Filed under: Our favourite things | Tags: Alasdair Stuart, Bill Rehinhold, Dan Green, Dave McCaig, DC Comics, John J Hill, Kal-El, Kara Zor-El, Krypton, Mahmud Asrar, Michael Green, Mike Johnson, New 52, Paul Mounts, Planet Killers, Rob Leigh, Supergirl, Tycho Industries
Volume 1: Last Daughter of Krypton
Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson
Art by Mahmud Asrar
Inker (Issues 1 and 2) Dan Green
Additional art (Issue 3) Bill Rheinhold
Colors by Dave Mccaig and Paul Mounts (Issue 3)
Letters by Rob Leigh and John J. Hill
Series and collection covers by Mahmud Asrar and Dave McCaig
Let’s face it, a good chunk of DC’s female characters have had a lousy time of it post-New 52. The Birds of Prey are on the run, Starfire’s been transformed into the world’s most anatomically impossible pin up and Catwoman’s making the costumed vigilante with two backs with Batman. That last’s maybe not such a bad thing, they’ve always seemed like a lovely couple, but the execution of it was pretty lousy. Either way, given DC Editorial’s charming ongoing attempts to Stalin two more of their female characters, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown either out of existence altogether or at least into the cornfield, you’d be forgiven for approaching any heroine-fronted series with one eye closed and at arm’s reach. Oh sure, some have been great, Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman is frankly astounding but the ones that are bad? Are bad.
Supergirl, I’m delighted, and frankly a little surprised to report, is absolutely not one of the bad ones. This is, in fact, one of the unacknowledged gems of the New 52 and almost all of that success comes from Green and Johnson’s smart, ideas heavy script. It starts traditionally enough; with Kara Zor-El crashing to Earth and from there goes absolutely wild. She’s jumped by troops in powered armour and takes them down almost without trying, terrified to find herself suddenly incredible fast and strong and durable. She’s a very smart, very gifted young woman but she’s never had these abilities before and Johnson and Green play it like having a child ride a high performance motorbike. She’s got the skills but her abilities are so incredible she causes huge amounts of damage before stopping. The thing that stops her from continuing to fight is the first in a line of nice characters beats that the two writers seed through all these issues. Kara is grief-stricken, terrified, mad as hell and utterly exhilarated, hurtling through the stages of grief and shock like a child on a sugar rush. She’s incredibly dangerous as a result and the first three issues are largely about getting her focussed enough to realize what’s going on. She’s never without agency, never without her will but she’s rocked by events, reacting instead of thinking and that’s almost the only thing that makes her weak. It’s a really nice set up, and they continue it into what amounts to two complete plot lines.
In the first, Kara is contacted by Mr Tycho, the billionaire collector of space junk who snagged her capsule and wants her as well. Tycho is an utterly arrogant massively confident, ruthless man who has no compunctions killing his own people to get the job done. He’s a completely intellectual threat and, interestingly, a perfect fit as the nemesis of the daughter of a scientist. Tycho is very much Kara’s Lex Luthor and by the time the first plot is finished we’ve seen not only what he’s prepared to do but exactly why he and Kara will go to war. It’s a brave, extremely unpleasant piece of plotting which builds on Kara’s lack of control of her abilities and Tycho’s massive hubris to create a classic, even tragic heroine/villain relationship. This one will get ugly and it will stay ugly for a while.
The second plot builds on this as Kara tries to go home. What she finds there isn’t just the truth about her past but a neatly ambiguous set of villains, the Planet Killers. Created by Kryptonian science centuries previously, the Planet Killers are dropped on a world to render it lifeless, living weapons who want nothing more than answers as to why they were created but have no problem fitting a bit of planet killing in to pass the time whilst they wait. The confrontations with the Planet Killers, especially the brutal fight in the shattered remnants of Argo City neatly show off the book’s other big strengths; Mahmud Asrar and Bill Rheinhold. Rheinhold’s delicate, painterly lines are used to incredible effect in issue 3 and mesh beautifully with Asrar’s muscular, detail heavy style. You have no doubt that Kara is incredibly strong from the moment you first see her, through sheer muscle definition if nothing else, and Asrar balances the need to show the physicality and femininity of the character without becoming exploitative. There’s arguably one scene where he crosses the line but the rest of the time Kara is as credible, as hard charging and dynamic a figure as any male hero in the New 52. Which given her costume is knee length boots, a cloak and a long-sleeve unitard is quite an achievement for the creative team.
What really makes the book work is simple; you like her. Kara Zor-El is a terrified young woman who wants nothing more than to go home and knows she can’t. She’s outmatched, she trusts no one and has no idea how her abilities work, at least some of the time. But she’s stubborn, standing her ground and keeping her fists up and she’s impossible not to root for as a result. We all love an underdog and to make a Kryptonian seem vulnerable, sympathetic and relatable is a massive achievement for the entire creative team. Add in the interesting plotting, great art and neat foreshadowing of what’s to come and you have a real winner. One of the best New 52 titles I’ve read.
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