Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Super Reading: Supergirl - Being Super (trade, 2018)

Writer:  Mariko Tamaki
Artist:  Joëlle Jones
Inks (Chapter One):  Sandu Florea
Colorist:  Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letterer:  Saida Temofonte
Editor:  Paul Kaminski

It's not going out on much of a limb to go ahead and recommend a comic with art by Joëlle Jones.  With this sort of work, it's not a huge surprise she's already working on the most high profile of DC's work, leaping from here to Batman and the debuting-this-week Catwoman series.  Whatever else this book has going for it: this is ideal art for a Supergirl comic.  Dynamic action, well-designed pages/ panels, and - my favorite - every character has a distinctive face and body without getting into caricature or sliding into cartoon body-types.

Supergirl: Being Super was released as a trade this year, but originally came out during 2016 as a prestige mini-series.   Unfortunately, it's not a reboot of Supergirl, nor part of the Rebirth effort (which might have made some sense), but exists in the purgatory of what might have fit into "Imaginary Stories" or "Elseworlds" in earlier eras, or served as an Earth One volume in this era.  Denied all of those labels - it's an oddity for the trade paperback section, a bit like Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's Secret Identity.

Being Super puts a new-ish origin to Kara Zor-El - supposing that Kara did not leave Argo City at 16, or get lost in space and time to arrive after her infant cousin had grown to become Superman.  This version supposes Kara was a very young child, pre-school age, when she left Krypton, and that she was discovered by the Danvers, a kindly couple living on a farm in the MidWest.  As in post-Crisis versions of Superman, Kara discovers her powers gradually over the years, keeping her secret from friends.

And she does have two best friends - maybe both a bit out of central casting for modern teen-oriented stories, but nothing cheesy, and they provide both a grounding to the story in a version of American high school reality and contrast for Kara to react to and consider so the reader can learn more about the character.

In Kara Zor-El's earliest appearances back in Action Comics, there's no agency whatsoever.  She cheerfully does whatever her parents want (including getting shot into space), then follows the lead of her cousin who sticks her in an orphanage.  The Post-Crisis origin was written in a fever, and was immediately buried under 10 layers of DC being DC, and a heavy dose of Eddie Berganza's Eddie Berganza-ness that had to be retconned within the series within three years - eventually cleaned up by Sterling Gates on words and a new editorial point of view. The New 52 origin... I'm not that familiar with.  The first two issues were terrible and I bailed immediately.

Being Super supposes she arrived as a toddler or pre-schooler and has grown into her powers. Here, Supergirl is her own person, one harboring a secret familiar to both Post-Crisis Superman fans and - I'll just say it - X-Men readers.  She's a teen with powers she doesn't understand, and it impacts her every decision and makes her second-guess herself at every turn as she struggles to come to terms with what she *could* do versus the warnings of her father and smothering of her mother. 

Mostly, the story holds together for about 2/3rds of the comic, dealing with a tragedy that befalls the town in very real terms.  It's the back third where the carefully crafted and natural feeling world established is written over by superhero comics-logic that - despite some excellent art - can feel not exactly like a betrayal of what came before, but certainly takes away from the specialness of the book's earlier portions and muddles the tone.  I couldn't help but wonder: what if they'd not gone that particular direction?  What if they didn't introduce comics-mundane villains and just let Kara figure out how to deal with the challenges of Being Super in a small town setting without diabolical plots...?  You could still have had the ending the book provides - one way or another.

As good as I genuinely think the comic is - it winds up leaving a series of questions, not the least of which was: was this intended to be a Supergirl relaunch, but scuttled?  Is it intended to be a new series that comes out from time to time?  If not - then why the multiple dangling plot threads?

The story *is* complete, and it may be that I simply wanted more, which isn't a bad thing.  But I wanted more of the first three chapters and less of the standard-issue superhero stuff.  This book could have - indeed, should have - stood on its own and made a statement.  Heck - been more memorable in general.

Still, for the price of admission, it's still a worthwhile read, even if you wonder why DC can't make the mainline Supergirl book this interesting or get out of their own way once in a while with the character.

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