Friday, October 10, 2008

Wards and Cousins and Stuff

I was writing a comment to this post, The Supergirl from Krypton Meets Her Asshole Cousin, on Living Between Wednesdays , then realized it was getting long-winded, so I decided to take advantage of that and make it a post here!

First, I agree with the post. Superman is an asshole in the story. The point was made that Kal pretty much treats Kara shabbily, depositing her in an orphanage, instead of taking her in. I made an initial comment that at the time, a bachelor having a teen girl living with him would be suspect. That Bruce Wayne, in his 20s, had a teen boy living with him should have been more suspect, since Clark could've claimed Linda was his cousin and therefore, family, while it was known that Bruce took in a circus kid who was not related to him, seemed immaterial. Homosexuality wasn't even on the chart, even if a segment of the reading public -- not me, I was too young and it wasn't out there at the time, to even know what that was -- did think it and did snicker about it.

But the bigger issue, I think, is the differences in storytelling from then when compared with now, or really, starting with the late-'60/early-'70s when comics writers started fleshing out the characters instead of just coming up with plots, when writers worked as hard on making dialogue realistic instead of concentrating on exposition.

It's kinda fun I guess to view old stories from the '50s and '60s with today's sensibilities, but having grown up in those decades and having read DC Comics (from National Periodical Publications, of course!) from back then, I can say that none of this came to mind. Superman couldn't take in Kara because he was a bachelor, and Clark Kent having a cousin living with him when Superman also had a cousin just wouldn't have worked. It easily could've compromised his secret identity and that was a big deal story-wise back then. For a goodly portion of Lois Lane's own title, she tried to prove Clark was Superman. If Linda/Kara was in the equation, that would unduly complicate things. And no one likely wanted to write that scenario. Hell, they probably didn't want to deal with Kara regularly in Superman stories.

Supergirl's adventures were self-contained, first in the orphanage environment and then with the Danvers. It all made perfect sense to me at the time and probably to most readers. Kara was just a girl like me. And it was a thrill when Superman revealed SG's existence to the world. But he really wasn't part of the stories. If she lived with him, he would've been and vice versa. The crossover mentality that is common these days didn't happen back then. To build that sort of continuity, let alone cross stories from title to title when it happened was a big deal. The one I do recall was the changes to Oliver Queen in Green Lanter/Green Arrow that led to him having the beard and new attitude in other books, like JLA, and then, not being written by others as well as Denny O'Neill wrote him. I just can't look back at the early days of Supergirl's existence and picture her living with Clark and having them share stories. Nor would I have wanted to lose her adoption and finding out she had two sets of parents, the Danvers and her birth parents who were still alive. I loved that storyline when I was a kid.

As for Superman asking Batman's advice at the time, Bruce was as clueless as Kal was. Sure, he had Dick living with him, but despite the fact that Dick and he were both male and Bruce should have at least understood what teen boys are like, as opposed to Kal understanding teen girls (and what males do?), Bruce showed a remarkable lack of understanding of Dick's personal and social needs. They were crimefighting partners, after all: chums! There was nothing else in Bruce's mind most of the time.

It really was a different world back then. I look upon those old comics with great fondness, but I can't take them seriously. I suspect no one else here is, either, but the point is, putting today's standards on something from back then kinda misses the reality. I cringe now when I read some of those stories. The dialogue seems so stilted, so unnatural. The art is the same at times. But there were so many wonderful stories, especially for Supergirl, that bring back good memories.

I suppose I can never be analytical about those stories. I've just got too much emotion invested in them. I can be critical, but with the full awareness that this is the current, 55-year-old me looking back on something from decades ago that I remember from when I was a kid. As silly as they might seem now, they can't be as silly as they might be if I were first encountering them now. They're too much a part of me for that to happen.


  1. You raise an excellent point, Shelly, and one that I admit I hadn't thought about. I was too busy snickering at the doltishness of Clark. But yes, the whole concept of the secret identity was SO paramount at the time.

    I can't help but think that the writers were also going for a touch of pathos in the depiction of Supergirl as an orphan, that they wouldn't have been able to milk nearly as easily if she was happily living with Clark. There is almost a Dickensian ring to some of her stories, that must have appealed to both the writers and the readers.

  2. I think you're right, Sally, about the Dickensian aspect. But I think there was an interest in keeping the cousins connected, but not part of each other's books/stories.

    I might cringe now over most of the stories from back then, but when I was growing up, I adored them, especially SG's.

  3. Well, I can certainly understand being enthralled with something as a kid, and being completely horrified by the same thing as an adult. For example, when I was thirteen, I had a mad passion for John Denver, which embarrasses me to no end at this point in my life.

  4. lol. I actually still like John Denver's music, even if he's no longer someone I have a crush on. ;)

    I just think it's one thing to appreciate the silliness or the wrongness of fiction from the past, be it Superman comics or the racism of novels from the 1800s and early 1900s, but we can't lose the context. There was a different mindset that's often lost, and that can include when someone today writes historical fiction that misses those nuances.

  5. Those old Supergirl stories had a fairy tale/romance comic vibe to them that, unfortunately, doesn't play in today's market.

    But there are some aspects to the classic Silver Age Kara that could be adapted ... i.e. the insistence that Linda/Kara was just like any other girl.

    While that did come off as patronizing at times in the old stories, the idea of Supergirl as the "hero who could be you" or everywoman of the S family is an aspect of those old stories I still find quite powerful!

  6. Well said, Fortress Keeper. There really isn't a universal quality to most of the comics prose of the Silver Age. Language and attitudes changed too much and comics is a medium that works well when it fits the time during which its written. This isn't great literature. And even great literature wasn't recognized as such. It had to stand the test of time, and novels from previous centuries can still be wonderful to read and yet sound stilted at the same time. It's hard for kids today to get into Shakespeare, for ex.

    The concepts of those old comics still mostly work, though, and both Kara and Linda made good role models and showed the different sides of a person, how a person could be well-rounded and good.