In Guest List, Paste’s favorite artists and auteurs reveal the music that’s inspired some of their most seminal works.
Supergirl has assumed many identities since her death in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths: a being of synthetic protoplasm, an “Earth-Born Angel,” a foster daughter of the hellish realm Apokolips, a time-displaced Legionnaire and a raging Red Lantern. Under writer Steve Orlando (Midnighter, Virgil), Kara Zor-El returns to her roots as the most hopeful, most optimistic and—possibly—most inspiring bearer of the S-shield, the kind of hero whose first instinct in battle isn’t, How do I hit my opponent the hardest? but, How do I convince my opponent to stop fighting?
If that makes Supergirl sound conflict-free, rest assured: Orlando’s first issue with the Maiden of Might features a rampaging Kryptonian werewolf, a solar excursion and a last-page reveal that kicks off the series in epic fashion, all drawn by artist Emanuela Lupacchino before regular series artist Brian Ching takes over next month. While this Kara is decidedly the same character who made her rebooted debut in the New 52, her determination to do what’s right will resonate with fans of Melissa Benoist’s sunny live-action portrayal.
To coincide with the character’s refreshed launch in the pages of Supergirl: Rebirth #1, on sale today, Paste asked Orlando to compile an inspiring soundtrack for his tenure on the book, which you can find below along with his commentary on each track.
Steve Orlando on the Music Behind Supergirl
When I started writing comics years ago, I spent most of my time huddled in the back of a Denny’s, eroding myself with bottomless coffee and surrounded by a ton of white noise and conversation, not to mention muzak. So now when I work, I tend to actually put things on that have words, which some people find distracting. Usually films or television that I can half pay attention to. Basically something to keep my left hand occupied while my right hand works, so to speak, and keep me from getting lost in my own thoughts and digressions. Otherwise I’d be spending four days at a time on Kryptonian grammar, like a normal person.
But during the plotting process and when the story is coming together in my head, which is where the real work for me arguably happens—everything else is pounding it out on the page—I do have music on my mind, and things that put me in the mood for the book, in this case, Supergirl, who I have found to be one of the most inspiring characters I’ve worked on.
She’s a strange visitor from another planet. And even though we might look at her colorful costume and godlike powers, I think her experience is one of the most analogous and real of the heroes in the DC Universe. Unlike her cousin Superman, she was a teenager when she left her world. She has real memories, real people, real relationships she has left behind to come to Earth, a new world, where she can be safe. And that tangible loss, I think, makes her journey all the more weighty, all the more like true refugees or immigrants coming to a new land and leaving their loved ones behind in the name of a new life. And it makes her all the more the hero.
With that in mind, and my strange mind on tap, there are a variety of songs that speak to Kara Zor-El’s journey to me, and Supergirl in general.
“Overture (Supergirl),” Jerry Goldsmith
An easy pick, the easiest pick, but also, I think, vitally important. Someone on social media once said to me when I was announced on Supergirl that if there isn’t a moment, each issue, where you could hear this theme and feel that type of triumph, then I’m doing it wrong. And I think that’s absolutely right. For me, this isn’t about a part of Kara’s journey, as the rest of the songs will be. It’s about understanding her power and respecting how much she means to people as a figure of hope and inspiration.
It’s a “remember thou art mortal” moment, knowing that I am working with a character who has steered people’s lives, has saved people, and above all my responsibility is to pass on those moments where Kara touches people to a new generation. To not drop the torch. It’s intimidating—but that’s how it should be. When you’re working with a character who wears the “S,” you stand before a towering wall of history, and you climb it every month to remind people why these characters are the greatest in the world. They see the best in us, and we can never—I can never—forget that.
“The Asteroid Field,” John Williams
Now we get into the songs that speak to Kara’s overall journey as a character. My instrumental picks in this may be on the nose, but that’s because of their power, and their ability to conjure up raw emotion and vivid images. This theme to me has always summed up space adventure better than any other piece of music, even more than the main theme. It reminds me of the awe and grandeur of space—that even though these heroes may seem larger than life, they’re dwarfed by the vastness of space and the celestial bodies therein. This will always be Kara’s journey to Earth for me, it will be any time she’s in space, leaving Earth to be reminded that even a Kryptonian is but a speck in the greater motions of the universe. There’s a beauty to that scale, I think.
“The New,” Interpol
This has always been a transitional song for me and I think it sums up Kara’s journey as she leaves one planet and comes to another. A song about what we’ve left behind, the people that we’ve known, the give and take of friendship and moving from one station in life to another. So often we wish we could stay, wish we could just relax, but we can’t stay, we know that, and we worry. We keep moving. This is where Kara is, writ large on a cosmic comic scale. It’s melancholic, but that’s often life. And that’s not bad.
When Supergirl lands on Earth, she doesn’t even know any of our languages. She doesn’t expect to have superpowers. She’s disoriented. She’s surprised to see her baby cousin is now one of the greatest heroes in the universe—if she even believes it’s him. Prince was long a figure of controversy himself, as Supergirl instantly becomes during her landing on Earth. She is angry, confused and skirmishes with her cousin. People have expectations about the symbol on her chest, but she doesn’t understand them yet. People expect another hero, which she will be, but upon arriving she is hugely controversial—her actions make people wonder what she’s really about. And bringing it back to her overall message as a newcomer, just like any of when we move to a new job, a new town, a new country, people eye us with suspicion until they know what to make of us.
“Trial of the Century,” French Kicks
You’ll see the French Kicks show up a few times here, along with one other group, which connected a lot with what has been on my mind while working with Kara. This song is all about adjustment to me, and the idea that it’s a process. We have good days and bad days, and so does Kara. She’s allowed to, just like us, just like any of us. We can make progress and suddenly just have a day where we miss things, miss people. And it doesn’t mean we’re giving up, we can still see the future, but we acknowledge the roadblock. This to me, the sound, the feel, stays positive, but acknowledges the struggle, just like Kara would.
“Vein of Stars,” The Flaming Lips
We are all about realization here. When things look dark, we look for some force to blame, but maybe it’s just life, and that’s okay. This is the moment, to me, that Kara’s viewpoint changes. She makes a promise to herself to overcome. And she realized, like her cousin once did, that it’s all just us, it’s all just you and me, and we’re all in it together. That’s why her cousin fought, and that’s why she is going to fight—she sees the big picture, bigger than we ever could as humans. It’s unity. Across the planet, across worlds, we’re all we’ve got. And that’s a responsibility to be her best that Supergirl can’t ignore.
“The Real Thing,” Phoenix
Kara has now decided to be better, to overcome what she’s lost. And it can feel overwhelming, which is what this touches on for me. Pouring lava in the ocean. And again our tone is still positive, we don’t dwell on the struggle, we don’t give up, we don’t let it weigh us down. We feel adrift in a new place, looking for something real, and we always keep looking until we find it. Kara’s here, as she slowly gets her footing on Earth, looking for an anchor in friends or family.
“If I Fight, You Fight (Training Montage),” Ludwig Göransson
To me, Creed was one of the most inspiring films of 2015, and Ludwig Göransson showed me he would do one of the most moving Supergirl scores ever if such a thing came to pass. It was a film about staying strong, staying true to yourself, what you need to do in your heart, despite what the world sends against you. Despite prejudice. Despite people telling you to stop, or that you’re not good enough, or that you can’t. We can all feel like the world is against us, but as Supergirl knows, we’re all in it together, and we all have to keep fighting. This to me is what Supergirl is all about, more than anything else. It’s not just about saving people, it’s about inspiring people to fight together.
“Race for the Price (Remix),” The Flaming Lips
Just vivid for me—the image of two scientists racing for the good of all mankind, giving up everything else in their life for the cause. And yes, Kara is a science student; she was nearly a member of the Science Council on Krypton before it exploded. So this reminds me again of her fight. But it’s also cautionary. It’s an aspect of Supergirl’s fight that reminds her she still needs to have a life, still needs to be a person, and cannot do the work 100 percent of the time or it will consume her. To protect us, she needs to understand us. She needs to be Kara Zor-El, and she needs to be Kara Danvers, her alter ego. It can’t be one or the other.
“The W.A.N.D.” The Flaming Lips
The power is finally in new hands. Supergirl is in charge. She’s in a new city. She’s forming her own legacy. She’s becoming her own icon. The song stands for “The Will Always Negates Defeat.” And it’s the idea that Supergirl’s innate right is to be her own hero and her own person, again, just like any of us. She’s all of our stories, writ large. Again, she’s got the power now, and it’s where it belongs.
“Sky’s the Limit,” CFO$
Comics and wrestling go hand in hand, if you ask me. Just look at the wonder on young fans’ faces to see that these workers are larger-than-life heroes for them. To me, Sasha Banks’ theme music is about wish fulfillment on the same level Supergirl is—anyone can have a dream, chase it, never give up and realize it. Sasha is a champion, and girls see her and realize they can be champions too. And if I do anything, I hope it’s show through Supergirl that young readers, no matter who they are, can be heroes, too. Anyone can.
“So Far We Are,” French Kicks
And now, knowing her heroic path, Supergirl is the most upbeat she’s ever been. But she knows it’s still a process—it’s never over. She’ll never not be what she was, she can’t be. She can’t erase the past. But she’s better every day. She’s meeting new challenges and strange people and worlds head on. Are we okay? So far we are. And that’s what any of us get. She’s got a mature take on her new life, knowing it’s not always going to be perfect, but she’s always going to do her best to make it that way for her and everyone on the planet that has finally accepted her.
“Back in the Day,” Missy Elliott (featuring Jay-Z)
On a practical level, I am always inspired by and have great respect for Missy Elliott’s staying power in a largely male-dominated industry. And so I keep her playing from time to time when I work to remind myself what it takes to win, and how hard women work on a daily basis. And at the victory lap of Kara’s journey to Earth, the place where she is working towards contentment and helping others do it, too, I think she can finally kick back and reminisce about her life on Krypton with joy instead of pain. She can remember the good of the past and see the good in the present.
“All Night,” Beyoncé
This song to me is about pure love. It’s more about the video than the music itself, a utopian vision of love that is nonjudgmental of who is doing it. [Editor’s note: Beyoncé hasn’t yet made Lemonade videos available on YouTube.] This to me is Supergirl’s worldview—again, she sees the best in us, she sees the love in us, even when we don’t. It’s a simple thing, but this is all about the feel you should get when reading a Super-book, about the things that bring us together, not the things that push us apart. And it’s my job, and Kara’s job, to give you that.
“Masters of the Universe Theme,” Bill Conti
Pure adventure in instrumental form. I wrap with this because this is classic science-fiction wonder to me. It’s bold, it’s massive, it’s unrelenting and it’s wild in scale. I have a soft spot for this movie, but more than that it’s just about the pulp-adventure sound Conti gives us. I can see Supergirl, unflinching, racing through suns and stars with the fate of the entire universe in the balance, and not backing down.