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CBS’ New Supergirl, a History of Male Control, and the New Superwomen

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CBS’ New Supergirl, a History of Male Control, and the New Superwomen

The introduction of DC Comics’ Supergirl was in 1959, in “Action Comics” #252, the series starring her cousin, Superman.

Fifty-six years later, the character is finally going to make it to the small screen in the upcoming CBS television series “Supergirl,” in which the character will be portrayed by actress Melissa Benoist.

First Photos of Melissa Benoist as “Supergirl” Reveal Full Costume

Last week, the costume was revealed, sparking lots of discussion on everything from color scheme to skirt length. In general, the fan response was positive.

With Supergirl about to become embedded into the global consciousness in a new format, it made me think about Supergirl through the years, and how the legacy of a fictional teenage girl has been shepherded, almost exclusively, by men.

There have been six volumes of “Supergirl,” starting with the first series in 1972, and continuing into the sixth series in publication today.

Going down the list of writers handling the various volumes of Supergirl, the picture is pretty clear.

Cary Bates, Paul Kupperberg, Roger Stern, Peter David, Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka, Joe Kelly, Kelley Puckett, Sterling Gates, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Michael Green, Mike Johnson and K. Perkins.

DeConnick and K. Perkins are the only women in the bunch, and the latter is a recent addition at that, so we’re talking about a long run of male influence.

The list boasts critically-acclaimed talent from novels and television, in addition to comics, as well as people whom are intrinsic to the history of DC Comics, such that exclusion of them from an in-depth history of the company would be disrespectful, to say the least.

Still, from the first series to now, we’re talking thirty-nine years before a female writer was brought on board.

Both Wonder Woman and Batgirl, arguably the two other female characters helping to complete the trinity of DC Comics’ most popular female heroes, have been written by women throughout their regular series history.

Supergirl is also distinctive because she’s the archetypal teenage girl, or at least is meant to be, and teenage life involves trials which are overcome by adulthood, trials of particular sensitivity.

A woman writing “Supergirl” would inform those trials in a profound way.

Supergirl, as a teenage female hero, should have the story that illuminates on what being a young girl is like, and the smartest man is not going to get it in the same way.

However, Supergirl has had at least two men act as heroes and protectors of her image during their time as co-guardians.

Editor Matt Idelson, who took the stand and addressed the underwear issue (seeing as how the character wore a mini-skirt), and well-known “Supergirl” artist Jamal Igle, who was tasked with handling the redesign.

In my talks with Jamal, he spoke about why it was important for him to be part of that positive change for the character, and some of the unexpected blowback from the character change.

“The first thing my mother said when she saw issues #18-25 of ‘Supergirl,’ was that she looks like a hooker,” Igle said, which happened when he first inherited the book as the regular artist.

Igle updated the design with shorts, and it was during the “Who is Superwoman?” arc of the series that fans began to notice the change.

“Ninety percent of it was positive, and then you got the ten percent of pervs, who were angry, viciously angry that we would take the sex away from what is essentially supposed to be a sixteen year-old girl.”

DC Isn’t Stunt Casting “Supergirl,” It’s Honoring its Hollywood Legacy

After the many years it took for DC Comics to give the character a less-revealing outfit, to their credit, it took less time (albeit still too long) to being on a female writer.

Writer/Producer K. Perkins began co-writing “Supergirl” with Mike Johnson last November, and has been talked about as one of the writers for the CBS television show.

Additionally, the CBS “Supergirl” show will have involvement by Executive Producers Sarah Schecter, the President of Berlanti Productions, and Ali Adler, sitcom writer and co-creator of “The New Normal,” another CBS series.

With a good number of women involved with the production, development, and writing of Supergirl for the television show, CBS will correct the oversight which DC Comics took almost four decades to tackle and course-correct.

It’ll be interesting to see how DC Comics continues forward with the writer choices for “Supergirl,” as the character becomes more popular on a global level.

At least we have a costume that is tasteful, even with its present color scheme of darker hues.

Jamal Igle is totally on board with the costume as is, and does not want a color shift. “I know what looks good on film.” he said. “Captain America’s costume from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ uses the exact same color scheme.”

So for all of you on social media lightening up the costume, relax.

This take on Supergirl looks to be shaping up just fine, on all fronts.

UPDATED: March 9, 2015 7:25 PDT: A previous version of this column did not mention Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on the fifth volume of “Supergirl.”


Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books,” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment (www.verge.tv), a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for transmedia development. Live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.

His latest project is “The Ren,” a 200-page graphic novel about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war and spotlighting the relationship between art and the underworld. “The Ren” will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

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