Sunday, March 17, 2013

Comic Scene: Supergirl's Identity Crisis

We're going to start a new department at the David Desk: Comic Scene, where I will examine trends and issues raised by my comic book purchases:

The last comic book I bought was Adventure #421 from the days when Supergirl was the star of that series (1972). The front cover shows the Maid of Might beset by green demons with a blonde villainess pointing a flaming sword and screaming "You've tried to destroy us. Now, Supergirl, you must die!"  In the issue's story "Demon Spawn," the baddie Nightflame is in fact the evil part of Supergirl herself who lives on a microscopic world inside the Blonde Blockbuster's head. She kidnaps Supergirl and brings her to this bizarre nightmarish place which is really the heroine's subconscious, with the intention of draining her superpowers and taking her place in the outside world. In a typically sexist choice, Supergirl is only saved by the love of a good man, Geoff, the producer of the TV news show where she works in her civilian identity of Linda Danvers. Geoff, who has no superpowers, somehow infiltrates Supergirl's mind and forces Nightflame and the Demons (sounds like a rock group, doesn't it?) to retreat.

This episode came at a time when the Blonde Blockbuster was going through an identity crisis. Recently graduated from Stanhope College, she was no longer a teenager dressed in a prim red-and-blue costume. The artists began drawing her in more revealing outfits with plunging necklines and she always seemed to be flying at a weird angle to best show off her ass. At a time of women's rising consciousness and empowerment, DC's mightiest female hero had her super-abilities reduced thanks to a pill slipped to her by the evil Starfire (a female spymaster). Now her powers disappeared at unpredictable intervals. To restore them, she relied on the male scientists of the bottle city of Kandor to create a exo-skeleton hidden under her new sexy outfits. To be fair, her cousin Superman was going through a similar dilemma as his powers were being siphoned off by an extraterrestrial doppelganger made of sand. But Supergirl, and Wonder Woman too for that matter, were facing diminshments that none of their male counterparts had to brave. Superman soon regained his full strength. Supergirl drifted from job to job (high-school counselor, soap-opera actress) and was eventually killed off in the crisis of multiple universes. She was replaced by the much more buxom and brazen Power Girl in the DC Universe. (Today I've lost track of where she is in the New 52.)

This "Demon Spawn" reminded me of an earlier Adventure Comics story (#313) "The Condemned Legionnaires." At this time (1963), the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of super-powered teenagers living in the 30th century and my favorite group of heroes, were the stars of Adventure. In this issue, a mysterious, omnipotent, masked woman named Satan Girl is infecting all the female legionnaires with a crimson virus. Even Night Girl of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, sort of a B-Team, gets sick. With Superboy and Mon-El away on a mission, the male Legionnaires are powerless to stop Satan Girl. So they call on Supergirl to conquer this nemesis which she eventually does with the aide of the Legion of Super-Pets. It turns out Satan Girl, like Nightflame, is a manifestation of Supergirl's darker side, created by exposure to Red Kryptonite.

I love the cover of this book, it's so melodramatic with Saturn Girl posing like Loretta Young as she beseeches Superboy to rescue her and her comrades.

In Adventure 313 and 421, Supergirl faces her hidden self and both times, it merely fades away rather than being integrated within her to create a whole personality. The editors just didn't know how to create a powerful, psychologically strong woman who didn't depend on a big-brother figure (Superman), a father (both of Supergirl's father figures Zor-El and Mr. Danvers are shadowy and undeveloped) or lover (none of her boyfriends including Geoff, Dick Malverne, Brianiac 5, or Jer the Mer-boy hang around for very long).


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