Friday, May 20, 2016

Recommended Reading for 5/20: Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade

So last week, Supergirl was renewed for a second season! I haven't written about it here, which I probably should have, since it is tied with The Flash for my favorite superhero show on television, and the crossover episode, "World's Finest," is one of my favorite episodes of television this season (probably exceeded only by the marvelous "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" episode of The X-Files revival). But with the popularity of the TV series, there wasn't any comic to go along with it. I've read a bunch of Supergirl over the years, mostly thanks to Peter David's eighty issue run, but also really enjoyed Sterling Gates's run right before Flashpoint; Gates is actually writing the tie-in comic to the TV series which made its print debut last week. But two weeks ago, an all-ages Supergirl series came back in print, and it is a wonderful, charming series you can share with any kid in your life: Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade.

The series is a six issues and perfectly self-contained: it opens with Supergirl arriving on Earth, and follows her through her first year at an Earth school. There are a lot of references to Supergirl's history: Superman is in there, so is Lex Luthor, as well as Super-Pets Streaky the Super Cat and Comet the Super Horse. Her classmates include Belinda Zee, a duplicate of her in a different way than Superman's classic Bizarro, and Lena Thorul, who it doesn't take a ton to realize whose little sister she is. There's a deep affection for the Silver Age Superman and Supergirl in this series, but it's completely accessible for those who haven't touched a comic from before the modern era.

After arriving on Earth, Superman brings his young cousin Kara to the Stanhope Boarding School so she can learn more about what it means to be human, and she takes on the identity of Linda Lee. The story presents Linda as awkward at the start of the story, not just with humans but in using her powers. Linda crashes more often than lands when flying, and her powers seem to kick out at the worst moments. And she just doesn't get humans. She says things that don't make sense to the human students, and she just gets laughed at. A lot. She feels like an outsider who will never be able to make friends or fit in. So, basically, it's a very true version of what it feels like to be in eighth grade, if memory serves

And friendshup becomes the central theme of the series. Linda tries to make friends with the Kryptonite-created duplicate, Belinda Zee, but Belinda's nature as her opposite makes it hard, but Linda never gives up. And when she does befriend Lena, she sticks by her side. They become very good friends. And when Lena learns that Linda is a Kryptonian, the one who helped put Lena's big brother in jail, Linda tries to make it clear to her that she never betrayed or lied to her, that she really is Lena's friend. And it's that friendship that saves the day in the end of the series.

I'm talking about theme and homages, and all that's important for me as an older reader, as it's something I look for. But when I'm thinking about buying this more my nieces to read, what makes it stand out most is it's just plain fun. Each issue has a nice little exciting beat to play out. Issue one has Linda arrive on Earth and get settled. Issue two introduces Belinda and sees Linda learn to deal with her first villain. Issue three has the whole school get superpowers! Issue four finds most of the students disappearing and a super-powered cat running around the school! And issues five and six are a two parter that brings in aspects from all the previous issues, paying off hints about the sinister nature of the school principal, introducing a time displaced past/future Supergirl called Supragirl, and building to a truly impressive climax. Oh, and in case time travel gives you as much of a headache as it does me, the comics does a good job of handling those messy issues and not leaving you scratching your head, which is impressive.

Eric Jones's art for the series is charming and perfectly suited to the story. It's bright and cartoony in the right way; it's not photo realistic but instead expressive. Every character wears their emotions on their faces. Every character has big eyes that serve as a window to their soul(and the boys have as big eyes as the girls, which is not often done in cartoony animation and comic art). There are some very cool design sketches in the back of the trade that shows the development of the look for Supergirl and how it informed the series. And aside from expressive faces, one of the things I really look for in comic art, his design for everything crisp and clean, he draws excellent backgrounds, and the are just grab you and makes you smile.

When it's hard to find comics featuring classic superheroes that are accessible for all ages, so when pops up, it's always worth checking out. Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade is a wonderful comic you can share with the girl or boy in your life that enjoys exciting superhero comics with heart that can make you smile..

A new printing of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade was released the first week of May and is available in better comic shops and on-line.

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