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.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?