Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Supergirl's Target Audience?

Last Friday I posted my review of Supergirl #38 and once again lamented how the character seems to be stuck in a  creative vicious cycle.

We get a dark turn for the character.
It isn't well received.
A new creative team comes in and redeems the character.
We get a couple of years of solid stories and solid sales.
The creative team just seems to be hitting their stride.
DC decides to do a dark turn for the character.

I have been running this site for 11 years now ... almost 12 ... and I have had to review that cycle at least 4 times. It is insane. In fact, an impetus for this blog at the time was to try and redeem the character myself, showcasing how great she is.

Anyways, the comments on that review were pretty lively and it took an interesting turn where commenters asked 'who is the target audience for Supergirl?'

I also think you can look at that question differently and ask '?'

And so I thought that I would open this site up for a discussion trying to answer those questions. Of course, I'll start.

I find the target audience question a little bit tricky to be honest which is why I turned it a little.

I mean, is the target audience male? Female? Young? Old?

I suppose you could say this is a book that should be written for a younger audience. And it should be geared towards a female audience as well.

But I am such a firm believer that comics should be considered universal, all-ages, all-outlooks and gender that I don't think I can answer that one completely.

So instead I'll say the things that I think are crucial in a Supergirl book or in her character.

1) She has to be young and relatively inexperienced. She is at the beginning stages of her heroic journey. She is learning how to be a hero. As such she can fail and need to rethink things. She can struggle. But she is always striving to do better.

2) She loves her cousin and admires him. She is inspired by him. She knows he casts a big shadow. But she is her own person. She isn't Superman. But she can want to be like him, trying to be as good a person but in her own way. 

3) She has to be bright and optimistic. Yes, she has a tragic backstory, even more tragic than Superman's. But it doesn't make her angry. And it doesn't make her overly sad. She wants to see the best in people and is unfaltering in that. (The darkness thrust on her is often from a feeling of anger or guilt over her survival. This simply needs to go away.)

4) She wants to help people any way she can. She knows tragedy and she doesn't want to see anyone else suffer. She wants justice. And she can be fierce in her response to injustice. But always in the cause of helping.

5) She has to have a secret identity and struggle with the usual issues of a teenager there as well. Supergirl doesn't work if she is 100% in costume. Like early Spider-Man and Firestorm, she has to have a lot on her plate in all aspects of her life.

6) And she needs a supporting cast to bolster all aspects of her story.

Shockingly, a lot of these are neatly summarized in 'help, hope, and compassion for all'.

Anyways, these are the crucial elements that I think is needed in Supergirl.

If she is a young hero, striving to do good but still learning, inspired by Superman but finding her own way, and still struggling with being a young woman on Earth, the audience will be there.

I freely admit I am an older white guy. So maybe I am looking at things from an antiquated viewpoint. I would love to hear from anyone and everyone what they think.

How would you answer those questions?
What is Supergirl's target audience?
What aspects of the character do you think are crucial in a Supergirl book?


Martin Gray said...

I really enjoyed that discussion over at the other post, good idea to give it its own space. Aside from what you say, I'd add that she has to be living with parents, it's a great point of difference where Superman is concerned (which makes me wonder, why did the Danvers apparently never have Superman round for dinner in the Silver Age, he didn't have to come as Clark?).

Bostondreams said...

I agree with your take on the characteristics of Supergirl, except for point 3, or at least an aspect of point 3. Of course I think she should be optimistic and bright, but I have no issue at all with the idea that there is an underlying sense of sadness, anger, and loss. Kara Zor-El SHOULD absolutely be suffering from some level of PTSD, especially at her age and what happened to her. To me, it makes the character much more understandable and sympathetic, especially in the world we have today. Has DC overdone these dark turns? Oh for sure. But I LIKE seeing this side of Kara; I think balances her character, and distinguishes her more from her Big Blue Boy Scout of a cousin.
I also think that Kara's intelligence needs to be emphasized. The young woman is a genius, as a historian and as a scientist, (and I would suggest even more than her cousin), and I'd like to see that played up a bit more (the current series has had some nods to that recently, even in the Infected Supergirl arc).
She also has to never give up. There was a story recently (last year I think?) in one of those one-shots DC does sometimes that feature a bunch of stories, where Kara has lost much of her power thanks to disaster and war that has all but made absorption of solar rays impossible, but has promised an orphan girl she would save her. She spends much of the book climbing a mountain, the little girl on her back, seeking to get her to a rocket she can use to send her away from a dying earth. When she gets above the cloud cover, and she can feel her powers coming back, and flies high, the girl on her back, that was awesome. But it's the end that is quintessential Kara to me. She puts the girl alone in the rocket, to send her away to a new world, the girl scared and upset about leaving the woman who has become her adopted mother...and Kara thinks on her own story and how scared and alone and sad she was, how terrified she was...and she climbs in the rocket with her. THAT is Kara Zor-El to me.

kenkraly2004 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kenkraly2004 said...

I agree with the list and so many good points made in this. However I don't think the current comic book creators at DC Comics truly understand how to write Supergirl as a bright hopeful and optimistic character with the current writers they have it's been that way since The New 52 with the exception of Adventures of Supergirl and Supergirl Rebirth also her CW DCTV Supergirl show. Supergirl at DC Comics for her comic series needs better writers who understand and respect the character

Anonymous said...

I agree with what you are saying Anj. Then you are one of the long time readers who are familiar with her whole history, so you would know the core of the character.

Maybe the problem is that gap between readers and writers. Writers switches characters all the time, readers stay for longer.

I think long time readers are more reluctant to change and I think that writers and editors might not always have enough knowledge of the history.

Did Houser know that her WW vs Evil Supergirl had been written several times before? Would she have written it if she had known? Did the editor know? Did the editor know that Wonder Woman had just ran Wonder Woman vs evil Supergirl in her own comic?

Maybe a writer who comes from the rest of the line which is much darker hasn't read 60 years of Supergirl comics and can't fully appreciate how much the comic is straying from its identity.

And then again maybe they do know all that and are making a new Supergirl for a new generation that doesn't appreciate the same things.

I can hear the internet voices whispering in my ear: "Maybe this wasn't made for you..."

Now I feel old :)

Anonymous said...

@Bostondreams I love that Tom Taylor comic. Tom does his homework on the characters and interprets them in new ways. He is brilliant. Last daughters comic never fails to make me cry.


Martin Gray said...

Anon two posts back, that's really generous thinking, nice one - but I reckon it's the editor's job to know, at the very least, the last few years' worth of a character's history, and they should communicate this to any writer who hasn't done the prep for their job. I really don't blame Jody Houser or the editor in this case (is it it Brittany Holzherr, I'm working from memory here?) as this is likely a storyline dictated from On High.

Anj said...

Thanks for great comments so far.

The idea of family and parents is a great one and a miss on my part.

And I like the idea of a love interest as well.

The question is should I forward this link to DC Comics or Holzherr or the creative team?

Anj said...

That Tom Taylor story was in the DC Nuclear Winter special, reviewed here!


Great stuff. Taylor definitely brings it!

Martin Gray said...

Yes, do forward the link, and suggest an interview! If her bosses allow it, Ms H would be a great person to hear from.

Thay said...

I don't think there is a specific audience for Supergirl, I think people will read or not depending on what is being written, I have no problem with the whole anger and tragedy thing,so much that it's just a phase for character growth.

6) I agree, I love the super family but honestly Kara has to have a stronger supporting cast in comics as well as other heroes, I always liked the idea of her being part of a team that lasts more than 5 or 7 editions.

I just have to thank that I found this blog with people who love this character as much as I do.

Sorry for my writing, English is not my native language

Anonymous said...

Hmmm - this was too long. I'll split it into 2 comments.

I'm reading so many different types of comics each month, I'd have to say I like a good story, well told, and excellently drawn. I'll read almost anything that meets those criteria. And once I start reading something, I tend to stick with it for a long time.

Supergirl is part of an ongoing tradition of empowered young women: Buffy, Batgirl, various Spider-Girls; and empowered but somewhat older Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and various Spider-Women. There's room for and a need for them as an alternative to the male-dominated action cape genre. Who is the audience for these books? Probably the same audience for any comic books being published today - mostly men of a certain age. Younger readers, of all genders, are reading the very successful (and generally quite good) graphic novels being marketed to them.

There just aren't too many women, few boys, and virtually no girls visiting comic book retail shops. (Those that come are more likely buying cards or toys.) It doesn't seem that girls can be the current target audience - they aren't reading monthly comics. (DC is trying to bring in new fans through initiatives like the Walmart books.) I think the audience is primarily just fans of comic book titles who like some variety of character and viewpoint. It can't just be all Bat and Spider and X characters punching each other to bits.

As it turns out, CBR just presented, for their "Day 12 of 31 great comics" feature, their choice for Great Holiday Comic: "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot" from "Christmas with the Superheroes #2" (November 1989).


I think many people reading this blog know the story. If not, that article reprints most (or all) of it.

Now, that's an inspiring Kara Zor-El - drawn , I'd say, as a mature woman of wisdom, no longer a teen. (Death has a way of sobering you up fast, I guess.)

End of Part 1.


Anonymous said...

Part 2.

There are still good, inspiring but short stories about Supergirl around. Like the one just described by Bostondreams, beautifully illustrated by the great Yasmine Putri. Or the short story I've recently mentioned, also by Tom Taylor, where Supergirl swoops in for a moment just to save Jimmy Olsen from Deathstroke. (Tom Taylor has to write all the books. He did a good job with Injustice Supergirl too. I think he knows how to write Kara.) The recent Andrea Shea story where Kara considers a job at - well, S.T.A.R. Labs has now apparently gone mostly rogue, but her intentions are good, and you featured it in the top ten this year. Not to mention the kindly President Supergirl glimpsed in the Bendis future.

The main title just has to get in sync with the sentiments and character expressed by these other stories. Examples like these abound even among currently published books.

The problem in the monthly right now is that Supergirl has been pulled into the wake of dark storylines for a while - the current thrust of the DC Universe IN GENERAL is dark. It's Doom. The Comic Books That Laugh. It's likely Williamson pitched the Secret Six. Meanwhile Snyder is planning a follow-on to Metal, and Tynion has been quoted that his Batman is going to go in the horror direction! We just aren't going to be seeing Happy Books.

Maybe it's an honor to be part of the Secret Six. I mean, it's the main DC storyline, after all. The culmination of Doom and BWL with Leviathan in the mix. And Supergirl is in the "good" company of 5 other decent people who were also sucked into this dark storyline: Billy Batson, Jim Gordon, Carter Hall, Jaime Reyes, Donna Troy - all good people, probably all with a disappointed fandom. (It's possible Donna has been treated worse than Kara, and for a long time.) Williamson has tried to find a logical theme for each infected hero, some negative hook that the stories could latch onto during this fever dream of an infection. If you decide you want to include Supergirl in this, you need to find a hook for her, and what are the possible hooks? The classic or easy themes for a teen with her history would be anger, guilt, loss, or teenage angst and insecurity in her cousin's shadow.

But let's not forget how Supergirl got infected - heroically saving her cousin.

We'll have to see if Jody Houser rights the ship, or bails before she has the chance.

Let's see some adventures in the future with the Legion, and maybe Supergirl can spend some time with Young Justice, considering every other young hero has joined that team by now. Have some goofy adventures with the Wonder Twins, and lighten up! Go to the movies with Barbara!


Anonymous said...

Looks like I need to do this in two parts due to Blotspot restructions, so here's part 1.

This is the anonymous that asked the “Target Audience” question from the previous blog entry, and I thought I’d attempt to respond to this entry.

Though I’m familiar with Supergirl as a concept, I’m not as familiar with her as a character or with her history and adventures over the years. This blog has been a revelation to me, seeing all the background helps me better understand the character and the stories that helped to build her into the multi-format property she’s become. But I’m still learning about her, and it wasn’t long ago that I even knew that “what background and version I prefer” was a question that could be asked. Since I’ve primarily been a Batman and Green Lantern reader I’m out of my depth answering what I think should be part of the character; that’s not a question you usually ask about Batman, it’s what you’re given as part of the stories. There are differences between the Batman of previous eras and the one of today, but nothing like I see with Supergirl. And certainly not over a 10 to 20 issue cycle.

And really this is one of the things that caused me to ask the question to begin with. The history I see here, going back decades, is incredibly detailed but it’s also scattered and fractured. She was born on Krypton, she was born on Argo City long after it exploded, she’s younger than Superman, she’s older than Superman, she was in an orphanage or maybe she wasn’t, she was/wasn’t adopted, she knew Martha Kent and yet never met her, it was hard at first to understand exactly who she was. Now I understand that she’s remade in a small way with each writer, and in a huge way with each reboot. That happens in small measure to someone like Bruce Wayne or Hal Jordan, but nothing like what I see here for Kara Zor-El.

Fans of Batman like the dark and gritty nature of his character, but that’s only a portion of the reason for his success. His stories have depth and breadth because his world exists. He has a city that has its own history and character, he has friends and family, lovers and enemies that last for years and decades, a universe of places and things. The Batman universe. And I think DC is well aware of this. Though Supergirl has been around for 60 years she doesn’t have that, and least not a consistent one.

Anonymous said...

Part 2

Though I’m intimately familiar with Batman, and the Green Lantern Corps, I literally find Supergirl as a concept intimidating as a reader. That may seem strange, but it’s really not. Either of those two have a history and background I can learn, and I know that if it changes someone will make an attempt to explain why it changed, perhaps unconvincingly but at least they make the effort. When I read Supergirl things are going to change from arc to arc and writer to writer, and often nobody will try to explain in the story why this just happened. In general readers of fantasy like stories, the more involved the better, but they want it to all fit together. Be it Harry Potter, Star Wars, Steven Universe, or She-Ra, the audience wants an on-going direction that makes some small amount of sense.

So, bringing it back around to the beginning, this is why I asked the question about the Target Audience. Right now it doesn’t seem like there is one on the reader end because the book feels like a series of unconnected stories in support of other books, and it seems to me that the target audience is entirely the retailer. Guest cover artists, crossovers, events, and covers that feature characters from those other books that will help to move product to collectors and visitors to the title. But no concentration at the editorial level on helping build and maintain a universe that will keep a reader base of Supergirl involved. Like or dislike the television show, they clearly understand that an audience wants to be involved, and they won’t be if they can’t grow over time to love the heroes and mistrust the villains. Pick any secondary character on that show and they’ve existed as a fictional character relating through story to Supergirl longer than anybody in the book right now. They understand what their target audience is and what they want. Just like the creators of Batman or Green Lantern.

From the mind of this newbie this is what the Supergirl book needs, not more gimmicks. And as a Batman fan and long term reader I’d like to apologize for the Batman Who Laughs doing this to the book. It’s embarrassing.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

Love the comments. I think that the lack of a more or less permanent supporting cast is her main weakness. She needs distinctive, compelling supporting characters who are capable of generating stories on their own like Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen do for Superman. If we can see her back with the Danvers, Alex should be brought in as her adopted sister as hinted at in the beginning of the Andreyeko run. Perhaps she could be the daughter of recently deceased fellow agents whom the Danvers have taken in. Kara knows what it is like to lose parents, so she would probably do everything she could to comfort her new sister. This would be the reverse of their relationship in the show, but I could see Kara as the caring, wiser big sister. However, Alex could still be more hardbitten.

"And I like the idea of a love interest as well."

As long as he isn't a villain in disguise.

I agree that a kinder, more optimistic Supergirl is long overdue. The frustrating thing is that Jody Houser is capable of writing such a heroine-just read her current run on the Doctor Who comic book featuring the thirteenth doctor.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

I don't believe that Supergirl's comic should necessarily be geared to a Target Audience. I'm sure that people who shop at K-mart or Walmart would enjoy reading about her as well.


Seriously, I will say that Supergirl's audience should be as broad and inclusive as possible, basically anyone who is a fan of superhero comics. I agree she should be an "all ages" character. And as others here have said, a steady supporting cast is essential.

I would love to know DC's rationale for treating the character as they do, why they keep returning over and over again to the same tired themes-especially when they don't work. Why, when a writer like Sterling Gates or Steve Orlando comes along, someone who seems to like and understand the character, they are quickly dismissed. Why they feel it necessary to keep "experimenting" with her. Why they have this fascination with Dark Supergirl.

You would think that with a character that has been around as long as Supergirl, there would be some guidelines established; some disciplines in place to help the writers and the editors and the publishers keep her character consistent.

Anonymous said...

I generally agree with Our Host's sketch of Supergirl's character save perhaps for the relationship with her cousin, a little bit of friction there should be beneficial. Mark my words though " a little bit", not "kill her cousin as soon as she is done shooting up a school bus full of orphans".
These days the origin though makes that "little bit of friction" easier since she left Krypton in suspended animation and arrived here well into Kal-El's adulthood that combined with her obvious PTSD could make for an occasional class of styles or at least some push back from her. Frankly some of Supergirl's best stories from the Bronze and Silver Age revolve around her either confronting him or getting into an outright conflict with her cousin.
But I stress its "a little bit", the DCU tends to radically overwrite and over estimate the appeal of rebellious cantankerous teenaged heroes, they've "darkened up" everyone from Mary Marvel (!) to Robin the Boy Wonder, unfortunately Supergirl is a repeat victim of that editorial mindset.
As for her aud, it OUGHT to be the core fans (y'know us...remember us??) as well as casual incoming readers triggered by her ongoing multimedia presence (the Melissa Benoist series and the DCSHG Cartoon etc etc). But to get to that audience DC has to conceive of a Supergirl book that is something else than a jobber for crossovers or a dangerous super brat that makes bad "dark" decisions...


SimB said...

What a wonderful discussion this is. To continue on from the esteemed JF re incoming readers coming from DCSG and the TV I have had friends ask me for advice(I'm one of the only "comic guys" most of my friends know) on what books to get their daughters who love DCSG and unfortunately aside from actual DCSG products, I usually suggest the Silver Age SG trades and warn them off the current run. I am not saying the regular series needs to be aimed VERY young but all ages was common for most comics without being dumbed down until recently.
The Superman Triangle era titles for example were sophisticated enough for most readers but also good reading for youngsters.

KET said...

Was hanging back on commenting on this thread, as most everyone here knows I have a long online history defending the Supergirl character. However, one aspect that I thought I should bring up is that she is archetypal, which tends to throw a monkey wrench into comparisons with other super-heroines out there...in fact, Supergirl's longtime existence in comics and outside media gave birth others that have risen up in her wake. However, being archetypal also means that she cannot remain static; she has to change with the prevailing times of what a heroic young female would aspire to. For example, does she need to be surrounded by Super-pets as accessories for her story. Seems like the current run is using Krypto as a crutch to avoid dealing with those pesky 'female issues'...and speaking of 'accessories', Supergirl herself shouldn't be relegated to merely being one in Superman's story, or anybody's else's tale, for that matter. Despite the family connection, she forges HER OWN path to heroism, which does not blatantly duplicate her cousin's. This is where DC Comics, her publisher, always trips up, and get things wrong throughout the decades.

But on the other hand, 'Supergirl' is also a trademark, for better or worse, and the publisher really DOES market that trademark to different target audiences in different media presentations. Given that comics themselves are marketed towards an increasingly shrinking young male audience (since the publisher mostly fails at catering to women with superhero fare), the character will probably be depicted in such a way as to please this demographic more, since DC has mostly scared off the older demographics by now with their constant reboots. There might be an occasional 'default setting' for when the publisher gets ready to try 'something new' (which has now resorted to cheap gimmicks rather than long, involving storylines, since attracting quality talent on comics tends to be fleeting). But nowadays, it's become a revolving cycle of repetition as sales continue to wither.

Supergirl's future, as a still developing character, is much more reliant upon outside media at this point. Whatever is going on in the comics has become increasingly irrelevant, since her more massive appeal as a character has mostly moved on BEYOND comics now. And yes, there's a different target audience for various outside media presentations.