Supergirl makes her official Rebirth debut this week in one of the most distinct, delightful books to come out of DC’s revamped line. Steve Orlando’s thorough characterization and Brian Ching’s striking aesthetic give Supergirl a strong start and leave me hungry for the next installment.
Rebirth is a fresh start for creators, too.
It’s easy to spot the in-universe changes brought about by DC’s dramatic—and dramatically successful—change to its line of books. Old faces are returning, beloved characters seem to have awakened from a five-year slumber, and there is a sense of hope and heroism across the board. Rebirth is a chance for DC to begin again, and the company has taken that chance and run with it.
Artist Brian Ching has a few credits at DC, and a few more at Marvel. But the work he does on Supergirl is like nothing I’ve seen from him before. Whereas his previous output leaned more toward realism, his style here is decidedly cartoonish, with exaggerated character anatomy and selective detail. Kara and other teens are depicted in even greater caricature, a technique that subtly sets the young apart; they are more silly and awkward—seen, perhaps, the way that they see themselves: caught between two worlds—be they Krypton and Earth, or childhood and adulthood.
Ching never crosses the line into “cutesy” territory, either. This book deals with real pain, real loss, and real isolation, and the artwork never undermines those themes; Kara’s face—especially those eyes—brims with emotion, and when she’s hurting, Ching make sure we’re hurting right along with her.
Colorist Michael Atiyeh serves as the perfect compliment to Ching’s expressive style. The darkest shots nevertheless present an assortment of tones, so that hope remains constant, never washed out by even Kara’s bleakest moments. I have to point out again, though, that none of this lessens the weight of those moments; Atiyeh, like Ching, has found the sweet spot. He creates great, subtle textures in more conventional panels, and when he goes big, he goes huge:
Blending perfectly with Ching and Atiyeh, letterer Steve Wands chooses just about the perfect font for primary dialogue—a light face, perhaps a bit more condensed than what you see in most other DC books, and one that mimics the lanky proportions given to Kara by Ching. I really like Wands’ credits design, too—he manages to capture the “cyborg” aesthetic in a fresh way. Like Kara’s father, the letters here are not all machine, a distinction that sets them apart from your typical “robot” fonts that seem to stain every comic book that deals with techno-characters.
Much respect, Mr. Orlando
It would be easy to stop here. Supergirl has such rich visual language that you could look at a wordless copy of this book and let your imagination bounce from image to image, Ching and Atiyeh guiding you along. I’m sure they would be the first to tell you, however, that their performance this issue is made possible by Steve Orlando’s excellent script—a lean and mean clinic in comics collaboration. There’s no graceless exposition, so the artists never need to tread water in a dead scene; there isn’t any dialogue or narration telling us what the pictures should, so I never feel like the writer doesn’t trust his artists. Ching and Atiyeh’s success begins with Orlando’s respect for them.
Orlando’s characterizations are more than worthy of his artists’ interpretation. I find Kara immensely likable, because she feels so real. She is neither Polyanna nor Princess; she tries to be appreciative of and work with the D.E.O. and the Danvers’, but she feels lonely and desperately misunderstood. Her moments of greatest confidence come while she’s wearing her cape and saving people, but even those moments are brought low by Director Chase’s lack of trust. Any person should be able to relate to Supergirl, but especially teens who feel like no one understands—I hope this book finds them.
Cat Grant, far and above anyone else, ties this series to the current CW television program. She has an arrogance more rooted in reality than your average egomaniac, and her criticisms of the more superficial elements of Kara’s Supergirl persona build sympathy for our hero, but also add some levity. Even though Cat takes herself seriously, she makes it easy for the rest of us not to, at least here at the beginning. I nevertheless look forward to Orlando giving her more dimensions. I enjoyed seeing Cat develop in the show, and I’m excited to see what a skilled team (like the one on this book) can do to expand her character.
Something refreshingly different
I had plenty of problems with last year’s DC You initiative, but one of its greatest achievements was ushering in fresh talent and putting out some books that blazed their own trails. Omega Men, Dr. Fate, and Midnighter were like nothing else, and the buzz around them was overwhelmingly positive, even if the sales didn’t follow. Rebirth might have seemed, at least on paper, like a repudiation of this type of storytelling, but we see now that it’s nothing of the sort. DC’S flagship books now feature distinct writing and art styles. You’ve got voices like Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Ben Percy, artists like Liam Sharpe, Otto Schmidt, and Carmine DiGiandomenico. And now you have Steve Orlando, Brian Ching, Michael Atiyeh, and Steve Wands, working together as one to lovingly craft a rebirth like no other. Supergirl is back, and she’s in great hands.
So there you have it. Go pick up Supergirl #1 if you haven’t already, and then tell me how right I am in the comments. Or, you know, why you think I’m wrong. Tell me what else you’re reading, too. Here’s some of what the rest of us are:
Cyborg: Rebirth #1
Like most of the Rebirth one-shots, Cyborg doesn’t blow me away, but it does do a good job of setting the stage for what’s to come in the series. More importantly, writer John Semper succeeds where his predecessors failed: he causes me to care about Silas Stone, making Victor’s relationship with his father far more complex and far less one-sided than it has appeared in the last five years. Paul Pelletier’s panels occasionally feel busy, but he expertly captures Victor and Silas’ emotions and draws a mean battle. I’m ready for Cyborg #1!
A Crapload of Superman
(Panic in the Sky!, Superman and the Justice League America Vol. 1, The Death of Superman, Funeral for a Friend, Reign of the Supermen, The Return of Superman)
Yes, all of that.
With Dan Jurgens and Peter J. Tomasi’s fantastic work on the current Action Comics and Superman titles, respectively, I’ve been in the mood for some early Nineties Superman comics.
The stories are certainly dated, but man are there some great ideas here: the Justice League collection gives insight into Clark’s humility, as he doesn’t see himself as the de facto leader in times of trouble; Panic is a silly invasion story that has some great moments, such as Superman picking Deathstroke as a field leader because he’s heard how brilliant he is; and the whole Death and Return arc may have been a stunt, but it was a monumental cultural landmark that introduced some great concepts and even greater characters (Steel is awesome, guys).
All of these collections have recently been released and are well worth reading if you want to get yourself reacquainted with the new (old) Superman. Just don’t ask about Lex Luthor’s stunt where he dies and comes back as his own long-lost red headed Australian son. Even that’s a little too weird to explain.
Usagi Yojimbo #155-157 (Dark Horse)
Stan Sakai’s long-running Rabbit Ronin is a consistent top pick for one of the guys at my local shop. I finally acted on his recommendation a few months ago and jumped on for a three-part arc, “The Secret of the Hell Screen.” The spare, black-and-white artwork takes some getting used to if you’ve never ventured outside of mainstream comics, but the adjustment is worth it. I found a compelling mystery, interesting characters, and charming artwork that amply rewards what patience it requires. If you’re looking to take a break from your normal superhero fare, Usagi is the perfect diversion.
Angel Catbird Vol. 1 (Dark Horse)
This is some strange stuff right here. It’s interesting stuff, too, and I can’t say that I hated it, but it’s just not for me. Johnnie Christmas creates an interesting assortment of animal-human hybrids, and Margaret Atwood’s concepts could have the potential to bloom into something special, but an overabundance of “here’s what I’m doing” dialogue and didactic editorializing make this more of a chore than a delight.