Like the cavalcade of titles relaunched and branded by the Big 2 in recent years, the language and style of Supergirl: Being Super #1 is designed to broaden interest and expand brand appeal. The pragmatist and optimist that share space in my head both agree: who better to cater the story of a 16-year-old girl to than an audience of young women? Challenged by the price tag, my desire to show up some a-hole in a Stetson, and the possibility that this book simply isn't written with me in mind, I expected to like Mariko Tamaki and Joelle Jones's work through sheer force of will, but it was unnecessary for me to brace myself.
Being Super #1 is humorous, welcoming, and pretty to look at. The colors are bright and the art is expressive. While I haven't read any of Tamaki's previous work, I've always enjoyed Jones's art and this comic is no exception. Backgrounds are incredibly detailed and every member of the cast has a distinct height, shape, weight, and age. The core characters are all teenagers -and look it. Tamaki's writing is similar,inviting readers through a simple premise to establish voices and setting before the literal cliffhanger: Kara Danvers is turning 16, from space, can fly, is strong, can probably see through your window curtains, and all of a sudden has to deal with glowy hands and an infernal facial blemish. This sets the tone for a series that will juxtapose the superheroic actions performed by its protagonist with the mundanities of teenage life.
Kara guides us through her tiny corner of the DCU and makes all manner of introductions, not least of which are to her Scoobies - Dolly and Jen, two girls that defy typical gender roles and story archetypes. Though you could sweep them aside with a few basic labels (Jen is an athlete, Dolly is "artistic"), they're contrasted by their commonalities rather than their differences, which feels weirdly authentic and not altogether normal for fiction. We see them passing time in school,running track, eating at a diner, and changing in a locker room scene that Theriault described as "indifferent to the female form" (the girls are pulling over shirts and tying sneakers, rather than, I guess, stripping down, arching their backs under showerheads, and giggling as soap bubbles slip down their buttcracks). The lack of titillation in this scene and others, in which three minors change clothes, is a sticking point for Theriault, who rebukes the "potentially risqué" traps avoided by a creative team more concerned with telling a story than pitching tents. Theriault specifically laments his retconned introduction to the character in the Michael Turner-drawn pages of Superman/Batman, in which Kara arrives blemish and garment free, traipsing through the Gotham streets with wide-eyed innocence and gravity defying breasts.
For now, at least, Being Super #1 asks you to secure your boners. Kara, Dolly, and Jen are warm and comfortable together in every situation, fast friends that will be as amiable to the reader as they are to one another. I don't believe, as Theriault does, that you can sex your audience based on their reaction to the male gaze, but you can spot a faux literato by their choice to lean into verbosity and flowery prose, when they're denied a slice of cheesecake.
The premise is a different matter. This new reboot mirrors her more popular cousin's origin too closely (a rocket crashes in a cornfield, the childless farmers adopt the child they find inside). Given all of the options (literally, all the options), I don't understand why. What's new either isn't that interesting or isn't explained thoroughly enough to judge. For one thing, Kara has a zit. If you don't know that already, you won't forget it after five separate references to it. (Theriault's review praised the mundanity of Kara's "surprisingly relatable" struggle with her epidermis while simultaneously and bizarrely lamenting her tarnished perfection. Pimply skin is atypically difficult to masturbate to, and so, as Theriault says, "males like myself have [become] correspondingly alienated," forced to reconcile our own memories with similar breakouts. Is it universally considered more difficult to polish your 'lil Superman if you can empathize with the object of your affection? I'm not sure, but empathy is, of course, pretty low on Maslow's hierarchy of human needs or, as Maslow himself put it, "I can't fap to this." This is the crux of Theriault's entire review.) While Tamaki and Jones exhaust several pages on Kara's zituation, there are shortcuts elsewhere that surprised me. Kara's father is buffoonish and Dolly veers close to being characterized only by her sexuality. There are also a few logical corners cut for the sake of great visuals (and one jarring bit of narrative convenience - Kara's celebrating her 16th birthday and her school curriculum is just now getting to puberty? Yikes!): Kara's pimple finally bursts to disgustingly cartoonish effect -the price paid for Kara's dramatic twilight flight over Kansas? A new barn roof, since she leapt directly through the old one (after helping her father move some farming equipment, which results in another great visual, but less property damage).
With twice the page count of a typical DC comic, you could mistake Being Super #1 for the middle issue in a Bendis-penned event comic. Decompressed storytelling is extremely satisfying to the writer inside me, but for a $5.99 first issue, I expected more than a premise. The ghost of a plot haunts beautiful pages full of characterization and more references to Kara's zit than her mysterious glowing hands. The ending is sudden and feels less like a cliffhanger and more like a syndicated TV two-parter edited for time. So, I'm disappointed. I haven't decided if I'll read issue two, but I'll unabashedly defend a fair comic from a poor reviewer and advise not to borrow his Aspen Comics backissues.
Your expectations might be different from mine, though, and I suspect that the comradery on display between the teen girl friends and the expressive art alone may be compelling enough for some to subscribe, despite the meandering premise and contrivances. If you're hoping for cheesecake, but there's still an industry grinding away just for you elsewhere. I'm sure you won't begrudge new readers a less overtly sexual and yet in many ways as intimate an experience getting to know our old friend: Supergirl.