Today, Patrick and Mark are discussing Supergirl 1 originally released September 7, 2016. As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
“It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”
Patrick: I know, I know, I know – Garden State is a flick that’s ultimately too twee for it’s own good. But underneath all the cloying “you have to listen to The Shins!” moments and hackneyed beats of artificial quirk, there is a compelling universal truth. Concepts like “home” and “family” are so easy for the young to grasp, but they are nearly impossible for adults to hold on to. That’s because they’re both inextricably linked to our own personal origin stories, and you only get one of those in a life time. A superhero — especially one with as oft a rebooted history as Supergirl — runs the risk of trivializing the potency of that transition from origin to adult life, but ace writer Steve Orlando trots out countless examples of a better life on Krypton to genuinely sell Kara’s newfound loneliness and frustration. Couple that with Brian Ching’s Marvel-esque design work, and you’ve got one of the most sympathetic new series in DC’s stable.
I want to focus a little bit on Ching’s art, because I do find it so remarkable. It’s got echos of Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart’s work in the recent Batgirl series, with some of the angular momentum from Sonny Liew’s work on Doctor Fate. Ching’s characters have a welcoming roundness to them, with big eyes and expressive features, which gives the series a distinctly more family-friendly look to it. That shouldn’t suggest a lack of visual sophistication – Ching shows power and confidence (and lack thereof) on the page better than just about anybody out there, and this issue is full of swings in both directions. Kara spends most of the issue expecting to wallop whatever situation she’s walking into and then learning over and over again that she is not the expert she perceives herself to be. When she zips onto the speeding train, Ching gives us the classic superhero flying-in portrait.
Kara is bursting through the vanishing point here, so the reader’s eye is naturally drawn to her core. Ching emphasizes this by pulling all of the observers’ sight lines to the exact same point. It’s awesome, and all the visual information is telling us that she can Save The Day. Of course, that turns on a dime when crack reporter Cat Grant reveals that she had the whole situation under control before Kara showed up. Whenever they’re in a panel together, Cat’s frame towers over Kara’s, and her effortless cool trumps any heroism implied by that red and blue S.
My favorite example of this shifting power dynamic happens a few pages later, back at The Blade. D.E.O. Director Cameron Chase has this information orb behind her while she berates Kara’s recklessness and Ching draws the camera in tight enough that the video wall feels like it’s an army fighting for Chase’s every word. In the very next panel, with a simple repositioning of the camera, that same info-orb appears to be swallowing Kara whole.
The issue is literally full of these kind of juxtapositions. While I’ve been singing Ching’s praises, it should be noted just how many examples of this Orlando provides right there in the script. Panel-to-panel, he’s weighing Supergirl’s Kryptonian successes against her National City frustrations. Colorist Michael Atiyeh sets off these comparison by quickly toggling over to a “past” color palette established established on page one.
I’ve been casually absorbing Superman stories my whole life, and I’ve been actively reading comics for the last five years, and this might be the first time I’ve emotionally understood a Kryptonian’s longing for their home world. This is important, because by the end of the issue, it’s clear that Kara is going to be tempted to assert some of the Kryptonian identity alongside a new Cyborg Superman. I’ve seen that kind of story before — we all have (remember H’el on Earth?) — but this series seems uniquely poised to make this a difficult decision for Kara. She spends — and the readers spend — the whole issue being reminded of how much more dynamic and fun her life used to be. How is she supposed to resist that? How are we?
Mark, I fucking loved this issue. I’m excited to see “National City” take its place among the great pantheon of DC Universe made-up cities. That learning-to-drive scene made it look like San Francisco, and I say it’s high time we had another California city in that roster. We NEVER read about Coast City anymore (…maybe because someone destroyed it to prove a point to Hal Jordan? Who can remember?).
Mark: I really loved this issue as well, Patrick.
I want to echo your praise for Orlando’s writing and the way he uses events from Kara’s life on Krypton to reflect the difficulties she has on Earth. I noted (okay, complained) in our discussion of Superman 4 the reliance in Superman stories on Kal-El’s painful history with Krypton. And while I can certainly appreciate the sense of otherness he must experience while here on Earth, it rarely works for me emotionally since Superman (1) has been here for a very long time at this point (it’s like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s Batman still being haunted by the death of his parents. Dude is old in that movie. He’s been Batman for more than half his life. Surely he has to be motivated by more?) and (2) doesn’t have any personal memories of Krypton.
So what I’m saying is, “Shut up, Superman!” Supergirl actually experienced life on Krypton and Argo City before being shipped to Earth.
And while Ching’s art and Orlando’s words are enough reason to sing the issue’s praises, having a great Supergirl book is especially exciting to me partly because of the context in which it arrives. There’s danger in making everything good that’s happening at DC recently about Rebirth, but in this instance I think it’s important to acknowledge the past as this book rolls out.
Prior to Rebirth, DC’s stable of heroes was in varying degrees of disarray. For every Batman who was doing all right for himself, there was a Superman — a character that lost more and more of his core the longer New 52 and DC YOU wore on. It wasn’t a single issue or creative choice that brought characters like Superman to a crisis point, but the accumulation of small decisions made over the course of many years that eventually left the DC universe demanding a big rethink.
No where was this more apparent than with DC’s rich line-up of female characters. Two areas DC has always beat Marvel dead-to-rights is in their rogues gallery and their female characters; DC’s female heroes completely wipe the floor with Marvel’s. But even though their line-up is rich, DC has struggled mightily in the post-Flashpoint era to do right by the likes of Supergirl. Whether it was editorial influence, creative team mis-match, or institutional lack of awareness, I don’t know. But outside of a few bright spots like Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Wonder Woman run, DC’s female heroes — more than any other group — were in desperate need of Rebirth.
I don’t know what’s changed at DC. I don’t know if there was a large institutional mandate to do better or if it’s blind luck that strong creative teams are taking over the likes of Supergirl, but I do know that this title — along with Wonder Woman — represent the most promising books DC offers. It’s about time.
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Mark, what do you think about the state of Marvel’s female heroes now? Between the three Spider-Women, Marvels (both Captain and Ms.), Thor, the new Iron Man, and Gwenpool, plus a slew of excellent Black Widow series, makes me think that they’re on the right track. Mind you, I do see that most of those are women reclaiming mantles originally held by men, so maybe that lessens the impact a little.
I completely agree that Marvel is on the right track. I would love to see them continue to work and create new female heroes, but compare Marvel’s female hero line-up from five years ago to their line-up today. Their rate of improvement makes me somewhat forgive them relying so heavily on gender-swapping to get there.
Marvel have discussed a couple of times how when they realised they cancelled X-23’s book (which was actually a really good book), they had no female led titles, and put a concerted effort into female characters. These days, they have almost twice as many female led books as DC, I believe, and that is when you count Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn twice. Marvel do, of course, release more books, but that is a significant number. Especially since unlike DC, none of these characters have biweekly schedules.
And actually looking through the list of characters, it is amazing how few examples are of characters reclaiming men’s titles. For every Thor, Wolverine or Iron Man (Riri is technically Ironheart, but she’s taking over Iron Man’s book), there are characters like Silk, Spiderwomen, Hellcat, Black Widow, Squirrel Girl and Mockingbird whose identities have always been their own (and then there is the oddness of the new Hawkeye book, which is both at the same time. It is a gender swap, but Kate Bishop is a character that has always been Hawkeye).
And actually, some of the success comes from simply re-orientating franchises. Choosing to build the Captain Marvel mythos around Carol Danvers instead of Mar-Vell, or building the Inhumans around Medusa and Crystal, instead of Black Bolt. There is honestly no reason for these mythoses to revert. I mean, I don’t think anyone is clambering for either franchise to go back to a previous orientation (ignoring X-Men fans who simply want the Inhumans to return to obscurity)
Honestly, I feel it is more important to focus on those other stuff. My prediction is that Jane Foster is going to return to what she was, a bit more popular but ultimately the human in Thor’s life, Laura Kinney will return to the X-23 name but now have the presence to support an ongoing and Ironheart will remain as part of the Iron Man mythos, but only to a similar sidekick status as War Machine. But that isn’t the real important part of Marvel’s changing gender balance. The important thing is that every other character that is being pushed. That characters like Black Widow, Medusa, Captain Marvel, Ms Marvel and others are now centre stage.
Marvel has some problems. Black Widow has had some great artists in her recent series, but is let down by bad writers (damn, I want to love books drawn by Noto and Samnee. But the writing…). Spider-Gwen started with a lot of promise, but has squandered it – especially compared to Jessica Drew and Silk. And Marvel keeps trying to get She-Hulk to work, but no matter how good the book is, it seems doomed for failure ever since Deadpoool stole her shtick. But generally, things are healthy
Honestly, I don’t think DC have always bet Marvel’s female characters dead to rights. I think, with two exceptions, it is pretty similar. And I say this as a person who probably has more favourite DC women than Marvel women. The list of DC and Marvel women are pretty similar. For every Black Canary or Vixen, you have a Mockingbird or Hellcat. Both companies have been historically full of female characters who were ignored and squandered.
DC’s historic advantage with female characters comes down to two things. Wonder Woman, and derivative heroes. Wonder Woman needs no explanation, and the derivative heroes like Batgirl and Supergirl were able to take advantage of the original’s popualrity to ensure publication where others wouldn’t. But ultimately, I think Wonder Woman, Batgirl and SUpergirl are the only historic advantages DC have had.
Which means Marvel is probably going to overtake DC. They now have a Wonder Woman. Her name is Captain Marvel, and she is probably in a healthier place than Wonder Woman. Captain Marvel stands tall as the iconic female Marvel Hero, but unlike Wonder Woman, she has her own derivative hero who has an entire book, and is currently the centre of a massive event comic. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman’s book for at least the last decade has been ‘the previous run was wrong. This is the real Wonder Woman’. That isn’t to say that those runs were necessarily bad. I’ve heard great things about Azzarello and Rucka’s runs. But the fact that every Wonder Woman run is trying to rewrite her is not the sign of health.
And Marvel have actually got some derivative heroes running around, to match Supergirl and Batgirl. The most obvious are the Spiderwomen, but we also have Gwenpool, Kate Bishop and possibly Ironheart,
In addition, Marvel has had a lot of success with female characters who stand on their own. Even characters like Mockingbird, who were created as Hawkeye’s sidekick, doesn’t actually need Hawkeye. She can exist as her own character without Hawkeye. And then we have Black Widow, Squirrel Girl, Hellcat and who actually tell their own stories.
Meanwhile, DC torpedoed their attempts at making female characters who stand on their own with Rebirth. Where DC You had Catwoman, Black Canary, Starfire and Prez, Rebirth has thrown it all out so that the only non-derivative character is Wonder Woman. Even Birds of Prey, a book historically built around 2-3 women who each have their own unique identities, now has Black Canary and Huntress playing second bill to Female-Batman. And that is ignoring the fact that Superwoman feels like a book temporary even by ‘Jane Foster is now Thor’ standards.
I think at the moment, Marvel have a much, much stronger line up of female characters, and it will remain like that until DC actually get interested in more than white guys again. Whatever success Wonder Woman and Supergirl have isn’t about any institutional mandate – DC Rebirth made very clear they don’t care – nor blind luck. Wonder Woman was in such a bad position they went back to the last person everyone liked, and Supergirl needed a high profile writer to best exploit the show’s success, so they went for the critically acclaimed writer of Midnighter. Which isn’t to say that it is a bad thing that they are what they are. I’m glad that between DC’s incompetence and DC’s strategy of synergy, they are making good female led comic books. But it is also doing the bare minimum, and they have a lot of catching up to do. Especially after they torpedoed their first legitimate attempt at catching up when they screwed over DC YOU and followed it up with DC Rebirth.
I honestly hate hating DC at the moment. I actually miss the characters, and am enjoying what opportunities I get with the characters in other media (will be making a post about Batman – the Telltale Game soon.) But every time I consider giving Rebirth another chance, after Geoff Johns’ travesty, I just get bored at how backwards the line is…