Review: Supergirl Vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Superman (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, January 07, 2018

DC Comics caught flak for not having a mainstream Supergirl series on the stands when the then-CBS show premiered, following only belatedly with a digital-first TV tie-in series. Perhaps waiting was opportune, however, because Steve Orlando's Rebirth Supergirl Vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Superman is one of the best TV-to-comics adaptations I've seen, perfectly recognizable to now-CW fans while still fitting cogently into the DC Comics universe. Orlando and artist Brian Ching trend a tad too all-ages for me, and the TV-similar accoutrements are better than the plot itself, but this is a far stronger start than Supergirl had in the last relaunch. Clearly DC is positioning this book as one to watch.

[Review contains spoilers]

I give Orlando points for a story -- Supergirl's ongoing conflict with the Cyborg Superman -- that follows almost seamlessly from her New 52 series. Maybe that's not what Rebirth writers are supposed to be doing, but I appreciated that there were no great unexplained continuity jumps here, but rather that this Supergirl and the goings on around her seem mostly in line with the New 52 (including a cameo by her New 52 costume). All the same, there's little nuance to the events -- the Cyborg Superman arrives with a plan that sounds evil, Supergirl's pretty sure it's evil, indeed it turns out to be evil, etc. The book's conclusion is nicely epic (an improvement, perhaps, on TV Supergirl's recent Daxam invasion finale), but the story is simplistic, and in that respect I didn't feel engaged or challenged as a reader.

Far more impressive -- for Supergirl TV fans, at least -- and what carried the book for me, is Orlando's remix of the Supergirl show for comics audiences. We have Supergirl working for the DEO out of National City, but under the care of her DEO agent "parents" Eliza and Jerimiah Danvers, who are helping acclimate her to Earth (along with DC stalwart Cameron Chase). A much younger Kara works for Cat Grant's Catco as an intern, alongside Winn Schott-like figure Ben Rubel. This almost prequel-esque take on Supergirl is engaging, getting to see some of the actual growing pains with the Danvers that the show alludes to -- and also getting to see the Danvers as agents-in-action. Orlando draws believable lines from Clark Kent's blog-mate in the New 52 Cat Grant to this one, and the reader can assuredly hear Calista Flockhart in Orlando's dialogue. (We've come full circle from Sterling Gates's comics Supergirl Cat Grant influencing the TV show, to the TV Cat Grant now influencing the comics.)

Series artist Brian Ching offers an attractive style just short of animated; the book definitely tends toward animation, but Ching inks himself in a looser, rougher style that looks cartoonish from far away but becomes more mature on closer inspection. Still, the younger Kara and the relatively straightforward plot combine to make something essentially all-ages. There's assuredly a place for that and a need for it, though it's not personally what I want from my comics; I might very well resolve that, while well done, maybe this Supergirl series just isn't for me (versus Peter David's or Gates's), were it not for quite a few things coming up in the next volume.

Those upcoming events include the fallout from Superman Reborn and also a battle with the Emerald Empress after Justice League vs. Suicide Squad. DC involving Supergirl in the larger goings-on of the DC Universe is wise because of how recognizable the character is through her television series. Flash Barry Allen is also front-and-center in Rebirth, but his own comic is largely unrecognizable through the lens of the show, and while I enjoy Benjamin Percy's Green Arrow series, it hardly seems to be on the main Rebirth narrative's radar; both of these seem missed opportunities. Given the high possibility of new readers coming to the comics through the TV shows, it would seem advisable those comics should be instant gateways to the center of Rebirth and the DC Universe. Given where the new season of Supergirl seems to be going, I'd think following through on the Emerald Empress storyline and involving Supergirl heavily in the Rebirth return of the Legion of Super-Heroes is an investment in bringing a lot of new fans along for the ride. (Orlando's Justice League of America is similarly well-positioned, largely starring characters in use on the CW.)

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Supergirl Vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Superman

Supergirl Vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Superman is again a respectable start for Steve Orlando's Rebirth series. In the purposefully-stilted speech patterns Orlando gives Supergirl, he preserves the best "stranger in a strange land" aspects of the character's New 52 series, while warming the whole thing considerably by dint of the new TV-inspired supporting cast. Faithfulness to the past, including Supergirl's umpteenth encounter with the title villain, slows the story a bit, but hopefully Orlando's just getting warmed up here for more to come.

[Includes original and variant covers, Brian Ching sketchbook]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Supergirl Vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Superman
Author Rating
3 (out of 5)
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  1. Great review. I, too, was struck by the soft-handed (is that the antonym to heavy-handed?) way certain CW influences found their way into the title. The Danvers as a straight up secret agent couple, rather than, well, however you'd describe them on the CW show is smart, as is omitting Alex, Wynn, and Jimmy. I think that Kara using an image transducer (or whatever non X-Men call that technology) to blend in in high school is smart, and a much better disguise than the traditional Super glasses.

    I was not a pre-Rebirth SG reader (I'm giving the title a shot because I like Orlando), so the stuff with the Cyborg Superman was definitely one of those "I'm jumping into the middle of a story" things, but I figured out what was going on pretty easily. I agree that it has a bit of an all-ages feel, but that's not something that bothers me much in this case since it was fun.

    I hope you are correct that there is some corporate synergy going on vis-a-vis the Legion. I have no idea if Superman currently has a Superboy past, and Jon is far too young to be an important cog in the Legion (and has his own team-up book). This iteration of Supergirl is the right age and level of maturity to work well in (and launch?) a Legion book. While I suspect the Legion and JSA will be formally re-introduced in Doomsday Clock (if for no other reason than Johns is a huge fan of both concepts, but also because Rebirth and The Button touched on both topics, too), it wouldn't shock me if the meat and potatoes work of developing the Legion in post-Rebirth continuity will happen either in SG or a spinoff title. I know you were a bit down on JLA, but I think Orlando could do a decent job on the Legion.

    1. If I remember well, Superman his New 52 Legion connection is only made in some of the early Action Comics by Grant Morrison.

    2. It's a popular idea that JSA and Legion might come back in Doomsday Clock, but I take perhaps too strictly Geoff Johns's claim that Doomsday Clock will be its own discrete thing. There's a couple DC heroes in there so far, but I'm really expecting this to be more of a "Watchmen's big names meeting DC's big names" and not actually, to an extent, a resolution to Rebirth at all. We'll see. I'm eager for the JSA and Legion to be re-introduced together, being something of the alpha and omega of the DC Universe.

      Indeed there was a Legion in the New 52, though that was a different Superman, and with Superman Reborn, none of that may necessarily be in play any more.

    3. Maybe it's just nostalgia for the Countdown to Infinite Crisis era of the DCU, but the way Rebirth and The Button touched on these teams makes me think there is a specific plan in place. If I had to guess, I'd say they'll be "freed" in the course of Doomsday Clock (or perhaps in a couple aftermath series) but have no great consequence to the plot of the series. I'll be really disappointed if all these teases continue to lead nowhere for another couple years because there is no plan . . .

  2. I haven't seen the show (not my thing), but I was no fan of this comic. In my opinion it was some of the worst I've read together with the Flash books since Rebirth. And this saddens me because it's the series I read together with my girlfriend since Flashpoint.

    The Cyborg Superman story doesn't match up with what we've learned so far. I first thought I maybe misremembered, but I went back and reread what we know about him and his wife and it just does not match up.

    All the different writers on Supergirl so far might have had different views on the character, but there was one constant character growth. First trough the rage that she doesn't understand and then trough compassion. But this book just throws it all out of the window and gives us a very generic story with a plot that's been overused.

    I also wasn't a fan of the art after the rebirth issue. Well not so much the art, but the out of proportion Supergirl legs. They were so weird that my eyes kept going to them.

    While I gave the Flash books another chance, this one went immediately on my do not buy list.

    The only good thing about this comic is that they fixed the gross mistreatment of Cat Grant in the New 52. Every time Cat Grant was in the story back then I couldn't think anything but: Clark Kent seems a bit of a jerk. I don't get why they ever decided to do that back then.

    It does show that the 2 books that I don't like have TV shows running. I haven't watched them and if as you say this book is based on the TV show I'm glad I haven't.

    Steve Orlando really is a hit or miss writer for me, and sadly there's more bad stories than good atm.

    1. >>> The Cyborg Superman story doesn't match up with what we've learned so far. I first thought I maybe misremembered, but I went back and reread what we know about him and his wife and it just does not match up.

      To that, at least, I can tell you this is a different Cyborg Superman, introduced in New 52, than the one you're referring to, which is the classic Hank Henshaw version. Henshaw lost his wife; the Cyborg in this story is someone else entirely.