12 November 2015

Kryptonian Babysitting Service

There’s a lot to like in the new Supergirl television series, but there’s one detail in the introductory voiceover that I don’t like at all.

That line repeats a detail from the pilot, which shows Kara’s family sending her from Krypton to Earth. Her mother is a judge, showing how Kryptonian women could exercise authority.

In those scenes, Kara is about thirteen years old. Her cousin Kal-El is still a little baby. And their parents know that when the kids arrive on Earth they’ll have extraordinary powers—the yellow sun, you know.

But the women don’t tell Kara that she’ll have to be careful not to hurt the natives, or that she can be a hero. They say her job is “to look after your baby cousin, Kal-El.”

Kara replies, “I won’t fail Kal-El, or you.”

The grown-ups don’t tell Kara that she should do this “because you’re older, and he’s just a baby.” They don’t say she should do this “until he can look after himself.” They present this as her one and only mission in life.

The credits go on to explain that Kara’s spaceship was knocked off course, causing her not to arrive on Earth until her cousin has already grown up and become Superman. But she’s still in her teens. The series picks up a few years later when she’s in her early twenties. (Most comic-book versions of Supergirl are in their teens, but there is some precedent for a twentysomething.)

At first Kara says, “I didn’t have a mission anymore. But even though I had all the same powers he did, I decided the best thing I could do was fit in. After all, Earth didn’t need another hero.” Over the first couple of episodes, she decides to discard that attitude and be a superhero as good as her cousin.

Comics writers have gotten a lot of stories out of Supergirl’s wish to match her older, established cousin’s heroism. I have no problem with that being a big theme in this series. But here that theme is tied onto the notion that her job was to look after the family’s sole surviving male.


Gail Gauthier said...

"...even though I had all the same powers he did, I decided the best thing I could do was fit in." Yikes.

I missed last week's episode, so maybe things have evolved. But I'm bothered by the whole "it takes a village to make a superGIRL" thing in this series. The sister in a position of power who helps her. The govt. agency that's involved. The guys who know about her. A male friend was involved in planning her outfit. Which is probably why it has a short skirt.

J. L. Bell said...

You think that friend is straight, eh? (And the television outfit shows a lot less flesh than what Supergirl has worn in the comics at times in the past couple of decades.)

As to Supergirl’s support system, both this show and The Flash show superhero writers moving away from what was once part of the core concept: secret identities. Every regular on The Flash and quite a few other recurring characters know his real identity. By the end of the first episode of Supergirl, everyone except Kara’s boss knows her secret. (Though no one knows the secret of the task force commander.) And later it’s revealed that Jimmy Olson knows Superman’s civilian guise, which I don’t think he ever does in other versions of the mythos. I don’t think that’s unique to Supergirl, and thus to the depiction of a female hero.

Gail Gauthier said...

I don' watch "The Flash." Do the people who know his identity also provide him with assistance?

The friend seemed straight on tonight's Thanksgiving episode. A little jealousy over James Olson?

I have to say, I'm coming to like Kara's boss.