Cameron Chase, ousted Department of Extranormal Operations National City bureau chief, calls her old boss, Mr Bones. She warns him that he’s gotten into bed - figuratively, at least - with a very dangerous guy.
She offers to help ‘shut Mokkari down’ but Bones isn’t having it, and tries to persuade Chase that the minion of Darkseid is acting on his orders.
Meanwhile, Kara Danvers’ potential boyfriend, student journalist Ben Rubel, continues to fret over whether or not Supergirl is A Good Thing because she showed compassion for her evil cyborg dad. Maybe this person who’s contacted him at the CatCo news app, Lee Serrano, has something.
What they have is a tale of sadness and hope. Lee tells Ben that during the recent attack on the city by zombie Kryptonians, Supergirl saved their life. But that’s not the big reason Lee is a booster for the self-proclaimed heroine. It seems Lee has been having issues coming to terms with their identity, and was running away from home when Supergirl arrived in their life and gave them someone to talk to, someone they knew wouldn’t judge them.
Supergirl also helped Lee find the strength to deal with school bullies, and to tell their parents how they felt.
Did I get the non-gender specific pronouns right? I’m trying to be sensitive here, as this is A Very Special Episode in the Supergirl series, as the spotlight in on a non-binary character. A character we’ve never seen previously - and likely won’t ever see again, because whether or not the book is cancelled, as seems to be the case, regular writer Steve Orlando is leaving - is apparently a good pal of Kara’s.
Co-writing with Orlando is Vita Ayala, who identifies as non-binary, which perhaps explains why Lee’s dialogue feels so real. This is obviously a heartfelt issue, but Kara is a supporting character in her own book; sure, it’s ‘about’ Supergirl in that Lee’s story is another piece in Ben’s tiresome jigsaw (he’s had plenty of evidence Supergirl is a friend of Earth, even sharing an adventure with her in the Phantom Zone). But it’s Lee’s tale, and they’re not an established character in the series - they’ve been created for this one story. The Superman Family have done poignant previously, such as Superman #462, back in 1990, which highlighted the problem of homelessness by revealing that Daily Planet copy Girl Alice White had been secretly living in the office after the death of her mother and loss of their home. I felt something because Alice had been around a while, I liked her. Lee may actually go on to have a wonderful career as a comic character after this issue, but their focus tale doesn’t have the same impact because before now, I didn’t know them even a little. They weren’t a character, so here they’re just a prop on which to hang an issue, in both senses of the word.
You know what this story reminds me of? Those house ads DC ran in the Silver and Bronze Age extolling the virtues of good citizenship. Those, though, were a single page deal, away from the main story - short, sharp slices of humanity.
And it’s great that DC can still find room for a plea for tolerance. I just wish this issue didn’t feel so forced. That’s despite crisp dialogue throughout... the few pages that dealt with regular Supergirl business were excellent. As well as the aforementioned Chase and Bones exchange - it’s hinted that Mr Bones misses his days as a superhero, when he didn’t deal in shades of grey - there’s another interesting telephone call. Ben, after saying goodbye to Lee, speaks to his mother.
After all this time, we still don’t know who Ben’s parents are. Here’s an obvious opportunity to reveal one of them, but Orlando keeps her under wraps. I’m extremely intrigued... could he be a distant member of the Luthor family? Might Mom’s first name be... Nasthalthia?
Anyway, Ben’s call takes us back to the regular business of the Supergirl book, the stuff I buy this series for - things that take Kara’s story forward. Lee’s tale showed us what a decent soul Kara is, but every issue demonstrates that, I want some plot movement. And that’s what the final page promises. It’s just a shame the book is, at the very least, going on a short hiatus and Orlando’s generally excellent run is wrapping up.
One great moment is Kara thinking of her Red Lantern period while talking to Lee... that was a surprisingly nifty time for the character.
The only real off-note is Kara moaning that’s her parents saved her life - a bit of perspective, please! Happily, she follows this up with a wonderful message of positivity.
Oh, and the name of the coffee shop where Lee begins to see brighter prospects is a bit on the nose - Avenir, French for ‘future’.
I do have a question. See this panel?
The DEO let Lee down? I know Bones currently has an agent at the school, trying to ferret out Supergirl, but what dealings has Lee had with Agent Ocampo? Or is that, as Google suggests, a Detention Enforcement Officer?
Illustrating this issue in full colour is Jamal Campbell, and the work is rich, detailed and, all round lovely. Lee has a fine design and his expressive work is perfect to illustrates their emotional journey, there’s real movement in the action sequences and even a chat in a coffee shop is wonderfully laid out - just look at that establishing shot, the street full of bits of business.
Best of all, he captures the warmth of Supergirl.
A thank you, too, to letterer Carlos M Mangual for a good job throughout and, whether deliberate or not, reminding me of my favourite comic book logo of all time (this week) with his title lettering.
Jorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez provide a very nice cover, but it’s an annoying cheat, implying Lee has powers. Bah!
The variant, by Stanley ‘Artgerm’ Lau, is gorgeous, showing the animated Supergirl.
All in all, this is a well-crafted comic book. It’s just a shame it reads more like a social studies giveaway than the next issue of Supergirl. If it helps a single scared or confused kid, that’s wonderful - but I wish Lee’s story had been a bit more organic, played out over several issues.
Supergirl #19 review, Steve Orlando, Vita Ayala, Jamal Campbell, Carlos M Mangual