By Steve Orlando, Emanuela Lupacchino & Michael Atiyeh
In essence, the concept of Supergirl is a fairly simple one: teenage cousin of Superman who also survives the destruction of Krypton and ends up on Earth like him. Along the way though, as often happens, those waters got muddied a little. This was particularly true during the 90s when the Superman titles featured the presence of an alien “matrix” passing itself off as the familiar heroine. Oh and she was Lex Luthor’s girlfriend (well, actually a clone posing as Lex’s illegitimate Australian son, who, well, that’s a whole other story). DC’s New 52 relaunch adopted a back to basics approach by eliminating pretty much all of the previous stories. The series started out from square one with Supergirl’s spaceship crashing into Earth. The title began strongly by focusing on the troubles caused by Kara’s severe sense of dislocation coupled with a typical adolescent’s headstrongness. The series, like much of the New 52, ultimately failed to keep up the momentum and lapsed into aimlessness. Now Steve Orlando, hot off his acclaimed Midnighter series has taken up the task of scribing Kara’s adventures. The initial results are satisfying, if lacking a little panache.
The issue opens with a brief one page prologue setting up the issue’s antagonist as a Phantom Zone exile with a beef against the hero’s family. (Is there any other kind of Phantom Zone inhabitant?). From there, Orlando leaps right into the main narrative. Supergirl has lost her powers and her allies at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations are embarking on a last ditch solution to reviving her abilities: securing Supergirl in her Kryptonian regeneration matrix and launching her into the sun. Yes, Supergirl’s Rebirth Special features a quite literal rebirthing. Waiting anxiously on the ground are Kara’s new foster parents Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers along with their fellow D.E.O. agent Cameron Chase. If some of this is starting to sound familiar to fans of the television show, surely that was DC’s intention.
To his credit, though, Orlando sails smoothly through what could have been a tangled mess of backstory. Orlando wisely trusts his readers’ intelligence, giving them enough information to enjoy the story without obsessing over how the characters arrived at this junction. No one ever states how Supergirl lost her powers, nor is it really relevant. What is significant are the potential sacrifices this new family will make in order to support each other. The concept of “the family you make” was an important element of Midnighter and this debut suggests it will play a prominent role in Kara’s new life as well.
In Orlando’s hands, Supergirl is an appealing character. She is a brave fighter, more than capable in a struggle with a diseased Kryptonian opponent. At the same time, she is empathetic, recognizing when words serve better than fists. She is willing to listen and learn from others’ perspective. Orlando is establishing an intriguing status quo for the character which has a lot of potential. Yet, while the narrative flows smoothly, it never really catches on fire either.
This is reflected in Emanuela Lupacchino’s art as well. Lupacchino has a clear line which strongly conveys the action of the scenes. Her most dynamic image depicts the newly revived Supergirl bursting forth from her regeneration matrix. Awash in colorist Michael Atiyeh’s sizzling oranges, Supergirl soars proudly out of the sun, ready for anything. Indeed, Lupacchino’s art is best represented by such images of a brash, resolute heroine charging into battle. Her character beats are not bad, but do drift more towards the house style end of the ledger. As with the story itself, there is plenty of potential here, which has yet to be fully tapped.
On a whole, the Rebirth Specials have been the least successful aspect of DC’s present initiative. Supergirl’s Rebirth Special avoids many of its predecessors’ pitfalls (irrelevant plots, inane obsession over past continuity) while still feeling like an extended prologue. It lacks the zest of personality and thrilling art which engaged readers of Midnighter from the first page. Still there is a fair amount of good elements at work here which should entice fans of Supergirl to stick around for the next installment.