Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review: Supergirl Being Super

Supergirl Being Super came out last week, a sort of Elseworlds by any other name look at Supergirl's origins. This is out of continuity. The main themes are there. Supergirl is sent to Earth at a young age (here younger than usual ... around 8 years of age). She feels unbelievably different than those around her. She is trying to find herself, define herself. All of that sounds pretty much like any Supergirl story since 1959.

But this is an origin written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Joelle Jones which takes place in current times. So the super-powers are, at least for me when I read this, sort of in the background. This is really a coming-of-age story but for someone who has extraordinary powers. Anyone who has lived through that tumultuous period of life called adolescence knows any difference feels enormous. Kara trying to figure out who she is should resonate with anyone who has asked these big questions to themselves as a teenager.  It's just that her difference is that she is an alien and can lift tractors. But it can still be as mundane as the self-consciousness as a giant zit.

And, of course, she is hiding the fact that she has powers which muddies things even further. When you are different and you hide those differences, bury them, it can lead to isolation and pain. I am sure we can all substitute any number of things instead of super-powers that can lead to desperation and emotional turmoil.

I will freely admit as a heterosexual white male just into the back half of my forties that I am not the target audience for this book. That said, I was a lonely unathletic nerd in high school who luckily had friends who understood me so this still resonated. Those adolescent wounds run deep.

Tamaki does a great job showing us Kara's life and how she is reacting to things in it. It all reads very natural. Joelle Jones is just superb on art, bringing expression and energy to the proceedings. I feel like Jones has dialed things down a bit from the super-stylized stuff I have seen from her in Lady Killer. But the art still is powerful. Sandu Florea's inks are clean and Kelly Fitzpatrick's color palette is spot on. And it all starts with that cover. This perspective of the 'upside down' Kara shown to us right side up is just engaging.

As this is a new concept, this review is pretty lengthy, so bear with me. On to the book.

We got to preview the first few pages of the book a while back and I covered them here:

 In those pages we met Kara's best friends, both of whom seem to have more of a grip on who they are. They have defined who they are and are living out that life.

Dolly is a named after Dolly Parton but isn't the classic midwest farmer's daughter. She is self-described as a 'badass dyke'. Here at a study session she talks about how she dreams of chicks and that it isn't sexist for her to say that. She is clearly a social justice warrior, there to rock the boat a bit in the sleepy little town.

Jen is an athlete. She defines herself that way. She eats the way an athlete does. She wants to go to the olympics. She needs to impress college scouts at track meets so she can get out. But she also must realize that dreaming of gold medals is a tough destiny to achieve.

There is a suspicious subplot about fitbits on the track runners, solar powered ways to track vital signs, etc. I can't imagine those are innocent.

I won't say these characters are cookie cutter teens but they would clearly have a role in a John Hughes' teen movie (think Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club). The problem is if you define yourself by one thing (let's say athletic dominance), what are you if that is taken away?

Kara runs track. She seems to be a good student. But she isn't nearly as formed as these two. And that probably is the contrast we need. Who is Kara?

 We meet Kara's adoptive parents Jeremiah and ... his wife.

Both are played as typical parents who just don't get it. There is a hint of simple-mindedness or narrow-mindedness to them. Dad could easily have a beer in front of him and grunt 'Murica as we see him say that good old fashioned accomplishment is more important than revolution. He doesn't believe in birthdays thinking they are a conspiracy. He doesn't want to hear about hormones while he is eating. You can tell he works hard and loves his family. But he isn't hip.

And Mrs. Danvers is played as a standard housewife keeping the house together. She makes spaghetti and wants to talk to her daughter. But she talks about blemishes and cake and those pesky hormones as well. She hardly seems like a feminist woman of 2016. But you can tell she loves her family and works hard in the house.

I never like it when parents are played as fools in stories like this. I hope they aren't the punchline for uneducated, unenlightened thoughts. Say what you will, they took this Kara in and raised her.

 About a third of the way through the book, we finally see that Kara has powers and knows how to use them. At first I wondered if this was going to be a story where the emergence of super-powers is a metaphor for puberty and maturation.

But in the barn, Jeremiah asks her to move a tractor and she one arm presses it.

I love everything about this page. The artwork is great. I love the angle looking up at Kara, the tractor an enormous weight over here, eclipsing her in size. And yet, she is calm, one hand texting as she carries it.

Jeremiah needs the room in the barn for something ... and he doesn't want Kara to be nosey. I think it will be a new room, or a loft, or something nice for her birthday.

 You see it is eight years to the day that Kara's pod landed in front of the Danvers and they took her in. They assume Kara is sixteen. And she really has no idea about anything in the pod. She doesn't remember anything about her life before.

Instead she has a recurring dream, clearly snippets of memories, that have been shattered. The broken glass imagery is great here. Kara needs to rebuild this memory to have it make sense. For now it is just a jumble.

But without those memories, Kara just has to move on.

I have gushed already about the art. But I love this splash of Kara flying. The image looks as if we are seeing Kara through a birds-eye lens. The anatomy is all wonky. But it is perfect. And that sense of bliss on her face is right on as well. Maybe this is where she feels the most herself.


Sometimes the theme of discovering yourself is quite cinematic. I mean this panel looks right out of Gilmore Girls or some other Lifetime movie/after school special.

I mean, a disaffected youth, reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, lying on her bed with her eyes closed.  I mean, I suppose any normal teen is reading a dense book about life in the Czech Republic in the late 60s, right? I almost called her Rory in this paragraph.

But the sentiment that Kara is worrying about being panicked over having an awesome life is something that resonated. At that age, the world is so wide and open to you. How do you achieve what you want and play within the norms of the world?

I suppose the whole point of Lightness was that you have one go at this world so make the most of it.

Everyone wants to live that awesome life of their dreams. But when you are 'different' and feel like you have to conform a bit, it isn't easy.

And this Kara is different. Very different. When she pops her 'super-zit' enough pus is made to splatter the bathroom. She wonders if she is a bug of some sort (the scene did remind me of scenes in Cronenberg's The Fly when Jeff Goldblum looks in the mirror and keeps discovering he is more and more monstrous).

But it isn't just acne. Her powers seem to be a little wonky too. Her hands intermittently glow. Her powers fail here and there. What is happening?

And it doesn't help that Jeremiah tells Kara to hide the the thing which makes her special.

We see in flashback a young Kara running around the farm at super-speed. And there is Jeremiah telling her to keep her run in her heart, not show her powers. I guess I can understand not wanting Kara to be blatant about her powers. But what about helping people when she has the chance?

It just smacked of  Pa Kent in Man of Steel. And god knows that having a representation of Pa telling Clark that maybe he should have let some kids drown is chilling and maddening. I need less of that. Not more.

I suppose I have to remember that this is a coming of age story. Parents telling their kids to 'fly right' and hide something about themselves is another common theme.

At the very least, Kara has her friends.

And, again, very cinematic in this scene where Kara's friends come to her house on her birthday to have a top secret celebration. Jen holding a sparkler is a nice touch, a warm spot of light in the darkness around Kara.

There is a nice cliffhanger.

The big track meet is about to happen, college scouts in the stands. Kara, sporting a track uniform very reminiscent of the Michael Turner 'belly shirt' Supergirl costume, stands ready. She thinks her friend Jen is lucky. Jen can focus just on running, the thing that defines her while Kara is still figuring things out.

But then an earthquake hits and people are in danger. Maybe its time for Kara to be super and save some people.

So overall this worked well for me. This is really the foundation for this series, the first act of four. We get a very solid sense of Kara's life and the people around her. We feel how unsure she is with her identity, kind of floating through life, this massive mystery in her past. And it all is visually spectacular.

Can't wait to see where this is all going.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

I also liked a lot.

I was worried about the "No memories from Krypton" thing, but she was eight when she arrived on Earth, so she doesn't completely rip Clark's origin off.

I also like that scene in which she lifts a tractor so casually. That panel hammers home how immensely strong she really is. It's always nice to see it.

Unlike the exploding zit scene. It was... gross and hilarious at once. Poor Kara.

Most of time Jen looked strong and bold, but right before the big track she looked so vulnerable. I think it is a nice touch which gives her a bigger depth.

Kara's track suit is reminiscent of the Turner's outfit, but her red gloves remind me of her Silver Age gloved costume.

It's a different tale, for sure. A timeline in where Kara is the only Kryptonian on Earth, she doesn't remember Krypton and she isn't under her cousin's shadow.

I'm calling it now. The series ends with an epilogue in where an adult Kara finds Kal's space pod.

"Look again, Superwoman! It's me -- Superboy! And I have all your powers!"

Martin Gray said...

Terrific review, Anj, I know where you're coming from about feeling a bit of an outsider at school yet still fitting in somehow.

I do wonder about Jeremiah - he doesn't half look sinister in the tractor splash.

SG Fan said...

I really liked the opening of this too.

I'm real curious about the larger universe, are there superheroes here or would Kara be the first? Kind of a real nifty idea, at least in my mind.

Totally agree about the artwork Anj, it's beautiful and I love how Kara's drawn. It's an interesting take on her parents (Are they Jermiah and Eliza, I don't think names got used IIRC) will be curious to see where it goes. Despite their quirks it seems they care about Kara, otherwise why take her in. The memory loss for Kara is an interesting touch I wonder if part of her journey in this miniseries is unlocking those to become who she fully is.

My one nitpick for the book...how the hell did her pimple hold all that goo in? Seriously there's like more good than Kara must weigh in that panel LOL

Seriously now, this has been a great start and I can't wait for more.

Anonymous said...

Yeah it's be doubleplus kewl if SG was "The First Hero" in this continuity....the whole super amnesia thing has me intrigued as well, I hope the resolution holds up with regards to that. And yes the feel here is very "Smallville" and or "SuperGilmore Girls"....if I had to hazard a guess on those wrist monitors its gummint agents looking for that kryptonian they missed eight years ago.''
That pimple was...gross that is literally though every teenaged kid's nightmare....

Anonymous said...

Great review, Anj! And definitely a backstory about Supergirl I can get behind. And I'm another that
had those lonely, awkward teenage years -- the wounds run deep indeed.

I guess the lack of context / continuity is what throws me the most, but I'll just roll with it and
see where this goes.


Unknown said...

Nice review! Is it clear from the publishers that Superman doesn't exist in this universe? Or is he irrelevant to the lives of people in Midvale? I've spent the last 20 years in a more rural area, where most people feel distanced from the state capital, despite its being only an hour away. I can see a narrative where no one connects the dots between Kara and Superman because Superman plays no part in their daily lives. Certainly he'd be irrelevant to a teenager.

That said, it's fine if he simply doesn't exist and Kara has the spotlight all to herself, though teens typically don't like to stand out that much!

I love the art. The interior of the Danvers' home reinforces Jeremiah's distrust of the government. Note the woodburning stove and lack of electronics? Those are the telltale signs of someone who wants to live off the grid. We also get to see him tinkering with small engines at the kitchen table.

Jones's art is fantastic at conveying movement and emotion. The panel showing Kara's dream as well as the panels of the track meet are almost cinematic in their effect.

I am very much looking forward to where this series is going.