Supergirls and Ladders - thoughts on a new creative team and direction for Kara


Up, up and awaaaay! 

And sideways. And backwards. And forwards for a little while. Then backwards again...


There’s a famous Action Comics cover that shows Supergirl’s journey from scared teenager to confident heroine in the form of a board game. If they redid that cover today, nothing could be more appropriate than a game of Snakes and Ladders (I believe it’s Chutes and Ladders in the US, which doesn’t sound nearly as much fun). Because every time Kara climbs to the top, she slides back down again, landing on the square marked Bold New Direction. 

Today, the good news came that Supergirl’s comic wasn’t cancelled with #20. Kara will be back soon in the creative care of two excellent creators: Mark Andreyko, best known for his Manhunter series, and Kevin Maguire, whose work on Justice League helped made the series a massive hit. I enjoyed the recent work of Steve Orlando and Robson Rocha on Supergirl, but creators come and go - there are a world of opportunities out there, so it’s fair enough Kara passes into new hands. And I’m delighted that we’re not getting another new volume of Supergirl. 

In an interview at Syfy Wire Andreyko says his run is set up by incoming Superman writer Brian Bendis’ Man of Steel mini-series, in which new villain Rogol Zaar claims to have been behind the destruction of Krypton: ‘This Supergirl book spins directly out of the events in Man of Steel, so the books are very complementary to each other. I’m following Brian’s lead, and he’s got a lot of epic stuff planned for Superman. And while the books are complementary to each other, you don’t have to read both to enjoy them, but if you do, you’ll enjoy the story more. The first year of the book is definitely tied in to things that are revealed during the Man of Steel miniseries.

‘The baseline story is very big. She’s trying to learn why he does what he does, where he comes from, and if there’s anyone else involved with him. It’s a detective story in space. She’s looking for answers to the questions that have been raised by Rogol Zaar. There will be familiar faces, some new faces, all sorts of challenges facing her, and also some potentially new supporting characters who will hopefully be well received and stick around for a while.’


OK, fair enough, a year of Kara in space. On the one hand, why not? Hal Jordan did the ‘Exile’ bit, Superman too, why shouldn’t Kara have a similar right of passage. It’s never my favourite story engine - I like Earth to be the norm and space the exception - but Andreyko is a fine plotter who favours strong emotional character beats. I’m interested to see what he can do for Kara. 

On the other hand, we have this quote from Andreyko about Kara: ‘She’s a fascinating character because technically she’s older than Clark. He was a baby when he came to Earth. She was already a teenager when Krypton got destroyed. Unlike Clark, who grew up around humans, she lost everyone she knew and loved. For her to come to Earth and take on the mantle of Supergirl as a way of qualifying herself as Superman’s cousin, there’s a lot of interesting mental and emotional ground to explore with Kara and finding her place in the universe. She’s dealing with a lot of stuff that she buried and was stirred up by Rogol Zaar’s appearance. The external journey of her going on this quest through space mimicks her internal, emotional journey in finding out who she is and where she fits in. Your characters always have to have an emotional journey. Otherwise, it’s like you’re just watching someone play a video game.’

Well, I wouldn’t want that. I’ve already expressed a preference for more old-fashioned fare. But Kara going on an emotional rollercoaster to learn who she is, where she fits in? Been there, done that. More than once. But let’s stick to the last couple of decades. We’ve had the Jeph Loeb Supergirl slowly moving from being a childlike, easily manipulated character to a fully rounded heroine, latterly under writer Sterling Gates. The New 52 brought us a new version of Kara, one who absolutely hated Earth but, after numerous trials - including an unpromising, but triumphant period as a Red Lantern - also emerged as a fully realised heroine. DC Rebirth kept the same version, but wound back her character development, making her seem younger, more confused. By the end of Orlando’s run, though, she knew who she was. Here’s the last page of #20. 


Does that seem like a person who needs to find themselves?

I realise that for a writer, figuring out a character is fascinating. But as a reader, I want to see what happens to Kara after this point. I want her to move forward - every time she approaches the level of maturity she had in the late Bronze Age, she’s wound back and must find herself all over again. Even when the Daring New Adventures of Supergirl series knocked a few years off her age she retained the maturity she’d earned over the previous quarter of a century. 

But here we go again. For at least a year Kara’s Earth supporting cast is on the backburner; heck, they may wind up in comics limbo, as has happened so many times with Supergirl’s family and friends. Andreyko has the skill to sell Kara’s mission for Superman as a vital one; a guy claiming to have killed Krypton is obviously as much Supergirl’s problem as Superman’s... but at base, this sounds very much like Kara’s series is becoming an adjunct to Superman’s. It’s undeniable that so far as characters go, Kara is a derivative of Superman. But she’s long since earned the right to her own stories set in a world unique to her. 

I’m not a fan of Bendis, but I am a fan of Superman, so the writer has a few issues to show me what he’s got. I’m a fan of Andreyko and Supergirl, so I’ll be supporting the book for awhile - if only to see why the heck she’s suddenly carrying an ugly great axe. I hate the idea as much as I abhor Wonder Woman whacking people with a sword - these are super-beings, they should not be resorting to vicious tools of war. 


Ah yes, the new costumes. The hoodie variations, Andreyko tells Syfy, are temporary, and utilitarian, there to support her space activities. I don’t like all the black, but perhaps she’s undercover and has to blend in. Maybe the extremely peculiar crotch sash is there to fan out and hide an S-symbol she shouldn’t be seen with while undercover, but one she will never outright reject. We shall see. I much prefer the more traditional new look which, it seems reasonable to assume, will be her uniform going forward. 


Apart from the yellow heels and toes, they’re an accent too far. I do like the idea that Kara will have different looks for different occasions, that takes me right back to the early Seventies when almost every issue of Adventure Comics would see Supergirl donning a reader-designed costume until, finally, one stuck. Boy, I’d love to see a contest to supply Kara with an outfit or two!    


One thing I know is that with Kevin Maguire at the drawing board, Kara isn’t going to lack expression. Maguire made his reputation with his character ‘acting’ and I don’t doubt he’ll do right by Andreyko’s scripts. And who knows, once Kara gets back to Earth, Andreyko might pick up characters and subplots from the most recent run, and maybe even bring back Silver Banshee, Maxima and Michael from the New 52 issues. (But not Comet, he was rubbish.)

To sum up, I’m very glad the Supergirl series is returning, and that she’s going to be handled by two talented veterans. 

I’m not thrilled that Kara’s going into space for an extended period, and I’m utterly dismayed at the idea she’s going to be - and I realise Andreyko never used the phrase - ‘finding herself’. 

I like what looks like it’s going to be Kara’s regular outfit - if the axe never makes it behind this promotional art I will be very happy. 

The idea of Supergirl as a soldier in Superman’s current war rather than an adventurer whose stories revolve solely around her dismays me; I know her original gig was as Superman’s ‘secret weapon’ but Supergirl very quickly won the right to make her own role. 

My big problem is that Kara has yet another new direction, one which feels more about letting Brian Bendis pretend we’re in early John Byrne post-crisis days (see also the removal of Superman as family man) than it is about logically continuing the character’s own story. 

What do you think?

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Supergirl, Mark Andreyko, Kevin Maguire, Brian Bendis, Rogol Zaar, Steve Orlando, Sterling Gates, Robson Rocha, Jeph Loeb

Comments

  1. I wonder if this isn't so much a "finding herself" story and more of a "finding answers to questions that linger even after she found herself" kind of story. I mean, no matter how fully realized I may be as a person, if someone told me they'd been responsible for my boyfriend's death rather than what I thought I knew was true, I would really need to find out the truth. In the case of Kara, her whole world was destroyed. Everyone she knew and loved was wiped out of existence. Finding answers may not be so much about findiiing out who she is so much as gaining closure on that part of her life.

    At least that's what I am hoping is the case...

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    1. That could be the approach. I’m just pretty burned out on Krypton stories after the year-long-or-more multi-book. New Krypton business, then H’el, and Mr Oz and now this new guy. Just leave Krypton alone for awhile, DC, and pack it in with the ‘revelations’.

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    2. I kind of agree with you. The whole point of Superman is that he is an alien who is more human than most people. That he is a Midwestern American boy at heart, not a Kryptonian. The way writers have essentially made him very "Krypton first" is disappointing. With Kara, though, the story is different. She should find Earth life very odd, frustrating, confusing, etc., yet it almost always seems that as soon as she arrives she is basically a teenaged American girl with all of the baggage that brings to the table. They try to force the Kryptonian on Superman but almost ignore it in Supergirl.

      I am overthinking a comics character, of course.

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    3. Logically, I think that makes perfect sense, Hector. My problem is, a Krypton-first Supergirl has very little appeal to me. The closer she is to a normal Earth girl in attitude and values, the more I connect with her. When you overemphasize the alien -- as in early New 52, or in the Loeb/Turner version -- I lose interest. This despite story logic that says otherwise.

      Other readers' mileage may vary, but that's where I stand.

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  2. I'm not worried too much about the ax. It's Rogaine Zoo's, and I expect she's carrying it more as luggage than a weapon she wants to use. (She'll probably have to use it for a bit, though, since that's how stories work. Chekhov's space ax, and all.)

    As for Krypton intrigue, I'm not as worn out from that stuff as you are, Mart, since I avoided H'el and mostly missed the New Krypton storyline. But Krypton is never my favorite wellspring of stories. I did like something Bendis mentioned about the difference between Moses and Superman was that Moses's mother sent him away, fleeing an *intentional* extermination, rather than a natural disaster. And the difference in a survivor's feelings of those two events might be worth exploring. But ultimately I hope this development gets undone...and I'm not at all sure how well it plays with Jor-El as Mr. Oz, regardless. We could be in for headaches.

    And I share your frustration with revolving-door supporting casts, even though I haven't been reading Supergirl much, and have no real affection for this group. But I hope a few of them stick around when Kara returns to earth. Characters' relationships with other people help ground their histories -- which is increasingly important as reboot piles upon reboot.

    As for the new costume, I like the one that looks closest to the traditional one, and the others are fine with me for a storyline or two, when events call for it. They look good -- they just don't say "Supergirl" to me.



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  3. You’re dead on here Mart.
    Just when we get to where we want to be with Supergirl, new direction.
    Turn, turn,turn.

    Love the old covers and arcs you reference!!

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