Review: SUPERGIRL #1

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SUPERGIRL #1
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Brian Ching, Michael Atiyeh
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: September 7, 2016

Supergirl is back! As teenager Kara Danvers, she must balance school life with working as a superpowered agent of the DEO. But her first mission will bring her face-to-face with her father, the Cyborg Superman!

In this first issue, Kara learns to drive, attends her first day of school, saves a train from data hijackers, gets chewed out by both Cat Grant and Cameron Chase (her supervisor at the DEO), has dinner with her parents, and runs away to the Fortress of Solitude, all interspersed with flashbacks to her life on Argo. Supergirl #1 does so many things, yet never feels over-stuffed or rushed. The pacing is brisk, but deft.

This issue gives us a lot of great character moments, establishing both Kara and her supporting cast quite effectively. Kara struggles to adapt to life on Earth, forced to deal with technology and science so primitive that she winds up looking overmatched to the humans around her. Orlando has a great ear for the subtle ways that teens, especially teenaged girls, can be made to feel isolated. Kara’s voice is criticized multiple times in the issue, first by students mocking her accent, then by Cat Grant, who critiques “that naive lilt in [her] voice.” Orlando picks up on the way vocal inflection is used as a vector to belittle women, Kryptonian or no. It’s a subtle, but effective, way to make Kara’s feelings of isolation relatable.

Cat Grant has one of the issue’s better moments, in fact, as she casually berates Supergirl for interfering with a hijacking that she had well in hand. While there’s no relationship established between Cat and Kara yet, her appearance here sets her up to be an intriguing foil for Supergirl in future issues.

The issue also sets up another foil for Kara, DEO Director Cameron Chase. This is actually one of the issue’s weaker moments, as Chase delivers a fairly glaring exposition dump, of the let-me-recount-the-events-of-the-past-few-weeks-of-your-life variety. Amidst this, Chase directly states her character motivation and relationship to Kara (she doesn’t trust Kara, because she doesn’t trust Kryptonian culture, but is willing to soften if Kara proves capable of assimilation). It’s surprisingly ham-handed, considering Orlando’s deft touch elsewhere.

That said, there’s a fascinating story being told here about immigration and refugees, about assimilation and cultural separatism. Kara tries to fit in and adapt to American Earth culture, but finds she’s simply too accustomed to life on Krypton. When her adoptive parents try, unsuccessfully, to replicate Kryptonian design Kara flees to the Fortress of Solitude in a fit of culture shock. With the antagonist set up in the issue’s final pages, the assimilation vs. isolation argument seems like it will be central moving forward.

Brian Ching’s art is perfectly matched to the tone of the book. Detail is sacrificed for a light, somewhat cartoonish feel that gives the story more emotional life. Character’s are drawn with exaggerated, expressive faces, especially in the eyebrows, that convey the characters’ feelings and inner lives more effectively than any thought bubble. Ching’s art is the perfect balance of fun and expressive, yet dynamic and action-packed.

Atiyeh’s colors are an excellent complement to Ching’s art. They’re soft and subtle, with shading that matches the detail of the art, enough to give a sense of depth and complexity while avoiding heavy use of gradients that would clash with Ching’s more simple style. Atiyeh also colors the flashbacks to Argo with an orange tint that extends to the fuzzy orange-to-red panel borders, a nice touch that gives Kara’s recollection of her past a hazy warmth.

The first official issue of the reborn Supergirl series is a great opener. It gives us nice character moments that are worth the price of admission by themselves, while setting up a story with a lot of potential.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

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