When DC's "Rebirth" launched, one of its most anticipated revamps was Supergirl, who had gone through various changes over the last decade, not all of which were popular.
DC tapped writer Steve Orlando to launch a new Supergirl title and return the character to classic form. Mirroring the Supergirl TV show's fan-acclaimed approach to the character, the new comic book gave Kara a hopeful vibe while establishing her relationships in the newly revamped "Rebirth" universe.
This week marks the release of title's first collection, Supergirl Vol. 1: Reign of the Cyborg Supermen, bringing together the title's first six issues, plus the introductory issue, Supergirl: Rebirth #1.
Newsarama talked to Orlando to find out more about his approach to Supergirl, why he didn't shy away from reflecting the CW TV series, and why he wanted to start with Cyborg Superman.
Newsarama: Steve, the first volume of Supergirl is coming out next week. Looking back at that first story arc, what were your biggest objectives for the character that you feel like you were able to fulfill?
Steve Orlando: I think the objective with Supergirl and with "Rebirth" in general is to whittle these characters down to their core, and to present them to people in a way that makes a strong thesis statement about who they are and where they stand in the world.
In Supergirl, a lot of that is about examining the concept of "strength" and what it means. Because that word means different things in different DC characters.
Yeah, the story is about the character's experience with tangible things that she left behind on Krypton that Superman never had. She has memories of her life from what feels like just a couple years ago. So it's about her adjustment, and her feelings of being lost, and could she have done more?
But it's also about strength.
Nrama: Well there's no doubt that Supergirl is strong in the physical sense of the word. But how does Supergirl's strength differ from the way we might think about the word's meaning, as it's usually applied?
Orlando: Yeah, society would look at "strength" in terms of physical strength, and sometimes mischaracterize it as masculinity and sort of masculine problem-solving. And Supergirl's about turning that on its head.
You have a character who, like her cousin, has this god-like power, but violence is a last resort for her. And understanding is her opening salvo. So what she does is something that's inspirational, and it's something that's harder than just lashing out.
Nrama: Was the first arc about her also becoming part of this Earth, and kind of evolving beyond what happened to her home world?
Orlando: Yeah, that was one of the goals in the first arc, to finally have her let go of her own world and choose Earth — and choose a harder path. You know? Choose a path that maybe not all of us would take, forgiving her father, forgiving the wrongs that had been done to her and against her adopted home, to try to even build something better out of him.
Nrama: You said she chose a more difficult path, the path of forgiveness. Is that tied to this idea of strength you were talking about? This choice she makes?
Orlando: Yeah. It's a strong thing. It's a stronger thing than I could do probably. It's a stronger thing than many people could do.
So examining that, and presenting her a person who could solve any problem with her fist but chooses not to, chooses to do something that is much harder in the short term but pays itself forward much greater in the long term — that part is true strength.
And if anything was pulled off in the first arc, I hope it's that.
Nrama: With the TV show running right now, it feels like the character on television has the same core as the one in your comic. Did that show influence you at all?
Orlando: Honestly, the show is succeeding because it understands who Kara is at her core. So hopefully, with these characters across media, if we're all doing our job right, it doesn't mean that the plot and such always have to be the same, but the character is the same person across media, because who they are is immutable. Even in something like Injustice, the situation can be completely different, but you can still be presenting the character in a way that is true to who these characters are.
The strength of the core of Kara, her personality — those things don't change if you understand her.
So if we're all doing our jobs right, across all these forms and all these media, she should still feel like her.
Nrama: You mentioned that she dealt with her father, and that it was key to portraying her growth and her choices during the first arc. Can you talk about her confrontation with him?
Orlando: Cyborg Superman was her father Zor-El, and his whole arc is about good intentions. It's about that intense drive we have as mentors and as parents. Cyborg Superman in the form of Zor-El has always appealed to me as a character because so much of what he did was based on his own inadequacies. And parents playing out their inadequacies with their children, I think, is almost universal.
Here's a man who was the less intelligent brother, here's a man who failed to save his world on multiple occasions, and because so obsessed with saving his daughter and saving his world that he gave up his own body. I mean, he gave up everything.
And what started as a good thing, as often happens, became an obsession, and then it becomes toxic. It's toxic parenting. It's toxic masculinity.
And that's where his arc becomes, in many ways, I think, tragedy. How many parents say that they would do anything to make a better world for their child, that they would do anything to protect their child? And Zor-El feels the same way, but he's become so awash in his own failure and his own self-loathing. And it took him down this horrifying path, where he was willing to sacrifice anything for his daughter.
But that directly in opposition to a daughter who would sacrifice herself before a single person in the universe. So obviously they come to heads.
It's about the overcompensation, it's about when an urge to help someone and do what's best for them becomes telling them what to do and becomes a toxic influence.
In the case of Zor-El, obviously, it plays out with killer robots and Argo City coming to eat National City, but at the heart of every conflict we all have with our parents, you know, of when it's finally time for them to realize we know what's best for ourselves.