Friday, September 23, 2011

Why Supergirl?


I was truly honored to be contacted by the great dcwomenkickingass blog to guest post about Supergirl on her birthday. If you don't visit DC Women Kicking Ass, you should. It is a fantastic site. As for me, I got a bit philosophical with the request.  I figured I should cross post here. So here is my short essay titled 'Why Supergirl'.

Why Supergirl?

It’s a question I get asked all the time. Someone asks me ‘who is your favorite comic book character?’ And I answer ‘Supergirl’. This seems to stun the asker. They usually look at me with a quizzical eye, trying to size up my response. And then I hear it, almost incredulously …

‘Why Supergirl?’

And I guess it’s a legitimate question. Why would a middle aged man list a (usually) teenage girl as his favorite character? Why not Batman or Green Lantern or Wolverine like so many of my peers? Why pick a character which lives on the fringes of the comic universe, usually belittled or forgotten?

I wish I could answer it with one sentence. But to understand why, you have to understand Supergirl and what she represents.

You see, when I started reading comics I was immediately enamored with Superman. He had the best array of powers. He was invulnerable, unbeatable, the very symbol of truth, justice, and the American Way. Heroes loved him, wanted to be like him.

He was perfect.

Maybe too perfect. I could aspire to be Superman. I could hope that one day I would have his immutable ethics and the uncanny ability to actualize them. I could strive to be respected by everyone around me, a role model. But the truth is, even in those early years, I knew I could never achieve that. You can hope to be Superman (and by this I mean what he represents) but you can’t be him. You can’t look too long at the sun, you know?

So I couldn’t relate to Superman but I liked his powers. So I looked around for other characters with similar powers who maybe was a bit more like me, a bit more relatable.

Superboy? Lived in the country and helped at the general store in what felt like the 1950s.

Ultra Boy? Too much of a jock type, and lived in the glittering future.

Spiderman? Not with those powers.

Well what about Supergirl?

Trust me, as a young boy, it isn’t easy to tell your friends that you are collecting Superman Family for the Supergirl feature. But I was collecting Superman Family for her and then Daring New Adventures of Supergirl.

You see, Supergirl had all the powers of Superman. So that was cool.

But she also had everyday troubles. She was worried about her love life and couldn’t find a significant other. She didn’t know what she wanted to do for a career – reporter? Guidance Counselor? Actress? Grad student?

She still had that sense of justice that Superman did. She still knew what was right and what was wrong, what she needed to do. And she did everything in her power to help people. That was really the underlying theme in those earliest stories that I devoured. She seemed to embody hope … going the extra mile to do what was right.

And even though she knew what to do, she wasn’t always immediately successful . She could fail. She might get angry or frustrated. She might mess up. But she always dusted herself off and tried to finish the job. She always learned from her mistakes.

For an early adolescent who didn’t think the opposite sex knew he existed, who thought he wanted to be everything from an English teacher to a physicist to a physician, for someone who tried to do what was right and occasionally struggled, Supergirl was someone I could relate to, someone I could aspire to be like, someone who was on a journey through life much like me.

Based on those early stories, I followed Supergirl around the DCU. I was there when she died in Crisis (saving the universe like a hero should, holding on to hope no matter what). I was there when she became Linda Danvers under Peter David, when she also was flawed and yearned for redemption for everything that she had done. I went back to the earliest tales in Action and Adventure when she was a young girl trying to be a good daughter and cousin, trying to be a superhero, a time in her life where she loved an ordinary guy named Dick Malverne. I was there when Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle put her back on the hero’s journey, had her struggle to fit in, to find her place in the world, to deal with the tragedies that life can hand you, and to continue to work for the betterment of all those around her. And I was there when Landry Walker made her the new kid in school, struggling with being different but always being the hero.

It hasn’t always been pretty. There were years when she wasn’t around. There were times when Matrix was insane or enslaved by Brainiac or the duped lover of Lex Luthor. There were those tough early issues of the last volume of Supergirl where she seemed bitter, unlikeable, and hardly heroic. But those were just bumps in the road. The ‘true’ Supergirl … the young hero trying her best, working through adversity, and doing what’s right … has always returned, shaking off the ashes of misguided stories.

And that is ‘why Supergirl’.

Happy Birthday Kara. I can only hope the new Supergirl is worthy of the name, is a hero, someone likeable, someone people can relate to and try to emulate.


Gene said...

Well said Anj!

I feel the same about Supergirl. No matter what happens, she always does the right thing.


Anonymous said...

Really, really great essay, Anj.

mathematicscore said...

Lovin' it. Way to be. :)

Anonymous said...

She has always been the more "emotionally accessible" of the super cousins. Empathetic to put a single word to it, this was in heavy contrast to her older cousin in the Silver Age who was chilly distant and given to manipulation.
That to me is the secret of her longevity, the readership can empathize with her more readily since she is eternally new to the game and must trust to luck and enthusiasm over mere experience.
I started out with Kara in 1970 or so in Adventure comics, forty one years ago, I hope i have another forty years with this character, the best is always yet to come.


Ayhe said...

That´s so beautiful! :)

Dr. Thinker said...

Weird...but in a good weird.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the kind words!

Anonymous said...

I was also a boy reading Superman Family for Supergirl. I was a Superman fan also but SHE was actually my first 'crush' back in the Early '70's :). I appreciate ALL you wrote Anj and I know,you may not even read this since my comment is so late. Thanks anyway for being another SUPERGIRL fan. By the way,I STILL appreciate SUPERGIRL 'of old',particularly the Bronze age yrs(but also Silver age issues :))and am ALWAYS a fan and even now,catching up on all the 'modern Supergirls' I can :).

Anj said...

Thanks Peacelover.

This post is one of my favorites on the blog so I am glad that people still stumble on it.

Sounds like you are an old timer like me! Glad you like the site!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say either of us is an old-timer Anj :). I wouldn't call 49 old(except a younger person may think so of course :))but I DO get your point since so much is looked at relatively. In any case,for MANY years I was 'away' from comic books but then found myself once again becoming 'acquainted' with them again but in all honesty,ONLY SUPERGIRL comic books and ones with her,am I concerned with. I have a long way to go since I am still catching up on all they have done with the 'modern versions' of her. I have not read all books of Peter David's yet but hopefully will in time. I have though,in all honesty,been glad that with the even later modern version(s),she is once again Superman's cousin. I am just happy her character is still around,in one form or another :). I've become acquainted with each 'version' of Supergirl that I am aware and am trying to continually find out more about each one('s series)but it is a slow process but still,an enjoyable one :). Thanks for your posts Anj and thanks for your reply.

elknight20 said...

I saw this essay on Sue/DCWKA's blog, once, it was posted!

Bravo, sir!


Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful.

Anj said...

Thanks for stumbling on to this.

It is crazy this is 5.5 years old.