A Comic Fan Searches For A New Hero: Part 4, Power Girl
Power Girl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Power Girl is relatively unknown outside of comic circles, but she is very well established in the lore of the DC universe of comics, and has a very distinguished history as a fan favorite, which, in this particular context may actually be problematic, as I will explain below. Comics can tend to be a male-dominated industry in more ways than one, so I wanted to bring in as many female heroines as I could.
Who is Power Girl?
Power Girl is… complicated. Her name is Kara Zor-L, and she is the cousin of Superman, who was sent by her father to Earth in order to take care of the young boy as he grew. Unfortunately, things went a little wrong, and by the time she got here, Superman was a grown adult superhero. So, she took Superman as a mentor and became Supergirl. Wait, what? I thought this was Power Girl? Right. Let me explain further. All of that happened on what we call Earth-2, a parallel universe version of our Earth. Eventually, the two Earths crossed over a bit, and Kara became trapped in our world. Too bad for her, there was already a Supergirl, who was about a decade younger than her. So, adapting to her new environment, this Supergirl of Earth-2, lost on a world not her own, became Powergirl. She changed her legal name to Karen Starr, and also runs a successful and powerful corporation.
Is this character heroic? Totally. While she pretends to be shallow and not care about others, when the kryptonite hits the fan, she is always the first to jump into danger on behalf of others. She has joined with numerous super teams in the past, including the Justice Society of America, Infinity Inc., Birds of Prey, and the Justice League, but at the moment, she seems comfortable to stay out of the limelight and usually teams up with her best pal, the Huntress. (1 point)
Does this character represent the “powers” or fight against them? While it is likely that on her home world, she would have represented the powers in some form, her new life on our world has shifted her perspective. She has a general attitude of distrust about our world, and on some level, tries to remain apart from it. She does not get directly involved however, unless innocents are in danger or if those she loves are threatened, and so she seems, at least for now, to be neutral towards the powers. Distrustful, but not opposing them, either. (0.5 points)
Does this character kill? Not that I can think of. Throughout the years, she has largely stayed true to the tutelage of the Superman from her world, which was fairly non-violent, although he also was sort-of pro-USA and all that. There have been hints that Karen has a harder edge to her, she has never shown herself to be very willing to kill. (1 point)
Does this character have a spirituality? Not really. The closest she comes is having a really intense and deep-rooted chronic existential crisis. She does not know where she belongs, or what her place is in a world where she is very much “the other.” Even the role that she had made for herself on her home world is taken by Supergirl. So, without a narrative to tell herself, she struggles with the meaning of life, constantly struggles with relationships and community, and loss is a constant theme in her life. But there is never any open talk one way or another about God, religion, or spiritual things. (.5 points)
Does this character have an interesting (and sustainable) story to inhabit? Very much so. The story that she has is complex, and often leads to very interesting meetings with characters she had once known in different contexts, etc. The story of being on a world that is not her own is doubled in her case, as she not only lost krypton, but lost her adopted homeworld as well. She has strong roots, but is far away from the soil that sustained them. Her constant drive to both find a way back home and protect this world from the bad guys who crossed over with her is a very compelling story. (1 point)
Does this character have a supporting cast that isn’t just around to make them look good? Yes, actually. Powergirl shares her comic (World’s Finest) with the Huntress, who is every part the co-star of the book that Power Girl is. They are also doing a great job of building up Karen’s corporate employees as supporting cast members, who have motivations and lives of their own. They often play as a foil for Power Girl, but never feel just like props. In addition, those she has relationships with seem to be heroes in their own right (Mr. Terrific, the Justice Society). (1 points)
Does this character have a T-shirt I can buy in size XL? No. Not really… (0 bonus point)
Does this character represent, in broad terms, an outlook on life that I can support? Mostly. I find myself empathizing with her and her “otherness” while at the same time wishing she would stop looking back and embrace what is in front of her. She does project arrogance and ambivalence to the world around her, but it is clear on every front that this is a mask for deep loneliness and longing for purpose. At one point, she is discussing her choice of attire, which can be seen as problematic, as she has a gaping hole in the chest of her costume. While most men who like Power Girl do so for this reason alone, Karen adressed it by saying she used to have Superman’s logo on her chest, and she had tried to replace it with other symbols, but now she feels she has no story and no purpose, and until she finds something to stand for, she will leave a hole in her costume to mimic the one in her soul. Poignant stuff. I can resonate with that, but only to a point. Deconstruct all you want, as long as it leads to better creation… (0 Points)
Are this characters powers (or lack thereof) interesting? Yeah. She has essntially Superman’s powerset. Flight, heat vision, cold breath, super strength, invincibility, super speed. Of course, as she is finding out, her powers often don’t work like they should on this new Earth. She finds herself either vastly overpowered for the job at hand, or lacking her powers when she really needs them. With no explanation in sight, this continues to be a compelling take on an otherwise boring set of powers. (1 point)
A note about image: Power Girl is somewhat problematic as a character because she had been written by men and frankly exploited because of her sexuality. The hole in the chest of her costume has become something of an inside joke in the comics, as the men therein seem virtually unable to resist looking at her chest rather than her eyes. He attitude about their varies from “well, if the enemies are distracted they are easier to hit,” to “My eyes are up here!”, but it seems that she is never allowed just to wear the costume she wants without people seeing her body rather than her self. The paradox is that the writers often use this to sell books while decrying it within the actual pages of the book. It is an unfair abuse of the character, in my opinion, although I am not sure that the solution is.
Verdict: 6 out of 8 points
Tune in next time for a discussion of Aquaman…