Writer Steve Orlando has spent a huge amount of time convincing potential readers that his run on Supergirl will be something different. With the first issue finally out I can say that this is accurate, however it’s different not only from what else is on the market but from what you may have expected based on his statements and Rebirth issue as well.
Orlando’s Kara (Danvers) Zor-El is defined by her sincerity. Though she hides her true feelings from much of the world, as any teenager does, the clarity with which Kara expresses herself to the reader and to the people she trusts makes for a strong introduction to the character. Even if you’ve never thought to read a Supergirl comic before you should put down this issue with a solid understanding of Orlando’s take on the classic character and without any sense of being talked down to.
Admittedly the threat Supergirl faces is not exactly worthy of her. An old fashioned train robbery taken in a refreshing, modern direction allows readers to get a sense of Supergirl’s outlook and powers, but it’s really there to build up another character, one who’s not always been treated with much respect, so bully for that. With that out of the way, there’s really not much action in this issue, but that’s clearly not what Orlando intended for this chapter.
Especially considering the Rebirth issue from a few weeks ago, it’s surprising how complete this introduction to Supergirl’s world is. It’s clear that Orlando wasn’t willing to count on readers having picked that issue up. Much of the necessary exposition is replicated here, more quickly and naturally than in that issue too. We’re also introduced to all of the characters from that comic as well as a couple of promising newcomers.
Most crucially, in my view, Orlando shows us a fuller view of what we can expect from this series going forward. The New 52 Supergirl had a, deserved but often overly negative, reputation for indulging in teenaged angst. It made a certain amount of sense and I actually really liked it, but its hard to argue that it was representing the core of the character when Supergirl became a rage-powered Red Lantern. Orlando has fought hard to showcase the value of hope and optimism to Supergirl, but this issue demonstrates that he can kind of have his cake and eat it too.
As annoying as it is when DC tries to reinvent Superman into some kind of edgy hero with a tortured backstory, the feelings of alienation and isolation at the core of such stories are a much better fit for Kara. It must be so hard to be handsome, loved, and imbued with a superpower lottery payout, but, for Kara, it’s not just her alien powers that make her different. Unlike Clark, Kara had a life and a family back on Krypton. She’s not just a strange visitor from another planet but an intergalactic refugee. And while the remnants of Krypton have become toxic to Kal-El, in the form of Kryptonite, they hurt Kara more insidiously. On Krypton she was a scientist from a proud legacy, on her way to a promising career. On Earth, she barely understands how to use a projector. Kara’s strengths: her heart, her mind, her name, are all turned against her here.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Kara’s interactions with the DEO. I was skeptical of the shadowy organization’s introduction. They seemed an unnecessary addition that provided constraint rather than opportunity, but it seems that that’s just what Orlando was looking for. Kara may have parents, but no two humans can contain a Kryptonian teenager. No, the classic struggle against authority makes much more sense when it comes from a powerful government agency that Kara’s made dangerous deals with.
That leaves parents, Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers, free to play good cop. Orlando cleverly plays them as reasonable, well meaning host parents, eager to make Kara feel more at home, while ultimately driving home her sense of non-belonging. They, and the organization they represent, are also pleasantly parental in their ultimate, but unimportant correctness. There’s absolutely no denying that an untrained Kryptonian without a sense of the people she polices is a serious danger, but while both Director Chase and the Danvers’ insistence that Kara slow down and empathize is lovely, it not only ignores her feelings but serves to erase her identity as a Kryptonian.
Though it may not hold up to graphic novels intended to directly address this issue or biographical works, Supergirl is impressive for the time it takes to look at the struggles of being apart from your own culture, mixing them into relatable teenage desires with relative ease and a blessed lack of lecturing or self-congratulation.
And through it all, Orlando shows Kara really trying. This is hard for her and it’s incredibly frustrating, but that sense of anger and pessimism that was present in the New 52 incarnation is absent. Instead, Supergirl does her best and fights for the values that she aspires to.
I’ve also been very excited for this issue because of Brian Ching’s art. I mean, have you seen that cover; it’s incredible!
To be honest, I was a little let down by the aesthetic of this issue and that largely falls on me. It was hardly realistic to expect the entire issue to be as gorgeous as its cover. That said, enormous eyes and stout faces occasionally become distracting. But, if I shift to be more objective, I must admit that it is still a pretty fabulous looking book.
When comics history looks back on the New 52, I think it will be remembered most fondly for trying to do different things within the framework of a shared universe. It’s beginning to look as if DC Rebirth might be remembered for its art. The exaggerated, expressive style employed by Ching is powerful and strikes an impressive balance between highlighting the traditional strengths of the genre and introducing a less intimidating YA vibe into DC’s stable.
This book just looks cool and there’s a wonderful purposefulness in its abstractions. Kara’s experience looks as frustrating/awesome/adorable as it is. Ching doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he delivers sharp looking visuals and effective storytelling in a complete and connected package. Moreover, he takes an active role in communicating the story and the emotion of the book. My favorite example is the look of horror on a bystander’s face during the robbery. That’s exactly what Supergirl needs, that acknowledgement of human fragility and connection that makes a simple theft emotionally compelling where all the CGI in the world couldn’t do the same for Man of Steel’s city flattening battles.
Supported by some striking choices, as well as some respectable restraint, from Michael Atiyeh, Supergirl proves a visually enjoyable read.
With her universe’s Superman dead, a highly successful television show on the air, and a new claim on a handful of classic Superman rogues, Supergirl has never been in a better place to succeed as a character. Steve Orlando capitalizes on that, taking the hand he’s been dealt and immediately demonstrating the inherent value of the character and the range that this series possesses.
This first issue of Supergirl is artistically rich and emotionally full. It doesn’t drop any massive bombshells the way that first issues often have to, but it commits fully to the series and the ethos behind it. It’s not the most exciting debut, but it’s the definition of a solid superhero introduction and an impressively effective debut. With Orlando and Ching at the helm, Supergirl seems poised to deliver, month after month, strong superhero adventures full of wild ideas, thoughtful storytelling, and plenty of heart.