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January 29th, 2007


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05:36 am - Thoughts on Supergirl.
I've been reading posts around the blogosphere this week regarding the upcoming changes to the Supergirl series. I realized something the other day that sums up the problems of the Supergirl series in a nutshell, and I thought I'd share it, though it's not usually my style to offer negative opinions about a mainstream series. In this case, I'm really seeking to offer positive advice, so I hope it's heard.

It's easy to argue back and forth as to whether or not Supergirl has been portrayed as a 'typical teen,' because it's a false model. Some say yes, some say no. But we're not talking about a typical teenager, we're talking about one of the most recognizable superheroines in comics. She even had a movie (well, not a very good one, but still). The recent internet uproar over the portrayal of Supergirl (and Batgirl!) demonstrate how strongly she strikes a chord with both male and female readers. And yet in Supergirl's comics she has been portrayed as anything but heroic. It's been incredibly disheartening for those of us who want to see a Supergirl we can admire. It's also easy to blame ALL of the problems on the art, which, with the notable exception of Amanda Conner's excellent fill-in issue, has shown her to look too old, too tall, too skinny, too slutty, and seriously unfashionable by anyone who knows teenagers. The writing and art often come off as a rant about how dumb teenagers are, rather than offering teenagers a model (even an imperfect one) to aspire to.

The 'nutshell' epiphany I had was this: Imagine young Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Bruce Wayne or any of the incredibly selfless, awesome HEROES we know and love, and run them through the ringer of degrading stories Kara Zor-El has been put through since her reintegration into the DCU. She's not had her own story, she's not had hope, and she's not had a good costume. If Peter Parker was portrayed in the recent Spider-Man movies as a 'typical teen' in the manner that Kara has been, I really doubt anyone would have enjoyed it. The same goes for Clark Kent on Smallville (though in that instance, they may have erred to far in the whitebread direction). Of course Peter Parker shouldn't be drawn making out with his cousin. Of course Clark Kent shouldn't be nearly naked in every show. Of course Bruce Wayne shouldn't have his origin story mired in knowing every single character in the DCU. Of course not, but wait, is it because they're males? Or because they're supposed to be heroes?

When you attempt to put a hero you actually like in the same situations with the same responses as Supergirl, it becomes clear that the Supergirl team doesn't think of her with the same feelings that they they of other 'real' heroes. She hasn't shown any characteristics people admire in heroes and she hasn't been given a chance to stand on her own (even if it's within a powerful legacy). I honestly believe that a good writer and artist (maybe it's not Ale Garza?) could fix the series in a single issue, and set it on a good path. The easiest issues:

- Kara needs to drop her love interests and find a sustainable setting for her series. This could involve a secret identity, but it might be cool without one.

- She needs a costume overhaul ASAP. I have ideas myself, but anything that could appeal to young girls as well as teenage readers would be great. Appealing to the frat boy in male readers is not the solution.

- The book needs less DCU interaction, at least for a while. The whole universe is too densely packed right now for new readers to get to know a single character. Supergirl is special, and she needs the opportunity to show why.

I really hope this new 'lady friendly' direction Mr. Berganza is talking about addresses these problems and works to create a series that can be enjoyed by male and female readership of all ages.

(32 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:dryponder
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC)
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Oh I agree about setting up Terra, but that issue was even written better than usual, as it frequently called Supergirl on her lameness! It could've been the catalyst that got the series into shape. Ah well.
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From:blindmole
Date:January 29th, 2007 02:05 pm (UTC)
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yea .. very well spoken . i agree completely.

(that amanda conner issue was the first supergirl issue ive bought since "Our Worlds At War")
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From:dryponder
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
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thanks dude. :)
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From:johnnydestructo
Date:January 29th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC)
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i think what the Supergirl team was going for was a more "realistic" approach to a teen girl then, say, all these characters you mentioned. Spidey and Co. are all characters from the 60's and earlier, no? And I can't say that most of these characters were portrayed in any sort of realistic sense. If you make Kara a goody-goody, I think they're afraid a teengirl readership wouldn't go for it. She'd be the uppity, super-smiley cheerleader most girls HATE in highschool. Much like the Clark in SMALLVILLE. Man, that guys annoying. I'd hate to hang out with him!
I'm not defending the handling of the character, cause frankly, i can't say i enjoy it either. That's just my take on THEIR take..
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From:dryponder
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:14 pm (UTC)
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i am swayed by your user icon, but not your argument. perhaps 'realism' was their intent, but that's even more damning, really, revealing that their thoughts about typical teenage girls are so poor.

i also take issue with the idea that the only alternative to the current character is a 'goody-goody' 'super-smiley cheerleader.' peter parker wasn't a super-smiley cheerleader. kara doesn't have to be either. but she could stand to be less of a self-centered moron.

i think you're probably right that that's what they were going for (at least consciously), but my point is that they've failed either way.
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From:skalja
Date:February 3rd, 2007 01:04 am (UTC)
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The thing is, while I would never call the early Peter Parker a "typical teenager" - what typical teenager willingly wears a canary yellow sweater-vest, even in the sixties? - he was written with the emotional and psychological range of a teenager, and that's why he became a cult (and then a blockbuster) hit. With Kara, they seem to be trying to write her as a "typical teenager" by taking the physical trappings (or ... really, just absurdly skimpy clothes and a mouthy/sulky attitude) without carrying that through into building her character accordingly. She's Super(ficial)girl, apparently.
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From:calamityjon
Date:January 29th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)
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I think a pretty easy way to rethink their "female-friendly" approach to the book would probably be to put some women to work on it. According to the DC Nation report on their current direction, the only feminine touch the book has had so far was an assistant editor - who worked on a different book - who suggested that Supergirl not be drawn so skinny.

Supergirl has been a pretty condescending character since her (newest) inception, to say the least.
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From:dryponder
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
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i don't know. that move can backfire real fast. i've seen it quite a few times in hiring a specific gender/race/whatever to write that same group. it often works wonderfully, of course, revealing character traits white males might have missed, but i generally think it's best to just seek out a good writer with a good understanding of the character, regardless of that person's own categorization. sean mckeever, for example, has been writing the most wonderful mary jane stories since her inception, in my opinion. anyway, my point is that it's good to remember that you don't have to hire just your white pals, the idea is to get the best writer, not just match genetic characteristics.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 30th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)

Like your art a lot!

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Sorry about the anonymous comment, but I blog elsewhere. I think you're onto something with this entire post. I really enjoyed it. I also want to second this particular point.

While I also think putting a woman as a writer on the title might bring out a few things a male writer might miss (unless he's right on and does his research... which he should do anyway), this "only a (fill in the blanks) can write this (fill in the blanks) character" gets a little foolish when you realize that in order for this argument to be logical, the best possible writer would therefore be a teenage girl.

Preferably one from Krypton.

And since there's a shortage of teenage girls from Krypton who can actually write comics, we have to go back to the available pool of writers. Male, female, transgender... that shouldn't matter. What's important is the person with the most interesting, artistically successful take on the character should write her.

Jaime and Gilberto Hernandez are two writers who successfully write about people other than themselves. Sure, a lot of it's informed (especially Jaime's stories) by their immersion in southern Cali punk rock subculture during their formative years, they attempt to create well-rounded people to populate their stories.

A good writer should attempt to write about things he or she ISN'T. To limit any one writer of any race or gender or orientation to writing strictly within the voice of those parameters is to stunt their work artistically and to fail to understand the essential nature of what makes up fiction in the first place.

Fiction isn't true stories, but stories that are True. A writer should have empathy for people in all their various shapes and shades, to understand the characters' needs, to be able to wear the identities of just about anyone and as long as the result isn't a cheat, or based on stereotypes or cliches then there's a good chance of it being a worthy story.

No matter who wrote it.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 30th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)

Re: Like your art a lot!

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Oh, and this post was by a guy named Joel Bryan, by the way. I have a comics related blog where I post a lot, but not onl don't I want to spam you here with it, I also don't want to hide behind anonymity!
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From:dryponder
Date:January 30th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Like your art a lot!

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thanks for the comment, joel! :)
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From:carlalute
Date:January 29th, 2007 04:00 pm (UTC)
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Honestly I think one of the reasons the Harry Potter books have been so popular (yes this relates) is they manage to portray believable teenagers without falling into the "typical teen" stereotype.

Because all teenagers are individuals. The more you try make a character representative of an entire age group, the less they will be.

Honestly I've never seen the Supergirl comic. I do remember the movie though...honestly, she could be goody-goody without being a cheerleader...or a cheerleader without being a goody-goody. She could be the cheerleader type in general, but then do other things that completely breakdown the stereotype. Does anyone hate Kim Possible?

I mean she can do everything...so not realistic. But she's nice. She makes mistakes and then apologizes for them. Her best friend is a geek (not the cheerleader stereotype).
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From:dryponder
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
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AGREEMENT ON ALL COUNTS.
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From:hurricanekid
Date:January 29th, 2007 05:14 pm (UTC)
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Mark Sable is taking over on that series for a few issues and he handled teens really well in his Image book Grounded, and he's a friend so I have faith he will do a good job with it and return it to normalcy.
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From:dryponder
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
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I actually wrote this as a letter to Mr. Sable and sent it as a PM over on the Image Boards. I reworded it and added some stuff for this post. I really hope he's able to affect the series for the better. :)
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From:whirringblender
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
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Man. Why aren't you on this book? Seriously!
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From:dryponder
Date:January 29th, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
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haha, it's ok. i've got a list of people i'd put on the book before i'd hire me.
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From:piotrov
Date:January 30th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)
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Even though she seems to be portrayed as a "self centered moron" (I think I'd use a much less friendlier term...) in the regular DC universe, I've really enjoyed how she's being written in the Legion of Superheroes book. Just an observation - unfortunately I don't have any suggestion for fixing her regular title, other than having Mark Waid write it. :)

I tried to read the current Supergirl series, but gave up after the third issue or so...
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From:dryponder
Date:January 30th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
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i don't read legion, but yeah that's what i hear as well.
From:1diversecbnat
Date:January 30th, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)

Excellent!

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Hey, Dean

This is Loren from ONE DIVERSE COMIC BOOK NATION, BTW...anyway, why can't you take over art for Supergirl? I fell in love with your Supergirl the first moment I saw it a few months ago. It's absolutely beautiful.

Anyway, I think you make some excellent points (some of which I shared on Kevin Melrose's entry at Blog@). I think Supergirl has become the victim of the false image of a teenager that the media (as a whole) has been trying to shape over recent years. Now, the media has always played a big part in the way teens behave and shape their personas, but, I think, recently, it's as if the media wants to show how dumb teens can be. MTV, which was founded on targeting this demographic, has created shows that are more about spotlighting how vapid teens can be rather than spotlighting teens to look up to or even teens naturally trying to learn about life. Even so called "reality" teen shows such as Laguna Beach and The Hills have been charged with fabricating said reality in order to deliver greater drama.

DC has always been my favorite publisher because, when it's good, doesn't try to fall into the trap of making their characters more "real" but keeping them iconic. But, this has slipped away with the Marvelization of the company and stories. Understandably, they have to compete, but I think there are ways of going about making these heroes shine while existing in a believable world.
[User Picture]
From:dryponder
Date:January 30th, 2007 10:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Excellent!

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hey loren! :D

yeah dude, the tv portrayal of teens is almost exclusively limited to either the stereotypically criminal poor or the perhaps more accurately vapid wealthy. i'll take peter parker over those fake teens any day.

i personally don't try to choose which publisher's comics i like more, though i think DC's are more traditionally iconic. i think of marvel's 1960's years as a new renaissance in the genre after DC's brilliant late 30's/early 40's debut. both sides have their pluses and minuses these days, of course. i think the hyper-integration of every storyline with the rest of the universe it takes place in is the biggest problem right now. crossovers can be fun, but not unless they're special events.

the loss of understanding about the character of teenagers is probably second on my list of superhero woes. thankfully there are cool writers like beecham and mckeever turning the tide. anyway, rambling now...thanks for commenting!
From:fortress_keeper
Date:January 30th, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC)

Finally, Sanity!

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Your post makes a lot of sense and your sketch of Supergirl is wonderful.

I don't understand why DC hasn't treated Supergirl with any respect since the Weisinger era. In a recent issue of Back Issue, Dick Giordano said he favored killing Kara off because "Supergirl had no real purpose in the DC Universe. She was just a female Superman."

I think that totally misread the importance of the character - an affliction DC suffers from to this day.
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From:dryponder
Date:January 30th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)

Re: Finally, Sanity!

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hey, fortress keeper! :D

i totally agree. for my money, the supergirl and batgirl concepts are so strong at their core that messing them up almost takes more work than getting it right! i mean, kara's got the emblem and powers of the world's greatest hero, which comes with all sorts of expectations and complications, but she's also got the best 'big brother' (okay cousin) in the world to help her find her place. she's a symbol of hope and peace in a way superman can't always be, and her character should reflect that. like robin or batgirl, supergirl is a teenager taking on the iconography and mission of an established hero, and like those other great supporting characters, she's got her own thoughts and feelings, and enough coolness of her own to warrant her own solo series.

she is not an excuse to sell ever-skankier alternate covers to frat boys. she's one of the few iconic female superheroes, one of the few children know and admire. after the people in charge of how supergirl is presently portrayed are gone, she will live on. working on a superhero book calls for creativity and boldness, but it also means living up to the responsibility of handling a creation that is not your own and will be managed by someone else after you're gone.

okay, rambling now...anyway, thanks for stopping by! i really enjoy fortress of fortitude. :)
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From:psychotronik
Date:January 31st, 2007 01:09 am (UTC)
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I agree with your points wholeheartedly. I was very excited to finally have Kara back when the book started but quickly lost interest in the story. I would really like to see a more progressive and inclusive approach to this book. It's ridiculous that this series isn't directed at a male AND female readership.
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From:dryponder
Date:January 31st, 2007 01:16 am (UTC)
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ditto to all. :)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 31st, 2007 02:40 am (UTC)

supergirl

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Kudos on your drawing of Supergirl as w/ your insightful points on SG.
I particularly agree about the importance of insulating her from some of the DCU ongoing and letting her develop an adequate cast. The importance of having a strong backing cast can't be understated and has probably been no small part of the success of Batman and Supes (the Absorbascon makes a pretty good case for this).

I second the suggestion of Jaime Hernandez. Other strong candidates would be Mike Allred and Jessica Abel.

I'm wondering if DC is going to use the new multiverse in order to bring back a decent version of SG, though that does run the risk of mucking things up more by complicating the origin story.
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From:destro
Date:January 31st, 2007 05:35 am (UTC)
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I love your Supergirl sketch (it makes an excellent wallpaper w/ a little tweaking :D ), what I wouldn't give to see a Supergirl with not only that costume, but that style of art as well.

Anyway, I followed the link from "Comics Should Be Good", and man do I agree with your post wholeheartedly. I'd love to see a Supergirl book where she WASN'T modeled on the vapid teens from Laguna Beach and my Sweet Sixteen, but it doesn't look like DC is going to manage that any time soon. Have you seen the JLU cartoon? I really enjoyed the Kara they portrayed there, where they gave her just a tad of teenage cockiness without making her wholly unlikable. She was snotty and bratty, sure, but it was always tempered with an acknowledgment of her innate intelligence. Best off all, most of the stories involving Kara didn't revolve around her crushing on a guy (well, there was one, with Brainiac, and that was just adorable) but about her own struggles with growing up and into the "Superman" name. While I could do without the belly costume (though I prefer the animated version far more than the sexualized pre-teen look) I really appreciated the fact that they treated her with respect.

But hey, I prefer JLU version of the DC characters over the current DCU versions pretty much all the time now.

"If Peter Parker was portrayed in the recent Spider-Man movies as a 'typical teen' in the manner that Kara has been, I really doubt anyone would have enjoyed it."

And that's exactly the thing! What makes characters like Peter Parker and Clark Kent heroes in the first place is that they RISE above their initial, bratty, teenager phase, and mature. Male characters are allowed to grow up, while female teenage characters seem to be simultaneously infantalized and sexualized, and it never, ever stops being skeevy.

Thanks for making this post, and putting into words the problems with Supergirl that I've only managed to express with angered, muffled cursing.
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From:dryponder
Date:January 31st, 2007 01:23 pm (UTC)
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haha, agreed on all points. i think the superman animated version of supergirl outshined even the jlu stuff, but her appearances there were cool too. i really liked that legion ep.

thanks for following the links here! i really appreciate it. man, all this attention makes me want to draw some more supergirl pics! oh, and at my site i have this supergirl wallpaper available. :)

http://www.tencentticker.com/images/supergirl_bg_deantrippe.gif
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From:destro
Date:February 1st, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
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Ack, I meant Comics Worth Reading instead of "Comics Should Be Good". I always end up getting the two confused, but either way I'm glad I found this post!

And that wallpaper is awesome! So much nicer than my "fill w/ same color and paste in the upper left" quick thing I was using :D
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From:dryponder
Date:February 1st, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC)
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thanks! glad you like it. :)
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From:blackwell
Date:February 1st, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
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Hi Dean,

I read your post and I wanted to tell you that I'm glad you raised your voice on this issue. Your drawing of supergirl is beautiful, it has a simple joy to it that moves me.

I can tell you that as a woman who reads comics, I spend at least ten dollars a week on comic books, the reason why I haven't picked up Supergirl has been the covers.

I read other DC titles, Marvel titles, and independant comics. I often pick up new books just to see what is inside. I don't mind reading about sex and sexuality, I have no problem with violence, I don't particularly mind exaggerated body types. However, the depiction of Supergirl in the covers of the books have always prevented me from even picking them up. She looked distorted, as if she had been streched and poisoned. It turned me off to such a degree that I never even picked up the comic to flip through it.

When I read Mr. Berganza's appeal to female readers, I picked up the first supergirl comic I saw on the shelf, and read the first few pages, thinking that maybe I had judged too quickly. Inside, there was a sexualized, distorted young woman who looked like she was going to be sexually assulted by her father. The images in this book seemed to treat this as an erotic tease, like getting assulted was sexy, at least, for the reader.

As someone who as been sexually assulted, I can say that it was not sexy, and the treatment of this issue turned me off to the comic. I was disgusted by the art, the writing, and the treatment sexual attack in this comic. It is not a book I would invest my money in.

I love cheesecake, I love sexy women, I adore superheros and I spend my money on all of these things. However, unless they find a new direction for Supergirl, I will not be putting my money towards this series.
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From:dryponder
Date:February 1st, 2007 10:29 pm (UTC)
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yeah i dunno, that book's just so problematic. it's not any one thing, really, it's an overall attitude that doesn't jibe with the character. i keep having story ideas to break her out of her funk. i think the terra issue was a great starting point, introducing a female superhero who wasn't so self-absorbed or skanky looking. here's hoping for less incest/assaults more superbattles/helping folks.

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