So I was chatting not too long ago with Jessica Mills (GeekyJessica.com). If you don’t know, Jess is a major geek star, a writer/actress who also produced the fun online comedy Awkward Embraces. She also has a fun tumblr and has guest-starred on a couple of blogposts here, namely when we discussed the film The Dark Knight Rises and its villains.
Jessica and I were chatting about some comic book crossovers she was checking out. One of them was Superman/Aliens by Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan. My immediate response was to comment that I hadn’t cared for this story. Not that I thought she shouldn’t read it. I’m open to people thinking differently about certain things and I knew Jessica knew this.
In my memory, Superman/Aliens was a lackluster story where Superman fought the famous “xenomorphs” first introduced by Ridley Scott in the 1979 film Alien. This crossover came out in 1995, by which point Younger Me was definitely a fan of the Aliens film series (well, the first two movies) and its lead character Ellen Ripley (played by the amazing Sigourney Weaver). I recall being disappointed by a few things. First, the story involved a situation where Superman would not be at full power when he met the xenomorphs. This, to me, was a bit of a cop-out and I (still) generally dislike the attitude that Superman needs to be depowered for there to be stakes and risk.
The story also involved a woman named Kara. Decades earlier, DC Comics introduced Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El AKA Supergirl. The basic story was that Argo City was spared the death of the planet Krypton. When it later faced destruction itself, teenage Kara journeyed to Earth to join her older cousin Kal-El, adopting the name Supergirl.
In the mid-80’s, DC Comics rebooted its superhero universe again (and it wouldn’t be for the last time). One new rule imposed was that Superman would now be the sole survivor of Krypton. As far as history was concerned, Kara Zor-El had never existed. A couple of years later, a new “Supergirl” was introduced, but an artificial life form gifted with shape-shifting and telekinetic abilities. In my opinion, she wasn’t that strong a character (until writer Peter David developed her in a series that started in the fall of 1996).
Just under ten years after Kara’s last appearance, Superman/Aliens came out and introduced a new character called Kara, who seems to speak Kryptonian (and comments that Superman’s accent is strange) and comes from a place called Argo City. Some of us wondered if this was a new way of bringing Kara back into the DC Universe, reinterpreting her as a tougher, slightly older character.
But these were red herrings. The old Supergirl wasn’t coming back. So Superman/Aliens seemed to me, at the time, like a mean-spirited joke and that was that. I didn’t reread the story. I didn’t think about it past that reaction. But a couple of weeks after Jessica told me she was reading it, I stumbled across my old copy of Superman/Aliens. And I thought, wait… it’s been over fifteen years since I read this. What’s the harm in giving it another look?
So I sat down and read it, approaching this as best I could with new eyes and an open mind. And surprise, surprise, I liked it. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was very good. Superman was depowered, but the story focused on how he maintained his faith and morality despite being more vulnerable while facing a dangerous opponent that didn’t respond to reason. It showed that his optimism is strong enough to be tested and isn’t simply the product of being invulnerable.
The story’s woman called Kara was a great character even if she wasn’t literally Supergirl. This young woman was tough and compassionate, vulnerable and strong-willed. Rather than get annoyed about the fact that she wasn’t Superman’s cousin, I was now sad that she hadn’t remained as a recurring character in the DC Universe. The story also proved to have great moments with Lois Lane, showing her own moral strength and displaying that this was a woman who didn’t always need a superhero to rescue her.
On top of that, there was even a third female character who was strong and independent, and I realized how rarely I see that in superhero comics these days: three strong women with three distinct personalities, all proactively pursuing their goals in life no matter what stood in their way.
Our experiences change us constantly, even if only in small ways, and that means we can look at familiar things with new eyes. If someone enjoys a work you remember disliking, maybe ask yourself how long ago it was that you encountered it and how your opinions might’ve changed since then. Maybe you were having a bad day or were colored by the fact that since certain people liked it then you would surely not.
The exact reasons don’t always matter. I just think it’s a good idea to re-explore old stories, films, shows and experiences. Maybe you’ll change your opinion and maybe you won’t. When it doesn’t cost you anything but a little time, isn’t that worth finding out?
Just a thought. Stay geeky, my friends.
THIS WEEK’S SUGGESTED READING: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
THIS WEEK’S SUGGESTED VIEWING: That Mitchell and Webb Look (BBC series, now available on Hulu)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: ”Most important thing we prove to one another is that we’re not alone in the universe.” – Superman, from Action Comics vol. 2 #8