Well, so much for taking a break from reviewing. After deciding I needed a respite from the weekly slog, I found myself with an unproductive hour and a freshly updated review folder whispering promises at me. “Well, fine,” I negotiated, “I'll just not write a review until I find something I don't hate then.” Josie and the Pussycats. No. Chronicles of Terror. Too long. Also horror anthology. Kodja. What is the point of kaiju outside of movies anyway?
Supergirl #1. Post-CBS show.
This is going to be a mistake, isn't it?
And yet, there is a review here isn't there? Yes, despite reading through my fingers, I did not hate this comic. In fact, there's a lot about this comic I actually like. Now, there's a grab bag of sighs in here too, a lot of which are a product of mandated cross promotion with the CBS/CW show, but I'll venture that Supergirl #1 is better than it should be considering the context. The inclusion of the #1 at the end is intentional, as I'm not convinced yet that this is anything more than a decent first issue (Aquaman put me on my guard), but I'll hold off on predicting the future for now. Let's talk Kara.
In the tradition of DC's "Rebirth" rebranding, continuity is as fucked as it is convenient to the writing. Kara Zor-El is once again new to Planet Earth, having arrived only a few months ago and is having some issues finding her grounding. Between going through the paces of American high school undercover to being chided by her government handlers for not superheroing correctly (a carryover from the television show I gather), isolation begins to tighten its grip around Supergirl's heart. A plot is set-up-ish, and you'll have to come back next month to see what the story is actually going to be.
I'll get the biggest praise out of the way up front: this book does a good job establishing the personality and pathos of this Rebirth Supergirl. I haven't, nor plan to, see the television Supergirl, so I can't attest to the similarities in the direction, but Steve Orlando finds a good hook by casting Kara as a reluctant space immigrant. Unlike Kal-El, whose relationship to the Kryptonian civilization he came from is more of an abstract representation of his outsider status, Kara actually once lived in Tomorrowland. Curving organic cities, flying cars, scientific development thousands of years past current human frontiers, Kara not only has to contend with the death of everyone she knew and loved but also the grinding day-to-day disappointment of living...well...here. If it isn't wearing a cape, everything in Kara's life is primitive, uncomfortable, and incapable of relating to her. Orlando realizes that the story of Kara Zor-El is a teenage girl going through the equivalent of being sent back in somebody else's time. Creative details like the suggestion that Kara speaks English with some sort of Kryptonian accent kept me engaged, and a scene with Kara's father set before Krypton's destruction did some very nice shortcut character development. It's not all quite so delicate; the comic has a bad habit of spelling out emotional beats in very literal language, but this is the first time since Micheal Turner and Jeph Loeb tackled Superman's cousin that I felt the character had a meaningful perspective
Outside of that characterization, the writing hits a lot of nasty bumps. There's a scene on a train to give Supergirl some Superstuff to do but was full of some of the most backward criminal logic since Neal Adams had a guy threaten a crowd by pointing a gun at a fuel cell hybrid car. The scene also shoehorns in Cat Grant, which got a knock from me for being a lousy tie-into the show, another knock for having her character have a plan as dumb as the criminals holding up the train, and another for making me have to think about Castilla Flockhart's Cryptkeeper face. There also isn't a lot of helpful buildup to the final page hook, not so much an intriguing surprise as much as leaving one wanting for a page or two extra to actually do something with the revelation.
The art, like the writing, is pretty hit and miss with me. The style is loose and sketchy, attempting an energetic stylization in place of meticulous detail and clean edges. It's a style that could work, especially with the book leaning towards the "Batgirl of Burnside" demographic (but not nearly that hard), but lacks a certain technical heft to quite carry it there. Sometimes the characters are expressively illustrated, sometimes they look out of place. Sometimes the art captures a gestural energy, and a lot of the times it just feels stiffly inert. Micheal Atiyeh's colors are vibrant and keep everything bright and well balanced, but overall the book's art feels more quickly done than stylistic in a confident and considered manner. Not bad, just not doing the book any particular favors.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed parts of Supergirl, but that pleasure also comes with plenty of suspicions about the viability of the series going forward. The book's plot is mostly spinning wheels till the hook shows up to tease the actual premise of the first arc. We don't know much, and as surprises go it doesn't help to advertise the "twist" on the cover of your comic and in the ads for your book. Plot-wise, Supergirl #1 leaves us with fistfuls of sand, characterization but no hard evidence that there is a story to back it up. Supergirl is a hard character to write because in many respects she hasn't evolved drastically since she was a gimmick character in post-Code DC comics, initially as equally meaningful a character as Comet the Super-Horse or a hunk of Magno-Kryptonite. She never got a story like Barbara Gordon's reimagining as a paraplegic, which gave decades of writers easy "ins" when it came to her characterization, even for writers who resented the choice to paralyze her. Like Starfire and Powergirl, Supergirl suffers from Sonic the Hedgehog Syndrome, where a kind of desperation to inject her character with relevance results in going back to the drawing board so many times that even interesting directions quickly get lost in the shuffle of relaunches. Just look at this comic. Supergirl is back to being the new kid on the block, not allowed to have a history that stretches back more than a college semester. Do I see this comic changing this, forging an identity worth future writers building upon? No. No, I don't. Ultimately, I think that's why I forgive the book its trespasses more easily than others. Supergirl is securely at the most a B-list character, and this book is similarly B-list. I like a lot about it, but at the end of the day, it will have to perform quite the feat of strength to earn its place on the shelf as more than just 22 pages of ad space for a television show.
[su_box title="Score: 3/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Writer: Steve Orlando
Publisher: DC Comics
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital