You know, quietly, Supergirl’s snuck up to become a fairly readable book, a far cry from its post-launch status as one of DC’s biggest jokes. Sterling Gates may never win any Eisners, but he’s a solid enough writer, and the emphasis on character that he’s brought to the title generally works (not least because nowadays, Kara almost sort of has one). And considering that the Super-books are generally caught in something of a schism between two settings – Clark/Kal-El doing his thing over in World of New Krypton, while James Robinson’s Lonely Heroes Club Band man the fort in Superman – this title does a quite good job of straddling the two, due to Kara’s desire to continue living on Earth on the one hand, and her familial ties to Krypton’s leader on the other.
It’s that latter aspect that drives this issue – markedly so, in fact, as it’s barely an issue about Supergirl at all, instead giving us a bit of background about her mother, Alura. Not that it does much to dissuade us from the opinion that she’s a bit of an unlikeable, stuck-up so-and-so, but perhaps that’s the point. In flashbacks to their lives both on Krypton and in the Bottle City of Kandor, we can at least see the relationship between her and Zor-El – and it’s this, rather than her own inherent character, that make us sympathetic for her in the aftermath of her husband (like his brother, something of a romantic “dreamer”)’s death. In delving a little more into the characters of her parents, we’re also able – by association – to get a bit more of a handle on who Kara is (despite her, once again, doing little more than standing around in her own title while other people make the story happen).
And if it struggles from the fact that the harshness of Alura (one of those pesky John Byrne-esque Science Guilders, you see) makes her a difficult “lead” character to follow, this trait at least provides justification for her actions in the issue – and if the “twist” involving Reactron is telegraphed somewhat, the fact that she allows a fellow Kryptonian to die purely to allow the illusion certainly shows she’s a dangerous figure. Still, I can’t have been the only person hoping that we were finished and done with Reactron by now – in design, motivation and dialogue style he’s a walking 90s-style cliche, and you feel he should have been left behind long ago.
If there’s one thing Supergirl has benefitted from of late, it’s artists who draw with sharp, clean lines, and don’t treat the lead character like a pubescent sex object. Matt Camp, filling in for Jamal Ingle, continues that trend – indeed, he’s arguably an improvement on Ingle, giving the book some of its strongest art in a while. Where he really excels is in his portrayal of both Alura and Kara – it’s sadly rare enough in comics that an artist can actually make their female characters look like different people, and even moreso that they can do it while also having them clearly look related. All in all, it makes for a surprisingly appealing package – and while hardly spectacular, if it keeps on in this vein, Supergirl might even overtake World of New Krypton as the most readable of the Super-stable.