I won’t actually get to see “Man of Steel” until next week, but, as should be apparent from most of my posts, Superman has been on my mind a lot lately.
To be fair, that’s pretty much always the case anyway, it’s just that I’ve actually been blogging about him – and his “family” – a lot lately.
One of the things I feel like I should mention – though I did kind of talk about it a bit in my musings on Lois Lane – is that ultimately my affection for Superman isn’t necessarily tied to any particular interpretation of the character, whether that interpretation is in comics or any other media.
For what it’s worth, and surprising no one, I will say that it’s definitely not tied to the interpretation that’s been presented so far in any of the movies (from 1978 on – I’ve never seen any of the old serials). With the exception of current movie, which, as mentioned, I haven’t actually seen yet, I basically completely reject the cinematic interpretations of the character.
There are a lot of reasons why that is, and I could easily expound on them in great, or even excruciating, detail, but that’s not what this post is about.
I only mention this to provide some context, as the point I’m trying to make is that I have a particular concept of Superman, a sort of meta-Superman, that doesn’t necessarily exist in any specific form on the printed page or television or movie screens, and that is the Superman that I love, and it’s why, despite my considerable affection for Superman, I can enjoy sites like superdickery.com.
Because seriously? Even though I favor my meta-Superman over pretty much everything, there’s no getting around the fact that Superman is often a dick.
And there’s no greater evidence of that than in the stories collected in Showcase Presents: Supergirl Vol. 1.
Most of the classic examples of “Superman is a Dick” show him being a complete dick to his friends, such as his “pal” Jimmy Olsen. And that’s fair – a good percentage of Jimmy’s stories focus on exactly that.
However, while it tends to follow some extremely byzantine logic, the fact remains that there usually is a reason why Superman is being a dick to Jimmy (or to Lois, or to Lana, or to Perry White, or…), and often it’s for Jimmy’s own good.
It may, for example, be some convoluted ploy to keep Jimmy from getting murdered by mobsters.
Even if it isn’t an effort to save Jimmy’s life, it might end up being a ploy to capture criminals, or to prevent some terrible act of crime.
With Supergirl, however…he’s just a dick for the sake of being a dick.
I’ve made references in the past to how Superman’s treatment of Supergirl caused his younger cousin some serious emotional and psychological damage, but honestly, having based this only on a relatively small sampling of old Supergirl stories, I have to say that I didn’t know the half of it until I started reading these stories.
It’s honestly pretty depressing, and it actually makes it difficult to hold onto my affection for meta-Superman, though I can ultimately find some sort of solace in the realization that it’s actually the writers and editors who were dicks.
The other consolation I can take comes from the fact that despite it all, young Kara Zor-El remains a positive and upbeat person, and despite her tragic death– made all the more tragic by the realization of just how awful so much of her life actually had been – she ultimately grew to be a strong, confident, capable young woman.
After all, I don’t think there was anyone else in the entirety of DC’s multiverse – man or woman – capable of delivering the epic beatdown of the Anti-Monitor that she provided before being struck down herself, and I have to believe that at least part of that was the result of the tragedies she had spent her life wading through.
Yeah, in case it isn’t obvious, I actually take this shit pretty seriously…though I do feel the need to point out that yes, I do realize I’m not talking about a real person, and that all of this was the result off multiple creators piecing together a crazy quilt of characterization and personal history over the course of decades, with no real guiding narrative concept, but, as with Superman, or any fictional character for that matter, there is a metatextual level on which the character can be examined and understood.
And at this point I’m realizing that this post is already longer than I had intended it to be, and I never actually got to the whole reason I started writing it, which was to point out some of the worst examples of psychological torture that Superman, and to a lesser extent, circumstance (in the form of the writers and editors), inflicted on her.
Looks like I’ve got an idea for a new series of posts…
Towards that end, as a set up for those theoretical posts, I’ll provide a little background on Supergirl for those who might not be familiar with her so that I can focus on the actual acts of terror inflicted on her in some of the stories that I want to highlight.
When the planet Krypton was destroyed Argo City, one of the doomed planet’s large population centers, was spared by some cosmic fluke* that caused the city and its underlying bedrock to be hurled into space relatively intact along with a pocket of atmosphere.
Among the city’s inhabitants was a man named Zor-El, brother to Jor-El, and uncle to Kal-El who is more commonly known as Superman.
Their miraculous survival, however, was soon imperiled by the chunk of Krypton they lived on slowly transforming into deadly kryptonite, a problem that was solved by lining the ground with lead shielding.
(Yes, I do take this shit seriously, but at the same time I also recognize how utterly ridiculous it is. I don’t see any conflict between these two facts.)
In time, Zor-El and his wife Alura were blessed with a daughter, whom they named Kara. Time passed, Kara grew into adolescence, and Argo City continued drifting through space. Space, however, is not so empty as people like to think, and soon Argo City was suffering from collisions with meteors, which were damaging the kryptonite shielding. It was only a matter of time before Krypton’s doom finally caught up with them. As his brother had with his son, Zor-El sought to at least save the life of his beloved daughter, and so he quickly began constructing a rocket that would take her to a safe place, while Alura searched the heavens for a world that was suitable for Kara. In the course of her search, Alura discovered Earth, though what really stood out about the place was a strangely-garbed flying man. By monitoring the radio transmissions, Alura learned the languages of Earth, and soon discovered that, like the inhabitants of Argo City, this flying man – Superman – was a survivor of the planet Krypton, and that his amazing powers were the result of the reaction of his Kryptonian physiology to the Earth’s environment.
Deciding that this was the place to send Kara, Alura set to work stitching together an outfit for her daughter that was inspired by the costume Superman wore, and eventually Kara was loaded up into her rocket with a learning device that would teach her Earth languages, and sent her on her way.
Soon, she landed on Earth where she was immediately discovered by Superman. After relating her story the two learned that they were actually cousins.
And here the dickishness began, as Superman decided that her existence had to remain a secret, and after having her choose an Earth name for herself – she coincidentally went with the standard LL initials by choosing the name Linda Lee – he put a wig on her and stuck her in an orphanage.
You know, like you do when you meet your only living relative who has been severely traumatized by the death of her parents and everyone she ever knew and who now has to adapt to life in a strange new place.
And so, Linda (Supergirl) Lee moved into the Midvale Orphanage, where she had to keep her very existence as a survivor of a lost alien civilization a secret – after all, Superman didn’t want her honing in on his “Last Son of Krypton” shtick by letting everyone know there was also a “Last Daughter.”
In addition to disappointing the cousin whom she admired – if only because she desperately needed someone to look up to and rely on – betraying the secret of her existence would also mean being banished from Earth entirely.
Oh, sure, he said it was for her own good, to help give her time to acclimate to her new life and her new abilities – and then later so that she could be held in reserve as a “secret weapon” – but seriously, the guy’s just a dick.
As something of a final note, I wanted to mention that I think that Kara and I had something in common in that we both had an idea of Superman that inspired endless affection more than the actual man himself could, or at least more than the man himself deserved, as I think that was the Superman she charged in to save at the cost of her own life.
*I’ve read at least one account in which the survival of Argo City was by design. Though no one else on Krypton could be convinced of the world’s imminent destruction, Zor-El had the good sense to heed his brother’s warnings. As he was actually in charge of Argo City – sort of like a mayor, but with considerably more executive authority – he was able to put forth an effort to shore up Argo City by enclosing it in a dome and tunneling into the ground around it to effectively set it floating in place, no longer fully-connected to the rest of the planet. In later years it was revealed that at the last minute the people of Argo City were saved from being killed by the kryptonite radiation. As I recall, it involved shifting the population into another dimension, though I don’t remember the details and don’t feel like looking them up.