Favorite Stories Starring Women: Supergirl, Part I
|March 24, 2012||Posted by Jess under Comics, Ladytexts|
It’s Saturday and yet here I am, slaving away for you with yet another Favorite Story Starring Women. You guys better appreciate it.
It’s a weird little irony that the longest-running Supergirl series ever did not star Kara Zor-El, the classic and best-known Supergirl. Supergirl v4 ran for 80 issues from 1996-2003 and was written by Peter David (him again!) and drawn mainly by Gary Frank, Leonard Kirk, and Ed Benes. And it starred post-Crisis Linda Danvers, a.k.a. the reason Supergirl was, for a time, almost as infamous as Hawkman for confusing backstory.
Here’s the short version: the original Kara Zor-El (secret identity: Linda Lee Danvers) died in the Crisis and was verboten in the post-Crisis DCU. Official stance was that Kara/Linda had never existed. So John Byrne introduced Matrix, a character who looked, dressed, and acted just like the pre-Crisis Supergirl, but was actually a blob of protoplasm from another universe.1 Years later in Supergirl v4 #1, Matrix met Linda Danvers, an ordinary girl (remember, the first one had officially never existed) and merged bodies with her2 in an effort to save her life. A new Supergirl was born, with divine powers as a result of Matrix’s sacrifice. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
As baffling as the Matrix/Linda story seems when you boil it down, in David’s series it was always very clear. The mythology unfolds slowly as Linda figures out who she is now, and though she’s influenced by Matrix’s benevolent presence, Linda is always the star of the show. A little impatient, a little hot-tempered, and very funny, Linda feels very real and relatable, even for those of us who aren’t former Satanic cult members spiritually bonded to extradimensional shapeshifters.
What I’ve always found really interesting about this series is the religious aspect. David plays with a sort of New Age-y Judeo-Christian mythology the way most writers play with Greek or Egyptian mythology: as an interesting and powerful story, but not necessarily like a religion. That is, religion is a major aspect of the story – Supergirl is an angel, after all, and there are demons and prayers and corrupt clergymen – but the result is an adventure story and not a parable. I’m hardly religious, but I do enjoy stories about Judeo-Christian mythology that are neither preachy nor disrespectful, and that’s exactly what this is.3
Let’s see, what else? The plotting is tight but epic in scale, with burst of levity to break up the fire and brimstone. The characters, male and female, are all great – I love Linda’s mom, her demon ex-boyfriend Buzz, and the bubbly Kara Zor-El who shows up towards the end. There are minority and queer characters. And the art, at least until Benes shows up for the final arc, is lovely and not cheesecakey at all. In a word, Linda Danvers’ Supergirl is – you’ll excuse the pun – super.
Where to Buy: Unfortunately, only the first and last arcs are available in trade, and they’re both out of print. I recommend trawling eBay for large runs – this isn’t really a series where you can pick up a random issue and know that’s going on.
Related Recs: Well, as long as we’re talking about Supergirls who aren’t Kara Zor-El, can I suggest the first 12 issues of Power Girl’s recent solo series? They’re by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and the incomparable Amanda Conner and are collected in two trades, A New Beginning and Aliens and Apes. The first year of the series was goofy and lighthearted and a refreshing change from Power Girl’s too-often convoluted and exploitative history. I wouldn’t recommend continuing after issue 12 (issue 13, by Judd Winick, opened with Power Girl discovering her friend’s dead body, so…), but if you want more Power Girl, the Power Girl trade, which has a whole bunch of origins for her, isn’t bad, and her JSA appearances are pretty fun.