Saturday, 25 December 2010
Supergirl, The Patron Super-Heroine Of Bravery & Compassion: Kara Zor-El's Day
I'm not a man of religion, but I do have my own personal rituals that I tend to follow at Christmas beyond the cards and the presents and the meals with both close friends and strangers. "Bad Santa" needs to be watched, for example, and the "Bad Santa" drinking game may be attempted and then abandoned as a young fool's folly completely inappropriate for the more mature reveller. "It's A Wonderful Life" would then need to be enjoyed as something of an antidote, and something of a complimentary piece too.
Where comics are concerned, the various Christmas Spirit tales are always worth indulging in, as is of course so obvious a matter that it hardly bares thinking about. But the one superhero story that I always make sure I read over the holiday season is Alan Brennert, Dick Giordano and Mark Waid's "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot". It's a tale that appeared just once, in 1989, and to my knowledge, it's never been reprinted, which is a genuine shame, for it's a fine and moving story that was very well-told indeed.
If you've never read the story, a quick net search will turn up its pages. And it's a tale that's well worth reading for itself, regardless of controversy or continuity implants. It's nominally a Deadman story, in which the ghost of Boston Brand despairs that all his attempts to help others go unacknowledged. Christmas, we're shown, is a very bad time to be a lonesome, homeless ghost. As his sadness and isolation overwhelms him, he's approached by what seems to be a young woman who can not only see him in his spirit form, but who clearly knows him, though he can't remember her. It swiftly becomes obvious to the reader, though not to Brand, that this is Kara Zor-El, the slain Supergirl, who like Deadman is walking the Earth to help others wherever she can. Unlike Boston Brand, however, Kara never once existed in this universe. Reality has been re-written so that even her vital and fatal contribution to the defeat of the Anti-Monitor has been expunged from everyone's memory, bar that, we must assume, of the insane Psycho Pirate, as Grant Morrison would later emphasise. Supergirl is a no-person, a shade of a hero from a destroyed existence. In that, "Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot" is a story which deals so exquisitely with the matter of souls caught up in the recasting of comic-book realities that it bears comparison with the far better known "The Nearness Of You", the deeply moving "Astro City" take on the subject by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, from where the scan below comes;
It's not that Kara shares the details, let alone the facts, of her identity and her lonely situation in so many words to Boston. It's left to the reader to put her words into context, which helps explain something of how powerful this story is. Because those of us who grew up with the original Supergirl are compelled by this story to recognise what a splendid character she was, and what a daft decision it was to remove her from continuity. In comic-book terms, it was, and remains, a tragedy.
The Kara of Mr Brennert's tale is something of a stern figure bearing up to her absolute isolation with immeasurable bravery and determination. She obviously comes from a far more traditional, even patrician, culture than was often recognised in her latter-day appearances, and yet such a reading is perfectly in keeping with her Silver-Age adventures. And by showing what a strong and self-sacrificing woman Kara Zor-El had remained even after her death, even while utterly alone in all of the DCU, her first appearances were cast for me in a somewhat different light. For
it's very easy to see the Supergirl who first appeared in Superman's life as something of a shrinking violet, a quiet, almost mousy girl, happy to hide in the shadows and to serve as her cousin's invisible, unacknowledged, emergency replacement. But what once appeared to be a portrayal of a subservient girl framed very much in the light of traditional gender roles now seems, as Mr Brennert's story casts its own version of her character backwards into Supergirl's past, to be something very different indeed. For this Supergirl was never weak, but she was modest, and she was never content to play a second-class role so much as to fulfil her part in life as her Kryptonian culture trained her to do. There's a dignity in her restraint and a tremendous moral strength in her sense of mission, and these positive ethical qualities are even present in the slight edge of exasperation she displays as she lectures Deadman on his duties to others;
"We don't do it for the glory. We don't do it for the recognition. We do it because it needs to be done. Because if we don't, no-one else will. And we do it even if no-one knows what we've done. Even if no-one knows we exist. Even if no one remembers we ever existed."
The Silver-Age take on Krypton was a clearly patriarchal society, but Kara came from the planet's elite, and I've always imagined that the women of her class had the relative independence and power often shown by Roman women during, for example, the last days of the Republic and the early days of Empire. Kara has the steel and determination of the natural-born minor aristocrat, but none of the snobbery or self-interest. That she should have come from such a tragically sad and alien environment, have suffered to such extremes, and yet remained so very admirable within the terms of her adopted world's common culture too, merely adds to my regard for her. She is obviously made of a far harder stuff than even a Kryptonian's skin under the rays of a red sun.
So, I can say without reservation that my favorite superheroine of all time, and perhaps my favourite superhero of all in the company of the Lee/Ditko Spiderman and Will Eisner's Spirit, is Kara Zor-El, and Christmas is undoubtedly her season. In a world where so many folks are seemingly far more obsessed with receiving than giving, the Supergirl of Mr Brennert and Mr Giordano and Mr Waid does nothing but give to a world which cannot even remember that she ever existed, let alone that she died to save them all.
Have a splendid day, and "Stick together!"