Supergirl has long been an analog for everything good in the world. Her and her Kryptonian cousin are often utilized when the DC Universe needs heroes who are pure-hearted and strong. But of the many things that Kara Zor-El has gotten to be, a teenage girl isn't really one of them—her alien superpowers often take precedence over the young girl who holds them. Add to that decades of being drawn by older men and beholden to the physically unrealistic aesthetic of other female superheroes, and you might realize that Supergirl has rarely gotten to be a girl. But all of that changed with Mariko Tamaki and Joëlle Jones' SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER, which finally put the focus on Kara's teen years as she comes to terms with her burgeoning superpowers.
As young adults, we're so often forced to grow up sooner than we would like, or come to terms with the adult nature of the world when we're still in adolescence. There's something radical about giving young women the space to just be young. In Supergirl: Being Super, Tamaki and Jones create a world for Kara where she gets to discover herself and her powers on her own terms, all while suffering through the trials of puberty through a Kryptonian lens. Honestly, it's a unique and lovely experience.
Even though historically puberty has often been used as the spark for super powers, we don't always get to spend time with the heroes as they were before their lives changed or even while their world is shifting. Supergirl: Being Super subverts that, pulling the focus from the established legend of Supergirl and her famous cousin, moving the spotlight onto Kara Danvers—a young teen athlete, loyal friend and great daughter—as she moves through high school trying to work out her place in a world that she's not even sure she comes from. There's a power to seeing our heroes struggle through the same formative moments as we do, whether it's class photos or popping a nasty zit. (Though luckily none of us have had to suffer through a dealing with a Kryptonian spot, as readers of the book can attest.)
Seeing ourselves reflected in the pages of our favorite comics is a vital part of being a fan, and there's something magical about a story that's so centered on the experiences of teenage girls, who for years were written out of comics and their fandom. But Tamaki and Jones slam girlhood smack bang into the DNA of every page of Being Super, and the book is all the stronger for it. By embracing Kara's human side, they make her strengths even more well defined. Kara isn't just a powerful alien being, she's a good person who cares about others, and right and wrong. Though she comes from Krypton, she was raised on Earth by human parents who love her deeply, and that duality is what ultimately makes Kara strong.
That's not to say that Kara's exploration is just about her coming of age on Earth. Jones and Tamaki deftly utilize the greater dangers in Kara's life to deal with real issues that we all face growing up, from the onset of her powers, to the potential exploitation of them, to her ultimate battle with a familiar foe. One of the most heartbreaking moments in any of our lives is discovering that the people who are meant to look out for us, the ones who are meant to shape us or teach us, can sometimes mean us harm. Whether intentional or accidental, the first time we're betrayed by an adult it is devastating, and in Kara's case it's deadly.
Learning who to trust is a large part of growing up. As our hormones take control of our bodies, the lines between want/need and safe/danger can often blur. For Kara, her first steps in meeting an interesting and potentially harmful new friend have all the hallmarks of a bad choice. She keeps it a secret, she leaves the people who care about her and she follows this new person. But it's only when she realizes that she has to listen to herself and her own sense of right and wrong that she breaks free and saves herself, her best friend and her hometown. It's rare to find a book for young people that deals with toxic relationships in a way which never blames or judges, just explores and interrogates, trying to shine a light on how we can create safe, solid relationships for ourselves.
Ultimately, though, Supergirl: Being Super is about love. It's about learning to love ourselves, loving and letting go of our friends and reaching out and being open to the potential of different and new kinds of love...like that of a certain superpowered relative in Metropolis.
Rosie Knight writes about Young Adult comics and the DC Universe in general for DCComics.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.