Although the character has been around for six decades in comics and other media, the mainstream became very aware of who Kara Zor-El was in TV’s Supergirl, which first aired in 2015. The show took its time to find its footing, but has managed to give the superheroine her own identity that doesn’t have to associate with her more popular cousin, something that Mariko Tamaki and Joëlle Jones have taken to heart when creating Supergirl: Being Super, their four-issue miniseries from last year which is finally released as a graphic novel.
Having crash-landed on Earth in a rocket ship, Kara Danvers has been living with her adoptive parents in the small town of Midvale, while trying to keep her superpowers a secret from the public, including her two best friends. On her sixteenth birthday where her powers start to go out of control, an earthquake tears apart Midvale, and thus Kara has a choice: let her world die or overcome her adolescent insecurities and be super.
When it comes to the Superman mythos, the best stories are often standalone titles that have nothing to do with the main continuity, such as All-Star Superman and American Alien. Being Super fits into that category as Maiko Tamaki places Kara as the only Kryptonian alive and is living in a small town in rural America. Having previously written She-Hulk for Marvel, Tamaki puts more emphasis on the “girl” than the “super” in how Kara is going through adolescence, whether it is the hormones kicking in (as her mother suggests) or getting rid of zits, which leads to a funny but disgusting sequence.
What works best about this comic is its mixture of humor and tragedy, whether it’s the witty interactions between Kara and her two friends – even if the dialogue can a bit awkward in trying to alter the swearing – or the tragic aftermath of the earthquake where Kara feels more alienated than usual and how she regains that human touch. More like a teen soap opera than a superhero action story, Joëlle Jones’ art is so much more distinctive than what we usually see in superhero comics, as she’s previously shown in her work on Tom King’s Batman. That’s not to say that Jones can’t deliver spectacle as she illustrates catastrophic terror during the earthquake where Kara wears her sports uniform (subtly evoking her Supergirl outfit) and saving the day… mostly.
However, as the superhero element takes center stage, this is where Being Super falters. Kara starts to learn where she truly comes from, leading to revelations and character introductions, but it contradicts the standalone nature of the book, which was all about telling the mythos in a fresh angle.
Despite its misgivings during its final issue that tries to aim bigger, Being Super works best when it stays on the ground with a coming-of-age tale that is well-drawn and adds a new perspective to the Superman mythos.
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