This year’s Superman 80-page Giant focused on the super family members rather than Superman himself, which is great because we get seven different 10-page stories focusing on Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, Bizarro, Supergirl, and other characters in the super family. When I saw the way Supergirl was drawn in this story I almost decided not to get this, but the Bizarro, Lois and Jimmy stories intrigued me enough to give it a chance, and I’m glad I picked this up.
Since I’m a Supergirl fan, I’m a more critical of any story featuring her, and I have to say this one has some serious problems that keep it from being as enjoyable as it could have been.
At 10 pages there’s enough room to tell a compelling vignette that gives us some insight into the character, and the setting of a summer carnival filled with crowds of regular, non-super folk just having fun and being themselves sounds like a great way to show Kara interacting with people in a more normal way in her Linda Lang identity. And I always want to see more Linda Lang, so that’s a draw.
But I get the sense that the writer and artist knew little about Supergirl when they were handed this assignment beyond a) the idea that Kara feels like an outsider on Earth, and b) she appeared on Smallville.*
Why’s that? Oh, maybe because the artist modelled Kara after that infamous Smallville publicity photo of Laura Vandervoort which was photoshopped to make her breasts larger. *facepalm* This is far worse than the common practice of drawing a character with larger than normal (for her) breasts. This is altering a real woman’s body, a not-so-subtle message that no matter how we look, we’re never good “enough”. Anyone following the introduction of Kara onto Smallville at that time has to be aware of the controversy surrounding that costume.
There were panels where that artistic choice really did interfere with my ability to enjoy the story, which is a shame because the character design for Kara is otherwise quite nice. Even though I have negative feelings about this costume because of its origins, I found it fit the situation and didn’t seem exploitive like it did on Smallville (for the most part). I wish the art was as good when Kara transforms into Supergirl, because the artist loses his handle on the anatomy once that happens.
It’s kind of amusing to see Kara struggling with the limits of texting. I enjoyed the panels of her struggling through the crowds and trying to find the guy she’s there to meet by x-raying people. That was a nice touch, showing her putting her superpowers to use in a believable situation. I would love to be able to do that some days :)
On the other hand, I was really annoyed by the way she’s coerced into going off with some fratboys who are clearly there to prey on lost looking girls. What the hell? Why isn’t Kara slapping this guy’s hand away? Kara’s reaction to being pushed around by these guys is unconvincing. Asking herself “Kara Zor-El, how do you get into things like this?” is not only out of character but disturbingly close to victim-blaming. This is an all too common situation, where a group of men bully a woman into going places and doing things she doesn’t really want because she’s afraid of saying no. I feel like the story gets to breeze over the threat of sexual assault in this situation because Kara is superpowered.
Then Brendan shows up, and wow, what a charmer. I’m going to put a warning here for ablist language re: mental health issues.
I’ll type that out in case you missed it:
Brendan: “Thanks so much for watching out for our Linda. She has this habit of walking off. The doctors warned us of that when we signed out of a mental institution too soon –”
Brendan: “What did I tell you about wandering off, young lady?”
Kara: “[pauses] Huh?”
What – the – hell –
I had to fight the urge to rip up the book at this point.
Because playing on the incredibly harmful belief that “mental (ex) patients [are] incompetent, unable to do things for themselves, constantly in need of supervision and assistance, unpredictable, likely to be violent or irrational” is so damned funny. Right? What with all the prejudice and misconceptions surrounding mental illness and the persistent stereotype of women as inherently mentally unstable and in need of protection from themselves/others, I don’t even…
Turns out that Brendan is the controlling type who gets angry when he finds his female friend with other guys and assumes that any woman who hangs out with him is his “girlfriend”.
So Brendan has jumped to the conclusion that they’re romantically involved just because they’ve been spending some time together and he likes her. That’s great and all, but shouldn’t they have, you know, talked about it at some point? It’s not a one-sided decision to make. I don’t believe that Kara is so socially naive that she wouldn’t be aware that she’s in an exclusive romantic relationship. Kara may not be from Earth, and she may not have had a chance at whatever normal teenagehood would be on Krypton, but I think Brendan’s presuming a lot here. Plus he says abuser-ish things like “It’s just wrong for my girlfriend to be that way with me.”
I’d assumed that Brendan’s “you don’t want her, she’s craaazy” ploy was to spring Linda from a bad situation, but from the way he acts jealous and demanding afterward, I’m not sure he even considered Kara’s POV. It’s all very confusing, and that’s probably intentional: navigating relationships is confusing when you’re young. But Brendan comes out of it looking like a real jerk.
The problem is that we get a very one-sided view of the whole situation. Kara gets to say very little; most of her POV is expressed in thought boxes. Brendan gets almost all the dialogue, and Kara barely gets a word in edgewise. The whole story feels like a guy putting words into a female character’s mouth based on how he thinks a girl would think and act in this situation from his own self-centered POV.
Kara’s shocked realization that “You’re…my boyfriend?” is no doubt intended to be cute, but I found the moment so icky that I was glad when the fordovian bloodsucker showed up.
The story draws a clear parallel between the creatures in the carnival’s “freak show”, one of which is the fordovian bloodsucker that Kara recognizes, and the way that Kara thinks people on Earth perceive her. To humans, she’s just another alien “freak”.
But she’s Supergirl and no one else can handle this, so even though it’s the worst possible time for her personal life, she heroically springs into action. Kara’s conflict between her romantic relationships and her heroic life is a long-running theme dating back to the Silver Age, and this story could easily take place in a Linda Danvers story from the 1970s. Come to think of it, all the guys Linda dated back in the Bronze Age who dumped her because of her “Supergirl career” were jerks as well.
Girls, don’t have careers or guys won’t like you!
The fight with the enlarged fordovian bloodsucker is fun, and I liked Kara’s running transformation scene from Linda-wear into Supergirl that paid homage to the SUPERGIRL movie. I don’t care if it’s totally implausible, I just love transformation scenes :)
In only three pages, the artist manages to squeeze in three panty shots (no shorts here), some really weird anatomy (I suspect a lack of photorefs for the fantastic action poses), and some laughably suggestive visuals involving a giant tentacled squid and sticky green goo that I’m not even getting into.
When Kara catches up to Brendan to continue their conversation, he suddenly has a change of heart because he’s freaked out over her disappearing in all the chaos.
He grabs her roughly by the shoulders (wtf?) and babbles something about realizing that she’s “different from other girls,” (a line I’ve always found oddly insulting) “that’s why I like you. I thought I could deal with your disappearing act. But…I shouldn’t have to.”
Geez! What a loser.
Kara flies off musing that she doesn’t know what’s worse: “Losing Brendan – or realizing that no matter what I do, I’ll only ever be a stranger to this planet. A freak.”
I don’t know what’s worse: seeing Kara hit on by fratboys and emotionally whiplashed by a guy who thinks she’s his girlfriend, or having her blame herself in the end for losing him.