The “Supergirl” renaissance continues. Kara Danvers has long played second fiddle behind Gotham City’s vigilantes, the Justice League and even her own cousin Superman. But she has recently been catapulted to a new level thanks in part to a successful television series. Now, DC Comics is launching a brand-new Supergirl story spotlighting the superpowered teen in a modern age, but with no memory of her alien past.
“Supergirl: Being Super,” written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Joëlle Jones, is a new take on Supergirl’s origin story, but unlike the other iterations of Kara Zor-El, she has no memory of her Kryptonian heritage.
“I wanted to write a story about someone finding their way to their identity,” said Tamaki of the upcoming four-part comic book miniseries. “I wanted Kara’s connection to her past to evolve as the story went along, so I set it up that she had little to no conscious memory of it when we start.”
“Being Super” takes place outside of DC Entertainment’s main comics continuity and has no connection to the TV series. The first issue of the bimonthly series is due out Wednesday, but Hero Complex readers can get an early look at the issue in the exclusive preview below.
Thankfully, the new twist didn’t leave the main character Kara without her otherworldly capabilities. “Kara is still super,” explained Tamaki. “She is still from Krypton, but in this story, that part of her life is something she doesn’t remember. Kara lives in Midvale with her parents on a small farm. She goes to high school, has best friends, two of them, Jen and Dolly, and she runs on the track team.
“She also has, but can’t explain, super powers like the ability to fly, super strength, and so on,” Tamaki said, “and these are parts of herself she has to keep a secret.”
Kara’s super powers are not the only mysterious gifts she has thanks to being from Krypton. It turns out the average skin blemish is also amplified when you’re an alien teen. Zits may be terrible for every teen but Kara’s alien zit (and its gruesome aftermath) is thankfully something only earthbound Kryptonians have to deal with.
Coming-of-age tales are not a new territory for Tamaki. The writer’s previous work includes the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel “This One Summer,” a collaboration with her cousin Jillian Tamaki. Tamaki’s superhero credits include writing the new Jennifer Walters “Hulk” series for Marvel.
Eisner-nominated artist Jones is best known for “Lady Killer” and her art on the "Helheim" comic series. Joining Tamaki and Jones on “Supergirl: Being Super” is Sandu Florea on inks, Kelly Fitzpatrick on colors and Saida Temofonte on letters.
Tamaki and Jones discussed “Supergirl: Being Super,” Kara’s friends and alien zits over email in this conversation edited for space and clarity.
What appealed to you about this particular "Supergirl" comic?
Mariko Tamaki: Just about everything. The flying. The superness. I really got into the idea of an alien adolescence. Once I started thinking about it I thought, “Ooo, I can tell this story.”
Joëlle Jones: I never really had a chance to work on an origin story and I thought Supergirl would be a lot of fun. I was right, she's really fun to draw.
What unknown or new attributes of the Supergirl character were you excited about exploring?
Tamaki: There was pretty much nothing about this story that I didn’t find exciting from the moment it was proposed to me and I started outlining. I loved the idea of setting a story in a small town. I loved the idea of a girl who has a tight, but small, network of friends and exploring those relationships in the context of someone who is going through a massive life change.
With the current TV show, Supergirl now has a pop culture following outside of comic book readers. Were you conscious of that?
Tamaki: There’s always a certain amount of pressure working on something that’s already familiar and beloved to an existing audience.
The existing character, in all its iterations, affects what you write because there’s some boundaries to what a character can be, things that pre-exist. That said, it’s an interesting challenge to try and bring something new to a story that’s already iconic.
Also, the best part of these stories is that you’re connecting to something that has been inspiring to so many people; writing in these storylines is about connecting to that inspiration. I take a lot of motivation from other writers who have brought superhero characters to life for me, like Matt Fraction, G. Willow Wilson, and Gene Yang.
I think the main thing any writer brings to a story is their own version of heart, which is what I tried to do.
Jones: I try to not watch TV shows and movies that have characters that I am currently drawing. I'm a visual person and I worry that an influence of a certain actor’s performance might creep into the art so I just avoid it altogether.
Kara’s interactions with her friends Dolly and Jen are fun. What was the inspiration behind Supergirl’s new, comic pals?
Tamaki: I wanted Kara to have a really tight-knit family of friends. I was absolutely shaped by both my family, my friends and partners. I wanted people who brought different things to Kara's life, different kinds of confidence, conflicts, attitudes, and perspectives.
It’s hard to say how a character comes about. Most of the time something just pops into my head, feels good and I go with it. I did know I wanted a punk rock [lesbian] with parents who were obsessed with country music, who became Dolly. It’s a bit of an odd starting point but I think it worked out.
Jones: I can’t remember all of the descriptions in the original character outline I got from Mariko but when I read it I knew exactly what she was going for. I think in comics you can get tired of drawing the same things over and over. Dolly was a nice break from all the abs and thigh gaps I usually draw.
How did Kara’s alien zit come about?
Tamaki: I knew very early on that I wanted a super-alien zit-popping scene. I’m just incredibly classy that way. I mean, come on, who could resist?
Jones: I couldn’t wait to draw that part! Looking back now though I wish I had taken it even further!
There are a lot of popular stories that sort of revolve around teenage girls gaining powers or getting called on in some way to save her people or shouldering the responsibility of saving the world, as if growing up and all of that isn’t hard enough on its own. What do you think attracts people to these kinds of narratives?
Tamaki: Whether or not you've been called upon to save your district, I think the idea that growing up comes with increased responsibility rings true with a lot of people. As you grow up, you get responsibilities tacked on to almost every privilege that gets handed to you. Like babysitting. You get to babysit and make money, but now you are also responsible for a kid’s life. No big deal!
For me, being a teenager is also when you first get a really good look at the world and a grip on history, I think. As a teenager, I remember coming out as a lesbian when I was 17, and watching a documentary about Harvey Milk, and just feeling this overwhelming sense of both powerlessness and motivation. Like wow, this is the world, this is my community, what am I going to do now? Try and make the world something different? Something better?
I’m not saying you figure it out at 17. I didn’t. But it’s a starting point. And it feels, at the time, gigantic. And big emotions make for great stories.