If I dare to make this point strongly enough, I’d like to hazard a guess that one key issue in the controversy surrounding this Supergirl isn’t just the fact that she’s immature, flippant, arrogant, or has such a seemingly horrendous dark past. Its because since her reintroduction, we haven’t been able to get away from the character’s sexuality.
Initially, I think this was primarily an artistic problem, one that both Turner and Churchill shared. Both portray Kara as unrealistically, perhaps abnormally thin, yet incredibly tall, with doe eyes, full lips, pert breasts, and dressed in a mini skirt that rides as high as the waistband does low. Her poses, more with Turner than with Churchill, were constantly sexualised, and her vacant expressions suggested more porn than heroism. With Churchill the problem has been the adoption of the theme, the cheeky alluring looks, the wafer thin leg poses with hips cocked and skirt flaring to suggest what the fanboys want revealed (pardon the cliché). Its unrealistic, and its concerning considering the age of the character, who started out as only 15, and even now at 16 expresses the kind of emotional immaturity that should lead to a raising of her own specific age of consent until we can be convinced she could take sex seriously. Yet with all that said, if the problem were simply artistic, it would be a clear-cut answer to protest for an art change to something more acceptable, though whether we’d get one I couldn’t guarantee.
The problem now is that it’s not just artistic any more. It’s in the writing. More than that, it’s seemingly in character. In line with the party-girl we’ve got now, Kara now takes to making frequent jokes about her sexuality; teasing Boomer about their suggestive relationship, curving over a pool table and drawing attention to her ‘nice s’, if only for the purpose of warning him its not open for him to joke about. In issue 11, during her audition with the Outsiders, Kara’s doe-eyed expression at being chastised by Nightwing seems to not just be wishful projection on the artists behalf, but an in-character reaction from a girl who has been doodling about her crush on Nightwing and his ‘cute tushie’ since she met him. The faux-innocent sexuality is becoming a part of her persona as we’re meant to accept it. When she cracks the line to Boomer ‘I’m a girl in a tight t-shirt, I can go anywhere I want’, or she tries to argue with him about ‘semi-lucid suspended animation’ making her more than a sixteen-year-old, the optimist in me would like to accept she is displaying a rye sense of humour about human sexuality, but the realist in me recognises the attempt at making Kara sexually viable, or at least present the idea that she thinks she is (as I’m sure many young teens do). As a result it becomes more and more convincing that Kara isn’t being dressed and styled by her artists into wearing skimpy outfits and pouting; she’s dressing and styling herself.
Its this train of thought that makes me worry so completely about the extent to which the ‘fanboyishness’ of the industry filters down onto the page. This isn’t just artists drawing unrealistic women or sexualised images into comics, this is the male fantasy getting written into the text. Its harder to fight for a more realistic, or at least less provocative Kara when the justification for it is becoming a part of the text, when it is seemingly ‘in-character’ for Kara to stand around pouting and posing in knee-high boots and a mini-skirt that shows us her underwear and provoking her older-male cast with innuendo. There’s a transference going on here it seems from writer to character, and the more convinced or interested in the character I become, the harder it becomes to object. To say it another way, to have Kara suddenly (and thankfully) cover up her midriff and start wearing a costume that doesn’t show us her underwear, while a wonderfully and necessary move in the effort to reduce objectified images of women in comics, would now seem out of character for a Kara who apparently seems not to care.
Its at this point I become torn between buying into this Kara and challenging the possible fanboy-service her character has become. I would also like to question my own discomfort. I am fine with a Kara with a dark past. I’m fine with her being obnoxious and flippant and complex, because I want to see where it’s going, and because I find it intriguing. But I am not fine with the sexual element being played up on the page. Why? Maybe I do have my own parameters about what is and isn’t acceptable ‘Supergirl’ behaviour, or maybe I simply don’t trust that this is happening in the spirit of complexity, and is more about writers and artists getting away with creating a male fantasy.
Phew, that’s about as far as I can get at the moment without my mind spinning some more, and
I hope my confusion isn’t too, well, confusing. As ever, any thoughts?