Supergirl Being Super #3 came out this week and was a very good issue of this coming-of-age story by Mariko Tamaki and Joelle Jones. The Kara of this book is working through some common issues that crop up in adolescence - that feeling of otherness and perhaps your first dealings with grief. This issue continues to cultivate those themes but adds the new theme, the lure of belonging.
Now I'll admit I am just about 3 decades north of adolescence. But the book is written so well, the images so compelling, that I felt back in that space. And my 'otherness' of Math Club, D&D, and comics is probably nothing compared to some feelings of isolation that others are dealing with. Still, to see Kara sort of walk through her life, reeling from the death of her friend, feeling a bit numb, and getting support from her family and other friends felt very real.
In fact, if there is one thing that really stood out about this issue it is the support structure in Kara's life. She knows she is an alien. She has never felt like she truly belonged. She has struggled sometimes with wondering what she should do with her powers, use them or hide them. And despite all that, it is made abundantly clear that she is accepted and loved by her closest relationships. It is unconditional. And that was wonderful. Because it would have been easy to portray the Danvers as 'stuck in the mud', stereotypical, close-minded folk. Instead, Tamaki gives us the absolute reverse.
The subplot of the 'evil coach' and the possibility of another Kryptonian survivor comes to a boil here as well. Tamaki gives us a very nice curve ball here, zigging where I thought the plot would zag. And that always makes me happy.
Finally, Joelle Jones art, as always, is just wonderful. There is a nuance to the art here, subtle expressive work and body language that adds tremendous volume to the proceedings. This book is as much Jones' as it is Tamaki's.
On to the book!
The book opens with Kara still reeling from recent revelations. Her friend has died. She was unable to rescue her friend. And now she knows her powers are because she is an alien. Look at that top panel. Kara, small, in this cavernous room, clearly deep in thought. It gave me a feeling like she feels a little lost.
That idea of being an alien is a handy metaphor for Tamaki. After all, who hasn't felt uncomfortable in their own skin at some point in high school. Who has felt truly different. Who hasn't struggled to get out of bed and keep moving.
And knowing her origins doesn't necessarily make things easier. The answer isn't all the answers.
I can't help but think that Tamaki was riffing GI Joe. "Now I know, and knowing is ..." not half the battle here.
The school has brought in grief counselors to help the students deal with the tragedy of the earthquake. Three students died in the disaster. But even this has a little tinge of being ominous. The counselors are being flown in. Maybe they are looking to ferret out Kara as well?
But this panel felt so real. Think of all the stuff careening through Kara's mind. And yet, she is confronted with this absolutely ridiculous bottle of syrup. You see just the hint of a smile on Kara's face. There is a lot wrong with this world sometimes. But you can still acknowledge the silly.
Maybe she is wondering what type of universe we are in where this bear exists but her friend is gone.
The school is a barrage of your standard high school nonsense.
The staff are very vocal and up front about being there to help the students. But that means the names of the lost friends are constantly being mentioned, brought up, visible. There is no space for quiet grief. And then the standard jerk students tease are there.
But here is where that support comes in. Dolly saw Kara hoist a telephone pole during the earthquake. She knows Kara always finishes races with the same time, never winning. She knows that Kara is different. And she 'doesn't give a crap'. Despite that, Kara still denies who she is, to the point where it feels like lying.
In many other schools, Dolly would be the 'different'. Her homemade shirt says 'My Mom's meatloaf'. She has purple here and is openly gay. Kara has accepted her. So what is Kara afraid of?
We then see a flashback of Kara as a child, rushing into a barn engulfed in flames. Her maternal grandfather is inside the inferno and Kara rushes in and drags him out. She saves him but exposes her powers.
Even this man ... family and recently rescued ... is frightened of her. The grandmother calls her 'not natural'. He wants to call the authorities.
Kara's father has always told her to hide her powers. He made her promise. But even he knew she had to save this man.
And despite this family bond, he stands up to him. Kara is family.
And that was that. The grandparents never came over again. Mrs. Danvers has little contact with them. They chose Kara over their pre-existing relationships.
She knows she is loved.
What a great page.
Tamaki could have played this so differently. An angry set of parents. A distant set. Ones telling Kara not to save the grandfather. Ones slowly receding from her as her powers grow.
Instead we get pancakes, kisses, and unconditional love.
What a great page. What a great sentiment.
But the voices reaching out to Kara continue to grow in intensity.
The screams of 'Save Me' lead Kara to an underground lab where the evil track coach, Coach Stone, is experimenting on a Kryptonian. He is weakened by some element, presumably Kryptonite. Although Kara isn't weakened. It is only the activation of the fitbit, quickly destroyed, that causes Kara pain.
Kara smashes the machinery, blasts a hole in the roof with newly activated heat vision, and drags this poor specimen out.
There isn't much explanation here. Stone says the experiments are for a reusable energy source (reminiscent of Elseworlds' Finest). That there is some interaction between Kara and this man. But we don't know who is behind all this. (I will say a Lexcorp name drop did occur earlier, making me think they are the big bad.)
The man says his name is Tan-On (new to me). He asks Kara her name. And for the first time, she calls herself Kara Zor-El.
After feeling different all her life, after wondering who she is, she can name herself. She can define herself.
Look at her expression, one of peace. Almost as if this weight of uncertainty is off her. She isn't alone.
You can insert a lot of things here, other declarations of self-identity that adolescents might be dealing with.
And Tan-On says they need to leave, go far away, escape.
Perhaps giddy with this feeling of belonging, of being similar, of acceptance, she is ready to fly off with this guy.
But I love that she pauses about this being a stupid girl in a movie move. And Jones panel of Kara standing with leg bent leaning in, hand on the rock hard abs of Tan-On just screams Twilight or some similar movie.
I can understand that lure though. If no one is like you and you meet someone who is like you, you are probably so relieved you'd be tempted to leave the loving and nurturing environment you are in.
Since the beginning, I have been waiting for Kal to show up. I thought for sure this would be Project:Superman all over again. I thought this would be Kara becoming the mentor.
So the other surviving Kryptonian being Tan-On is something of a welcome curveball.
And then to have him declare revenge on the humans who experimented and tortured him, capping that sentiment by vaporizing someone tracking him down.
Once that happens, everything changes. His saying the lab created the earthquake? Maybe he did it!
And this adds just a wonderful complexity to Kara's story.
Because she is thrilled at finding someone like her. She heads home, packs a bag, and leaves a goodbye note for the Danvers. She is just so taken about finally not being 'other', not being singular, that she is ready to leave it all behind.
What will happen when Tan-On shows who he really is? Will she be tempted? Or will her Earth upbringing make her fight him? Will be start 'being Super'? I think we know the answer. But it is the internal monologue that I am ready to hear. How does she get there?
And will this make her feel even more isolated? Or will it instead make her realize that she has a place here, accepted and loved.
I have been very impressed with this series and this issue in particular.