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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

On "Supergirl" Pt. 1 (Comic Books)

***Foreword:  As often happens with me, I started a blogpost on one topic and ended up veering off in a completely different direction.  I wanted to write about the new "Supergirl" TV series, and spent so long on the prologue about my history and thoughts on the comic book version of Supergirl, I realized I had a whole other post.  So I'm going to split it up and talk about comics today, then Friday I'll wade into the TV show.***

Now that we're four episodes in, I feel confident in finally telling off fellow author Karissa Laurel re: her tepid response to the new "Supergirl" series.

I've never been much by way of a comic book fan.  In fact, I could probably list the comics I've read in my lifetime without taking my shoes off.  Actually, that might be an interesting exercise.  Let's do that:

"Supergirl" (1996ish?)
"The Atlantis Chronicles" (also around 1996)
"Batgirl" (2004 or 2005 with Cassandra Cain and 2012, the Stephanie Brown Batgirl)
"Johnny the Homicidal Maniac"
"The Killing Joke"
"Venom" (199...3?)
"Hellblazer."  Or maybe "Hellstorm."  Can't remember which exactly.  He was the son of Satan.  Maybe one of you helpful comic book fans can let me know in the comments.
"Black Orchid"
A few "Sandman" issues

And I think that's about it.  That's all I can think of, anyway.  And those last four there were ones I stole (borrowed?) from my sister.  Now that I think about it, this is a pretty eclectic mix.  And that's probably my sister's fault, since she pretty much singularly dictated my taste in comics as a non-comic reader.

Oh, but my friend Scott Dubin found me terribly uneducated and insisted I read those first three there.  "Watchmen" for obvious reasons, but "Supergirl" and "Atlantis" because of the incredible mid-90s writing of Peter David.  The point may have been to prove something about how comics were art, though I don't recall ever protesting very heavily that they weren't.  For one thing, I was 14 and didn't know art from the hole in my ass, and for another thing considering I had mostly read "Sandman" up to that point I was pretty well aware that comics were art.

Shit.  Now this is becoming a blogpost about comics.  Okay, let's get back on track.  ***Note: this never actually happened.  See above.***

The point is, Supergirl has always been one of my favorite comic book characters.  For one thing, as a straight guy, in any given graphic art form I'd rather be staring at a girl than a guy.  (The same reason the animator decided to make the Tomb Raider a woman instead of a man.  I think he said something like, "If I have to stare at a pixelated ass for eight hours a day, it's going to be an ass I enjoy staring at.") 

But aside from that adolescent reason as a starting point, one of the things I always loved about Batgirl and Supergirl was that they always had to deal with the issues of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.  Whether handled well or handled terribly it was something that the writers pretty much couldn't ignore.  And it's not all that hard to draw the obvious parallels between the superhero "business" and something like the military, police force, or business world in the real world. 

Batgirl and Supergirl had to live in the shadow of powerful men.  They may have been just as powerful but they would never be Batman or Superman.  They had trouble being taken seriously.  Sure, sometimes the villains were just overtly, outrageously sexist.  In fact, they quite often were.  But more often Batgirl and Supergirl were dealing with the little things, what we would call today institutional sexism and microaggressions. 

"Supergirl" at the time that I read it was getting into some particularly heady (read: batty) stuff.  God was real and he was a little boy with a baseball bat and Supergirl was not Kara Zor-El but rather Linda Danvers, a half goo/half angel-type creature (yeah, I don't know.)  But in spite of all the wackiness (and a fair amount of what we in the '90s would've called wackness) it was still a story about a girl in high school trying to deal with all that bullshit and the transformation into Supergirl (read: puberty) that's supposed to make everything better but turns out to just be a gigantic pain in the ass. 

And, yeah, this is well-worn territory.  It's basically Spider-Man's entire shtick.  But boys and girls face very different issues in puberty, as much as we all face the same ones.  Supergirl is invincible physically, sure, but she's vulnerable emotionally.  The difference between that and Spider-Man is that men are supposed to be stoic and learn to repress all emotion and become Don Draper by the time they're 18, but girls are supposed to have a more nuanced relationship with their inner selves.  (Yes, I understand I'm generalizing a lot, here, but this is somewhat complicated subject matter, despite the fact I'm talking about a comic book.)

So, for instance, no one's supposed to go running home crying when someone trips them and their books fall all over the floor.  (Now that I think about it, getting tripped and having your books fall all over the floor seems to happen a whole lot more in pop culture than I ever remember it happening in real life.  But I digress.)  Spider-Man, or a guy in general, is supposed to build up his backbone until he finally lights-outs the guy who did it, and then there's all the cheering because he beat up the bully, and that all feeds into beating up guys as a superhero. 

A girl, though, wouldn't typically solve her problems with macho bullshit.  In the same situation, I dunno, she might have to find out why the girl who tripped her was being a jerk, and then it turns out she comes from a bad home, and, you know, there are any number of story paths.  And that also has an interesting connection with how you're supposed to behave as a superhero.

One of my favorite relationships in comics was always the friendship between Batgirl and Supergirl.  Batman and Superman are also friends, but again, it's a very macho bullshit friendship, predicated on who can beat the other up, and grudgingly every once in a while admitting mutual respect.  Batgirl and Supergirl, though, were basically sisters.  They confided in each other, they hung out together, sometimes in costume, sometimes not.  In addition to being female superheroes, which is tough enough already, they had the added bond of always being in their more famous namesake's shadow. 

All right, this is already a full blogpost at this point, and I haven't even gotten to the new show yet, so I'll just let this sleeping dog lie and let this be my post on comics and "Supergirl" specifically.  I'll be back on Friday with thoughts on the TV show.

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