While trying to figure out how he feels about Supergirl as a hero, Ben Rubel meets Lee Serrano, a non-binary teenager, who shares a story about how Supergirl positively impacted their life.
Writers: Steve Orlando & Vita Ayala
Artist: Jamal Campbell
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Cover: Jorge Jimenez with Alejandro Sanchez
Variant Cover: Stanley “Artgerm” Lau
Editor: Jessica Chen
What You Need To Know:
Ben Rubel, Kara Danvers’ friend, and love interest has been struggling with how he feels about Supergirl. He isn’t sure whether or not she’s entirely trustworthy, and he’s not sure how he feels about the stuff that he writes about her at CatCo, and so he’s seeking answers and looking for hope. Meanwhile, Cameron Chase has been fired from the DEO (Department of Extranormal Affairs) and is working to fight against Director Bones, who is out to catch Supergirl at any cost.
What You’ll Find Out:
Cameron Chase has placed a call to Director Bones at the DEO, confronting him about the mess of things he’s made at the DEO – specifically working with Mokkari, a scientist from Apokolips who is never good news. Chase warns Bones that Mokkari is using him, but Bones refuses to listen to Chase’s warning, intimating that everything Mokkari has done – selling the phantom drive plans to Tycho, imprisoning Dr. Veritas – has been at Bones’ own personal orders.
In another part of National City, Ben Rubel is struggling with the work he does for CatCo and his feelings about Supergirl as a hero. Though he feels that the negative writing they’re doing about Supergirl hasn’t been helpful to how the city views her, he also isn’t sure where he stands regarding her. Looking for hope of some sort, he discovered a pro-Supergirl story on the CatCo app and set up a meeting with its writer, a non-binary teenager named Lee Serrano who had recently befriended Supergirl.
As Ben and Lee speak, Lee admits that at first, they hadn’t entirely been on board with Supergirl either. After all, Supergirl had kept her own secrets, and the fact that she looked the way she did, and had all of her powers couldn’t possibly mean that she understood the plight of a non-powered Earth person. Lee goes on to tell Ben about the first time they had met Supergirl. It was back during the Reign of the Cyborg Supermen storyline, and Lee had chosen to run away from home at the worst possible time. Lucky for them, Supergirl had been there to save them. A brief introduction later, Supergirl promises Lee that she will definitely be around for Lee if they ever need her, though Lee didn’t buy that at first. It seemed to be the sort of thing that any superhero would tell a citizen they had just saved.
Lee didn’t realize how wrong they had been. Supergirl kept in touch with Lee, stopping in to check in on them every once in a while, and a friendship blossomed from it. Eventually, Supergirl gained enough of Lee’s trust that Lee decided to come out to Supergirl. Lee explains that they weren’t running away from the cyborgs, but away from home because of what they were dealing with at school due to being different, and the fear of what their parents would do when they discovered that Lee was non-binary. Supergirl connects with Lee, explaining how her parents sent her to Earth without asking her what she wanted and agreeing that while parents can hurt you more than anyone, it’s usually rooted in love. Supergirl tells Lee that she’s glad that Lee confided in her and that while she doesn’t know how Lee’s parents will react to Lee’s truth, she does know that Lee isn’t alone.
In a later scene, Supergirl and Lee connect over their differences and similarities. Lee is being bullied by a boy at school named Chuck, one of those stereotypical jock-types who is having problems at home and takes it out on people at school – in this case, namely Lee. Though they have had very different life experiences, and literally are from different worlds, Supergirl manages to relate to Lee – people hated her and were scared of her too because she was different. But she had decided that she wasn’t what people were scared she would be, because they weren’t allowed to decide who she was, much like how people had no right to decide who Lee was. Supergirl reminds Lee that they only get this one life to live, and Lee is the only who gets to decide how that life gets lived.
Aware that Lee is going through a tough time, Supergirl watches over Lee, both anonymously in her Kara Danvers identity as Lee comes out to their parents (who, while maybe they don’t fully understand Lee’s situation, promise to learn and support Lee), and in her Supergirl identity when Chuck continues to bully Lee. Things come to a head when Chuck attacks Lee outside of a laser tag place, a few weeks after Lee has been suspended from school for punching him. Supergirl interrupts the fight, ready to teach Chuck a lesson, but Lee requests that Kara let them handle this themselves. Lee confronts Chuck about the bullying, telling Chuck that bullying Lee won’t make him feel better or fix the fact that his parents are getting divorced or that his dad is gay. Chuck falters and his friend takes the opportunity to put him down the way that Chuck had been putting Lee down. Chuck punches his friend, and while Lee tries to extend a hand of friendship, Chuck turns it down.
Supergirl takes Lee away from the situation so that Lee can catch a breath, and Lee thanks Supergirl for having their back, but also for being an ally who didn’t try to speak for Lee or over Lee.
Lee ends the meeting with Ben by telling him that the reason they’re pro-Supergirl is because of those experiences because Supergirl honestly and truly cared about Lee and helped Lee be strong.
Finally convinced that Supergirl isn’t all that bad, Ben tries to get advice from his mother, who is as aloof and distant as she has ever been from him, not really listening to what he’s saying or understanding what he needs. He’s convinced that Supergirl needs help, but even though his mother isn’t listening…someone else is. Supergirl herself, who shows up at his door on the last page, having heard him saying something about help.
What Just Happened?:
One of the biggest strengths of this run has been Steve Orlando’s decision to play up Supergirl’s compassionate, caring, accepting side. The past couple of incarnations of the character have never really concentrated on that part of her, and I have to say, it really works for her, and Orlando and Vita Ayala do a fantastic job of continuing to display that side of Kara Zor-El. While her compassion comes from a different place than, say, Wonder Woman’s, it’s no less powerful or awe-inspiring. Supergirl is a character who lost a lot, who has constantly been mistrusted by the people she’s chosen to protect, who has been misunderstood and been labeled a monster just because of who she is, where she’s from, and the choices she’s made. Despite those experiences, she is someone who has fought an internal struggle to not let any of that define her or shape her in such a way to prove her detractors right. Those choices and that characterization really pay off here, because it gives Kara the baggage and the tools for her to step up and be a friend and an ally to someone who is going through a struggle of identity and acceptance themselves. It also follows up on the previous issue, where Kara says she remembers the names and faces of every person she has ever saved, as Lee is one such person.
Simply put, this is a beautiful, well-written, well-crafted issue. Each of the main characters here – Supergirl, Ben, Lee – comes off as layered, complex, and real. They all have their own struggles and issues with their parents that allow them to relate to each other in a way that doesn’t feel fake or contrived. For Ben, it’s that his parents have sent him away because he won’t be the genius trophy son they want him to be; for Lee, it’s that they don’t know if their parents will understand or accept them; for Supergirl, it’s that her parents sent her away without giving her a say, and depriving her of any more time with them. They’re all misunderstood in their own way as well – Ben’s parents refuse to understand him or connect with him, and rarely truly listen to what they have to say; Lee is constantly picked on by a jock at school; and the DEO wants to take Supergirl out because they view her as some sort of overpowered monster.
While Supergirl’s own story may be fantastical, Lee’s story is something that is far more grounded in reality and incredibly timely, given our current social landscape. It feels so real, and Lee’s struggle is relatable – most of us have been in a place where we haven’t been accepted by our peers for one thing or another, where we’ve all been unfairly bullied or picked on simply to elevate someone else’s self-esteem. One of the most wonderful things about it is how it gives Lee the voice to solve their problems themselves – though they’re being victimized at school, by the end of the issue, Lee has agency and power and isn’t the victim of the month. Many people may look at this issue as some sort of “very special” installment or something, but it really is the furthest thing from that. What this issue is, more than anything is a story about the power that compassion and support can have in the face of fear and hatred. It shows that heroism isn’t always punching the problem in the face or throwing it into the sun, but that sometimes heroism is simply listening, learning, and accepting.
Jamal Campbell’s artwork in this issue – his first for Supergirl – is phenomenal. There’s an expressiveness to his figures and faces that cause the characters to leap off the page, and he possesses that all-too-rare ability to give each of the characters unique, distinguishable facial features. Little details like Ben’s glasses slipping off of his face when he first meets Lee to Lee’s body language when they first come out to Supergirl, to the changing expressions on Chuck’s face when Lee verbally stands up to him are rendered incredibly well. The colors in this issue are bright and crisp, with a naturalness so that much of the world feels grounded and real. It was a smart decision, having most of the characters in the issue in clothes that were either neutral in tone, or realistically muted, like Mrs. Serrano’s pale yellow-orange shirt. It really allows Supergirl to pop on the page whenever she’s there in her red and blue. Campbell’s work has been brilliant on everything he’s done for DC so far, whether it’s the Vixen one-shot for Justice League, Nightwing, or Green Arrow, and he’s definitely someone I can’t wait to see more work from.
It truly is saddening that this is the penultimate issue of Steve Orlando’s Supergirl run because it’s been a fantastic read with a wonderful exploration of who Supergirl is and where she fits into the world. It’s doubly saddening because what this might mean for new supporting characters like Ben and Lee is left up in the air, and these are definitely characters that help flesh out Supergirl’s world in a vibrant, realistic way.
Final Thoughts: This is an incredible, well-written, well-crafted installment that puts the emphasis on compassion and acceptance while showing that not all heroics are about heat-vision and super-punches. It’s possibly one of the best single-issue stories that any of the Big Two will put out this year, and its well-worth a read.
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