As a comic book reader and fan, I regularly run into a particular quandary, and that’s the way that female characters are depicted. Not just the roles they play in the stories, which can also be an issue, but especially the way they are drawn. I’m always torn between my desire to enjoy a story and the awkwardness that comes with the clearly outrageous way that the girls are either dressed or posed. It’s one of the reasons I have rarely ventured toward a comic that features characters like Power Girl, Starfire, or Catwoman for some time.
Along with that comes a related problem, which is the way that teenaged girls in particular are depicted. I’m of the opinion that early sexualization of girls is a negative issue in the society and culture that I am a part of, so it becomes increasingly more difficult to enjoy comics when they participate in this trend. Even my traditionally favorite comic title, The Legion of Super-Heroes, can have this problem.
I have three pre-teen daughters who are all enjoying comics with me, but I find I have to be extremely selective about what I expose them to. Even though there are a lot of costume designs and art styles that are fairly standard (and even tame) in a modern superhero comics, I don’t consider them appropriate in real life, so I want to be very thoughtful about the sort of values I “endorse” to my kids.
Thus it was with some delight that I discovered one of the most enjoyable superhero comics I have read for a while, and in particularly have been able to share with my kids, and that is Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade. I have long held had a soft spot for Supergirl, although ever since her re-introduction in the pages of Superman / Batman back in the 2000’s, she has been “part of the problem” that I am describing. But this book, which is clearly designed to be “all ages,” is wonderfully free of all of that. Even Supergirl’s dark doppelganger, normally a trope ripe for suggestive artwork in a comic, is something I can read and share without embarrassment.
But at the same time, the series doesn’t dumb things down for children in the slightest. The story arc includes a complex plot that involves time travel, alternate universes, the above mentioned evil twin, super-intelligent semi-feral cats, and dialog like “I’m…holder of the five keys that unlock the fifty-two layers of hyper-reality! My mind has beome one with all ten possible dimensions!” It’s also funny, charming, and sweet. I read the story with my girls and they were all completely gripped and engaged, though there were a few points that needed explanation.
The story by Landry Q. Walker is a continuity-light retelling of the standard Supergirl origin story (Argo is a Kryptonian moon in this version). Kara arrives on earth after impetuously stowing away on a rocket shop, and in crash landing accidentally helps Superman defeat Lex Luthor (in classic purple and green). She then starts attending Stanhope Boarding School as bespectacled Linda Lee – where she struggles to fit in and deals with all sorts of amusing angst (eg. in class, a new-to-the-earth Linda asks, “The city of New York is in the state of New York? Is that in the country of New York, too?”). There’s plenty of references for the long-term fans, whether in passing references to Brainiac 5 or Bizarro, to full-on appearances by Lena Thorul or Streaky, the super-cat.
The art by Eric Jones is full of fun, care-free, splashes of color that palpably bring to life Linda’s awkwardness both in herself and with with her surroundings. I’m not familiar with either Jones’ or Walker’s work, but they have managed to write and draw a book that is very satisfying and tremendously fun.
Sadly, this series was only six issues long, and there doesn’t look like there’s much of a chance of a follow-up at this point. It is a complete story, but there’s plenty of room in the premise for more (I would really enjoy seeing their version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which gets a shout out here). It also doesn’t seem likely that we’d ever get an animated version of it, which is also a shame because it’d make a great template for one of those DC Animated Original films (it just couldn’t be rated PG-13, I guess). So there’s a couple of ways that DC could be guaranteed to have my money. Too bad it’s probably not enough.