Let’s get this out of the way first: I love Supergirl .
Not necessarily in the creepy fan-boy crush sort of way (really!), but more in-line with the overall love I have for second-stringer & teen heroes in general.
First appearing in the pages of Action Comics #252 (1959), Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) first served as a key part of the extended Superman family, then later as a member of the Legion of Superheroes (oh, which I also love: for the reasons noted above).
The 1980’s were a pivotal decade for the evolution of the Supergirl mythos: first she headlined the 1984 Supergirl movie, only to be killed in the comics a year later during the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths .
Superman writer/artist John Byrne reintroduced Supergirl to the post-Crisis DC comics universe (in Superman v2, #16, April 1988) as ‘Matrix’: an artificial shape-shifting entity created by an alternate-universe version of Lex ‘Alexander’ Luthor.
The post-Crisis Supergirl’s history became ever-more convoluted in the two decades following her reinvention as Matrix Supergirl; culminating in the reappearance of ‘Kara Zor-El’ Supergirl in the pages of Superman/Batman #8 (2004).
Like many long-time DC comics readers, I welcomed the news of the most recent reboot of the DC Universe (the New 52!) with mixed emotions: although the idea of a revamp and relaunch of the familiar DC titles and mythos was exciting, it seemed a shame to throw out 25+ years of continuity in the process.
But in the case of the character of Supergirl, to my eyes it seemed that the DC powers-that-be were doing everything right . Firstly, she was launching with her own title, rather than appearing in a team-based book or as a friend/adversary/dependant/girlfriend in another character’s title.
Secondly, this was Kara Zor-El: the ‘real’ Supergirl, not some extradimensional knockoff/shapeshifter/time-shifted entity, etc…*bleh*.
Then there was DC’s official blurb concerning the New 52 Supergirl title:
“Meet Supergirl. She’s got the unpredictable behavior of a teenager, the same powers as Superman – and none of his affection for the people of Earth. So don’t piss her off!”
Baddass! Now this sounds like a potentially fun book, and a new and interesting direction for a character five decades past her first appearance. Let’s get to reading!
A quick note before we get started: note that this is specifically a review of ‘Year One’ of the New 52 Supergirl title, issues #0-12. What came before and after is outside of the scope of this review, as are any appearances of Supergirl outside of her own title. I am reading and reviewing these issues based upon their own merits alone.
Supergirl #1 opens in media res; her ship (or ‘pod’ – why are Kryptonians always in pods?) crash-lands in Siberia, with Kara – and by extension, we the readers – clueless to how she got there, or why she is dressed in her ‘ceremonial’ armor (complete with ceremonial go-go boots, ‘natch).
Since most superhero comic book plots are usually just there to set up the next fight (more on that later), we get all of four-pages in before Kara gets into her first super-powered tussle: with a group of goons in power-suits, which serves to display how powerful and aggressive this new Supergirl really is.
Goons in power-suits are still just goons, after all; and a few Mahmud Asrar pencilled large-panel/splash-pages later, she has easily mopped them up.
At the end of the first issue/beginning of the second issue Superman shows up and tries to communicate his whole ‘great power = great responsibility’ philosophy to Kara in Kryptonian (this new Supergirl doesn’t magically speak English like most alien characters). This is welcomed by her in the following manner:
These first few issues really set the tone and pace of the new Supergirl book well: she is a strange visitor to a planet she doesn’t know or understand, and she is aggressive and stubborn. This version of Supergirl prefers to hit first and ask questions later. She isn’t just a ‘lesser’ Superman; she is her own entity.
(In)famously, the New 52 titles launched with heavy influence by the major names of the old Image Comics crew and Iron-Age Marvel Comics bullpen (notably Jim Lee, Scott Lobdell and Rob Liefeld), and this influence can be seen throughout this title as well: from the largely Jim Lee designed Supergirl outfit, from the use of large character-centered/pinup-ready splash-pages, to the pacing of plot and character development inter-spaced between and within set piece action scenes.
Overall, I’m not unhappy with any of this. I actually like Supergirl’s new look; it’s feminine without being a cheer-squad outfit or some vampy ’90s character. And the new Supergirl doesn’t read like some awful Iron-Age ‘girl out for vengeance’ as much as a classic Marvel character; human flaws combined with superhuman powers.
And to his credit, artist Mahmud Asrar can make a nice splash-page when asked to do so. His pencils have
both the energy and sense of style found in the best of the early Image-era art, but with none of the questionable broken-back anatomy of that era’s excesses, and with a keen eye for capturing mood and personality in each panel found amongst the best comic artists in whatever age.
Issues 3-4 build upon what was set up in the first two: Supergirl’s distrustful and strained relationship with her cousin Kal El (Superman), punctuated by a flashback image of her cradling him while he was still a baby. Her story also involves tracing back her missing ‘pod’ which was stolen by the Lex Luthor-lite villain Simon Tycho ; the person responsible for sending the armored goons seen in the first two issues.
The choice of making Simon Tycho (created for this series) as the main adversary for Supergirl in her first year strikes me as singularly uninspired: he’s just Lex Luthor with (initially) more hair. Super man gets the real-deal; Super girl gets a cheap knock-off.
I’m sure the writers can justify this decision a dozen different ways, but it’s boring and the character is boring to me as well. This choice is one the reasons I didn’t enjoy the first year of Supergirl comics as much as I had hoped, among others.
At any rate, Kara eventually confronts Mr. Tycho in his awesome satellite HQ (because why wouldn’t he just be hanging out in space?), defeats his creepy see-through bio-weapon ‘The Brain’, only to succumb to Kryptonite and is thus captured, then put into a pod (see above- Kryptonians and pods, like chocolate & peanut butter).
What happens next? Well, you already know what happens next: all the tropes are followed in good order from here. One of the goons she roughed up back in issue one has a change of heart and rescues her, only to nobly die in the attempt (‘I will never forget you, Goon #3!’).
She then regains her super suit (I’m glad they didn’t go with ‘naked Supergirl in a tube’ here: Simon’s obsession with her is already creepy enough), then proceeds to blow Simon’s evil space-station to hell, Simon losing most of his body – and his lovely hair – in the process. He’s sure to be back, as boringly evil and smug as ever. Yay.
The next few issues were of more interest to me. Now armed with a ‘sunstone’ (a plot-device Kryptonian memory crystal, and a shout-out to the Superman/Supergirl movies), Kara follows it’s homing light to a conveniently located stargate, which leads to her home city of Argo, now orbiting a faint blue star.
Argo is a ghost-town; she finds no one there to console her, but is able to find a device that plays back a final message from her father (more on him later).
As usual though, any plot development must lead directly into some kind of fight, and in this case the antagonist in question embodied by the ‘Worldkiller’ (a powerful genetically-modified being created on Krypton) called Reign . She attempts to recruit Kara into her quest to find out more about her own origins, with predictable results:
Unfortunately for our protagonist, Reign proves to be more than a match for her in both skill and power while in the light of the weak blue star, and her new foe leaves her pinned to wall to die as Argo’s orbit deteriorates and is finally swallowed by the mantle of the blue star that it revolves around.
This is followed by a sequence where an emotionally and physically drained Kara is visited by a vision of her parents, giving her the inner-strength to make her escape from the final moments of her abandoned city.
This three-issue arc really gets to heart of what the New 52 Supergirl is about: it’s all about Supergirl herself.
The classic Superman stories are mostly about how Superman struggles to protect the people of his adopted homeworld. At base they are stories about what it means to be a responsible person in the world, cranked up to grand-operatic scale in the way that only super-hero comics can.
What makes the New 52 take on Supergirl interesting- when it is interesting – is that her stories are NOT about this, per se. They are far more personal, even self-centered in scope. She is a teenager after all, and that is the world that teenagers tend to live in.
So Supergirl’s story here is mainly about her; it’s about growing up, finding your way in the world and your place in it. The Worldkillers, tied in some mysterious way to the legacy of her beloved father’s machinations – just as her own survival is – really reinforces this.
Her struggle is finding her own identity outside the shadow of her mother and father is the story, and the super-powered fights that punctuate this unfolding drama are simply there because…well, it’s a super-hero comic, right?
But it’s her personal story that really drives things forward, that makes us curious enough to pick up the next issue, to care about the outcome of her inevitable battles.
The next inevitable battle is a larger-scale one then allowed in the book so-far; Supergirl fights the Worldkillers (led by Reign) to protect New York City as the immediate concern, as well as her adopted homeworld as the larger concern.
I am as much in favor of the issue-long no-holds-barred super-battle as
the next fanboy, so issue seven entertained me well-enough. Plus, you aren’t anybody in the Superman family until you save a city by your lonesome against seemingly impossible odds.
Also – she wins the fight through sheer determination and ruthlessness; pure awesome. Superman might feel bad about winning this way, but not our girl. She plays for keeps, and dishes it out as well as she takes it. Maybe if I was more of a ‘purist’ I might not like this characterization: but I’m not, and I do.
The next few issues (#8-10) I really enjoyed, and gave me hope for the future of the series. Firstly, this arc had a cool 1980’s comic vibe to it – reinforced by issue 8 being pencilled by George Perez (!!) – and secondly it finally gives Kara a friendly face to deal with in the form of seemingly mundane Irish girl, Siobhan .
I cannot see George Perez pencils and not think 1980’s comics: I grew up on his work on Teen Titans and Wonder Woman. It’s great to see him still working, and still with his same mastery of form, drama and overall storytelling that set him apart during that decade.
This guest issue really shows off this mastery in a story that largely takes place on a smaller scale. As much as I enjoy Mahmud Asrar’s art – and I do – Perez’s ability to really sell a story with every panel really shines through here when contrasted with Mr. Asrar’s ability. It was a great choice to have him fill in for this issue, and this helps to make it my favorite of the first year issues.
Seemingly otherwise a normal girl, Siobhan has a mysterious power to learn and speak languages – even alien tongues – so she is able to communicate with the thus linguistically challenged Kara, who so far only speaks Kryptonian.
Over the course of the issue the two girls become fast-friends; with Siobhan loaning Kara the use of her tiny, messy flat, as well as some of her spare clothes so she can travel incognito.
This calm reverie is interrupted by the entrance of the villain Black Banshee – Siobhan’s father – and the reveal of Siobhan’s powered identity: the Silver Banshee !
Oh man, now this is cool. Supergirl’s BFF is Silver Banshee? Money .
The New 52 universe promised to create a new take on old characters, as well as new relationships, and here the book really delivers. This twist is fun and new and yet ties into the previous DC mythology we all know – and in my case – love. Great stuff.
This setup culminates in a two-issue long battle between Silver Banshee and her “da”, Black Banshee, with Kara in the middle. Supergirl is sucked into the mystical prison/psyche of Black Banshee, where she winds up fighting his avatar in the form of a black dragon while she herself is clad in Kryptonian armor and wielding lightsabers because…well, because it’s cool, mostly.
Spoiler (not that the whole review isn’t a spoiler…): Supergirl and her new gal-pal Silver Banshee/Siobhan win the day, defeating Black Banshee and freeing the body and spirit of Siobhan’s brother, Tom. And they live together happily ever-after.
Well, for half an issue at least. Issue 11 explores Kara’s newfound domestic bliss living with Siobhan and her brother Tom – the latter having developed a rather profound crush on Supergirl since, y’know… Supergirl .
While on a ‘date’ with Tom exploring their new relationship, Supergirl is attacked by a new weapon created by – *yawn* – Simon Tycho: a nameless villain-of the-week in a ‘nanobot swarm suit’.
With this new – and rather forgettable – foe vanquished, Kara concludes that her peaceful cohabitational life with Siobhan and Tom only puts the two of them in further danger, and says her sad goodbye to them both: flying back to only true kin she has, Kal-El – the Last Son of Krypton.
Superman shares some words of wisdom as comfort – as well as some background detail as to why Kara has aged at a different rate than her cousin – before managing to piss her off enough to cause her to leave again.
Following a lead to her missing space-pod (courtesy of Superman), Supergirl true-to-form manages to blunder her way into another fight: this time with a mysterious sea-monster.
It’s a silly, almost old-school touch. Supergirl vs the sea-monster! An epic three-page battle, since there isn’t another fight this issue!
Anyhow, I like this sort of thing, myself despite my mocking. And this fight serves as a bridge to the real point of this issue: Kara’s discovery of a sub-aquatic Kryptonian-styled structure.
A voice speaking to her in her native Kryptonian lures Kara within; a voice that is revealed -in the last dramatic splash page of issue 12 – as belonging to her early issues nemesis: an apparently now super-powered and definitely extra-creepy Simon Tycho !
Oh, Simon Tycho, you loveable scamp. How we missed you, since you last appeared all ‘just torso and smiles’ in Issue 4. What will issue 13 – and year two- of Supergirl bring for you and for us, the readers?
Personally I am hoping to see you further transformed into impossibly-smug crispy bacon courtesy of Supergirl’s heat-vision, but we will have to wait until then to see.
Year one also gave us Supergirl #0 , which gave some additional backstory and showed us more of her carefree life on Krypton.
Kara comes across here as what she surely is at this stage of her story: a sheltered and cared-for child of privilege. Doted on by her father who will refuse her nothing; and constantly reprimanded by her mother who is afraid what sort of adult she might become without discipline and the occasional splash of cold reality.
Kara’s father Zor-El is really the main character in this story; half watchful patriarch, half Machiavellian schemer. To my eyes he’s the most interesting character in Supergirl Year One, although he spends the majority of her story already dead.
The character of Kara Zor-El is clearly formed by the interaction between her and her mother and father. From her father comes the little voice telling her that whatever she thinks to do is right. From her mother’s constant nagging of her to be more responsible comes her dislike for all self-appointed authority figures.
While reading this issue isn’t essential to enjoying the series, I think it definitely adds to it, and it’s included in the second TB: which is why I am including it in my Year One review. If you wind up picking up the second TB you get this one already; if you are collecting the singles in dead-tree or digital format, it’s definitely worthy to add to your collection.
As another reviewer already noted, the first year of the New 52 Supergirl is more about promise than payoff. While I enjoy the new take on the character, and I like the series overall, I cannot say that I loved all of what was done in year one.
And I really wanted to love it too. If you are making a Supergirl comic that is neither hokey nor jokey, nor some grimdark British-style deconstruction of the character, then I am your target audience. I’ve got a longbox full of Legion of Superhero comics to prove that statement, too.
Really, much of what I say about Supergirl year one can be said about the majority of the New 52 in general. Not all of us were upset with you throwing out the old continuity: that got kind of messy over the decades anyhow. Some of us welcomed the opportunity, and wanted to see DC break new ground: we just wish that the whole of it was done better, is all.
At any rate, the aforementioned promise was enough to keep me reading this title. As noted above, although I have some serious reservations about the approach of the writers – especially concerning pacing – their new take on decades old character is fresh, fun, and again full of promise.
This comic is also my first introduction to the work of Mahmud Asrar, and I have definitely become a fan. As noted above, I find his style both competent and fun; I’m glad that he chose to come on for this title, as least for the early run.
Next up: Supergirl Year Two, where we explore where the promise does – and does not- pay off from what was developed in the first year of stories.
Michael Lindsey lives in Seattle, where he engages in a good deal of geekery. He is the (mostly) benevolent dictator of the (mostly) gaming blog Station53 .