Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: Supergirl RB #1


Supergirl #1, the solo title for the character in the post-Rebirth continuity came out this week and I'll say up front I was very impressed.

It has been over two years since the last solo Supergirl title in that time the Girl of Steel's prominence as a character has skyrocketed. With a popular television show, a presence in DC Superhero Girls, and a re-emergence in the late days of the New 52, it seems like Supergirl is suddenly everywhere. There are podcasts, figurines, cartoon shorts, and apparel in mainstream stores. It is amazing. In fact, it makes me wonder what took DC so long to get a book back on the shelves.

What is more amazing is, at least locally, the Supergirl book has been a focus of announcements for comic stores. I am on a number of email distribution lists for local stores and many had some version of ' 9/7:Supergirl #1 released!' as the title line. And DC also seems to recognize the potential in this book giving us two covers (which may be the norm these days) and a blank sketch variant.

But all of this would be sound and fury signifying nothing if the story isn't good. Thankfully, writer Steve Orlando delivered a very engaging first issue, setting the stage for this new time in Supergirl's life. The emphasis here is that she is a stranger in a strange land. But that also means there is a nice layer of contrast with her cousin Superman who seems to fit right in. There is some angst here, but it isn't bitter or angry unlike the early issues of the last couple of incarnations. Orlando also seemed to pluck pieces of Supergirl incarnations which have worked in the past and distilled them into this new book. This is a rebirth!

The art is by Brian Ching who brings an angular stylized feel to the book. It has an energy too it which makes me feel like the characters in motion, especially when anatomy seems to be distorted a little. Kara looks like Natalie Dormer in a number of panels.

And the covers are great. Ching's looks like a movie poster of old, highlighting the main points while Bengal's variant shows a smiling Kara ready to hug the world.

On to the story.

As I said, Orlando really does a nice job with the issue looking at Supergirl and how she is summarily different from her super-cousin. Sometimes this contrast is overt. Other times it is subtle.

The opening page of the book is a 4 panel overview of Supergirl's origin. She was a teenager on Krypton. She was rocketed away from Krypton without realizing that Argo City survived. She landed, stranded on alien soil.

That last panel of Kara, stepping out of her crashed rocket while in the barren arctic is striking, showing visually just how alone she was. Stranded is a powerful world here as well. It gives the feeling that she would move on if she could. This was an unwanted destination.

Of course this 4 panel wide screen page must be an homage to the first page of Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman. Now contrast that last panel to this last panel, a shot of the kindly Kent couple as seen from baby Kal's eyes.

These are similar origins but fundamentally very different.

Cut to now to the present where Kara Danvers, new secret identity of Kara Zor-El is learning how to drive. To Kara this vehicle is the equivalent of a Flintstones car. She is used to mind-linked, technically advanced transport like what was on Krypton.

But there is a lot to like about this scene which ends with Kara putting her foot through the car floor. The look on Kara's face is priceless. Whether a teen from an advanced culture or Earth, that is an appropriate face of a kid learning how to drive. And Eliza Danvers is the ultimate supportive mother, trying to remain sunny.

In the end, especially like that National City appears to be San Francisco like in its terrain. Could this be Orlando giving a nod to the time in Adventure Comics where Linda Danvers was living in SF?

And we see that awkward sort of transition from super-scientific world to our world played out even more in the mean hallways of high school. Kara is attending National City Technical High School and she's struggling. Dodgeball and overhead projectors are odd and archaic.

Everyone probably feels like a fish out of water during high school. But it is way more pronounced here. Supergirl doesn't seem to fit in.

We've seen this played out before as well, right down to the dodge ball.

Those same sort of difficulties were shown in the Walker/Jones Cosmic Adventures series.

There Kara also didn't fit in at first.

I like that Orlando is crafting this amalgam of what has worked in the past.

And so we see a lonely Kara, sitting by herself at lunch, and eavesdropping, hearing how everyone is talking about her. She even has a rival in Ben Rubel, another student vying for the Cat Grant Young Innovators Contest. Since he was given a name, he has to be part of the supporting cast. Perhaps he will be the Winn equivalent? Or frenemy?

But all of this shows how school life isn't a breeze for Kara. We see her excel while on Krypton, sure to be named to the Science Guild, only now to suffer at this 'technical' school at Earth.

It has to hurt. 

There is a nice visual of how Kara's super-hearing picks up on a train robbery. Some thugs have a device which is draining all local electronics of their passwords, data, etc. Supergirl flies in and quickly dispatches them. It is great stuff by Ching who really sells the action.

Turns out Cat Grant was on the train and was the real target. This is clearly a Cat based on the show. She's cool, calm, collected, focused. She was going to turn the tables on the crooks. She really gives off a vibe that they are below her. And she seems annoyed at Supergirl's tactics and irked by Kara's manners. This looks like the beginning of a Cat/Supergirl feud similar to what we saw in Sterling Gates' Supergirl run. Again, Ching imparts so much of the icy flair of Cat in his art.

But I have to wonder ... would Cat really travel by rail? With all the unwashed masses?

As I have mentioned, one of the strongest parts of the book is when Orlando flashes back to Krypton. There we see how well adjusted and caring Kara was, a far cry from the angry girl we saw in the 'still in continuity' early New 52.

Here we see a flashback of her having a tender moment with Zor-El. She has taken pictures of fossilized fish so some small piece of them could 'escape'. It shows how full of hope Kara is, maybe how sensitive she is..

But this tender reverie is jarred away when at the DEO, Cameron Chase calls Krypton a toxic culture. Chase's perception does not match the reality we see in Kara's memories..

Again, this contrast of Kara not feeling at home, of not feeling comfortable, is a key theme here. And Ching sells it with that exasperated look on Supergirl's face.

Chase is upset because Supergirl isn't supposed to be in action without DEO approval. Her train rescue was against protocol. The head of the DEO is angry. So maybe Chase is the show Henshaw equivalent in the book. With Cat and Cameron riding her, no wonder Kara feels out of sorts.

One of my favorite panels in the book is that bottom one. Long time Kara fans know that she has often existed in the shadow of Kal, unfavorably compared to her 'perfect' cousin. This look of irritation when Chase brings up Superman is interesting. Kara isn't Superman. She never has been.

All these feelings finally come to a head when the Danvers, really trying to be loving supportive folks, try  a little too hard. Between butchering Kryptonese and decorating the home in antiquated Kryptonian styles, they just further cement that Earth right now simply is not home.

Kara really feels like a visitor ... a strange visitor at that. 

I feel for the Danvers. Their hearts are in the right place.

But I also feel like this is a tiny step back for the Supergirl character who had clearly decided to call Earth home under Tony Bedard and K. Perkins. Still, this is a rebirth. Some things are going to be new.

Kara decides to go to a place where she might feel at home ... The Fortress of Solitude. After all, the Superman bequeathed it to her. But the Fortress is gone. Once again, as in the first page, she is alone in the barren snow. 

Then we get a great cliffhanger. Perhaps waiting to strike when Kara is at her emotional lowest, the Cyborg Superman  tells her she can go home again. Argo City lives!

So this issue was a nice adjunct to the Supergirl Rebirth special. It definitely lays the foundation for the tone of this book. This is an overall caring Supergirl, eager to spring into action and wanting to help. But she doesn't quite feel right on Earth. We meet her DEO handler who isn't helping matters with her prejudice about Krypton and her short leash. We meet the delightfully homey Danvers and their attempts at being the perfect surrogate parents. We meet Cat, cold perfection in haute couture. And we get a great cliffhanger, a tempting offer for a lonely grieving teen.

With the stage set, I'm ready for more!

Overall grade:


Anonymous said...

" In fact, it makes me wonder what took DC so long to get a book back on the shelves."

DC being DC? Sometimes you have to wonder who is running the company.

I thought this was a nice issue, although there was some glaring continuity gaffe (Allura knowing about Zor-El's plan to send Kara to Earth? What?) and Kara not feeling comfortable on Earth AGAIN is one step back.

I like both covers for different reasons.

A Flintstones car. Heh. I had not thought about it, but you're right.

Honestly I thought Dick Malverne when I saw Ben Rubel. He feels intrigued about the new girl and thinks she isn't what she looks.

I liked the story acknowledges that Kara inherited the Fortress. The Fortress of the Solitude is now hers! Tresspassers will be decked! (unless they are relatives from an alternate universe. Then they'll be hugged).

I wonder what she'll think about the new Superman and his family. Pre-Flashpoint Superman and his Kingdom Come self tried to reach Power Girl out and bonded with her. I would like seeing that here.

And I'd like that the writers of the Superman books stop pretending that Clark and Jon are the only heirs of Krypton. It bothered me that no one mentioned Supergirl in Action and Superman.

I take that you heard about the Supergirl: Being Super miniseries?

Gene said...

"Dodgeball and overhead projectors are odd and archaic."

That scene with the dodgeball hitting her reminds me of that scene from the movie where that ball explodes against Kara so Lucy wouldn't get hit by it. You will always find a movie homage somewhere in the Kara-verse. ;)


Anonymous said...

> In fact, it makes me wonder what took DC so long to get a book back on the shelves.

+9000 on that, Anj. In any case, I'm just happy to have a monthly Supergirl comic on the shelves again.
And agree this seems like a very good story; not sure about putting Kara into high school -- I still
shudder at the memory of the Joe Kelly attempt at that.

I'm also not clear where the New 52 version ends and the TV version of Supergirl begins in this incarnation
of Supergirl... from your review that's the bit that seems glossed over and/or put to the backburner.

In either case, it's a characterization of Supergirl I can get behind. And I'm with previous Anon that I
HOPE that this Supergirl and pre-Flashpoint Superman get to meet one another... there's no reason for them
not to.

Ahh, see I wasn't the only one that got the hint of that scene from the 1984 movie :)


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

The only thing that will be strange is that pre-FP Superman will now be about 10-12 years older than Supergirl. I really wish they had kept her age as being an adult. She's pretty much been that way with the Kupperberg comics and even, as you said, the SF locale in Adventure Comics. At least have her in college.

Someone at editorial seemed to think that a teenage Supergirl would fit in with the Teen Titans and if ten years was stolen because of the N52 universe, how did she de-age? I know I'm overthinking this too much, and as long as the book sells, then great, but if Dr. Oz or whomever took a decade away from Earth, did this happen after Supergirl arrived or while she was still on her way here?

I think the "mystery" of the lost years will simply be ignored by the secondary and tertiary characters. Was this Supergirl ever a Red Lantern? Things like that.

Anonymous said...

"Joe Kelly"

Hush. That NEVER happened. That "Joe Kelly" person NEVER wrote Supergirl. He never wrote a self-absorbed, whiny, unlikeable Kara and then he wrote a "Take That!" kind of story where he told angry Supergirl fans that pre-Crisis Kara was a vapid, dumb, flawless, brainless Mary Sue and "his" version was the real Supergirl.

That is my headcanon and I'm sticking to it, damn it!

To the anonymous above me: yes, this Supergirl was a Red Lantern. Everything what happened post-Flashpoint is canon.

Maybe you-know-who took ten years from another characters but he barely took time form Supergirl? Merely times where she bonded with Superman and other heroes?

I wonder when Supergirl will start remembering and what her reaction will be.

Anonymous said...

Between the TV show, 2 self titled comics and starring in a cartoon with her media and public exposure at the highest ever, it's a good time for Supergirl and her fanbase for sure. I liked the contrasts Orlando did juxtaposing Kara's Kryptonian life and her life on Earth. And the train rescue was a solid sequence of extra intensity and there seem to be plenty of emotional beats. My issue is still with Zor-El as Cyborg Superman, that was one dodgy wrinkle Orlando has to keep without retconning in his story. Not sure how well that can be handled when it was booed at the DC Rebirth Wonder Con panel.

Also it's a shame Joe Kelly did such a terrible job on Supergirl. He's one of my favourite writers and he did the best job with Superman. It's odd he did the opposite with Supergirl.


Martin Gray said...

Great review, and well done on the Dodgeball sposition. Totally over my head.

So Anj, you're believing Cat when she says the train robbery was all about her - it could just be ego!

Supertorresmo said...

Wait, the Fortress is gone? When did that happened? Wasn't Superman in there in Superman Rebirth?

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments!

I loved Kelly on Superman too. Such a weird turn with SG.

I clearly need to get a copy of the SlTer movie if I am missing references!

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Brian Ching posted an image of a potential, unused cover:

It's pretty good, but I think I prefer the final version in which Kara looks poised for action. I like dynamic covers.

Anonymous said...

There appears to be a Supergirl mini series in the works "Supergirl: Being Super". I don't think it follows the Rebirth continuity as appears more in line with the Superman: American Alien mini series. Speaking of which the art is being done by Joƫlle Jones who's known for doing art on Marvel comics (Mockingbird, Scarlett Witch etc.), her own creator owned comic Lady Killer, as well as recently doing art for one issue of Superman: American Alien (the one where he crashes Bruce Wayne's birthday party). The art looks good on this and we'll just need to wait and see what kind of story they will tell. Can't wait for this to drop in December.

Anonymous said...

Nice reboot over all, the artwork is....different to say the least. I don't mind in the least that she is starting out in HS (I hope that remains the initial setting along with the foster parents/agent handler Danvers' Family) I see a lot of plot possibilities and character beats therein. I'm not sure how much I'm gonna like the "Supergirl, Agent of the DEO" meme or "Daddy Cyborg Superman" but I'll let the creatives play their hand....

Oh and Supergirl Mini to close out the year good news! Hey as long as we are putting the Maid of Might in miniseries lets have a shout out to the as yet uncompleted "Supergirl Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade" storyline...