Supergirl is having a moment. She’s got a TV show, an upcoming solo series, and now a brand new origin story. Supergirl: Being Super, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Joëlle Jones, with colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick, reimagines the Girl of Steel as a regular teenager with track practice, two best friends, and parents who don’t quite understand her. Of course, she also has superpowers, which lead to all kinds of complications.
The big difference between Supergirl and Kara’s canonical origin story is that in Supergirl, she arrives on Earth with no memory of how she got there; she’s never heard of Kal-El, Krypton, or Superman. “I really wanted it to be a story about her figuring out her identity as just herself,” Tamaki says.
Without her memories (or Superman’s help), Kara is confused and even frightened by her powers, especially as they start to inexplicably fail. It doesn’t help that her parents have sworn her to secrecy about what she can do, isolating her from her friends just when she needs them most. As Kara tries to cope with an unexpected tragedy and understand her power surges, she also has doubts she must wrestle with. “It’s about discovering, on a very genetic level, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ” Tamaki says.
Of course, that means understanding her roots as a Kryptonian and recovering her lost memories. “I’m a sucker for a flashback,” Tamaki admits. “Anything that calls for a sepia-toned page, I’m into that.” Kara also meets a fellow Kryptonian who has had a very different experience on Earth than she has, raising the question of whether she owes more to those with whom she shares genetics or to those who’ve chosen her as their family.
Supergirl’s supporting cast is almost entirely brand-new characters, in part from necessity. “I think in the [traditional] comics her only friend’s a cat,” Jones jokes. (Indeed, Supergirl had a faithful pet named Streaky the Super-Cat.) Instead, this version of Kara has two best friends: serious, athletic Jennifer and rebellious, irreverent Dolly. The two girls provide a much-needed contrast to Kara, both in their approaches to life and their stunning, unique designs.
Did Tamaki have any reservations about her reinvention of Supergirl’s history? Not really, she says. “I think the key to any good comic is to make things incredibly specific about what the story is and incredibly specific about the characters,” whether it’s a new beginning or the latest chapter in an ongoing saga.
Nonetheless, both artists were doing something outside of their usual wheelhouses. Jones usually works on more adult-focused books and was drawing her hyperviolent comic Lady Killer (about an assassin-cum-housewife) at the same time she was working on Supergirl. “So I’ve been sitting in a chair drawing blood and guts all day long, and now I get to draw a track meet,” Jones says. “It was actually kind of nice to keep a little balance.”
Tamaki, on the other hand, is new to the world of superhero comics. She’s known for her work on realistic YA stories like This One Summer and never planned to start writing for DC or Marvel, but she’s enjoyed the challenges of the new format. “I myself probably would not have originally written something about someone who can fly,” she says, “but once you have, it’s really kind of great.”
Alex Heimbach is a writer and editor in California.