Thoughts on Matrix Supergirl
I’ve been re-reading the post-Crisis Superman comics a lot recently, as part of my project to chronicle all of the Matrix Supergirl appearances. I got into DC Comics in 1996 and don’t have much familiarity with the post-Crisis reboot stories. Since I’m primarily a Supergirl fan, there hasn’t been any draw for me to read Superman comics from this era until now. From what I’ve read on Wikipedia, this era seems pretty unappealing compared to the Bronze Age. So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed many of the post-Crisis Superman stories, once I started reading them for Superman, and not for Supergirl’s role in them. But overall, the late 1980s/early 1990s have a lot of bad storylines: Trial of Superman, Zero Hour, the Blaze-Satanus War, that bizarre vampire story…to a modern reader like myself, this era of Superman comics doesn’t age well.
DC’s treatment of Supergirl as Matrix is pretty poor overall. She’s a cypher, a dehumanized male fantasy. There are glimmers of potential, but the writers don’t see much past the surface; at the same time the artists tended to render her as a sex object. My favorite storyline was the Reign of the Supermen/Return of Superman, which was really quite good for the most part. Just not for a Supergirl fan! DC managed to develop a number of very interesting new male characters in this storyline. Unfortunately that only emphasizes how badly they relegated Supergirl to a useless and sexist bit part. One would expect Supergirl to have a huge part to play while Superman was dead; logically, she should have replaced him. But no, DC just couldn’t see a woman in that position, so they came up with a stupid plot device to artificially keep her out of 99% of the action so they could focus on four Supermen. The scenes with Supergirl and Lex Luthor II were painful to watch, exploitative and insulting to me as a woman. It was a terrible idea to begin with, and they played it out far too long. Every scene with Supergirl and Luthor just screams “male gaze!” and the one-sided focus on the frizzy-haired, poofy-shirted Luthor’s obsession with constraining Supergirl is detrimental to both of them as characters. It would have been a better story with neither of them around.
The turnaround in Supergirl’s portrayal in Peter David’s short story in SHOWCASE ’96 #8 is startling: she exhibits more depth and humanity in those ten pages than she did in all her other appearances, aside perhaps from her self-titled miniseries. All it took was a good writer who saw Supergirl as a person foremost, not merely a male fantasy.