Despite the series under which DC Comics released this book, Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives is actually both a Supergirl and Nightwing and Flamebird story (collecting both Supergirl and Action Comics). This combination serves both titles very well; whereas I have previously found the Supergirl character somewhat juvenile, and Nightwing and Flamebird more one-dimensional than Metropolis's other current protector, Mon-El, there's some great conflict between the three characters that shines in the hands of writers Sterling Gates and Greg Rucka.
DC has collected the Supergirl "New Krypton" stories mildly out of order between individual and "New Krypton" collections; as such, the relationship between Supergirl and her childhood friend Thara, now Flamebird, hasn't always been entirely clear. Friends and Fugitives clarifies it -- we knew they were essentially raised by the same parents, but I didn't know about their religious divide -- Supergirl firmly secular, Thara firmly spiritual.
Their conflict is firmly the most interesting part of "The Hunt for Reactron" storyline. Supergirl, mostly in mourning the death of her father Zor-El, blames Thara and her strange religious practices for not preventing Zor-El's murder; Thara tries hard, but the influence of the Flamebird entity keeps her from acting normally. This leads to a number of great scenes, and the ones where Supergirl and Thara argue quietly in Lana Lang's apartment are even for effective than when the two pummeling each other under the Eiffel Tower. This aspect of "New Krypton" has come down to one friend angry that the religious beliefs of the other friend impede their friendship, and it's a grounded conflict that makes all the characters much more interesting.
Indeed, every supporting character seems to get a boost in this collection. Nightwing Chris Kent is mostly window dressing behind Supergirl and Thara, but his kiss with Thara at the end will certainly have implications in the next Nightwing and Flamebird collection. Lana Lang and Lois Lane each get to fight and run from bad guys rather than sitting at home pining, which is always good, and it's also nice to see Lois and Lana as friends again. As someone who remembers Lois and Lana comforting one another after the death of Superman, their recent petty jealousies have bothered me; it cheapens Superman for his supporting characters to be that petty, and I'm glad the current writers are patching that up (and that Lois seems to have forgiven Supergirl for the last volume's trouble, too).
Also in the spotlight this volume is Supergirl's mother, Alura. I found Alura's initial reaction to arriving on Earth and the death of her husband slightly obvious -- it seems every alien civilization finds a reason to make war on humanity. But, Friends and Fugitives at least allows Alura to give some voice to her grief -- well-written by Gates -- and also shows Zor-El courting Alura; we see how her seeming emotionlessness has precedent throughout her life. The final scene where she appears to have learned from her husband's example, but ultimately is still on a dark path, was particularly powerful. Similarly, there's a nice one-off issue here where Supergirl argues with her mother about her coming-of-age ceremony (Kryptonian bat mitzvah, anyone?) in which I thought Gates gave a good slice of New Krypton's "normal life" amidst all the conflict.
After Who is Superwoman, I was on the fence about continuing to regularly pick up the Supergirl trades, but this volume and the preview Sterling Gates of his Supergirl plans over at The Source have convinced me to stick around. Supergirl: Friends and Fugitives is a fair follow up to Codename: Patriot, and gives some crucial depth to the supporting "New Krypton" characters at exactly the right moment.
[Contains full covers]
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