Thursday, May 15, 2008
I Just Can’t Stop Reading Supergirl
And I might be the only one. Sales numbers for the book appear to have leveled off, but they’re probably not where DC wants them to be. The book as gone from bad (Loeb) to controversial (Kelly) to somewhat redeemed (Amazons Attack) to… well... marginal. And in a way, that makes me sad.
I’ve been following the book since the relaunch, and in a previous blogging life, I defended the Joe Kelly run as an honest view of a teenager with no sense of her place in the world. But I’m beginning to see how that piece of the new Kara Zor-El’s story and evolution is a part of a larger context.
In my humble opinion, Supergirl, dating all the way back to her original Silver Age incarnation, has had one primary foil: Herself. She is, in many ways, her own rogues gallery. She’s always battling those inner-demons of uncertainty and self-doubt that Superman can barely even sympathize with because he was raised by the Kents and is almost universally adored. I think there’s a reason that, back in the day, she was among the first DC characters to get older, go off to college, and transition to adulthood. Her personal, internal struggles were so important to who she is that putting her in a new home or new environment was like introducing a new villain for any other hero.
And, love it or hate it, the current incarnation of Supergirl is true to this tradition. Joe Kelly’s run was a little angsty for some folks, and I get that. But I have the whole series of ‘My So-Called Life’ in my DVD collection, so a few issues of teen angst really doesn’t phase me anymore.
The ongoing Kelley Puckett run is a different kind of struggle against self. She’s put a lot of the whiny teen stuff behind and realized that it’s time to grow up, but she’s beginning to learn that good intentions aren’t enough. In the most recent issue, she breaks a dangerous villain out of jail to try to save a young boy with cancer. The art in the issue is pretty good, and the writing is pretty reductive, as it has tended to be under Puckett. In terms of overall production quality, the issue is middle-of-the-road.
But its contribution to the overall story of Supergirl is important and compelling. She learns the hard way why superheroes don’t run around trying to cure cancer and create a utopia in the style of the Justice Lords (also in my DVD collection, just so you know it’s not all angry teen stuff). She learns why Superman’s greatness is a product of his judicious use of power, not just the power itself, and that the line between hero and villain is often drawn in those judgments.
Supergirl is not the best book on the shelf. I will admit that. As far as I can see, it’s not building towards Final Crisis in any meaningful way. Other than the title character and her cousin, it rarely features any characters I’ve ever heard of, and the combination of visceral art and overly-concise writing makes it a little hard to follow. But as has been the case since the series was launched before Infinite Crisis, it’s building a character. It’s a slow build, and it’s sometimes an annoying build. Kara bugs the hell of me as often as she makes me say ‘Hell Yeah!’. But at this point, I’m content to know that with each issue, I’m watching a young hero grow up, just like Supergirl readers got to do in the Silver Age. And I guess that’s enough for me. Because I just can’t stop reading Supergirl.