Ruby Nation

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse: Lolita of Steel

Stanley Kubrick was one of the most accomplished and innovative directors in the history of film. One of his most interesting feats was the fact that he made a film of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, and under the MPAA's totalitarian Hayes Code no less. While Kubrick wasn't satisfied with the way the thoroughly censored adaptation turned out, he did manage to create a film riddled with sexual suggestion. If he couldn't do a film that explicitly told the pedophile's story, then he'd find plenty of ways to hint at Humbert Humbert's lust for a 14-year-old girl*, using careful direction to show the character's gravitation towards Lolita (and her reciprocation) without actually stating it.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, the animated adaptation of Jeph Loeb and the late Michael Turner's Supergirl reboot, works the same way, except the disturbing implications AREN'T intentional. And that's why it went from just being a lame movie to an outright disturbing one.

The story centers around Kara Zor-El, Superman's teenaged cousin from Krypton. Its plot, typical of a Jeph Loeb story, is a frenetic jump between various action sequences without much plot connecting them. All of the instances follow Kara trying to find a place to fit in, given the destruction of her homeworld. She arrives on Earth completely naked, witnessed by some construction workers who try to rape her (big mistake, given her super-powers). From there we see her trying different identities influenced by the adults guiding her. It's worth noting that she meets few if any other teenagers, and is the sole icon of youth and inexperience amidst a cast of grown-ups. It's also worth noting that each time she tries out an identity, Kara gets a new set of clothes that invariably fails to adequately clothe her. For example...

-- When Clark Kent takes Kara in, he takes her shopping. As Kara becomes assimilated in an improbably quick fashion (because apparently teenaged girls across all cultures take to conspicuous consumption like a duck to water), she tries on a bunch of trashy outfits, while Clark looks on with a raised eyebrow and a stern expression at his younger cousin's choices.

-- When Wonder Woman decides that Kara would best grow up on Paradise Island with other super-powered women, she takes to the Amazon wardrobe of leather body armor (and not much of it). Though Kara bonds with the Amazonians, she's still clearly the youngest there, taken in with a firm, trusting, and blatantly homoerotic hand from Lilah (a.k.a. Harbringer).

-- After being kidnapped and brainwashed by Darkseid, Kara wears a really trashy black leather ensemble, using the time-honored tradition of using leather fetish gear to evoke eeevil.

-- Finally, once she and Clark defeat Darkseid and return, Kara's "independent choice" is to become Supergirl, with a bared madriff and improbably short skirt.

The last one is the nail in the coffin; even Kara's final decision has her dressed in her paternal figure's colors, but skewed to emphasize her youth and sexuality. Worst of all, the character design clearly imitates Michael Turner's version. While I hate to speak ill of the dead and don't think Turner was a bad human being at all, his version of Supergirl was especially troubling. She had no body fat, a very thin bone structure, and an elongated torso to show off her belly button. Turner's Kara was an anorexic with big breasts attached.

To be fair, the scenes on Paradise Island keep Apocalypse from failing the Blechdel Test, because Kara and Lilah talk about things other then men. However, Kara is still the lone teenager in a cast of adults, and every wardrobe change has her re-interpreted through the lens of an adult's sublimated fantasies. Be they the outfits Clark outwardly disapproves of, the dominatrix getup Darkseid assigns, or the miniskirt outfit with branding borrowed from Superman, Kara is only given an identity in the context of others. And this wouldn't be so troubling if Kara actually looked and acted like a real girl, instead of a middle aged man's sexualized interpretation.

Needless to say, I didn't like this movie and thought it a waste of the talent of Summer Glau. I hope she gets a voice-over role soon that is closer to the complex characters she's known for playing, as opposed to an emaciated underage superloli.


  1. I just have to wonder about the marketing behind this film. Did WB not think that including "Supergirl" in the title of a film that's pretty blatantly about Supergirl would be a draw? Then again, considering I know how she dressed in the source material, maybe trying to divert attention from her was a wise choice.

    Really, I have to wonder why this storyline was the basis of a film at all. It's not particularly good, nor noteworthy.

  2. "because apparently teenaged girls across all cultures take to conspicuous consumption like a duck to water"

    Ha ha! Awesome.

    It seems to me like clothes shopping might be a fairly common trope people rely on for "humanizing" female superheroes, or for letting them relate to each other in a non-battle context.