In Will Eisner’s “The Super,” the titular character is fairly well fleshed out for a story that takes up all of about twenty-six pages in Eisner’s Contract with God. He’s not a particularly good or even nice landlord, and is often shown insulting his own tenants, and failing to complete his duties as landlord, drawn then as a rather gross, mean-looking grouch. However, this is not the only way that the Super is shown. In other panels, he is portrayed more sympathetically, often with a confused and upset expression. Here, his tenants are shown as demanding too much from him, and behold, panels later, time in the story is spent showing just how much the character loves his dog. Certainly, if there was a reason to see a questionably dark character as multi-dimensional, doting dutifully on a pet dog would be one. And he does, of course. The comic shows him carefully feeding and loving the animal, so much so that at first, the reader may not even notice that the Super’s bedroom is plastered wall-to-wall with photos of naked women for him to objectify.
Still yet, it seems easy to ignore the man’s vices no matter how terrible they get, because indeed, multiple panels focus on the Super’s agony as he mourns his dog. Even his anger is justified, then, because his beloved pet has just been murdered. The character is even further redeemed when, during the last few pages in the story, the Super appears remorseful, and finally goes to fulfill his duties by shoveling coal into the water heater for his tenants before returning to sob over his dog’s body, and eventually, killing himself. This commentary, of course, is not meant to criticize the multi-dimensional aspects of the Super. All major characters, especially ones who may appear as villains, ought to be given multiple dimensions, in order to make for a better, fleshed-out story.
The question then is, why is the other major character in “The Super,” Rosie, not given the same treatment? Rosie, the ten-year-old girl who commits the unforgivable crime of killing the Super’s dog before stealing all his money (and after accepting a nickel from him in exchange for lifting up her dress so he could look at her), somehow comes across as one-dimensional. She wants the Super’s money, and will apparently stoop incredibly low to achieve her ends. This portrayal of her leads many readers to see her as an evil temptress, or even as a psychopath, despite being only ten years old. It remains to be seen what exactly Eisner’s intention with Rosie was, but certainly his story begs the question of what more there is to the character of Rosie.
Rosie seems a character with almost far more potential than the Super himself, as her actions and apparent content with them suggest a rich and likely dark and uncomfortable background for the girl. Not the least of these questions, of course, is why a child so young seemingly feels no remorse at killing a dog, and at helping instigate the actions which led to the Super killing himself. Why too, is she so comfortable with all the pictures in the Super’s apartment, and with showing herself to him in exchange for money. Her entire scheme seems almost perfected — has she done this before? Did she think the entire plot up herself, or did someone — her aunt perhaps — put her up to it? None of these questions are answered in Eisner’s story, but the result, in which readers seem so willing to see a young girl as a demon temptress while forgiving the middle aged male character for paying to see her underwear because he cries over his dog seems concerning. This seems especially problematic given the tendency of real-life pedophiles to claim their victims looked and behaved sexy, and older than they were, as well as the tendency of judges and juries to actually believe these excuses. This is not, of course, to suggest that any of this is the fault of Eisner — merely it is a question; why does the character of Rosie remain so seemingly one-dimensional, allowing many readers to demonize her on a quick reading of the story.