Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Brief Review of Supergirl #10

Gentle Reader, I have to admit it. I've been wary of the Kara-Supergirl run since Greg Rucka left.

Now, I don't dislike Kara, not really. In fact, I find her quite fascinating, and her character written if not well, then charmingly. I love her alienness, her Otherness, her strange almost gut reactions to the scary things in her life. She has the darkness that Linda had, more so, even, and has retained it, fostered and nurtured it, and it has grown, by leaps and bounds, over the progression of her book. But in the same way that I was more interested in Linda trying to live as a superhero, I'm more interested in Kara trying to live as a human.

I like Otherness. I don’t know if I've mentioned this before this post, but I enjoy seeing characters put in Chandler-esque situations over and over again, just to see how they respond. Fishes out of water fascinate me, and in my own writing, I mess with my characters' world over and over again just to see what happens.

It's not even the fact that you see someone's true mettle in strange and threatening environments, although that's certainly a part of it. Rather, I just find the idea of people trying so desperately to fit in with something that they will *never* fit in with, or should even *try* to fit in with Good Storytelling. It's the Tale As Old As Time, no? It's the hero's journey, the extraordinary person trying so hard to be ordinary when ordinary is the very *last* thing she should try to be. Perhaps that's why I love Buffy, and Malcolm Reynolds, and Batman disguising himself as Bruce Wayne, and the Amazon Princess Diana.

There is no story if there is no conflict, and what Spider-Man II taught us, what The Odyssey taught us before that is that a *true* hero can overcome obstacle after obstacle. Fate, The Bad Guys, The Gods, whatever you wish to call it keeps throwing the hero tragedy after tragedy, and it is up to the hero to overcome them, become a better person, and then face the next, slightly-more-horrifying-slightly-more-tragic circumstance, and overcome that, too.

***Here Be Spoilers***


Kara has suffered, and is still suffering, so where better to let her suffer than an American high school? Because is there any place in America more tragic, more gruesome, more dangerous than the suburban high school? Well, of course there is, but Kara's faced down Luthors and Her Father's Dying Wishes and Darkseid. High school is just the next natural step on the tragic evolutionary chain.

The true strengths of this issue are the parallels it draws between Kara's horrific high school experiences on Krypton, and her horrific high school experiences on Earth. The issue begins with Kara talking to Boomer (Captain Boomerang's son) about her upcoming foray in an American high school. He gives her some prison movies to watch and says that "They're to help you survive." When Kara asks why, he asks, "You ever speak to a group of 16-year-old girls?"

Gentle Reader, I have to admit that the overbearing, omnipresent stereotype of the vicious, catty, cruel teenaged Queen Bee Of Maintown High School, USA is starting to get on my nerves. I hate it because it perpetuates a stereotype of cattiness among women. For those of you in the working world, I'm sure you've been told, by someone seemingly Older and Wiser, that your biggest enemy in the office is another woman. Or perhaps you've been told that women can't stand to see other women succeed. This insanity is, of course, The Grown-Up Version of the catty Queen Bee and her Drones stereotype that exists in America. Women have enough social handicaps to deal with; why add each other to the mix? But this stereotype exists, as does its Juniors Counterpart, and I don't know if I'm annoyed with the stereotype because it's believed to be true, or because I believe it's false. I'm just not *sure*.

All of this to say that what this issue of Supergirl does incredibly well is demonstrate how truly alien Kara is, and make her aware of it, so utterly and completely. In a previous episode, Kara asks Ma Kent why she was never asked to live at the Kent Farm. Ma Kent brushes her off, but for those of us who remember her arrival on earth, we know that Kara was deemed dangerous. And indeed, she very well was.

Kara's changed since the Crisis, and you know what? I think I like it. The Kara in Legion is different from the Kara here (although I admit, Gentle Reader, that I am no longer following Supergirl and the Legion), and I find that very curious—-what has happened in the interim? But even more so, I find the final scenes of Supergirl #10 very curious indeed. Kara is treated to some nasty little vengeance courtesy Maintown USA's Queen Bee, and there is a juxtaposition of Earth-Kara with Krypton-Kara. The issue teases us with images of Krypton Kara that are strikingly similar to the goings-on on Earth. Both Karas, caught up in petty high school politics. Both Karas, naive and vulnerable. Both Karas, suffering at the hands--and voices--of others.

Then we see the ultimate prank Worthy of Mr. King, complete with bucket of nasty filth. And, of course, we see the ultimate revenge Worthy of Mr. King: Krypton-Kara is shown with large crystal-gun in hand, complete with "S" logo, surrounded by dead and bloody high school Kryptonians, run through with crystals. Earth-Kara, on the other hand, goes red, literally, in the eyes, and there is a moment when the two images hang side by side in the balance.

And then Earth-Kara rises above the situation, again, quite literally. She walks through the crowded, whispering halls peeling off, piece by piece, her "disguise," which for Kara are her Earth clothes. Once she is herself again, stripped of the "secret identity" she tried so hard to form, she is an Angel reminiscent of the Fire Angel, hovering above the crowd, beautiful and terrifying.

She imparts words of wisdom before she leaves, and tells the crowd, "Do yourself and each other a favor... Be yourself. It makes life a hell of a lot easier." And with that, she's gone. Kara is able not only to triumph over her red rage, but is also able to accomplish the one thing that every kid who's ever been picked on dreams of: she shows them her true self. With each layer, the real Kara comes shining through, and what's truly fascinating is that real Kara is not pure Kryptonian or pure Earth or even pure Themyscira, but rather, a nice combination of all three.

Instead of resorting to death and destruction, Kara rises above it all, and she demonstrates that rage is not the only way out. She didn't need violence to show them that she was better than they were. She even takes the time to thank the faux-Queen Bee for helping her, and ponders, just for a moment, the marvel of everyone's need for secret identities.

The ultimate message of this issue is something stark, and a little tragic, but in the end, hopeful. We *can* be better than we let people tell us we are. We are not tragic stories, and violence solves nothing. To read this in the wake of so much tragedy this week-—the Amish school shooting, for example—-and this year-—torture, death, murder, mayhem—-is to see that pain, while a human condition, does not have to own the soul.

Earlier in the issue, Cassie (Wonder Girl), tells Kara, "We're all messed up, whether we know it or not. [...] In high school, everyone has a secret identity." What this issue demonstrates is that the secret identity is more complex than we've ever given it credit for. The new girl is a Supergirl; the Queen Bee has a heart of gold. The Nice Girl is a Queen Bee in disguise, and the Boy Next Door is as awkward and shy as we've ever dreamed. I wasn't crazy about the Supergirl run when Greg Rucka took off, but this issue sealed the deal. I'm Back In, Friends, and quite happy to be so.

15 Comments:

At 7:39 PM, Blogger Shelly said...

Nice review of Supergirl. This line really resonated with me:

"And with that, she's gone. Kara is able not only to triumph over her red rage, but is also able to accomplish the one thing that every kid who's ever been picked on dreams of: she shows them her true self."

Sometimes, it's not just high school. The adult world can be as treacherous to navigate emotionally. There are always roles to play and how wonderful it would be to be able to peel back the layers society requires to reveal our true selves.

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Shelly,
Thanks so much! It was a really well-written issue. I had more to say about Sarah the Pariah, but I felt a little too angry about that part to do the review much justice; I figured it could wait a bit.

You said, Sometimes, it's not just high school. The adult world can be as treacherous to navigate emotionally. There are always roles to play and how wonderful it would be to be able to peel back the layers society requires to reveal our true selves.

Very, very true. I keep reminding people that comic books are literature, because they demonstrate the very lessons we mention.
Thanks for reading!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 11:36 AM, Blogger Shelly said...

You're welcome, Amy. I've been enjoying your blog.

Every day at work, I'm reminded of the roles we must play. Yes, comic books are literature, running the full range as books do. Not all books are Bronte and Vonnegut. There are plenty of Danielle Steels, too.

 
At 10:59 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Shelly,
You're welcome, Amy. I've been enjoying your blog.

And I yours, particularly the ones detailing the (mis)adventures of one Captain Malcolm Reynolds :)

Every day at work, I'm reminded of the roles we must play.

It's unfortunate, no? We expect this sort of thing to stop after high school and it never really does.

Yes, comic books are literature, running the full range as books do. Not all books are Bronte and Vonnegut. There are plenty of Danielle Steels, too.

I remind my students that the Brontes were the Anne Rices and Danielle Steeles of the 19th century, in terms of publishing and popularity :)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger Shelly said...

Ah, glad to know Mal and his band of MalContents have another admirer. :)

Sometimes, comics can be almost a primer for life. Hard to differentiate, the old life imitates art imitates life thing. ;)

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Ragtime said...

This issue troubled me in the way it presented every girl in the high school as catty and vindictive -- except for Kara.

Arguing that there's a good message in here is a little like arguing that the Lone Ranger was pro-Indian because Tonto was a good guy (it was just the millions of other Injuns who were the problem.)

I also didn't like the non-resolution ending. The problems were never "real" for Kara because she could stop playing whenever she wanted (as she did at the end).

I was left thinking about the two options that everyone faces to an unpalatable situation -- Voice and Exit. You can try to change your situation, or you can go find another one.

So, has Kara really "changed" from her mass-murdering Kryptonian ways, or does her power just give her more options?

Krypton-Kara (and most high schoolers) don't have the option of stripping off their costume and going home. If Kara couldn't just fly away when she got angry, would she turn back into evil-Kara? What's the message for Pariah Sarah, who can't just "leave"? Is she the next mass murderer?

Very troubling.

 
At 10:21 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
You said, This issue troubled me in the way it presented every girl in the high school as catty and vindictive -- except for Kara.

But I don't think it did. The "Abercrombie and Witch" girl is the "faux Queen Bee"--assumed catty and vindictive because she is seemingly rich, while the "Nice Girl," Kara's "friend," was the true wicked witch of them all. Now, I don't believe this book is in any way revolutionary, but I do think it tries to break apart some of those typical stereotypes.

Arguing that there's a good message in here is a little like arguing that the Lone Ranger was pro-Indian because Tonto was a good guy (it was just the millions of other Injuns who were the problem.)

I don't necessarily agree with this, but I can sort of see your point.

I also didn't like the non-resolution ending. The problems were never "real" for Kara because she could stop playing whenever she wanted (as she did at the end).

But can't that make the lesson all the more poignant? She didn't *have* to take anything away from this, and she did.

Krypton-Kara (and most high schoolers) don't have the option of stripping off their costume and going home. If Kara couldn't just fly away when she got angry, would she turn back into evil-Kara? What's the message for Pariah Sarah, who can't just "leave"? Is she the next mass murderer?

I had a whole section about Sarah the Pariah in this post, but I ended up pulling it for various reasons. What also worries me about Sarah the Pariah is the assumption that she would do anything to get in with the Queen Bee and her friends. I think Sarah would be smarter than that, no?

I don't think she's the next mass-murderer, because I think, ultimately, the story is trying, however faulty, to prove that violence is not the answer. Kara is responding to something her *father* suggests, so perhaps the argument is not that the Lone Ranger is pro-Indian because Tonto's a good guy, but rather the Lone Ranger isn't a bad guy because he's just listening to his father/government? i.e. following orders?

I was actually a bit ambivalent towards this issue, and ended up writing myself into a more positive review. Kara's been shaky since the get-go, and I think this issue really marks a change in her. I don't know if I'm being fair in comparing Kara to, say, Cassie, because Kara is first and foremost an alien. What I do think is incredibly interesting is how this issue parallels Wonder Woman/Diana and the Max Lord murder to Kara. Both are alien women (Kara literally, Diana figuratively) and both are trying very hard to understand humanity and human emotions.

Thanks for reading, and for your thoughtful and insightful comments!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:50 AM, Blogger Ragtime said...

I didn't really think about "Abercrombie and Witch", who only had maybe one panel of "talking time." You may be right about her, but it's hard to tell. It is also hard to tell whether she is actually a fair counterweight, or if she qualifies as "Popular enough to be above the fray," much as Kara is Powerful enough to be above the fray.

I guess it really is Pariah Sarah that I thought was the most interesting one, and the one I was disappointed was not further developed as a counterweight to Kara (note the rhyming names). You say she is "smarter than that," but she wasn't smart enough to get immediately sucked in to the door/bucket prank.

I think more realistic is a "kicking the dog" scenario where people further down the totem pole either (a) suck it up and be miserable (b) lash out at the few people who are even further down than they are, or (c) lash back "up" the totem pole with a worst case of Columbine or Kara on Krypton.

The issue seems to leave almost no hope for the "real Sarahs" who can't just walk out like the Karas can.

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
You said, I didn't really think about "Abercrombie and Witch", who only had maybe one panel of "talking time." You may be right about her, but it's hard to tell.

Absolutely. I think I keep Getting Excited over her because she was a welcome surprise for me. I didn't expect Kara's friend to end up as the true witch, and to see the A&W girl come through at the end was actually quite pleasing. One of my biggest issues with the, well, issue was the Queen Bee phenomenon (which has just irked me for some time now, anyways), and to see the writers mess with that a little warmed my heart.

It is also hard to tell whether she is actually a fair counterweight, or if she qualifies as "Popular enough to be above the fray," much as Kara is Powerful enough to be above the fray.

You're absolutely right on this: she is popular enough to get away with it, even toss it aside as craziness, if need be (I'm thinking The Breakfast Club, here, and the day after-ness, during which we know Molly R. completely ignored Judd N., right?).
But I think Kara's powerful, but not confident (I know, I know, one has nothing to do with the other), and that this may have been her chance to gain some confidence? I don't know. I may be reading *way* too much into this :)

I guess it really is Pariah Sarah that I thought was the most interesting one, and the one I was disappointed was not further developed as a counterweight to Kara (note the rhyming names). You say she is "smarter than that," but she wasn't smart enough to get immediately sucked in to the door/bucket prank.

Didn't even notice the rhyming names--thanks for that! I didn't say that Sarah was smarter than that; I said that I thought she would be, i.e. I *wanted* her to be Smarter Than That. I *wanted* the girl who had been so horrifically picked on to rise above the petty jealousies and insanity of the high school Queen Bees. It bothers me that that the *writers* made her so susceptible to the lure of popularity. She *should* know better. She *should* be smarter.
But you're 100% right. She *wasn't*, and no amount of my whinging will make that happen :)

I think more realistic is a "kicking the dog" scenario where people further down the totem pole either (a) suck it up and be miserable (b) lash out at the few people who are even further down than they are, or (c) lash back "up" the totem pole with a worst case of Columbine or Kara on Krypton.

I sometimes really hate society, you know?
You're absolutely right: this is the more realistic scenario. But I wish it were't. Maybe I am reading this issue in a much more optimistic light than I should.

The issue seems to leave almost no hope for the "real Sarahs" who can't just walk out like the Karas can.

But see, I think they *can*. There are options, even in high school. Again, I may be all sunshine and daisies on this one, but I read this as Kara teaching *everyone* that you can rise above the pettiness.
*checks glasses*
Yep, rose-tinted and all ;)

How do you feel about Kara versus Linda? Because I really, really miss Linda.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger Ragtime said...


Didn't even notice the rhyming names--thanks for that!


That's why you've got to start acting crazy and reading your comic books out loud!

Hey. You want deep hidden subtext here? Try to think of a matching nickname for Kara that rhymes with "Sarah the Pariah".

Hint: It starts with a 'M'.

How do you feel about Kara versus Linda? Because I really, really miss Linda.

Not enough information.

Kara was "hidden away" in the Superman/Batman era, and spent half of her own series fighting the good guys (for no reason that I -- or she -- could tell.) Then, she's in alternate time stream, and now this. (I haven't read any of the LoSH stuff).

Is #10 a new direction, or a blip? And what new direction is it?

For me, it could go either way.

 
At 4:11 PM, Blogger Ragtime said...

(I'm thinking The Breakfast Club, here, and the day after-ness, during which we know Molly R. completely ignored Judd N., right?).

Sorry, almost missed this part.

No no no. She SAYS she'd ignore him the next day, and everyone says she's a jerk for saying so.

By the end, though, she's given him her diamond earings, which clearly indicated that she would be talking to him again.

I thought the point in TBC was at least the first inkling of overcoming peer pressure and social expectations, despite a precarious social status.

It was the "earing" scene that was missing in Supergirl #10.

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
You said, That's why you've got to start acting crazy and reading your comic books out loud!

Egad! I've missed out on a potential crazy?? Must inform Mr. Reads; he truly believes I know All The Crazy In The Book (or, as we say, Teh Crazy).
:)

Hey. You want deep hidden subtext here? Try to think of a matching nickname for Kara that rhymes with "Sarah the Pariah".

My brain's melty. Long day dissertating and teaching. Can I get another hint other than M, Please?

Kara was "hidden away" in the Superman/Batman era, and spent half of her own series fighting the good guys (for no reason that I -- or she -- could tell.) Then, she's in alternate time stream, and now this. (I haven't read any of the LoSH stuff).

I've only read a few issues. I keep an eye on Matthew's Blog for Important Goings On.
I think you're right that we've seen her battling other things, not as important things, and I kind of like the Kara we're seeing. Well, not like as in I want to hang out with her, but like as in hmm..., that's interesting...

Is #10 a new direction, or a blip? And what new direction is it?
For me, it could go either way.


We'll keep an eye out, no?

And you also said, It was the "earing" scene that was missing in Supergirl #10.

Did she give him one or both? I confess it's been a few years since I've seen Breakfast Club, and I always felt that she was going to betray him in the end. Or maybe it's just the product of movies' 3-act structure: no denouement?
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:11 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Shelly,
Hard to differentiate, the old life imitates art imitates life thing. ;)

Still one of my favorite quotes, and I think it's from a lab at MIT in the 80s: "Art is not a mirror. Art is a hammer."
:)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 11:03 PM, Blogger Ragtime said...


My brain's melty. Long day dissertating and teaching. Can I get another hint other than M, Please?


Okay, let's come up with some more clues:

1. Rhymes with Pariah (also Gaea and Stolichnaya).
2. Starts with 'M'
3. Handel's M______.
4. Jesus is a relatively famous example.

Did she give him one or both? I confess it's been a few years since I've seen Breakfast Club, and I always felt that she was going to betray him in the end.

It might have been one. I guess you could interpret that as either "more romantic" or "less commital". In either event, I think you had to assume at least ONE more conversation. ("Hey Bender! Give me back my earing!")

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
Okay, let's come up with some more clues:

1. Rhymes with Pariah (also Gaea and Stolichnaya).
2. Starts with 'M'
3. Handel's M______.
4. Jesus is a relatively famous example.


*smacks head*
Okay, so I feel like a Giant Idiot.
That's really *really* fantastic, especially considering the Supergirl Fire Angel legacy.

It might have been one. I guess you could interpret that as either "more romantic" or "less commital". In either event, I think you had to assume at least ONE more conversation. ("Hey Bender! Give me back my earing!")

I have to admit: I read that first as Bender, the robot from Futurama, and in the voice of Family Guy's Peter, trying to get his sock back from the dryer-Narnia sock thieves.
i.e. clearly I haven't had enough coffee yet, and entirely too much pop culture.

The strange thing for me, I think, is that I've had the "geek girl/popular girl" odd bonding moment, and then the next day meanness (this was, of course, in high school, which was a *very* long time ago, but The Breakfast Club was wrapped up in my high school years, so there you go).
I was the geek girl, of course. If there was any doubt.

TBF was never my favorite. Better Off Dead, on the other hand...
Ciao,
Amy

 

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