Guerillas in the Missives

(Soundtrack: Julie Ruin)

(Disclaimer: This post would’ve been much better if there were a greater variety of images available out there–but we work with what we’ve got here at Motime!)

It was doomed from the start.

Supergirl’s Daring New series, I mean.

Paul Kupperberg was on board, ready to move beyond the already excellent work he had done with the character in the underrated Superman Family. The “daring” part of the title referred to the fact that these stories would focus on a young woman’s “adventures” as an undergraduate psychology major at the University of Chicago. Kara’s super powers are not at all an end in themselves here, nor do they have anything to do with “empowerment”–as in all of the best exemplars of the genre, the powers serve as a kind of “existential spotlight” upon the protagonist. Superheroes are not about “good n’ evil” Tim!

The “origin story” is a Calvinist conversion experience–the subsequent issues are a record of the putatively “elect” recipient of grace’s spirititual struggle. And if anyone thinks that Puritanism is “Manichean”–I’m here to tell you that you’ve been doing too much Mencken! Take two sermons by John Cotton and get over yourself. The Puritans got “beyond good and evil” two hundred years before Nietzsche…

Ah, but how do you shine a spotlight on a person without fetishizing them? It isn’t as easy it sounds–unless you’ve got artists like Carmine Infantino & Bob Oskner on hand to create a look for the protagonist that is somehow warm, dynamic, and yet, because of its “defamiliarizing” angularity and triumphant rejection of basic anatomy, also wax-proofed against hormonal immersion! I think that this is crucial in a medium like comic books. I’m not a big fan of that “male gaze” nonsense about classical Hollywood, chiefly because I think Barbara Stanwyck refutes this theory all by herself, anytime she looks at you (or speaks!):

However, female characters in comics cannot signify their agency with their eyes, gestures, or voices and I think it does make a lot of sense to apply the “patriarchal camera-eye” critique in this case.

But Infantino & Oskner’s Kara is a personality. A true subject.

Here’s a scan of a page I found from issue #19:

Unfortunately, before she even gets off the ground, she’s buried beneath this Barbie Doll debut cover by Buckler & Giordano:

Issue #1 is entitled “A Very Strange and Special Girl”. I would say that, while the interior artwork (which I couldn’t find anywhere on the net) emphasizes the “special” and “strange” part of the equation, the cover (and, by implication, the marketing strategy) focuses squarely on the “girl” (a far more egregious offender, in this regard, is the cover for issue #13, by Hannigan & Giordano, which features an airbrushed Kara on the moon, heavily made-up around the eyes, sporting her brand-new mini-skirt, and striking a Britney-pose beneath ol’ glory… I wish I could show this one to you, but you’ll just have to imagine it! I think it’s also pretty significant that the “daring new adventures of” was shorn away from the title in #13).

Infantino didn’t get a chance to do a cover until issue #17, and by then the series was already dead (they let it run until #23, hoping that the buzz from the upcoming “Major Motion Picture” would generate some interest in the title–it didn’t…)

The lettercols dramatize the gap between the creators’ ambitions and the expectations the release of a Supergirl book was likely to arouse at that time. Many letters praise the stylized artwork while expressing concern that it is driving readers away. Implicit in this is the idea that a comic book about a female superhero must be capable of doubling as an aid to an adolescent boy’s sex-fantasy life–and there certainly aren’t any letters (a la She-Hulk) from dorks asking for this protagonist’s phone number!

Many readers deplore the fact that the artwork isn’t “mature” enough–by which they they mean that Kara, as drawn, isn’t “sexy”. Never count out the power of wishful thinking, though. A year into the proceedings, some people evidently decided that they couldn’t justify buying the book unless they pretended that Infantino’s stylings were becoming more accessible to appropriation by the male gaze. Think I’m kidding?

In issue #18, Charles D. Brown praises #14 for “Infantino’s more adult art, in which dear Supergirl actually looked sexy for the first time in 14 issues.”

In the same issue, Robert Hagiwara opines that “Carmine and Bob seem to be falling into a more mature mood, which suits Linda and Supergirl much better…”

Frankly, I don’t see it… Are they referring to the mini-skirt?

Meanwhile, Dorothy Lyra Joyce wishes that Infantino would stop: “making Kara look as if she’s slightly hunchbacked: and she’s so short-waisted and has hips so large for someone who is (now being drawn) so waspishly waisted.”

Yep. She looks strange all right.

I wish I had more time to devote to this (I also wish I had all of the issues of the series–I seem to be missing a bunch! I used to have them. I don’t know what happened!)

Good Afternoon Friends!

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