Monday, July 13, 2015

30th Anniversary Crisis On Infinite Earths: That Note

My ongoing review of the 30th anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths has hit its peak with my review of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 and the death of Supergirl.

One of the topics that I have touched upon in prior posts has been DC's decision that Supergirl was expendable. Somewhere along the way, the powers that be at the company felt that killing off Supergirl was no big loss.

I also have talked about how this issue gave Supergirl a sort of legacy, a sort of ragnarok which has carried over to other incarnations, a sort of destiny to sacrifice herself to save the universe.

Still, no one knew about that feeling and three other incarnations when Crisis #7 came out. All Supergirl fans knew were that she was dead and apparently coming back.

Now a lot of Supergirl fans have aimed their enmity at Marv Wolfman. And he certainly deserves some of the blame for helping craft the story of her death.

But someone who doesn't always get mentioned as often as Wolfman is Dick Giordano, a legendary inker and vice president/executive editor at the time Crisis was being released.

Over in Back Issue #34 Micheal Eury interviewed Giordano. Giordano was one of the voices who felt that Supergirl needed to die, needed to be on the famous or infamous 'Crisis kill list'.

As seen in the Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths and elsewhere (such as this Back Issue issue) we see a hand written note from Giordano to then DC President Jenette Kahn.

Giordano pressed Kahn for an answer. Can they kill Supergirl? Yes? No? Only if we have a new Supergirl soon? None of the above?

It is interesting that Kahn initially checked off 'none of the above' only to then change her mind and go 'yes'.

I suppose that if this happened today, this would be an email or text. I am glad this note survived for historical reference.

Later in that interview, we see that Giordano did not hold Supergirl in high regard. He disparagingly called her 'Superman with boobs'. And he says she 'never did really add anything to the Superman mythos', at least not for him.

He never regretted the decision to kill her off.

It is a shame that Giordano looked at 25 years of Supergirl stories and didn't see any value in them.

What would have happened if Kahn stuck to her guns and stayed with 'none of the above'? What would have happened if Kahn checked 'no'?

It was that note that led to comic history.


Martin Gray said...

I find that comment about no thought going into Supergirl so off. Yes, her origin had to be similar to Superman's, but she quickly gained her own world, and her strip a distinct flavour.

I have so much respect for what Dick Giordano did for DC, but here he was simply wrong. Kara was beloved of generations of fans and I think he knew it ... else why make such a big splash with her death?

iopy said...

Re: Superman with boobs.

Silver Age Supergirl was so different in origin from Superman it takes a conscious effort to see it otherwise. Not born on Krypton but instead on a city of refugees, separated from radioactive death by a thin sheet of metal, growing up in an environment defined by the death of a world and fearful of its own demise, she came to Earth fully knowledgeable of what and who she'd lost. Her story wasn't a mid-west small town idyll out of a Norman Rockwell painting, instead it reflected mid-twentieth century fears of radiation, bomb-shelters, and imminent destruction.

If a writer thinks character is defined by super powers then Supergirl is a female Superman. But if they understand character as history, motivation, fears, desires, aspirations, faults, and strengths she was a creation that offered a lot of fertile creative soil. That DC was unable to see the possibilities says more about the creative climate at DC than it does about DC's characters.

With the post-COIE universe DC tried to emulate Marvel's success without understanding why they were successful. Early orphanage Supergirl's stories were published in Action, but that era of the character feels today like a Silver Age Marvel character who would fit better into an issue of Spiderman or X-Men than where she wound up.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I've always thought that the Silver Age Supergirl stories worked the best. Maybe Giordano meant that the character kept changing with every new iteration. Working as a reporter. Then a teacher. Yet never really separating her away from Superman.

I agree that she was unique and NOT like Superman and had a different origin, but I compare the decision with how we've seen various artists write Martian Manhunter, a hero just as strong as Superman and with more powers. Before the Ostrander/Mandrake series, he had been ignored the way Giordano explained Supergirl away. It diminishes Superman being the big hero in the DC Universe. Of course, that is narrow-minded thinking on DC's part, but like killing off Barry Allen and knowing Wally West could take his place immediately, Kahn's decision re: Supergirl was confusing.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Anj: you've touched on this before, but if Wally West and everyone else remembered Barry Allen, and I think this would be the first case of legacy heroes outside of Golden Age/Silver Age, and if Superman was getting a reboot, why not simply re-introduce the character a year or two later. Change the origin. No Argo City, No secret weapon. Again, DC took a very narrow-minded approach to this.

Unknown said...

'It is a shame that Giordano looked at 25 years of Supergirl stories and didn't see any value in them.'

I very much agree with this sentiment. Kara had a unique origin where she witnessed the destruction of her home world, lost her friends, and lost for a period of time even her parents. Then she arrives on a new world, and has to learn a new culture. Kara also sacrifices by becoming Superman's 'secret weapon' and avoiding being adopted by a family (something she really wants). She loves her cousin. And Kara's supporting cast included Jerro, Dick, Comet, Lena, Streaky, the Danvers, Zor-El, and Alura.

The value of these stories is the fact years later comics readers continue to read Supergirl tales inspired by or based off the Silver Age. We still see the same origin element of Kara being the one who sees her world destroyed.

Anonymous said...

Woah! That's an interesting bit of trivia there, Anj. Thanks again for sharing with the rest of us.

The fact that this was committed to an official memo tells me there probably was quite a bit of politics
and/or CYA going around in the inner sanctums of DC and they basically wanted "the boss" to make the call.

Wonder if Jenette Kahn's ever been asked why she changed her decision like that. It's definately one
of those interesting "the road not travelled" questions.

The other "the road not travelled" question is what would have happened if "No," "Only if..." or "None"
was chosen, what would have happened then? My wild speculation :

a) Supergirl / Kara Zor-El killed by some z-lister villan in her own title, without the dignity and sense of
closure as was given by the final scenes of COIE #7. (UGH!)

b) Supergirl / Kara Zor-El solo title gradually killed off by executive (in)decision, Supergirl / Kara Zor-El
herself relegated to an occasional guest star or "background character" in other titles, eventually going into
the dust pile of forgotten comic characters that simply don't make the cut from a sales/profitability
perspective. (Double UGH!)

c) The "Only if..." option was basically exercised with Kal-L / Kara Zor-L, and I have to admit for me
there's only ONE true Supergirl I believe in, the Kara Zor-El / biological first cousin in the House of El
wearing the red/white/blue S-costume as Superman does.

d) The one I REALLY hope would've happened is finding a writer/artist team who had contrarian views to
Wolfman/Giordano who make them eat crow that Supergirl is NOT "Superman with boobs" and that interesting
stories could be told with her. Basically the Mark Waid or Gates/Igle glory era 20 or 30years earlier.

On top of that would have been the boxoffice smash of the 1984 Supergirl movie as well, showing DC that
Supergirl is profitable as well.


Anonymous said...

> Basically the Mark Waid or Gates/Igle glory era 20 or 30years earlier.

...I shouldn't forget the Cosmic Adventures / Eric Jones & Landry Walker to this either :)


Caoimhe said...

I think around the time of Crisis, a bunch of silver age characters were looking pretty tired. Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, Batgirl, Supergirl. DC really didn't know what to do with most of them, which is why they were easy fodder for the chopping board.

Even Superman hadn't been a big hit for years. They wanted Teen Titans and X-Men, and the rest seemed expendable to them.

Uncle Screensaver said...

I never knew this before, and am happy I never bought the Absolute edition. Seeing that note makes me very sad. I loved Dick Giordano but seeing that note and reading his words makes me so sad.

Original Kara too often has been accused of being a carbon copy but anyone can find out that beyond her powers she wasn't. She had a dry sense of humor, she wanted to have a normal life.

Back then Clark Kent was a disguise while Linda Danvers the true identity. As others pointed out, she saw her world die, while Superman only remembered his Kryptonian life through a machine that gave him his memories.

While you didn't mess with Kal, you really, really didn't mess with Kara. Superman was not someone you'd see dancing and having a party, but Supergirl, yes.

It was only poor writing or editing that gave Kara bad stories or a lack of direction. Kara was always "bigger" than those heroes her age, she was seen beside Wonder Woman, not Wonder Girl, yet she had been requested in the Titans for years. If she had been allowed in the New Teen Titans, or have development by having her a member of the Justice League, perhaps TPTB would've viewed her as more valuable.

While Wolfman killed her, he did showcase her as the hero her fans saw her to be. If Wolfman and Perez had taken her in before any of this, maybe Giordano would have at least thought differently. It's interesting, there was a guest editorial in te comics by someone lamenting how super hero females were treated, and I think this was before Kara's death.

When Kara first appeared she was popular enough to retain, she was lauded as the "World's Greatest Super-Heroine," and even appeared front and center on that DC Heroine Special, not Wonder Woman. In the Superman Family, she was the one popular enough to finish the series off with her as the title character, and received her new series. She was iconic and one of the most recognizable female super heroes. As that Action 252 reprint's editorial said, "it seemed the world needed a Supergirl." Had Kara been as carbon copy and truly unpopular as Giordano thought, her death wouldn't have resonated as it had. Furthermore, having killed her off, there was no need to wipe her out of continuity. The spotlight was on Kal again, after all.

In addition, of what if's, what if Kara had been allowed to be Sensor Girl?

Anonymous said...

It was a malevolent trifecta in the end, Wolfman wanted it, Giordano enabled it and Kahn wanted a splashy "cheap heat" success....But what makes my blood boil even today is the fact that somehow SuperGIRL became the symbol of everything that was uncool torpid and stagnant at DC as if all these writers & creatives had nothing to do at all with that decline in DC's fortunes.
I'm disinclined to cut Jeanette Kahn much slack here, a highly touted figure in the publishing world, a feminist in a word and her signature editorial act was signing the death warrant of a famous female character.....bad karma indeed.


Anj said...

Thanks for the great comments and memories.

It does seem that the richness of the character wasn't recognized so DC could make a splash.

Thinking back to 1985, I was pretty ticked off about this. The years and the legacy have helped dull my ire. But reviewing this as in depth as I am is like picking a scab and making an old wound bleed again.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't help that in thirty years none of the three DC creatives cited above have ever admitted so much as an iota of remorse.


Anonymous said...

Looks like they wanted to cover themselves in case they were accused of sexism by killing off a popular female superhero. And Jenette Kahn may be one of those tokens who just tried to keep the boys happy.