Among the comic industry’s worst-kept secrets is that most superhero fare is too adult for young readers—the very audience for which characters like Supergirl were originally created. The recent success of kid-friendly titles such as Tiny Titans, Super Friends, and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, however, demonstrates that younger fans want more than just action figures and lunchboxes celebrating their favorite characters—they want actual stories, too. DC Kids recently gave Supergirl the same makeover that they gave Wonder Woman, Beast Boy, and Robin, transforming her from sex kitten with superpowers to perky junior high student just discovering what she can do. The new series is a joy to read, striking a good balance between action and character development and offering readers a fresh, funny introduction to one of the most enduring teen superheroes.
Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, No. 1
By Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones
DC Comics, 32 pp.
Ages 8 and up
Issue one is an old-fashioned origin story that explains how Supergirl (a.k.a. Kara) first came to Earth. In the opening panels, we see her spaceship burst through the atmosphere, ricochet off skyscrapers, and slam into a giant robot piloted by none other than Lex Luthor. Kara’s crash landing proves fortuitous, saving Superman from Luthor’s grasp and introducing her to her famous uncle. When she realizes that she can’t simply climb back into her rocket and return home, Kara bursts into tears, perking up only at Superman’s suggestion that she become his apprentice. There’s a catch, however: Kara needs to learn enough about Earth to blend in with the population, so Superman equips her with a disguise—naturally, it includes glasses—and enrolls her in the eighth grade under the pseudonym Linda Lee.
Though a little short on action, issue one delivers plenty of laughs and moments of “truthiness” (to borrow a term from Stephen Colbert) as Kara adjusts to middle school. Writer Landry Walker has a talent for snappy dialogue, supplying Kara with off-the-wall questions about cows, tubas, and other terrestrial mysteries that both tickle the reader’s funnybone and make the reader cringe in recognition—who among us doesn’t harbor bad memories of asking a “dumb” question in Spanish or Algebra? Walker’s script also does a good job of capturing the tween-age mindset, as his heroine gushes and sulks, picks fights with authority figures, and acts impetuously, all while sounding like a real eighth grader (and not an adult’s idea of what an eighth grader sounds like).
Eric Jones’ artwork, like Walker’s script, is another reason I think Cosmic Adventures will be a hit with younger readers. Jones employs a bright, cheerful palette that compliments his angular character designs; if anything, Kara resembles Judy Jetson more than the curvacious star of Jeph Loeb and Ian Churchill’s recent Supergirl series. Kara’s costume, like her physique, has also undergone a “modestification.” Though her trademark miniskirt and cape remain, her midriff and legs are now covered, giving her a more sporty, less sexy appearance that will resonate with aspiring gymnasts and soccer players alike.
Much as I enjoyed Cosmic Adventures, $2.50 seems a little steep for a 32-page booklet that’s loaded with advertising for action figures, Cartoon Network shows, and video games. My suggestion: wait for the full, six-issue run to appear in trade paperback form, then purchase it for your favorite budding feminist. She’ll appreciate the smart dialogue, snappy artwork, and sassy-yet-vulnerable heroine, and you’ll appreciate the lower price tag and more durable binding.