Monday, January 5, 2009

Review: Superman #683 - New Krypton Part 9

Superman #683, written by James Robinson with art by Renato Guedes and Jorge Correa Jr, came out last week and was probably the weakest chapter in the New Krypton story arc.

One of the things that I had lauded about New Krypton was the incredible pacing it had. While it would have been easy to stretch this story over half a year in each title, the super-team decided to make it more compact. I believe it was initially solicited as a 9 part story with this issue being the finale. Now that has changed a bit and this month's Action Comics is being called the finale.

Now I am rethinking that earlier praise. How can the main story neatly wrap up in 22 pages next month? And more importantly, several major plot threads from the earlier issues have been tossed aside or barely mentioned. How are they going to be tied up?

The return of Sam Lane? The Brainiac/Luthor team-up? Who is Superwoman? Who are Nightwing and Flamebird? Agent Liberty talking to Tellus in a tank? There are a lot of things left unsaid about these earlier hooks. And while we know that the Superwoman, Nightwing, and Flamebird stories will continue on past New Krypton, I was hoping to get more info here.

With so much story left to tell, I thought this issue might move all these plots forward. Unfortunately it did not.

The issue opens up with a force of super-heroes hovering over Kandor looking for the Kryptonians who murdered the science police officers. Superman tells them that they need to disperse, that they need to trust him that he will bring the killers to justice in time. The heroes aren't buying it, saying many feel that New Krypton has basically declared war.

Seriously, if you are the JLA and the JSA and you are heading to a potential wartime conflict with 100,000 Kryptonians, would you bring half of these people? Mr. Terrific? Jay Garrick? Steel? Science police officers?

Maybe Wonder Woman or Power Girl or Green Lanterns could hold some Kryptonians at bay. But the rest of these folks? Cannon fodder.

Surprisingly, the Earth heroes do not back down and give Superman an ultimatum. Superman has 30 minutes to turn over the killers ... or else.

I guess I can understand the sentiment. Superman has had time to turn over the murderers already and has not done so. Some line in the sand needs to be drawn. But Superman states the obvious ... what will the JLA and JSA actually do once the 3o minutes is over?


Hoping to avoid any conflict and further tragedy, Superman flies into Kandor to talk to Alura. It is absolutely clear that Alura has turned the corner and gone mad.

First, she has reversed engineered some Brainiac tech into some sort of military device. She calls it 'a solution to all of this'. I don't think Alura is one to make a doomsday device. My guess is that it is some version of Brainiac's shrinking/enlarging ray. Maybe Alura thinks she will simply shrink the Earth cities away.

But her later dialogue is even more chilling. She calls humans 'a poorer, lesser version' of Kryptonians. She says 'let them all die'.

Kara arrives to join the conversation and calls her mother what she should call her ... 'evil'. Supergirl tells her that the only chance for peace on Earth is through justice, by turning over the murdering Kandorians.

Alura however quickly squelches that notion. There are other chances ... more malevolent, more belligerent by her expression ... for New Krypton to have peace on this planet.

And then Alura throws some emotional gas onto the fire, calling Kara a disgrace to Zor-El.

But why should Alura stop there? She calls Kara weak, softened by her time on Earth.

And then, with a slight gesture, Alura gathers up 200 of her troops and starts the war, sending them into battle against the Earth heroes above.

One thing that I have always been concerned about is how the writers would deal with this sudden influx of Kryptonians into the DCU as a whole, let alone on Earth. In my book, 200 Kryptonians should be enough to take over the Earth or a large part of it. Certainly it should be enough to run rough-shod over the 20 or so heroes gathered above New Krypton. This should be no contest.

Okay, so Power Girl should be able to handle a Kryptonian, being one herself. I (and others) have been clamoring to see how Power Girl would interact with Kandor. Would she feel she was one of them? Would she treat Alura as her mother? It is clear she is somewhat conflicted as she fights, repeating 'these are not my people' over and over in her head.

As for the others, the writers needed this to be something of a fight and so curiously loose applications of some heroes' powers are suddenly manifested. Black Lightning creates 'red lightning' which hurts the Kryptonians (I suppose as a variant of red solar radiation... huh?). Starfire absorbs the light energy from the Kryptonians bodies (huh?). Steel manipulates the molecular structure of his suit so that embedded Kryptonite crystals become exposed (huh?).

Now I am taking nothing away from the Green Lanterns there. Maybe they could have their rings whip up a mountain of Kryptonite. That said, there is a city full of Supermans at their feet. This fight should have been over in 3 panels.

But while the battle rages on above, the struggles within the House of El continue below. Superman grabs Alura, trying to literally shake some sense into her. That is more than Kara can take. She begs Kal to let go of her mother. And when he doesn't ...

Well, she tries to punch some sense into him.

I am never a big fan of heroes fighting with each other, feeling it is a tired cliche. When I first read this, I was a bit disappointed. Should Supergirl be crying throughout this issue? Should she lash out at Superman like this?

When you think about what has happened in her recent life, I came to the conclusion the answer is yes to both questions.

She has had trouble fitting in on Earth. She thought her parents were dead. She is reunited with them. Then her father is murdered before her eyes. Despite not agreeing with her mother's ideology , the last thing she probably wants to see is her mother threatened or to 'lose' her mother again, even to imprisonment. Add to those feelings the emotional cruelty that Alura has dumped on her recently and you can understand how Kara might physically seperate Kal from Alura.

But again, there is conflict within her that is readily apparent. She is crying because she realizes her mother is evil. She is crying because she knows Superman is right. But she needs to protect her family. It is an unenviable position Kara is in, an emotional Hell. One thing is for sure, this story will have major ramifications on Supergirl in the future.
The Earth heroes finally realize that they are woefully outnumbered and outclassed when a sudden influx of heroes who can actually make a difference show up. The sorceror's arrive! To be continued ....

I found the House of El conversations interesting and well done showing just how unraveled Alura's thinking has become. However, I thought the rest of the book was not up to par with what has happened before. Maybe the creative team felt that a slugfest issue was necessary to spice up the story. But really, there is no reason why the Kryptonians shouldn't have eliminated the heroes more expediently. As for the Starfire/Black Lightning/Steel new powers, do we really want to say that those three could pick a fight with a Kryptonian and have a chance?

What added to my displeasure was the panel layout of the issue itself. As I said earlier, I have wanted to see more of the plotlines that have been left hanging. What is Luthor doing with Brainiac and Doomsday? What did Agent Liberty find in Cadmus? What are Flamebird and Nightwing doing right now? None of that was seen at all in this issue. Instead we get multiple splash pages or near splash pages of this farce of a fight. There is a 2 page layout of the Guardian hitting a Kryptonian over the head with his shield! What I needed here was an economy of space so that more story could be told.

And, as I have said before, I am somewhat saddened that Alura has become the villain of the piece. After the 'kill Kal-El' Zor-El was erased from continuity, I was hoping Kara would have 2 'normal' parents. I guess that isn't going to be happening.

Overall grade: C

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Every time Kal El confronts his aunt or raises uncomfortable issues with her, Alura's response isn't directed towards him, rather she indulges crude and blatant emotional blackmail of her own daughter.
That would seem to be the origin of the Kal-Kara slugfest...Kara was manipulated by her mother.

As for Alura as villain, well she beats the hell out of crystal spear shootin' Kara any day of the week.

John Feer

Jason said...

Another excellent review Anj. I was disappointed with the issue as well in regard to the farce of a fight stretched out over an entire issue. You're right...this fight should've been over in two to three panels and all these B-list heroes were supposed to fight Kryptonians? Starfire's, Black Lightning's, and Steel's sudden new powers were such lame deux ex machinas. I had the same reaction as you did. I skipped over most of those pages.

The only pages that interested me in this issue were the interactions between Kal, Kara, and Alura. Alura has finally and conclusively gone off the deep end and dare I say it...is on the verge of madness. I thought the emotional cruelty she leveled on Kara in the last Supergirl issue was awful, but Alura really let Kara have it in this issue.

"Every time Kal El confronts his aunt or raises uncomfortable issues with her, Alura's response isn't directed towards him, rather she indulges crude and blatant emotional blackmail of her own daughter."

John...you hit it on the nail right there. I was glad to see Kara's realization and acceptance that her mother truly has become evil, especially after her mother's harsh treatment. However, I was still disappointed to see her hit Kal. Don't get me wrong. I see that she has to feel some conflict since this is the only living parent she has left, whom she once thought was dead already. Still, I thought following Alura's murderous actions and emotional cruelty and blackmail that Kara would be more than willing to agree that even her own mother must face punishment and/or imprisonment for what she's done. I'm still willing to bet Kara will end up supporting punitive measures toward Alura.

Now Alura as a villian? Maybe it's just me, but I believe we could be seeing the seeds being planted for Supergirl's own mother to become one of her rogues. Now let me state I too am saddened that Alura has become the villain of the piece. I fully agree that after ditching the "kill Kal-El" Zor-El, I was really hoping to see Kara with two loving parents. With that said however, having Alura as one of Supergirl's recurring villains would admittedly provide for some dynamic plots if the interaction and conflict we've already seen between Alura and Kara is any indication. It surely would provide quite a twist on a classic Silver Age character.

I'm definitely looking forward to see how part 10 of "New Krypton" wraps up some of these threads.

TalOs said...

After THIS issue I say send her to the Phantom Zone! Alura is one truly nasty piece of work and if I were Kara i'd divorce Alura from being my mom period! However, in having had said all that this is SO similar to Wonder Woman Vs. Queen Hyppolyta (sp?) and the cat fights those 2 had gotten up to even PRIOR to Amazon's Attack time line that maybe there still is hope of redemption for Alura just like Wondy's mom who payed her penance in willingly becoming Wonder Woman herself to redeem herself for all her past sins.

And that's all I have to say at this point.

Anonymous said...

Well...but keep in mind one thing, Kara can never emotionally reconnect with her family, if she ever did, it's bye-bye Supergirl and hello new girl at Kandor High.
if her parents live, what is the point of being Supergirl? The supreme trauma of her life has been healed, she can go forward without the cape...and what sensible parent powers or no powers wants their 17 year old daughter tangling with Bizarro on a regular basis?
Think about that....
The old feature in the 1960's had this same problem, they resurrected the parents as well but couldn't figure how to make good drama out of them, instead Zor and Alura faded into the background (along with Linda Lee's foster parents the Danvers') and all and sundry simply became more contrivances within the mythos.
Bluntly put some sort of emotional gulf has to loom between Kara and Alura if Supergirl is to stay on Earth as the heroine she is destined to be.

That having been said I'm not sure if Alura is destined to be true villainess, she may simply be mentally ill, thus setting up another unsettling plotline, what to do with mentally unbalanced kryptonians?
Sobering thought eh?

John Feer

Anj said...

rather she indulges crude and blatant emotional blackmail of her own daughter.
That would seem to be the origin of the Kal-Kara slugfest...Kara was manipulated by her mother.


It does seem that with each issue Alura sinks a little lower. But, as many have pointed out, she wasn't the nicest person even before the presumed K-poisoning bolt.

But Alura sure does know the rigth strings to pull with Kara.

Anj said...

Another excellent review Anj. I was disappointed with the issue as well in regard to the farce of a fight stretched out over an entire issue. You're right...this fight should've been over in two to three panels and all these B-list heroes were supposed to fight Kryptonians? Starfire's, Black Lightning's, and Steel's sudden new powers were such lame deux ex machinas. I had the same reaction as you did. I skipped over most of those pages.

Thanks for the post.

This was the biggest problem with me with this issue. And I don't know how they are going to get away from it next issue unless the magic characters do something huge. But even that might feel like a cop-out.

Bibliomike said...

I second the sentiment that you've done another great job reviewing the issue, though I think C is maybe too harsh a grade. I think it is still an above average issue, given the character work that is done here. Maybe a B-? If only because it is carrying the New Krypton plotline forward, which overall is excellent and I have enjoyed teriffically. I could easily see it as a feature film.

Kara's striking out at Kal-El bothered me at first, too, but the more I thought about it... Even though, as posters above have pointed out, Alura is emotionally manipulative of (if not downright abusive of) her daughter, people in abusive relationships will often defend the very ones who abuse them. So it rings true on that level. Superman has never really had to face the choice of his actual flesh-and-blood parents over humanity, the way Kara faces in this issue -- and, especially, as you say, given the recent loss of one of those parents, she may be feeling pretty panicked here. Also, maybe she really thinks Superman would be physically abusive to Alura; and she (Supergirl), being in a position to do stop it, intends to do so.

Anyway, keep up the great work. Can't wait to see how New Krypton all shakes out!

Anj said...

I second the sentiment that you've done another great job reviewing the issue, though I think C is maybe too harsh a grade. I think it is still an above average issue, given the character work that is done here. Maybe a B-?

Thanks so much for the post and kind words.

Maybe B- would be a better grade. It was almost like 2 issues. The Alura/Kal/Kara issue was definitely an A/A+. The 'heroes vs. Kryptonians' issue was probably a D. I guess the average would be a B-.

I also can't wait to see how it all ends.