On Loving Supergirl(s)

I love Supergirl.

Now, this is kind of an imprecise thing to say.  Supergirl, after all, is a character who’s existed for 56 years.  She’s been through three hard reboots and countless soft ones.  She’s had her origin tweaked and shifted and changed, and been reinterpreted for movies and TV shows.  She’s donned dozens of costumes and almost as many personalities over the decades, ever-fluid as she becomes each new writer’s – and each new generation’s – idea of what a heroic teenage girl should be.  Most flagship comics characters who’ve been around for decades are more a loose collection of personality traits than anything else, as they’re constantly updated by dozens of creators, but Supergirl is more mutable than most.

Honestly, that’s a big part of why I love her.

Action Comics 252, art by Al Plastino

Action Comics 252, art by Al Plastino

It’s not that I’ve always been whole-heartedly behind every aspect of every interpretation.  In the 60s, Supergirl was sweet and obedient, ever-docile in the face of her cousin Superman’s often arbitrary or cruel directives.  In the 70s she grew increasingly neurotic, while her alternate universe doppelganger carried the baton for shrill straw feminism.  In the 80s she was killed off, largely for shock value, and she spent the rest of the decade and much of the 90s mired in increasingly tangled continuity.  In the early 2000s she was angry and disaffected, a classic “good girl” aggressively playing at being “bad.”

In other words, she’s constantly been a nexus for the male-dominated comic book industries anxieties about power in the hands of a teenage girl.  But killing her, rebooting her, or putting her in an ever-shorter miniskirt can’t change the fact that she is, in fact, a teenage girl with all the powers of Superman.

That’s important.

There’s a through-line to various Supergirl personalities, to be sure, especially the ones who answer to Kara Zor-El: She’s bright.  She’s sunshiney.  She’s scientifically-minded.  She tends to have a temper, she never gives up no matter how bad the odds are stacked against her, and she is fiercely protective of anyone who might need her help.

And yeah, I love me a bright and sunshiney Supergirl.  I want her to be optimistic, to be joyful and full of hope, to be intrinsically heroic and determined and kind, and those are the portrayals that I gravitate towards.

But I like that her personality sprawls across such a wide range, that she shifts so frequently and so easily, because I want as many young girls to be able to see themselves in Supergirl as possible.

Supergirl v5 #43, art by Joshua Middleton

Supergirl v5 #43, art by Joshua Middleton

I love Supergirl as a character, but I love her even more as an icon because of what she represents.  Supergirl is just as strong as Superman (sometimes stronger) and just as fast (sometimes faster) and has just as many assorted other powers (sometimes more, from the stupid “super-intuition” of the Silver Age to her learning Solar Flare or whatever their silly new Pokemon move is literally years before Clark figured it out), and that’s great.  Superman thinks she’s incredible and just a little bit scary, and that’s also great.

What Superman means, to me, is that within each of our nondescript milquetoast Clark Kent selves, we have immeasurable strength and the power to accomplish great good.  What Supergirl means is that that strength and power isn’t just for adult men; that strength and power is inherent to teenage girls just as much as it is for adults.  Just as much as it is for men.

Supergirl tells young girls that they can do anything they set their minds to, and that’s important.  If her personality needs to be a little fluid, a little changeable, to accommodate as many young girls as possible, well, I’m not mad at it.

I’m thrilled that CBS is clearly aiming their new Supergirl show straight at young female viewers.  I’m beyond stoked that she’s front and center in the new DC Super Hero Girls line.  I’m chomping at the bit for a new Supergirl comic series (or two!) to be announced.  I can’t wait to see Supergirl t-shirts and dolls and lunchboxes and Rao knows what else (pogs? probably pogs) on the shelves.

Because Supergirl is a character who belongs to young girls, first and foremost.  And I can’t wait for them to have the chance to love her as much as I do.

Jessica blogs about comics and other pop culture-y stuff at Jess’s (Somewhat) Grown-Up Type Blog.