In Supergirl #1, Steve Orlando writes Supergirl as the most awkward super teen this side of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man as she tries to “fit in” on Earth at her new school, with her new family, and with the DEO. It’s a tough task, and Orlando and artist Brian Ching make good use of flashbacks to show how confident Kara was using the more advanced technology of Krypton versus the internal combustion engines and PowerPoints of Earth. The constant scolding from people, like Cat Grant and the DEO head Cameron Chase, doesn’t help either, and by the end of the issue, Orlando and Ching have taken Kara to a sad place.
In most stories, the fish out of water trope is played for a few easy and often stereotypical laughs. (E.g. Crocodile Dundee, Hercules in New York, most recently Thor) Orlando goes for a more nuanced approach in Supergirl #1 and has Kara make little quips about how slide projectors are primitive technology and about her adopted dad, Jeremiah Danvers’, pretty atrocious attempts at speaking Kryptonian. Except these jokes come from a place of deep pain and loss as she simply can’t fit on Earth. Ching opens the comic with a gorgeous splash page of Supergirl flying around one of Jupiter’s moons with Michael Atiyeh putting the red, yellow, and and blues of her costume on full display. And this sets the tone for the comic as Atiyeh uses brighter, richer colors for the Krypton flashbacks and more muted tones for the present scenes set on Earth except when Supergirl is in action. Earth is a dull, awkward place for Kara except when she’s being Supergirl, who everyone likes to criticize.
The underlying theme of Supergirl #1 is the danger of stereotyping other cultures, especially when they are new to your native country. For example, after Supergirl rescues hostages on a train without the DEO’s permission, Chase uses that incident to rant about how Kryptonian culture was “toxic”, arrogant, and that her going in solo to save the day could lead to Earth suffering the same fate as Krypton. Supergirl doesn’t say much in this confrontation, but her sadness is conveyed excellently through wistful facial expressions from Ching as Chase gets in Kara’s face, asserts her power over her, and passes judgment on an entire culture.
But this stereotyping can happen in other ways, like when Jeremiah Danvers redesigns their living room after some pictures he saw of Krypton. (That happen to be 200 years out of date.) He wants to make Kara feel more comfortable, but this gesture makes her feel even more awkward and leads to her flying out to the Fortress of Solitude. This action is equivalent to a white parent cooking a meal or wearing the “traditional costume” of their adopted child from another country and leads to bad feelings all around as they feel that they can “master” the child’s culture.
Supergirl #1 is an intense exploration of both the immigrant experience (Especially when Orlando has Kara quote the line from the old Superman radio show, “strange visitor from another planet.”) and the general awkwardness of moving to a new area and trying to figure out what people like and don’t like and failing at fitting in. And Steve Orlando and Brian Ching aren’t afraid to end this issue on a down note as Kara is no closer to feeling like she is valued by her parents, peers, and handlers at the DEO. Supergirl isn’t hated and feared, but is treated like an out of place nuisance, which actually is a more relatable experience, even if she can fly and destroy assault rifles with her freeze breath.
Story: Steve Orlando Art: Brian Ching Colors: Michael Atiyeh
Story: 8.5 Art: 7.5 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review