Supergirl: Being Super #1
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artists: Joelle Jones and Sandu Florea
DC Comics; $5.99
Rated T for Teen
The tagline for the original Superboy comics, which featured young, school-age Clark Kent in Smallville, was “The Adventures of Superman When He Was A Boy!” Based solely on its first issue, it would seem that the tagline for the new miniseries Supergirl: Being Super could be “The Adventures of Superman If He Were A Girl!” That’s because what is most notable about this new Supergirl comic, aside from the impressive resume of its creative team, is the way in which it distinguishes Supergirl from Superman. In essence, this Supergirl is Superman.
The girl that would become Kara Danvers arrived on Earth in a little space pod emblazoned with the familiar S-shield that crash-landed in a field outside a small, rural town in America. The couple that found her adopted her as their own and raised her, but all three of them knew there was something different about her, including her ability to fly, run faster than the eye could follow, and lift incredibly heavy objects with ease.
This Supergirl has no memory of her life before landing on Earth, which means she doesn’t remember Krypton, nor does she know her cousin, Superman; in fact, it seems like there is no Superman in the world of Being Super, or else she and her parents would have at least been able to connect the symbol on the ship she arrived in with the famous guy in the cape.
It’s an interesting tactic for de-coupling Supergirl from the male hero she is derived from, something every Supergirl story in every medium seems to wrestle with to varying degrees. I don’t know that this is the most elegant solution, but then writer Mariko Tamaki has the luxury of telling a Supergirl story here, rather than having to try to tell the Supergirl story. As a standalone series, Being Super is free to do its own thing and not worry about fitting in with the rest of DC’s publishing line, slotting into the DC Universe shared-setting, or resembling the TV show enough to convert viewers into comics readers.
The ironic downside of this particular strategy for moving Supergirl out of Superman’s shadow, however, is that it suggests a Supergirl who is simply appropriating Superman’s story, rather than starring in one completely original to her.
Of course, this is a serially published comic book series, rather than a graphic novel, so future issues may retroactively alter the way this first chapter is read.
Tamaki’s solution to a central difficulty of the character aside, it’s a pretty solid first chapter.
The 48-page issue, narrated by Kara, mostly eschews the more fantastical elements of Supergirl’s origins, which pencil artist Joelle Jones and inker Sandu Florea present visually, while Kara insists she doesn’t really want to discuss them at one point, and has a messy dream sequence suggesting them at another. Her powers only come into play a few times, too, as when she casually lifts a tractor for her father in the barn, or when she takes flight one night (the cover image is a particularly striking one of a flying Kara).
Instead, the focus is on her family, her best friends Dolly and Jen, and her home and school life, which is presented as fairly ordinary, save for a super-pimple Kara develops and, later, pops in the weirdest, grossest scene of the book. Something is clearly up with Kara beyond her super-powers, as she seems to be going through some sort of additional change as she celebrates her 16th birthday. This being a serially published super-comic, it ends with a cliffhanger: The school track meet is interrupted by a freak earthquake severe enough to swallow people whole.
As a story, Being Super will obviously be easier to judge once it’s completed and published in graphic novel form, where it should do particularly well in libraries and bookstores, given Tamaki’s name on the cover. The This One Summer author, who is also writing a new Hulk comic for Marvel that launched in December as well, has a perhaps perfect collaborator in pencil artist Jones.
Jones’s style strikes a pretty perfect balance between what one might expect in a more realistic, “literature”-style comic book and a superhero comic, and she is equally adept at drawing a couple of schoolgirls walking home from school and a rocketship crashing or a girl flying high above the mundane world.
Together the creative team meets the main objective of the first issue of a new comic book series: Being interesting. Interesting enough that a reader will want to pick up the next one. Beyond that? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.