Monday, June 27, 2011

So, DC's take on Supergirl with DCNu/ Relaunch/ New 52

The more things change...

Several years ago the Supergirl title launched with sales near 100,000 copies.  It soon plummeted down to a fraction of that number and is now a mid to low-mid tier seller for DC (Supergirl sold about 21,000 copies in May).  No doubt, Supergirl could and should be selling better, but its impossible to know what sales could be on the title as DC has been spinning the Superman titles into editorially mandated storylines since 2007 or so.  It has been nearly impossible to know what the status quo is for Supergirl, her supporting cast, where she lives, etc...

Keep in mind, this is the same Kara Zor-El who attacked Air Force One, supported an Amazonian attack on the US capitol, joined Darkseid briefly, was running around with known super-villain Captain Boomerang, and fleeing about half the scenes she was in weeping and awash in self-pity.  Also: the crystal spikes, the crazy Columbine memories, and a mission to kill Superman from a crazed father...

hey, DC.  Thanks for making me look like I should be on a watchlist every time I bought this @#$%ing comic.

The book was a total disaster for longtime Superman and Supergirl fans, and readers left the title in droves.

Sterling Gates was put on the book as writer with the editorial transition from Berganza to Idleson, and in a few issues and with a bit of Deus Ex Machina, re-created Supergirl while explaining her quite literally insane behavior away.  But, then: editorially mandated year long storylines arrived (New Krypton, etc...) and Supergirl had no sooner put her suitcase down in Metropolis than the status quo was ignored for firehose driven plot over building a sustainable audience.

and we never mentioned the crystal spikes ever, ever again
Once the year-long editorially mandated storylines come to an end, it felt like Sterling Gates was getting Kara Zor-El's house in order.  Then, Gates was gone, and we've had light-weight filler stories appearing in the title.

Now, what Gates brought to Supergirl was a sense that this was a character a reader might actually like or find sympathetic.  I'm a dude in my mid-30's.  Perhaps I am not the audience for Supergirl or the audience that Berganza and company think will seek this book out, but I am one of the people currently shelling out money each month for the comic, not an imaginary person.  I will point out, I'm a Superman fan, not necessarily a Supergirl fan, and I quit doing giving DC money for the title at some point during the "she's a space-teen trying to fit in" era of the book, which someone at DC thought translated to "let's make her really unfun to read".

I'd also mention, Project Rooftop was sort of a fun exercise, but it got a huge push for relevancy during the "Re-Design Supergirl" heyday, and I think if there was a common thread to the redesigns, it was that nobody really cared for what DC was trying to do, but people were certainly responding to either the near-ethereal teen vibe a lot of the designs seemed to go for or the "fun, spunky kid" look that dominated what people seemed to want.

A design contributed by Dean Trippe that I thought caught the best of both ideas

I guess what makes me nervous are two things.

1)  Eddie Berganza is now a line-wide editor at DC.  I am sure Eddie is a nice guy, but he's sort of always been the kid who gets distracted by shiny objects, leaping from writer to writer and artist to artist without really caring about the longterm effect on the title.  During his tenure on Superman, writers were swapping out every 6-12 issues, clearly with no idea what a Superman comic read or looked like.  Now, he doesn't seem like a micro-manager (but he will clearly toe the company line for cross-overs, etc...), but that's meant storylines that went nowhere (President Lex), storylines that came out of nowhere (his Kandor work with Turner), etc...

Its a weird numbers game with Berganza, because every once in a while, he does manage to match up artists and writers and things work out really well.

But Berganza is also the guy who wrote the DC Nation column that basically meant DC quit doing a DC Nation column.  On panels and in his writing, he's utterly tone-deaf to female readers, female characters, and what actually might make for an interesting read.  In a lot of ways, its Berganza I think you can point to for being responsible for Supergirl's fairly ludicrous costume that she's worn since the 2006 re-introduction (the mini-skirt and belly shirt).

From early 2007, here's a column I wrote at Comic Fodder which is still the top hit when you Google "Berganza Supergirl".  Clearly, the guy had blown my mind then, and he routinely does so now.

2)  This quote from DC suits John Rood and Dan Didio:
Supergirl- Another area of improvement DC is looking for is characters to sound true.  Supergirl, as she has been written, sometimes comes across as mature and responsible as a 40 year-old adult.  She shouldn’t.  She’s a teen who is still finding herself and her character should reflect that.
Yeah.  You did that.  It didn't work.  See:  Supergirl issues 1-36 or so.

I'm not convinced this couldn't be done, but its going to take some seriously heavy lifting on the part of the editors (and I have no idea who the editors are as of the relaunch), and writers Michaels Green and Johnson.  And, frankly, I am not certain what I've seen from Michael Green inspires that confidence, and bringing in a Smallville writer seems like you're just asking for a trainwreck (sorry, Johnson...  but did you see your show?)

And, more than anything - after being introduced roughly 6 or seven years ago, Kara needs to quit flipping about the DCU like a pin-ball and have (a) a home, (b) a supporting cast, (c) an environment and status quo to return to.
I look forward to the never ending battle for where the pants on this outfit will be cut.
From the official DCU release on Supergirl:
Supergirl’s got the unpredictable behavior of a teenager, the same powers as Superman and none of his affection for the people of Earth.
I actually welcome the idea of a "stranger in a strange land" for Kara.  It could be great.  But that's different from "whiny teenager is unhappy", which is what I'd call the first three years of Supergirl's last title.

If I may:  we'd never tolerate a Superman or Superboy title in which Clark or Conner fled their DCU colleagues in tears crying about how nobody understands them and how emotions are hard.  I know teen-agers are crazy, but if you're writing about a hero with any kind of spine, you're going to have to change how you present your character.  And, btw, not all teen-agers are brats.  Just... FYI.

Sadly, it seems Gates', Peaty's (and I guess DeConnick's) Supergirl and her general tendency not to do things like take down Air Force One when she's in a snit makes her seem too old to DC's brass.

Also:  Conner Kent will also be a teenager.  I trust we'll then be exploring how he won't get out of bed to fight crime and other stereotypes?  (I didn't read the original Superboy series from the 90's where he joined with "The Ravers".  Perhaps that was already done?)

Look, DC.  I am now unsure I am going to read your Supergirl book, and that makes me sad.  You've said two things on the book and (a) they sound like they're going back to old Berganza silliness and (b) you're kind of insulting me for enjoying a take on the character that wasn't an unreadable mess.  And you have to understand:  I really like old school Kara Zor-El from the Silver Age.  That doesn't make me an old fanboy wishing comics would be how they were when I was young as I wasn't born then and I just read that stuff in the last four years or so.  Its simply a better reading experience.

I'm a fair guy, though.  You get three issues.

The more I consider the DCNu, the more I wonder how well this going to go with the same players in place, and how long a leash Nelson is giving Didio before she realizes:  you can't change the IP, but you can change the players.


Simon MacDonald said...

I really don't understand why this character is so hard to write. She's nearly as powerful as Superman, she looks up to her cousin with reverence, she's a teenager and trying to come to terms with being an alien on earth. This should really just write itself.

Just write a story about a teenager trying to find her place in the world. Her alienation works on two levels as she's not human and every teenager feels alienated while growing up. She needs a mother figure as every teenager needs a strong Mom to stay on the straight and narrow. Um, Ma Kent anyone? Big sister figure i.e. Wonder Woman.

The League said...

I really don't know what the problem is except that Editorial has this idea in mind that they don't want the same Supergirl image that the public has in mind.

I suspect Berganza is remembering the glory days of Supergirl #1 and is at DC shouting about how he sold 100,000 copies of that comic (and not mentioning how fast and far that title fell, and how its still a topic that draws a lot of mass fan displeasure online).

There's something very specific they seem to be returning to that they didn't get right the first time, and maybe it will work this time (I'm trying to be generous here). But the problem is that I'm not sure that's what anybody actually wants to read.

The Kara from the Superman: The Animated Series had a good mix of teen-age angst and alienation. As you say, when you look at the pieces, it seems like it should write itself, but DC has been hellbent on the "let's not do that" strategy for character status quo in a way I just never get my head around.

I think the elephant in the room for me is: pretty clearly the last launch tried to tie in with the fetishization of teen-girls and romanticized/ conflated sheer idiocy with "learning to grow up". At the risk of sounding like an old man reading comics about teen-aged girls and tut-tuting: its' a frikkin' Superman book. They can do better, and they did. And now DC is publicly distancing themselves from the best work on the title while disavowing the damage done by their own editorial mandates and just going back to "we sold a lot of Supergirl when we treated her like a sexys pace girl who might be dumb enough to sleep with Captain Boomerang". I mean: ick.

I'll deal with a DCU relaunch, but this book is getting a very short evaluation period before I bail (and, again, I am one of the 21,000 people who actually was reading Supergirl monthly).

Simon MacDonald said...

You touched on what seems to be my biggest disappointment with the DCnU and that is the same old writers on new titles. Granted I'm happy to get more Paul Cornell and Jeff Lemire books but would it have killed them to put someone like Kelly Sue McCormack on Supergirl? Maybe someone who understands what it is like to be a teenage girl. Hell go straight to Terry Moore and see what he can do.

The League said...

Well, actually Kelly Sue (I think you meant DeConnick) is on Supergirl right now for three issues. Frankly, I wasn't hugely blown away, as it feels like classic DC filler material (see my latest Supergirl review. Or don't. I've no ego tied up in it.). But I DO believe that, given the correct freedom, turn the ship toward an audience that isn't reading the book.

This issue, however, fell a bit flat, but I'm chalking it up to "don't do anything interesting because its a three-issue run" and DeConnick getting used to the DCU.

Simon MacDonald said...

Yes, I did me DeConnick and I did read your review. I don't think that we can judge DeConnick based on one issue of three which will be continuity wiped in September. I would have preferred they give her a bigger run.

Anyway, I have actually completely stopped paying attention to the DCU. I'm taking the summer off as it were and I'll come back in September to see what's different.

The League said...

I'm not judging Peaty or DeConnick on Supergirl. These fill-in jobs are so limiting, I can't imagine that they reflect any writer's best efforts.

I'm reading my Superman titles and Flashpoint. But my plans to catch up on JSA and a few other titles via trade have been scrapped. Good for my wallet, I guess.

I will be following GL in trades as it seems that continuity is going mostly untouched.