of the Animated Universe myself, but I do think the comics were nice for younger readers.

    r.nav: I actually didn't mind *some* of those series. The difference being of course that they weren't Supergirl.

    ferrous: The lack of wholesomeness is my problem too. Superboy had a rebellious delinquent phase, but I never had the thought that it was as much about female titillation that I get with Supergirl right now.

    The Tana Moon thing was questionable really considering Kon's level of maturity. But it felt like the writer never tried to excuse the fact that he's working with a teenager.

    Also, piercings and leather aren't quite the same as burning S-symbols into your skin.

    david: Yeah. 9 is a big step up. It's getting better. It's an interesting story. I'm just not sure it's *Supergirl* you know?

    The Supers are an iconic franchise. I'm just not sure how this whole thing fits into that. Maybe I'll change my mind in a few issues. Right now though...

    My reaction so far is basically: Good story, good teen hero, but should NOT be Supergirl.

    I don't know, it seems like making a foul mouthed Marvel family character to me. It just doesn't seem to fit...

  • At September 05, 2006 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My reaction so far is basically: Good story, good teen hero, but should NOT be Supergirl.

    Agreed on that point, pretty much.

    I don't know, it seems like making a foul mouthed Marvel family character to me. It just doesn't seem to fit...

    Ha... Judd Winick: Trials of Shazam.

    This may be speaking to the depths of my nerddom, but when Captain Marvel used "screwed up" in a sentence, I also said "screw it" and put the book down. Interesting art by Porter, but it's yet another victim of Winick's Bizarro Midas touch. I'll wait for Jeff Smith's Shazam comic, thanks.

  • At September 05, 2006 9:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Huh. I've never seen "screwed up" thought of as even slightly obscene. I suppose it comes from "screw" for "have sex" combined with "fuck up", but in practical terms I've never seen it considered that way, and I wouldn't have any problem using it around three-year-olds.

  • At September 05, 2006 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It isn't obscene, per se, but I can't really see Captain "Holy Moley" Marvel busting it out. It isn't blue language, but it's not necessarily something I'd say around my grandmother, if that makes sense.

  • At April 19, 2009 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    supergirl and superboy should sooo date. there sex life would be amaazing

  • At April 19, 2009 3:19 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Well, if incest and necrophilia suit your definition of amazing, okay!


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