Last time I reviewed Supergirl: Being Super (a regrettably long, long time ago), I praised the series’ opener for its strong characters and willingness to ground the superhero origin story not in action, but in conversation. I also worried about the series’ borrowing too heavily from the Superman origin, putting many of the same building blocks of
Ka-El’s story into Kara Zor-El’s story. But if issue one used Superman to kick things off, by Supergirl: Being Super #2, the series has firmly established itself as a different kind of origin story. And, with it, the series has become something important.
Supergirl: Being Super #2. Cover by Joëlle Jones & Kelly Fitzpatrick.
After Kara is unable to save her friend Jenny from a spontaneous and suspicious earthquake, she spends this entire issue grieving. And while in the hands of a less character-focused writer, this would have either taken a few panels before turning into anger or simply too many pages of melodramatic gestures, writer Mariko Tamaki instead makes grief in all its facets the focus. With help from artist Joëlle Jones’ grounded, emotive visuals, the grieving journey has a compelling weight that drives the story forward much more effectively than punching, to the extent that pages of Kara sitting on a couch make for an excellent read.
It is in this idea of grief as sad and mundane instead of angry and explosive that marks this story as a marked and welcome departure
for the usual superhero narrative. Even as The CW’s second season of Supergirl struggled with how Kara can solve problems without punching, Tamaki and Jones create a compelling story where superpowers are just as intrinsic to the story but (thus far) are separated from the usual violent acts.
In fact, Kara uses her powers only three times this issue, and they are all related to her grief. After failing to save her friend, Kara simply runs too fast, creating a pile of dirt, and punches the earth in frustration. Her powers aren't putting people through buildings. She seems to only have a partial grasp of what she can do. They become awkward emotional moments that are perfect for the teenage Kara here.
At well over 50 pages, Tamaki and Jones also have the space for strong character work that doesn’t become pages and pages of speech bubbles. Every scene is given space to breathe and say what it needs to say. Thanks once again to Jones’ pencils, everything looks and feels perfectly mundane and otherworldly when necessary. When Kara runs, for example, the page gradually grows more and more intense, more alienating from the grounded aesthetic. On the very next page, Kara is standing in a supermarket, the full weight of the real world given in full detail. To switch between these so seamlessly is not only an artistic feat, Tamaki’s story depends on Kara’s social world and inner secret messily coexisting. The mundane and the supernatural to break into each other distinctly and it only enhances Tamaki's themes of "trying to keep it together as your world changes."
Kara’s dream sequences are another perfect example. Surreal and disturbing thanks in part to colourist Kelly Fitzpatrick switching up the palette, the dreams are accentuated by the rapid return to a more mundane feel.
Joëlle Jones & Kelly Fitzpatrick perfectly blend the superhuman and the mundane.
The actual plot surrounds the mystery of the earthquake and makes slow steps forward this issue. A suspicious faculty member at Kara’s high school is introduced more fully and Kara’s own grief forces her to remember her departure from
Krypton, and her biological parents. Once again, Tamaki intertwines Kara’s current emotional state into the story in a beautiful way. While I thought the first issue borrowed too heavily from Superman’s own origin story, Tamaki has created something intriguing and entirely separate. The familiar
iss a shorthand to telling a very different kind of superhero story.
tl;dr review: Supergirl: Being Super has the potential to be a defining story for Kara’s (
non)canon. By grounding the story and genre in something other than violence, it reads like a human drama where superpowers are more than a means to a violent end of
conflict. And while that usual conclusion may be coming, right now this story is definitive, beautiful, and original.