Friday, November 28, 2008

Same girl, different universe

Parallel universes are among fantasy fiction's oldest tropes. From Murray Leinster's classic 1933 story "Sidewise in Time" to the original series Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror," from David Gerrold's time-warping novel The Man Who Folded Himself to such films as Sliding Doors and Run Lola Run, popular culture is fascinated by the concept of alternative realities existing side by side with each other, or spinning out of random circumstances that evolve in slightly different ways.

Comics have proven fertile ground for parallel universe stories. Indeed, one could categorize almost every comic book tale as an exercise in alternative reality, in the sense that the comic book world is often like our own, but different in a few key elements (i.e., the existence of superpowered humanoids who wear colorful costumes).

Both of the major comics publishers have made parallel universes central to their stock in trade. Marvel has supplemented its mainstream Marvel Universe (sometimes referred to as the Earth-616 Universe) with several alternate realities, most notably the parallel worlds in which the company's Ultimate, Marvel Adventures, and A-Next (including The Amazing Spider-Girl) series take place. DC went hog-wild with its Multiverse concept during the 1960s and '70s, "buried" the theme with the landmark 1980s series Crisis on Infinite Earths, and resurrected it anew a couple of years ago in the weekly comic 52.

Today, the Comic Art Friday spotlight shines on an artwork that beautifully illustrates the parallel universe concept. Michael Dooney, best known for his work on various Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles projects, lends his pencil to this whimsical pairing of Supergirl and her opposite number, Power Girl.

The casual comics reader might not, at first glance, recognize any connection between these two heroines. Aside from the fact that both are attractive blondes, they appear markedly different. Supergirl is most often depicted as youthful — her current incarnation is a high school-age teen — of average height and build (slightly on the diminutive side, even); with long hair and a sunny, coltish personality. Power Girl is generally older — late twenties at least, or thirtyish — is tall and muscular, sports shorter hair, and presents a brusque, militaristic demeanor.

And, of course, there's the infamous Power Girl bustline, which began as artist Wallace Wood's personal in-joke: "I'll keep drawing them bigger until someone tells me to stop." Supergirl, depending on the creative team of the moment, usually possesses more modest endowments.

All of these differences aside, the truth is that Supergirl and Power Girl are alternate versions of one another. Prior to DC's destruction of its Multiverse, Power Girl represented to Earth-Two (the home of the World War II-era heroes known as the Justice Society of America) what Supergirl is to Earth-One (the "mainstream" DC universe, in which the modern-day incarnations of its archetypal heroes reside). Each was the female Kryptonian-born cousin of her respective universe's Superman, with the repertoire of super-abilities pertaining thereto.

It's never been clear to me exactly why the Earth-One Kara Zor-El (Supergirl's Kryptonian name) is an average-sized adolescent, while her alternate self (whose real name is Kara Zor-L — note the slight adjustment in spelling) is an Amazon-like woman a decade or so older. I'm sure it's been explained somewhere along the line, but I must have missed that issue. I don't feel badly about that, though. Over the decades, even the DC editorial staff hasn't always seemed certain of exactly who or what either Supergirl or Power Girl is supposed to be, in terms of history and heritage.

One thing, however, is certain...

...Michael Dooney draws them both very nicely.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous LongTimeFirstTime offered these pearls of wisdom...

Another great art day, sir. Long live the Common Elements theme. As an aside, I don't think it is so odd that two versions of the same character with the same fictional bloodline would be so different. My brothers and I don't look alike and we all come from the same set of parents. There are lots of forks in the road when it comes to the combining of genetic material.

8:16 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

LTFT: Thanks for the kind words. Good to know that you're a Common Elements fan! I have to clarify one point, though -- this doesn't count as a Common Elements piece.

First, I didn't commission it myself. Although I've commissioned Michael Dooney numerous times, I purchased this example of his work from another collector. So, even if it fit the Common Elements theme -- which it doesn't, but I'll come back to that in a moment -- I wouldn't include it in my Common Elements gallery.

Second, I define Common Elements as "otherwise unrelated characters who share some feature in common." The clear and definite relationship between Supergirl and Power Girl precludes their joint appearance in a Common Elements scenario. (I include it in my Supergirl gallery instead.)

Excellent point, though, on the difference between our two favorite daughters of Krypton. I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're right. As an only child -- at least, so far as I know; I was adopted, so I might have half-siblings out there somewhere -- that angle simply didn't occur to me. Well played, sir!

2:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home