Martha Thomases: It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s A TV Show!
Supergirl is one of my favorite characters, so I was delighted to read that there is a Supergirl television show in development.
Supergirl is one of my favorite characters, so I was terrified to read that there is a Supergirl television show in development.
There are several reasons for my conflicted feelings. When I was a girl, Kara Zor-El was my ideal. Not only was she blonde and cute (two adjectives not customarily applied to me), but she had powers, she was unsure of herself, and she was always trying to prove herself, not only to her cousin Superman, but to prospective parents who shopped at her orphanage. I wanted to have a robot double in a tree. I wanted to have a flying horse and a super-powered cat. Sometimes I wanted different parents.
I don’t think there is anything innately “feminine” about wanting super-powers, robots or flying pets. I still want them (and ain’t I a woman?). The difference between the me who liked these things in the first place and the me who likes them now is that I’ve gone through puberty.
This isn’t going to be one of those stereotypical PC rants (which I’ve never actually read, but then, I don’t seek them out) about how women are misrepresented in comics. They are, but I’m not arguing that in terms of politics, but in terms of realistic character development.
In the case of Supergirl, too often, she is written and drawn by men who don’t know anything about what it feels like to be a young adult woman – either teenaged or in her early twenties, as she will be portrayed in the show. If they do any research at all, it reads as if the watched Clueless and Mean Girls and decided that was enough.
Too many Supergirl stories (and movies, like this one) have her worrying whether boys will like her because she’s so powerful, or what is she going to do with all her power, or how does she fit into a world she never made with all this power. It’s all about being a Female With Power, not about being Kara Zor-El… or, in my fond memories, Linda Lee Danvers.
Her origin story has varied over the years. I believe in the New 52, she used to be a baby-sitter to her cousin Kal (now Superman) but, when Krypton exploded, she was sent into space in suspended animation. She crashes into Earth, not knowing the language and suddenly having super powers.
And since then, mostly, she’s been smashing things. No one understands her and she’s angry about it. So angry that, for a while, she was a Red Lantern.
Isn’t she the least bit curious about Earth? And her cousin? Doesn’t she want to know why she ended up here? I mean, if the baby I used to care for suddenly turned up and he was at least ten years older than me, I would want to know what his life was like.
And wham, she has super powers! Kal-El grew into his, but Kara gets hers all at once. Is that confusing? Is it wonderful? Is it awkward? Is it all of these things and more?
If anything gives me any hope at all for the possible television show, it’s that Greg Berlanti, the producer, has an okay track record in the way he deals with female characters on his shows. I really enjoyed Sigourney Weaver and Ellen Burstyn in Political Animals and Emily Bett Rickards plays a well-rounded, believable Felicity Smoak on Arrow. I’m not sure his shows pass the Bechdel test, but I believe it’s possible that they could, that these female characters have conversations about their jobs and their hobbies and their voting patterns when they are off-camera.
It would be worth everyone’s time and effort to involve more fully realized women characters, not just to be Supergirl, but in general. And I mean this in the most crass, materialistic way. Buffy the Vampire Slayer made a lot of money with a lead character who didn’t worry about whether or not boys would like her. She didn’t fret that being powerful would turn them off. At most, she worried it would kill them.
And she’s not the only one.