With the recently released graphic novel Supergirl: Being Super, by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Joelle Jones, I’m reminded again why I always liked Supergirl more than Superman. For this gay geek, the Girl of Steel has always had way more appeal than the Man of Steel.
Sure, Superman is more iconic than his female cousin, but as superheroes go, he’s utterly boring. He’s easy on the eyes, but she's a survivor. In the fickle realm of comic book publishing and the ongoing silver screen strip-mining of all things superhero, Supergirl is a character who’s managed to live through nearly 60 years worth of comic book drama. Barely.
She’s had constant reboots -- she’s been a sacrificial martyr, an alternate dimensional shape-shifting protoplasm who dated Lex Luthor, an Earth-born angel with fire wings, a bad girl vixen, multiple retoolings of her “babysitter for Superman” origin, a cheesy '80s camp classic mega-movie failure starring a scenery-chewing Faye Dunaway, one of the most defining deaths in comic book history, and the never-ending stigma of being just a second-rate female version of a male A-list superhero. After all that, she got her own popular television show that's now entering its fourth season.
The girl has been through it! As a feminine gay man I also always loved the fact that Supergirl is just like Superman, only, well, a girl. She’s as powerful as Superman while being beautifully feminine. After all, Kara (or Linda) Danvers can do everything Clark Kent can do -- fly, shoot ocular lasers, hear everything, turn back time by making the Earth spin backwards (OK, maybe not that) -- except Supergirl does all this in a skirt and red go-go boots.
Supergirl has it all -- she just needed that one special story to really cement her gay icon status; that one tale that will forever help to define her and the important role she plays in our superhero pop culture world. Enter: Supergirl: Being Super.
While the graphic novel does not expressly recast Kara as LGBT or Q, out writer Mariko Tamaki recently revealed that the graphic novel “is a story about someone who knows she doesn’t fit in” and has to “embrace her identity against some complicated obstacles.” Complicated obstacles like being outed for being an alien from another planet for one. Or having incredible powers for another.
Supergirl: Being Super is the perfect modern allegory for queer youth. Supergirl is forced to hide a huge part of herself to avoid exposing herself; she has to play a part to show that she isn’t as different. Supergirl is forced to swallow her light, her uniqueness, from the rest of her friends on Earth so that she can survive high school. What queer person can’t relate to that?
The book is brave and smart because it deviates from the past Supergirl stories by providing readers with the most defining version of the character without all the continuity baggage (see rebooted list above). Supergirl: Being Super is, as Tamaki puts it, “purely her own origin story” outside of Superman. The Man of Steel isn’t even featured in the comic (except for one page that I won’t spoil). Supergirl: Being Super serves as a thoroughly important love letter to her legendary status while taking the time to explore an entirely new defining story meant to explore the girl behind the super.
Also, one of Supergirl’s BFF’s in the story is Dolly, a lesbian who, as Tamaki puts, is a “fierce individual who has no problem talking about her passion for women.” She’s out and proud in her school and unapologetically queer and unspoken. She’s the gay version of Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen, only Dolly is treated as an equal.
Tamaki is optimistic her take on Supergirl will find queer converts: “Even if you don’t think Supergirl is your thing, pick it up.”