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With season 2 of Supergirl premiering this week, I wanted to take a look at Steve Orlando‘s Supergirl ongoing. Considering that I love both Orlando’s work and Kara Zor-El, it seems appropriate. This issue, called “Reign of the Cyborg Supermen pt. 2,” covers really interesting ground involving Kara’s father, Zor-El, and Kara’s soon-to-be mentor, Cat Grant.
And man, I relish this issue. Titling this issue “Reign of the Cyborg Supermen pt. 2” shows us a familiarity with the iconic “Reign of the Supermen” arc. It’s not the only moment of familiarity, not by far. Synthesizing elements from earlier portrayals of Kara, Orlando gives me the heroine I already know, in a way that means I recognize her instantly. Opening the issue with a fight between her and a Cyborg Superman claiming to be Zor-El works really well. It throws into sharp relief Kara’s outsiderness, something pivotal to the character, but in such a way as to say that she is searching for her own place, not a place made for her.
The Cyborg Zor-El, we find, is in fact Zor-El. At least, so he believes. We get a glimpse of his past when he shows it to Kara using Brainiac technology later in the issue.
Before that, though, we meet a face familiar to fans of the TV show: Cat Grant. Cat wants to recruit ‘Young Innovators’ to create a bold new open-source news platform for CatCo. She particularly wants Kara. But she knows that Kara needs to want it for it to work right, and she lets Kara know this, saying:
“You’re one of the smartest people in this building. But I saw you in there. You were about to speak, and you doubted yourself. And in that instant, someone else stole your moment. Life is about action. The minute you even begin to doubt yourself, you fall in with the herd.“
Fans of the TV show will love this take on Cat Grant. I can’t speak to whether the version originates in the comics or not. But I can say that I love it.
After the interlude involving Cat and Kara, Kara goes home. Relaxing on her bed, she discovers that Cyborg Zor-El slipped a shard of shrapnel into her skin, and he can communicate with her through it. The next few pages tell Zor-El’s life story, from Kara’s childhood on Krypton onward. When he couldn’t save Argo City, he says, he submitted to Braniac, needing his tech to ‘preserve Argo.’ After some time as Braniac’s puppet, he came to Earth, where he encountered Kara as Supergirl. He says that seeing her woke him up, gave him back his name. Claiming that he has Braniac’s technology under control, he tells Kara to open her eyes and look for Argo City in space, “a few hundred million miles” away.
Then, we come to the final page. Inside Argo City, we see a sea of red, glowing eyes, and then, in the final panel, Kara’s mother looking like a Bizarro or a zombie version of herself. Zor-El’s dialogue captions these images as follows:
“Don’t you see your home? You’ve suffered long enough on Earth. Finally, your exile is over. Join us, daughter. Your new life awaits. Don’t be afraid. Meet it. With me…and your mother at your side.”
Zor-El’s whole situation feels very Stepford Wives, very Borg to me. Obviously, Orlando and the artist, Brian Ching, want us to feel unsettled by Zor-El and his plans for Kara. It definitely pulls me in for the next issue, coming out next month, subtitled “Home is where the hurt is.”
Visually, the comic has a more cartoon feel than most of the other comics I read. However, Ching’s Cyborg Zor-El gets honestly chilling at points, and that final page particularly shows a beautiful sense of horror. I can’t wait to see more of this Argo City, and Kara’s looming horror story.
Overall, “Reign of the Cyborg Supermen pt. 2” marks a pretty great issue, somewhat par for the course for the author, but it sets up the next story really well!