Supergirl: Another Dumb Blonde in Comics?
With the start of the Supergirl series, season two in fact, I thought I would focus on Superman’s cousin. She is actually older than the Man of Steel which many don’t realize. Most depictions of her are of a tiny doe-eyed blonde who most fan-boys can only dream of meeting! She’s much more than just a fantasy for comic book fans.
First appearing in Superman #123 in August of 1958 she was created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino. Originally created as a female Superman, her role has grown so much over the years through television, animation, film and merchandise. As I said above, very easy on the eyes and that counts a lot to a mostly male fan base. She made IGN’s top 100 comic book heroes of all time coming in at number 86. Surprising considering all the heroes in both universes but you can see her appeal right away.
While a lot think Kara Zor-El has been only one Supergirl that’s just not the case. The original was actually Lois Lane, yes, that very same one of Superman lore. In 1943 she “dreamed” that she had gained all of Superman’s power through an invention of Lex Luthor, one of Superman’s all-time greatest foes. In Action Comics #60 she actually has a career as “Superwoman”, not the same name of course, but the exact same attributes as Supergirl. She wears a blonde wig in the comic book as well, giving her the appearance almost identical to the later version of Kara. There were other Supergirl’s as well but the current one didn’t come around until 1958. This book, Superman #123 was a controversial one (one that I own by the way). The story goes that this book was used to gauge interest from the audience to see whether or not they would like a female superhero who was a counterpart to Superman. In the original issue she has blonde hair and a costume of blue and red just like her cousin’s. It actually closely resembles the costume worn by Helen Slater in the 1984 movie titled Supergirl ( I’d swerve that if you haven’t seen it already). Believe it or not early prints of this comic has Supergirl as a red-head with a green costume because they didn’t want readers to confuse her with Superman. Sounds very stupid because one is female and the other is male but marketing wise blonde hair, blue eyes and large breasts works better.
After positive fan reaction, the first recurring version of Supergirl debuted in 1959. This version of Supergirl, Kara Zor-El, first appeared in Action Comics #252 and the character creators were the same ones who invented Mary Marvel the sister of one Captain Marvel. Like Mary, Kara was a teen-aged female version of a male adult superhero who had similar costumes and powers to their male counterparts. Reaction to this ongoing series was extremely positive that DC would receive thousands of positive letters weekly!! Amazing for a character they never thought would make it let alone have her own series. Supergirl has had some bumps alone the way, especially being killed off in Infinite Crisis only because DC were going through changing editorial policies!! The character stayed extremely popular and forced DC to keep bringing her back with new books. I mentioned above that she is older than Superman. The reason she is “younger” on Earth is because she was sent to Earth just like Superman to protect him being he is an infant at the time and she is a teenager when they leave Krypton. Her rocket to Earth gets caught in the explosion of their planet and becomes encased in a Kryptonite asteroid. Due to the time suspended in animation, by the time she reaches Earth she is only 16 years old while Clark Kent is about 29 years old.
Kara Zor-El (originally just Kara, Kryptonians used a single name for most woman and a two-syllable name for men but was changed to adjust to modern times) is the last survivor of Argo City, which had survived the explosion of Krypton and drifted through space. The planet was covered by a plastic dome for weather moderation, devised by her brother Zor-El. Zor-El is the younger brother of Superman’s father. However, the bottom layers of the floating city were not covered and when fissures of the planet’s core started chain reacting it produced a by-product called Green Kryptonite!! This is how it was created. We all know it now as the weapon to use against any Kryptonian but they originally had no idea it would hurt them. As all its inhabitants were being slain by the kryptonite her father, Zor-El, sent her in the now infamous pod to look after Superman as I mentioned above. Fearing she wouldn’t be recognized by Superman her parents put her in the famous suit she wears now and that’s by comic book lore how she got to wearing identical suits.
It was later learned that her father and mother, Alura, had survived the poisoning of the Kryptonite by entering what is known as the Phantom Zone. Similar to the Flash’s speed-force, it is an inter-dimensional realm outside the normal space/time continuum. It is a barren and insubstantial null area absent of any physical material. There is only one native denizen to the Phantom Zone, the enigmatic and very powerful entity known as Aethyr. All the cause and effect that occurs in the Zone is at Aethyr’s whim. Not much is known of him but he has killed most who come into the Phantom Zone. Anyone who travels in the negative zone are no longer corporeal and exist only psychic phantasms of their true selves. Their minds and personalities remain intact but they can no longer physically interact with any other being. Communication in the Phantom Zone is done so by telepathy. Those within the Zone are no longer subject to the rigors of age or illness, rendering them immortal. This was the place Kryptonian scientist Jor-El (Superman’s father) wanted his people to go before they succumbed to their fate. He never got the chance to present his case. One Kryptonian was put there however, his name being General Zod. He did survive it and went on to become one of Superman’s greatest villains.
I won’t touch on Supergirl’s powers because they are so identical to Superman that I know that’s already been done ad nauseam. One big difference though is that when her father was in the Phantom Zone he implanted her body with crystals from the Zone. The point was to protect her from any being that was in the Phantom Zone but it ended up giving her immense power when under high pressure situations. These crystals only show themselves at the rarest times but it is a big difference between her and her cousin.
Now that I told you about her background and some important Supergirl comic book lore I wanted to talk about the Supergirl show that is currently on the CW having just recently moved from CBS after one season. Many people believe this show to be a feminist one and I just don’t agree with that sentiment very much. While I enjoy the show I feel that while many feminists were waiting for a portrayal of a woman who punches as powerful as Superman and eager to see a female superhero in a T.V lead this show so far has driven a kryptonite dagger into the heart of feminism. There’s a definite charm to the show but that charm makes for questionable assumption, that feminism necessarily entails women filling traditionally masculine roles in exactly the same way. The audience is not really allowed to decide if Supergirl should kick ass just like Superman. Why does that have to be her destiny and why if you disprove of that do you get the label of someone who is trying to deny Supergirl of being a likeable heroine who has the right to be herself? Any discomfort with male on female violence or vise-versa must be ignored until it fades apparently. Some feminist crusaders want to put woman on the front lines and in combat situations at any costs. The problem with Supergirl’s message isn’t that art should never portray women in fight scenes it’s that shouldn’t we question whether we want woman’s “strength” to be epitomized in their ability to beat and get beat up by a man? Is that the feminist’s greatest achievement?
Art teaches us many things, one being what it means to be human, and the meaning of feminine strength is a theme worth exploring. The female becomes modeled on the traditionally male model, example Superman and Supergirl. Take a character in the show for example, Cat Grant. She says “I labeled Supergirl, I branded her. She will forever be linked with CatCo (Cat’s company). And what is so bad about being a girl? I’m a girl, and your boss is a hot, smart, rich, powerful woman. So if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?” Label, girl, boss, somewhere this seems anti-feminism. Is the show trying too hard to drive home the point that Cat is a CEO, business owner and empowering woman? She claims the title of strong girl and then gives no credit to feminism at all with all the buzz words being used in the above paragraph.
Claiming Supergirl is for “everyone” is not entirely true. Feminism is about advancing women as a class, not helping men get equality with women. Kara is depicted as boy crazy, obsessed with clothes and too teen-ish. Most feminists would yell at the depiction of her always seemingly helping just men in the show and not being the natural woman that she is meant to be.
Again, while I enjoy the show and I believe it has feminist qualities to it, it goes so far over the top to let you know it. This show could be excellent if the writers and producers focus on just having a superhero show instead of making it a mockery of sorts. The real lesson of this show should be about how woman can conquer the world as well as any man not about how much they can talk about it.