Don't expect to see a lot of DC Comics' Supergirl grieving and crying over the recent death of her cousin Superman. "It's all about her legacy and her strength and her power, especially now that Clark is gone," says writer Steve Orlando. "She would be an icon whether Superman existed or not, because of what she's went through and because she's come out stronger on the other side." When Supergirl was re-introduced in DC's New 52 reboot five years ago, Kara Zor-El was an angry, misunderstood teen who punched her cousin in the face right after meeting him. Now, the Maid of Might stars in a hit TV show where she's a peppy, well-adjusted hero. Written by Steve Orlando, her newest DC Comics series aims to show how she's maturing and shrug off the looming shadow of her now-dead cousin.
I spoke to Orlando a few weeks ago in advance of last week's release of Supergirl: Rebirth to ask the Midnighter writer how the success of the show and death of the New 52 version of Clark Kent would affect Kara. When I asked him how'd he be approaching the previous characterisation of Superman's cousin, he said he wouldn't be waving them away. "Well, that 100 per cent all happened. That period in her life set her up on the path she's on now," he said. "It's one of the reasons, through the new Kara Danvers identity, that she really wants to find a way to connect and better understand the people she's going to protect."
"She was angry and confused upon getting to Earth. What we're trying to do is do a book that homes in on why people have fallen in love with her and been inspired by her for 60-something years. Having said that, I'm hesitant to denigrate the Angry Supergirl because her working through that is part and parcel of the strength she has as a character. I think that's a great foundation.
"She's had a journey from being someone who did have that confusion and rage and owned that and is now a better person. I'm glad those things happened. It just shows the growth. It's something that we all do and it makes her a much more real character. Despite being an alien from Krypton, a lot of the things she goes through — whether it coming her and not even knowing English, having real family, friends and memories on Krypton that she's left behind instead of just showing up as a baby on Earth, the initial pushback of being shunned when she first showed up — that's real experience, like going to a new job or moving to a new country. I think it makes her more real than ever, to be honest." ***
“I don’t define Supergirl by Superman. I believe very strongly that if Clark’s rocket veered off-course and never made it to Earth, she would still be Supergirl because that’s who she is.”
*** But a massive display of grief isn't going to be a big part of Kara's story moving forward. "Well, the fact of the matter is, in the New 52, she never had the good relationship with Superman that she had in previous incarnations," Orlando said. "They were not super-tight. But here's something that I think is important: I don't define Supergirl by Superman. I believe very strongly that if Clark's rocket veered off-course and never made it to Earth, she would still be Supergirl because that's who she is. Her experiences lead her to be that type of icon. I think her sense of self, especially in the New 52, is even stronger [than in past iterations]."
"All the creative teams on the Super-books talked about 'what does it mean to be Super?'" he continued. "The easy answer is that you aspire to be like Superman. But I think the deeper answer is not just that; it's a frame of mind. You can be working at Shop-Rite and have the frame of mind of a person who doesn't give up on the rest of us, who sees the best in us.
"We live in a world where we can be very down on ourselves and what being Super means to me is the strength to see the best in people, even when we don't. It sounds kind of blunt, and I'm sorry, but the book is about Supergirl. It's all about her legacy and her strength and her power, especially now that Clark is gone. There's a new Superman but she's never met him before. It's all about the idea of being the best symbol. She would be an icon whether Superman existed or not, because of what she's went through and because she's come out stronger on the other side."
In Supergirl: Rebirth, Kara's on a mission to recharge her powers in a rocket that uses Phantom Zone technology to speed her towards the sun. That tech opens up a rift to the limbo dimension that Kryptonians used to exile criminals and other threats to society, freeing a man named Lar-Ron who was exposed to Red Kryptonite. The crimson variant of the mineral cursed him with lycanthropy, which means that, yes, he's a super-werewolf.
Orlando told me that this Lar-Ron is a "deep cut" update of a character that appeared in three issues of old-school DC title World's Finest in 1979. "Everything with Lar-on is a misunderstanding," Orlando continued. "All he wants is to tell people to stay away but he can't even do that because he can't speak the language. People are reactive to what they see as a threat and things get hotter and hotter until Supergirl arrives because only she takes the time to try and understand him."
The one-shot introduces a DC Universe version of National City, the urban centre that Kara protects on TV. "For people who watch the show, there's a book set in the show continuity written by Sterling Gates who's doing wonderful stuff," Orlando said. "In the DC Universe, it's more about picking up on the things that the show knocks out of the park, which is mostly the tone of hope, positivity and inspiration. They knock it out of the park by getting back to the core of the character established in the comics so it's kind of like a little ouroboros there. There will be that tonal connection. The show moved her out of Metropolis to National City and, when I first encountered the character, I liked that she was in New York. It was a place where she built her own world, her own legacy, her own heroism, where it didn't have to be 'oh, there Supergirl, Superman's cousin.' When the show hit and everybody was excited, it was a nice confluence of events where we could give that little bit of familiarity to people and bring National City to the DC Universe. It will have echoes of what's in the show but will be bigger, wilder and have stories that can only happen in comics."
Talking about the threats that Kara will face further down, Orlando hinted that an important reckoning between the New 52 version of Cyborg Superman and Supergirl is in the cards.
"They have fought in the past. During that time, other people have found out that the Cyborg Superman was Zor-El, including the New 52 Superman," Orlando said. But he didn't tell Kara and now he's dead. To me, the exciting thing is unpacking that. I see it as a great opportunity because he's done bad things. But in his mind, he's just doing what a good father should, which is build the best world possible for his kid. It just happens that he's a killer space robot whose interpretation of that is extremely different. In his mind, he's failed Kara so many times. He didn't save Krypton, he didn't save Argo City and she's been living on a planet where she was just supposed to stay while he saved Argo. It's in many ways an inverse of Jor-El. I'm very excited for them to have a meeting and for her to find out these things because she's in a place where she's given up on Krypton and Argo City. On one hand, it's very exciting because 'oh, there's someone left [from Krypton]!' On the other hand, they're a murderous killer robot from space."
Kara's new adventures will continue when Supergirl #1 comes out on September 7.