Quick, who’s stronger: Superman or the Hulk?
Got an answer? Good. Who cares?
Now answer me this: which one’s the better hero?
With his Rebirth issue, Steve Orlando makes the argument that the second question is, by far, the more important one.
Supergirl is kind of a big deal now. She’s got a wildly popular TV show and she’s the only Big Two superheroine to make the jump to broadcast television in years. People have been asking when DC was going to obey the capitalist imperative and get a Supergirl comic back on the market for months and, with “DC Rebirth”, we’ve finally gotten our answer.
Unsurprisingly, Supergirl: Rebirth does a great deal to bring Kara Zor-El in line with her television counterpart, in doing so jettisoning much of what worked about her New 52 incarnation. However, it’s hard to gripe too hard when this issue reintroduces so much of what was lacking from New 52 Supergirl: happiness, perspective, hope.
As in the last Supergirl series, we open with Kara having to clean up one of her father’s messes, in this case a citizen of Argo afflicted with Red Kryptonite poisoning. The choice of a Kryptonite-empowered werewolf as our villain seems very conscious. It’s definitely something of a throwback to Supergirl’s heyday, both in its wild concept and in the use of Kryptonite as a macguffin.
Even more importantly, the werewolf – especially the conscious, is he/isn’t he dissociative variety seen here – allows Kara to reason with him while seemingly shouting out to the famous matchup I mentioned above. Steve Orlando has been very clear that compassion is central to his interpretation of Supergirl and this opening story is clearly designed to demonstrate that. It’s simplistic but also effective and welcome in an era where this kind of heroism is oddly rare.
One big criticism of this issue is that it’s a little bit stiff in its structure. Each section serves a function, trying to plant, more or less, a single idea in the reader’s head. Orlando is very honest about what he wants his series to be, but it still feels simplistic. The sheer focus of the various parts leaves many scene transitions feeling jumpy. Some characters feel like they’re there to serve the story while others feel like they’re there to tell it to us. Luckily, those in the prior category are generally likable. Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers are interesting characters even without their role as Supergirl’s parents/handlers and a quick mention of how Lar-On came to be what he is suggests that Orlando’s Zor-El will continue to intrigue.
While framing the story around Kara and Lar-On’s fight is traditional, for me there’s something lacking in it. I don’t mind it per se, but it feels like it happens because superheroes are supposed to fight and to explain why Lar-On was quarantined. On some level I’d like to spend some more time with Kara Danvers. One scene between Kara and her adoptive parents after the battle proves that Orlando can really write that relationship and give Supergirl a bit of a necessary edge without going all the way back to the brooding New 52 version. One also wonders what Kara’s civilian life will entail, with the end of the issue teasing some classic teen drama but not giving much specificity.
In fact, Director Chase is by far the weakest part of this issue, serving as a mouthpiece for exposition throughout the tale. I forgive her speech at the end a little because it’s clearly Orlando making his pitch directly to the reader, but the amount that needs to be explained and the amount that is flatly told to Kara and the audience is too much. Kara shouldn’t need to be told how she came to work for the DEO.
Emanuella Lupacchino returns to Supergirl for this issue, energetic as ever. There’s a little bit of a sharper look to Lupacchino’s designs this time around, a little less of the stylized roundness from the previous volume, but it definitely works for Supergirl, especially one trying to attract the audience of the television series. Though, perhaps even more than usual, Lupacchino’s characters are unusually attractive, she remains one of the best examples DC has of artists that can craft an issue that feels fundamentally true to DC comics without actively digging up the past or delivering that generic New 52 house style look.
Lupacchino just has an obvious love for the aesthetic beauty of the human body and that drives her to deliver a slew of iconic poses and strong compositions based around it. Supergirl grabs your eye on pretty much every page she appears, radiating humanity and heroic aura in equal supply. The layouts are simple but effective, directing attention well and doing an above average job of communicating movement.
It’s also good that they brought Lupacchino on for this Lar-On story as she’s an artist who’s able to draw a vital, relatable Supergirl as well as a fearsome, but never frightening, monster. There’s a cartoonish energy about Lar-On that contrasts nicely with his more emotional moments as a human. The design is decidedly different from the rest of the cast and breaks up the monotony well.
With each of these Rebirth issues I find myself wondering why this couldn’t just be issue #1. Supergirl: Rebirth makes sense as a preview issue, providing wary traditional fans and uncertain television converts alike a chance to see what this series has in store for the Maid of Might.This issue isn’t spectacular in its story, but it’s honest and effective in how it tells it. If you’re rolling your eyes at a Kryptonian werewolf or Supergirl hearing a cry for help in the vacuum of space, this may not be for you. Nor should you pick it up if you can’t abide exposition, because there is a lot. But, that said, there’s no denying the heart that Orlando pours into this story. Supergirl: Rebirth mixes the whimsey of the Silver Age with the emotional groundedness of modern television. It may just be a pilot issue, rather than a true beginning, but it makes its case and does what it needs to do. Welcome back, Kara.