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DC Nation: Berganza's Bizarre Plea for Supergirl

DC Comics may have sent the letters column into the Phantom Zone, but the publisher has been savvy enough to get serious once more about an outreach column. DC Nation has become DC's opportunity to reach out to readers with a column in each week's comics discussing matters around the DCU. Topics include everything from upcoming events to a "get to know the editors" bit, but it's no secret that the DC Nation column exists to assist DC to sell more comics, mostly with a lot of good-natured cheerleading.

This week, Dan Didio took the week off and gave editor Eddie Berganza the reins to the DC Nation column. The results are interesting. Berganza has utilized the column to inform DC readers that they were wrong to give up on one of the former top-selling titles under his watch, Supergirl.

A bit of background: Supergirl debuted to terrific numbers, spinning out of the best-selling Superman/Batman comic. Initially, Berganza brought over writer Jeph Loeb and fan-favorite artist, Ian Churchill. Fast forward from August 2005 to December 2006, and Supergirl's sales have fallen significantly (even taking into account sales beyond first-issue speculators), plunging from issue #3 at 99,990 copies to issue #13 selling 56,648 copies. That's about a 43% drop (you can almost hear the sales drop as issue #12 sold 59,819 during the same month as issue #13).

No doubt Didio is hovering outside editor Eddie Berganza's door asking a lot of questions. While sales are still much higher than many titles, Berganza must be under tremendous pressure to stop the bleeding.

With this week's DC Nation column, Berganza has decided to take the opportunity to take a page from the political pundit's handbook and tell us that it is we, the readers, who are in the wrong in believing that this take on Supergirl is going over like a lead balloon.

Sure, some of you may not be keen that we didn't go straight into America's Sweetheart mode with her, but, hey, we know that's what she will eventually become. For us, it's the hero's journey that's interesting.

Apparently Berganza missed the part where 40,000 readers used their dollars to suggest that this journey is going nowhere fast. And nothing in the book, thus far, has led the reader to believe Kara Zor-El is, in fact, headed towards becoming "America's sweetheart". What with the evil father, mission to kill Superman, cackling evil double and joining up with Darkseid about twenty minutes after meeting him.

We were gonna (sic) make Kara a typical teenager, which meant she wouldn't listen to the grownups (in her case a guy named Kal) and wouldn't appreciate being given chores (killing Kal for her dad, Zor-El). She'd just be a girl trying to find her place in the world.

This is the mission stated by the editors and writers all over the interwebs. On the page, where it matters, there's a critical failure to explain to the reader how, exactly, Kara is a typical teen-ager.

If we believe the flashback scenes, her Kryptonian upbringing looks more like Columbine than Riverdale High. As per the action of the current continuity comics, Kara merely hops from meeting one team of superheroes to another (typical teen-ager?). There's been continual fisticuffs with heroes for no real reason (okay, now THAT sounds like a teenage girl... in juvie), the melting of the Outsider's ship's cockpit, and a lot of other stuff that doesn't say "journey of discovery", it says sociopath.

Already, we've seen Kara try to be normal, whether partying or in a disastrous attempt at a secret identity. She's come up short at being a wicked bad vigilante hanging with the OUTSIDERS.

It's a bit puzzling why, if DC is concerned about portraying Kara as a teenager seeking folks she could hang out with and relate to, they have failed to team her up with the roster from Teen Titans (Waid is doing just that in Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes with a far less weepy version of Kara). The DCU is flush with teen-aged supergirls (and prior to Infinite Crisis, literal Supergirls).

They might also have Kara act as many immigrants do, and have her stick close to the one piece of home which is very real. Rather than manipulate the story so that Kara is resentful of living in Kal-El's shadow, which they've never really explained, why does Kara embrace the "S"? As it is, it's absolutely baffling why, if Supergirl is so resentful of the Super-Legacy, she wears the "S" as her everyday-wear. Especially if Kara's freaky trips down memory lane are any indication of her true purpose.

Even Berganza's attempts to polish up his ideas by associating them with Smallville suggest that something has gone amiss. The point of Smallville is to see a young Clark coming to terms with his powers and learning to use them while he discovers the world around him. Supergirl may be trying to find her way, but appears to fail at every juncture, usually winding up each issue or story arc in some sort of huff with some segment of the DCU from Power Girl to The Outsiders, seemingly only reinforcing a "poor me" theme to the comic which is downright grating.

Berganza's new plea is for girls to read Supergirl.

Women. Who needs them?

Well, actually… I do.

Let me explain.

I'm Eddie Berganza, Group Editor of the TEEN TITANS, SUPERMAN/BATMAN, ION and the new JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, and I'm looking to attract women to read SUPERGIRL.

DC already has issues with female characters which many female readers and female DC staffers have taken exception to in the past. I am not certain bringing in faux-misogyny as humor, throwing your credentials around, and then asking for girls to read your comic like you're asking them to jump in your '84 Camaro is a great call.

After a very serious conference call that involved Joe, our amazing penciller Ian Churchill, and my then Assistant Editor Jeanine Schaefer (she was pivotal in giving us a woman's point of view on the character—like, can Supergirl gain some weight, please?), it was decided to have Kara just try to be a real teenager.

If Eddie has seen to it that Supergirl not be portrayed as a bulimic, that's news to this reader. Given Berganza's execution of Supergirl since Loeb's departure (including the incomprehensible "Candor" storyline), Berganza seems to have some fairly interesting ideas about "a real teenager".

Also curious is the introduction of Power Boy.

Now, she has a new love interest in Power Boy, a "hero" that Ian designed, keeping in mind the great attributes that are usually associated with female characters…and the reason most women don't like the super-hero genre. Like the chest window of his costume? His constant posing? Yes, he's a mimbo, but he'll be a lot worse to Kara when issue #15 hits.

It seems Berganza is aware of Supergirl's questionable costume choices, but more concerned with Power Girl's peek-a-boo one-piece. Does this mean Supergirl will quit wearing questionable mini-skirts and belly-tee's? Will she be given a head-to-toe outfit like her cousin, Kal-El? And if this is such great commentary on female characters, why does Power Boy get pants?

In the end, it sounds a bit like Berganza is setting Supergirl up to be someone's punching bag, as per the usual criticized fate of female DCU characters. More revealing, however, is that Berganza admits that he considers the traits DC places upon it's female characters, when applied to a male, defaults them as a "mimbo". Translation: the women characters of the DCU are bimbos.

After his initial plea for women to read Supergirl, Berganza basically delivers a synopsis of all the great stories he has lined up, all the male creators (with no hint of a female on staff), and then concludes with a demand:

So, ladies, I hope you'll come out to the stores and give SUPERGIRL a shot.

What? Why?

Just FYI, DC: attempts by middle-aged comic geeks to write a "typical" teen-aged girl are usually ridiculous (as are "girls night out" issues, but that's for another day). I am not going to suggest that DC need bring on a female writer to Supergirl, but given that Berganza has thrown down the gauntlet, one can't help but wonder what Supergirl might look like today had Beganza (a) not hired Turner to design Supergirl as a piece of jailbait, (b) started with a female audience in mind, and (c) actually asked some girls what they thought might get them to spend $3.00 every month.

And, lastly, since I think I'm just going off on Berganza's Supergirl at this point: Placing Kara with the new Captain Boomerang, a character established as several years older than Kara, is sort of creepy. At best, this portrayal makes Captain Boomerang the weird guy who graduated a long time ago, but who still hangs out around the high school trying to pick up girls. The fact that the writers have embraced the idea is all the creepier. ("I keep getting older and they stay the same age...")

If the creative team is really that interested in having Kara appear to be seeking out an identity, they may wish to consider that they are 13 issues in and have thus far failed to explain why she is LACKING an identity. It may not be Kara's issue. The responsibility may be Berganza's and Berganza's alone.



Did I totally misunderstand? Questions? Comments? What did I get wrong? Come on, I can take it.

You have not misunderstood. SUPERGIRL is a dog's breakfast of a farce of a comic book. That the people at DC think they're reaching out to female readers is only a testament to how little they understand what their female readers (and they do have some!) actually want. DC Comics: please go to "girl-wonder.org" and find out what some of your female readers are actually saying.

-- Posted by: Orion at January 28, 2007 2:13 PM

"and my then Assistant Editor Jeanine Schaefer (she was pivotal in giving us a woman's point of view on the character—like, can Supergirl gain some weight, please?), it was decided to have Kara just try to be a real teenager."

Why not give the book to her as an experiment? At this point, what is there to lose?

-- Posted by: oh, superheroine at January 28, 2007 2:44 PM

I don't know if I'm as familiar with Jeanine Schaefer's work as "oh, superheroine", but I'm inclined to agree with her. Why NOT ask Schaefer? She was part of Infinite Crisis, if memory serves, so she can't be any slouch of an editor.

For that matter, why not re-do that summit with Joan Hilty, Jann Jones, Rachel Gluckstern and/or Gail Simone in attendance and Schaefer playing moderator (and Berganza muzzled)?

-- Posted by: ryan at January 28, 2007 6:00 PM

Although I do agree that Berganza's DC Nation comments were bizarre to say the least, the rest of this column's reasoning is about as tortured and contrived as anything you'd expect from one of Fark.com's resident creationists. First off, since when does anyone (male or female) know what women want? Is Birds of Prey (written by Gail Simone) an indication of women's taste in comic-book stories? What about Sailor Moon? Is daytime TV (mostly watched by women) an indication of the type of stories that comics should run if they intend to attract a female audience? Who should a female character's personality resemble the most? Oprah, Martha Stewart, Hillary Clinton, Lindsay Lohan or someone else?

Writing male superheroes is trivial. There are only five kinds of personalities: Goody-two-shoes nice guy (e.g., Superman), the strong, silent type who kicks ass and looks good in a toxedo (e.g., Batman), the funny guy (e.g., Spider-man), the "animal" who takes crap from no one (e.g. Wolverine) and the mysterious revel with a past (e.g., Gambit). Both men and women like most of those types of characters, and those they don't like, they don't *dislike* enough to be turned off by them.

With female characters, you just can't win. No matter what you do, a whole bunch of people are going to truly hate the character. If she has self-confidence, they'll say she's just an arrogant bitch. If she doesn't, they'll say she's just a whiny little wimp. If she doesn't have a steady boyfriend, they'll say "oh, so she can't get a date because she's too strong and successful, eh?" And if she does have a boyfriend they'll nitpick the hell out of the guy (remember Buffy's Riley?). If she mostly fights female villains, they'll say "oh, so she's too weak to fight male villains, eh?" And if she fights males she's just a fetish of either male domination (when she's losing) or female domination (when she's winning). She'll either dress like a nun or like a hooker with absolutely nothing in between. If she uses her sex appeal to get what she wants, she's a whore. If she doesn't, she's just Superman with a skirt. If she manages to easily solve her problems and defeat her villains, then she's just a femi-nazi's wet dream. If she doesn't, then she's just a dumb wimp who can't do anything right. If she avoids physical confrontations, then she's a wimp who's afraid to break a nail. If she fights too much, she's just an angry, aggressive psycho-bitch.

In order for a female character to be truly popular she'd either have to be a straight fetish with a large captive audience (e.g. Lara Croft) or possess a personality so paper-thin and void of any specific characteristics that it could not possible have anything that anyone would find disagreeable (e.g. the Wonder Woman from the TV show). Anything else would only produce a truckload of inbred nerds blogging about how unbearable the character is, simply because she's not exactly what he wishes women to be.

-- Posted by: Ronn A. Mann at January 28, 2007 6:51 PM

And yet, month after month, Gail Simone is able to create multidimensional, compelling, well-thought out female characters in BIRDS OF PREY. Alan Moore was able to do it with PROMETHEA. Greg Rucka was able to do it in WONDER WOMAN and GOTHAM CENTRAL.

No Ron, I think it more likely that many comic writers are still very much the same the geeky, inept, socially-awkward guys they were in high school and write female characters in some weird attempt to either worship or retaliate against (both are dangerous) the girls that refused to date them. And DC, more than the other comic companies, seems to enjoy giving these guys the ability to do it.

-- Posted by: Bobby at January 28, 2007 10:31 PM

I think where DC really went wrong was in killing of Superboy. It would be much easier to relate to Kara if she could interact with another teenager, one who is also trying to figure out his place in the world and in the Super-family.

Other than that, her way too low skirt doesn't help people in taking the character seriously. I'm not saying go 1950's with her but at least give her a costume a girl could actually wear in real life.

I would actually get a female writer to take over, not because her gender indicates her writing ability but just because it would be seen as a statement about involving women in comics. A woman writing a female character with a female editor does apeal to people.

Gail Simone managed to make Black Canary (a woman who runs around in leather and fishnet stockings and whose superpower is screaming) an interesting well-rounded character. She could easily be tossed aside as fetish object or a shrew but she's a full character.

Mark Waid though manages to make her interesting, and does so with other female characters. As does Rucka, Bendis, Johns and Heinburg (when his issues of Wonder Woman and Young Avengers come out- might not want to wait for him on Supergirl). But still, I think bringing back Supergirl with a female staff would provide a big boost in publicity and sales and the story arcs sure couldn't be any worse than they are now.

-- Posted by: PretenderNX01 at January 29, 2007 5:04 AM

More revealing, however, is that Berganza admits that he considers the traits DC places upon it's female characters, when applied to a male, defaults them as a "mimbo". Translation: the women characters of the DCU are bimbos.

Good catch! I didn't even notice that but you're 100% right! :)

-- Posted by: Ami Angelwings at January 29, 2007 6:48 AM

I'm inclined to go with Bobby on this one. I would point to the exact same examples which Bobby brought up. As per popular, that's more of an issue with whether or not comic readers are actually interested in female characters that don't fulfill their lowered expectations or their own feelings of female (characters) only fitting categories of madonna or whore.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=madonna-whore+complex

All comic creators can do is write the best, most compelling characters possible and give them opportunity to prove themselves in well-constructed stories.

-- Posted by: ryan at January 29, 2007 1:30 PM

I'm 22. I remember what it was like to be a teenage girl, and it wasn't...whatever it is Supergirl is doing. It doesn't look/feel like anything I've seen a teenage girl do.

Supergirl's current incarnation has no drive. No motivation. Not even any real interests. She wanders around and throws hissy fits while showing her butt cheeks.

Empowering.

Frankly, its a sad state of affairs when Kim Possible or freakin' Buttercup the PowerPuff Girl is a more well-rounded and realistic character.

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