Ben Reilly Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Supergirl #2: A Symphony of Cartoon Violence

Jack Kirby once said, "There is something stupid in violence as violence."

On the surface, it seems odd to attribute that argument to a man who was arguably the master of comic book violence. Kirby's characters punch, kick and laser blast their way through life with passionate intensity. When his protagonists come to blows, jaws don't shatter. Worlds do.

But think about what Kirby was really saying. If you get into a barfight, you're likely to lose a molar. If you get into a fight with Dr. Doom or Darkseid, you're likely to lose a moon. Kirby's style isn't violence or even hyper-violence, it's heightened reality. Kirby would go on in the same interview to compare it to dance, with himself playing the role of choreographer.

Now on to Supergirl #2, where you'll get exactly what the cover promises. Supergirl decks Superman. Repeatedly. She kicks him some, too, and then tosses him around like a ragdoll by his cape. Scarcely a page goes by where Superman doesn't learn an important lesson about underestimating girls in new and painful ways. It's all in good fun, and it reminded me a lot of the Kryptonian slugfest from Superman II. There's something undeniably catharctic about watching gods and goddesses go into Wrestlemania mode.

"Do you smell what the House of El is cooking?"

It would be easy to criticize this as empty filler, but I can't. And it's not just because it's one of the most dynamic and beautifully illustrated action comics I've ever read. Comic book slugfests, like dance routines and wrestling matches, ultimately depend on the audience's investment.When you're plugged into the characters, a slugfest is really the manifestation of something much deeper. Every punch is another peak or valley in an emotional roller coaster ride. Supergirl #2 isn't violence as violence, it's a symphony.

I read one online criticism that Supergirl is aimed at the lowest common denominator, which simply doesn't ring true for me. On the contrary, it's a very intelligent comic that speaks to the reader in the most direct way possible. We open on Kara babysitting her infant cousin Kal-El. She's about to undergo the Kryptonian rite of passage, and she's nervous. She finds solace in her cousin's innocence. She hopes he doesn't grow too fast.

Then we flash forward to the present, which is only three days' time as far as Kara is concerned. She's inexplicably arrived on an alien world with strange new powers, and that's not even the worst of it. Her innocent baby cousin has suddenly rematerialized as the voice of age and experience. She's lost her bearings in every possible way.

As I read this comic to my daughter, we talked about how even heroes are scared of change. It's something that clicked for both of us in spite of the age gap. If you don't believe time can suddenly go as wonky for you as it did for Supergirl, just wait until the first time one of your children corrects you...and they're right. I'm getting advice about everything from video games to my writing from the kids these days, and I hope I'm smart enough to listen.

So a big thanks goes out to the creative team on Supergirl for not just making a comic, but creating a shared family experience. These guys are clearly smart enough to understand that we often come to superhero comics for the epic fights, but we stick with them because they mirror the human experience. And that puts them in the esteemed company of artists like Jack Kirby...

...and Beethoven.

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