Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade (6-issue series)
Landry Q. Walker (w); Eric Jones (a)
That's right, Supergirl. Now this isn't the Supergirl you might think you know. For one thing, she's actually drawn like a teenage girl, as Tiina points out in her excellent review of the first issue at Comics Are For Everybody. Moreover, the comic is actually aimed at adolescents (including adolescent girls) rather than at adult men. Like the ongoing Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam (more on that book in a future post), the Supergirl mini-series is a real attempt by DC to write a book that starts with the concerns of kids and writes about them in a way that isn't condescending and that doesn't simply try to translate "adult" comics into a form that is deemed suitable for kids to consume.
The brilliant part of the book is that after Kara arrives on Earth (in the middle of a fight between Superman and Lex Luthor), Superman hatches a plan for her to learn about the planet, the people, and the culture by going to a public school. So, Kara becomes Linda Lee, a transfer student who doesn't know anyone at her new school or anything about how to fit in. She is, both literally and metaphorically, an alien, the outsider at whom everyone laughs.
She's trying hard to get it right, but no matter what she does, the laughter seems to surround her, enveloping her visually within each panel, and echoing the feeling that everyone is laughing at her. It's only in a beautifully unbounded image of flight near the end of the book that there is any sense that Kara/Linda might be able to transcend her circumstances and be who she really is (she's Supergirl after all). I won't spoil what comes next -- I'll just say that the reveal makes nice use of the comics medium to bring her back to earth.
Speaking of the medium, Walker and Jones do an excellent job of using the grammar of comics to tell the story (and introduce younger reader to the way that comics work). As you can see from the following page, the freedom that Supergirl initially feels is underscored by the fact that the image is unbounded by panel borders. The subsequent panels step down as she falls and our eye movement through the page follows her. Finally, the red and blue motion lines of the last unbounded panel tell the reader visually that Superman has come to save her (with the speed and sound represented by the zoom sound effect). And that's only the tip of what's going on in this page. We could easily talk about this one, fairly straightforward page in terms of any number of formalist theories of comics (as those in the Contemporary Graphic Novels seminar are learning), but what's important is that Landry and Jones use all the tools available and in doing so, help kids learn to read and appreciate comics. To my mind, comics such as this are exactly what are needed to get kids interested in the medium.
But that isn't quite what I've been telling people. What I have been telling them is that Supergirl: Cosmic Adventure in the 8th Grade, along with Kunkel's new Shazam book, is one of the smartest and most entertaining books around. Let's hope the mini-series (#2 is just out) yields an ongoing title.