Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Girls Behind Bars in their Underwear: Supergirl #10 (Cover Date Nov. 2006)


Major Heroes: Supergirl
Minor Heroes: Wonder Girl, Captain Boomerang, Jr.

Major Villains: Every kid in Guggenheim High School
Minor Villains: Monsieur Mallah


Supergirl prepares to join a regular high school under a secret identity of "Claire Conners". Her new buddy Captain Boomerang, Jr. gives her some prison videos to prepare herself with. During her first week, she befriends Becky, who steers her away from the cool "Abercrombie" kids. Kara starts having flashback to being teased in high school on Krypton.

After chatting with Wonder Girl about her school experiences, Becky tells Kara about a sleepover party, and Kara invites "Sarah the Pariah." At the party, the girls trick Sarah into stripping down to her underwear, and circling the parts she wants to "improve" in lipstick. The next day, Becky convinced Sarah that the trick was Kara's fault, and the gang up to dump slop on Kara's head. At this point, Kara flashes back to committing a Columbine-style massacre on the kids who teased her on Krypton. But on Earth, Abercrombie and Witch steps in to save her, but instead Kara simply removes her costume, revealing herself as Supergirl, and tells everyone to "Be Yourself."


Apparently, we all like the "new direction" for Supergirl. I formulated some of my thoughts in this thread, and am expanding them here.

In general, although the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, that's no excuse for taking a single step, sitting down, and declaring victory. Realizing halfway through the school day that you have no idea why you decided to go to high school is certainly a step up from halfway through the fight realizing that you have no idea why you're fighting the Outsiders, or have no idea how you got to this particular dimension/timeline/universe. But we're not really there yet.

Where I agree that the story is improved is the potential in the story's frame. I had optimism when I saw the character of "Sarah the Pariah" as a good foil (rhymes with "Kara the Messiah" -- coincidence? Well, as it turns out, it probably was, but it shouldn't have been!) If the primary purpose for Sarah was just as an excuse to show some underaged girls in their underwear, it was a seriously wasted opportunity.

While Kara had some "depth" here, she was put in a really shallow pool, with a ton of one-dimensional, catty girls. The Lone Ranger was not pro-Indian just because Tonto was a good guy (it's just those other million Injuns that are the problem), and Supergirl doesn't get any pro-female street cred for portraying Kara well, and everyone else like the Lone Ranger's bullet stoppers. (The was one other positive frame with Abercrombie & Witch, an exception which shows that there didn't have to be a rule.)

What really disappointing me, though, was the un-heroic ending. Given an untenable situation, there are always three options -- Loyalty, Voice, or Exit. You can accept the world as it is. you can speak up to change your situation. Or you can leave and find another one. In public school, though, there is no Exit option for girls like Sarah the Pariah. She can't elect to not go to school the way she could quit a job or move to a new neighborhood after she grows up. (In this way, Boomer's comparison to prison is somewhat accurate.)

So, when Supergirl takes the "Exit" option, it becomes the ultimate cop-out. Kara's exhortation to everyone to drop their Secret Identities doesn't do any good to Sarah. She's at the mercy of dozens of other girls individual or collective decisions to include or exclude. She has no choice but to stay and fight, either back at the girls who teased her (although hopefully not to the extremes of Kara on Krypton), or down the social ladder to girls like "Claire", who she lashes out at towards the end (which is really a kind of "Loyalty" -- accepting the social structure and her place in it.)

While the high school situation hurts everyone, Kara's advise did the least good to those it would hurt most -- girls like Sarah the Pariah. In a best case scenario, Sarah and Kara would have shown how to tackle the same problem from different points in the power structure. Now, if she Sarah follows Kara's Krypton path, shouldn't Kara have seen it coming, and isn't she therefore part of the problem?

The lesson of her actions, rather than her words, meanwhile, is that it wasn't worth staying to fight. Might as well just run off and be a truant with Cassie, or jail bait to Boomer. Drop your secret identity if you wish, but don't just walk away! How can you be a leader if your followers are legally mandated to not follow your lead?

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Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
The lesson of her actions, rather than her words, meanwhile, is that it wasn't worth staying to fight. Might as well just run off and be a truant with Cassie, or jail bait to Boomer. Drop your secret identity if you wish, but don't just walk away! How can you be a leader if your followers are legally mandated to not follow your lead?

I guess I never think of the "legally mandated" thing, because I went to a Catholic high school, and I *could* leave, if I wanted. I *chose* to be there, and my parents paid for the privilege. But I think maybe there was something deeper going on here that was intended, and didn't quite make it (which then, of course, we could argue that nothing deeper was going on At All, but bear with me).

There is a fourth option to the loyalty, voice, or exit, and that is Influence. What if--just what if--Sarah the Pariah changes because of Kara, or if A&W stops hiding her true self? Because those aren't Kara's people, and she shouldn't be their leader, no? I saw the ending as inspiration for the other kids to show their true colors.
But like I said earlier, I am being incredibly optimistic about this issue! :)

8:24 PM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Thanks, Amy. Good thoughts.

I see "Influence" as a part of "Voice", and it's sort of only a half-option for Sarah. What IF Sarah changes? What if she tries to influence others. What is the expected benefit?

It is easy for the teased to say, "You shouldn't tease me anymore." It is difficult (unless you are secretly Supergirl) to get anyone to listen.

If you are a prisoner in a penitentiary, how much "influence" can you honestly expect to wield?

The power to change lies with Abercrombie & Witch, perhaps, far more than with Sarah.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
The power to change lies with Abercrombie & Witch, perhaps, far more than with Sarah.

And that eventually what I hope for. A&W's change ultimately will cause the most good. I just can't wrap my brain around the Sarah the Pariah character. I've never met anyone that desperate to fit in with a bunch of jerks, and I *went* to an all-girls' school. I keep shying away from discussing her, I know, and I think it's because I can't place her in reality. I think she's the worst of all of the stereotypes in this issue--she's the overweight outside who's so desperate to fit in that she'll withstand personal pain. I can't believe that she's that naive, you know?
And this is me, being naive about it. Don't worry, the irony isn't lost on me!

1:21 PM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

The character that Sarah reminds me most of, actually, is the main character in "Welcome to the Dollhouse", which was a movie that was out about 10 years ago.

She got acclimated to the culture around her to the point that she didn't know how to act outside of it. Without any evidence that it is possible to succeed outside of the social structure, the best you can hope for is to dive into it and climb up a few rungs.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Marionette said...

The ending felt like a huge cop out to me. How is it that we get issue after issue of lame Kandor story without any real explanation of what is going on, creepy stalker Luthor, and all the other crap, but when we get to a school story it all has to be resolved in one issue?

This is one story that cried out for a multi-issue sequence to allow room to get to know all the characters and situations. Instead we got quick, one dimensional sketches because we had to blow through the whole thing so fast.

And Kara once again becomes the quitter whose sole characterisation is reduced to petulant bitch. This issue may have been an improvement on previous offerings, but being less crap than something that is very crap still isn't a great recommendation.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Ragtime said...


I agree completely!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Starline said...

It's kinda strange... I took the "Be Yourself" line as addressing the reader, not the characters.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

Hi Starline,

I think you are probably right -- at least partially. It's kind of trite advice, though, and I don't really know what it means!

I mean, I can act serious at work, and silly with friends, and strict with kids, and deferential to the boss, and I think I'm "being myself" in all of those situations. By not cracking a joke that pops into my head when I'm in my boss's office, am I not "being myself"? Who I am is always related to where I am and who I'm with. The fact that I would act differently at home and at school doesn't necessarily mean I'm not being "myself" in one or the other location.

And what if I'm naturally a mean person? Sometimes I have to restrain myself from saying "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" In situtions like that, I am at my best by NOT being myself.

So, while I agree with you that Supergirl may have been talking to the audience as well as the students, (at least in a Hamlet "This above all, to thine own self be true" sense), I don't necessarily think it helps the advise any.

7:22 AM  

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