I have been pretty interested in this title since we first met Nightwing and Flamebird in the New Krypton storyline. Back then, my initial thought was that Nightwing and Flamebird were Connor and Linda under the masks. Their mystery took something of a back seat to the Superwoman one so I haven't been scrutinizing the clues of their identity as closely.
Luckily, Rucka lets me off the hook, revealing who they are relatively early on. And what a reveal ... it definitely impacts the Superwoman mystery.
I like to see small touches in books that add to the experience, flourishes that show the creative team cares enough to do the little things. For example, the mini-origin of Nightwing andFlamebird we see with the credits. I like that these are legendary figures who arise when the time is needed. In some ways, it acknowledges not only Kara and Karen's time as Nightwing and Flamebird early in Supergirl but also the Silver Age stories. This was as nice a touch as Kara's little origin blurb where they state she fights for 'truth, justice, and the Kryptonian way.'
The issue starts off with the CEO of an Australian communications conglomerate talking about Cat Grant and how much he would like to get her on his payroll.
Before we can get too far into the conversation, Nightwing bursts through the ceiling and punches the man. We see him plummet from his penthouse office through the floors of the skyscraper.
Shockingly, he flies back relatively unscathed and confronts both Nightwing and Flamebird.
A right hook shatters the mask of Flamebird's power suit revealing a familiar brunette underneath.
As the battle continues, Nightwing says that he knows the CEO to be a Kryptonian named Tor-An. Tor-An claims to have been a sleeper agent on Earth for eighteen months and is irate that his cover is blown. He thinks that Nightwing and Flamebird are merely humans in power suits and plans to kill them. But that all changes when Nightwing speaks Kryptonian to him.
On a side note, I am glad that the editors put the subtitles for the Kryptonese in the panels. A scene like this should crackle with energy. Having me look back and forth at the Kryptonian alphabet key would have slowed down the pace of the action. I do like seeing the foreign language written rather than merely translated into english and the words put between chevrons
Tor-An seems shocked enough by this that he is easily captured in a block of ice by super-breath. Before he can melt his way out, Flamebird captures him in some sort of shrinking/imprisoning gun.
After the battle, Nightwing is giddy proclaiming that they have captured one of six targets.
He then approaches the unmasked Flamebird tenderly, this after jumping to her defense in battle. It is small things, like his hand on her face, that make me think that Nightwing has feelings for Flamebird.
But most importantly, Flamebird is revealed to be none other than Supergirl's friend Thara Ak-Var !! I guess the red hair when they were in their original costumes was a wig. The red hair was a red herring. That was the only reason I was thinking it was Maxima.
There is no way that Thara is both Flamebird and Superwoman. No way! So I guess we can cross her off the Superwoman guess list. My condolences to all who thought Thara was under the cowl.
We learn more about Thara's motivations later on.
Of course, when an Australian businessman is 'abducted' by super-powered beings, the world takes notice.
Somehow the portion of the fight where Tor-An was flying around is not filmed but Nightwing and Flamebird's retreat is. As a result, they are now suspects for the abduction of 'David Carter', Tor-An's human identity.
We see Lois looking at the news reports suspiciously. You can almost feel the wheels of her mind turning that only Kryptonians could create such property damage.
And she isn't the only one thinking that way. General Lane is also wondering if the two are Kryptonians and therefore in violation of the UN decree outlawing Kryptonians on Earth.
Alura reveals to Zod that Thara, Head of Security, has been missing for nearly a week. We also learn that Thara has been having dreams and hearing a voice - that of a young boy in the Phantom Zone calling out for help. That same voice was warning Thara about Zod and Ursa. And Thara's parents, it turns out, served under Zod in the Kryptonian military.
Zod puts it all together. The voice Thara heard was 'Chris' Lor-Zod. Chris may have told her about Zod's sleeper agents, part of a plan he has for (presumably) conquering Earth. Thara released Chris from the Phantom Zone and now they trying to sabotage this master stroke.
Zod tells Ursa to head to Earth to clean up the mess, implying that harming Lor-Zod is an option if necessary.
And, if that wasn't intriguing enough, there is this little exchange where Ursa says she remembers how Thara's parents died. To me that means they died by Ursa's hands. Adding a personal layer to this story only makes it that much spicier.
The Fortress of Solitude has become the headquarters of Nightwing and Flamebird and we see Tor-An captured in an energy ring suspiciously similar to the imprisoning device seen in the Donner Superman movies.
Thara tells Chris that their new outfits, their power suits, are a decoy to keep people from thinking they are Kryptonian. They have a job to do - rounding up Zod's agents - and being in violation of the UN decree would make it dificult to achieve that goal.
We then see the list of sleepers Thara is gunning for.
I recognize the names Jax-Ur and Quex-Ul from Silver Age stories but I don't know their current histories or any of the other names. Does anyone have any info?
Thara hears Chris scream from the other side of the Fortress and flies to his aid. When she arrives he looks older. When put in the Phantom Zone, I would put him around 8 yrs old. Early in the issue, he looked to be more around 15. Now I would put him in his early twenties. Chris says the aging episodes happen in spurts and wonders if it has to do with his time in the Zone.
I can't imagine that is true since others, including Mon-El and Zod, were in the Zone for longer and are not so effected. Accelerated aging never works out well in comics. At this rate, Chris will be dead from old age by the end of the run.
This would be a suitable cliffhanger for this opening issue but Rucka decides to top it.
Rucka does a great job of leading us into this story arc by starting us out with an intense action scene. It set the tone, got my blood going, grabbed me as a reader.
We then learn of the overall story of the arc, the hunting down of Zod's sleeper agents on Earth. As readers, we knew Zod was not as magnanimous as he has acted in World of New Krypton. This shows he still has Earth in his sights.
Add to that the Thara and Chris identities and the personal ties they have with Zod and Ursa, and you have a cauldron of conflict for the coming year.
And what better way to end a new storyline, an opening issue, than with a great cliffhanger to suck readers back for the next chapter.
I have to admit, I was questioning DC's decision to remove Superman from his titles just when he was getting some momentum. I worried that readers might jump ship. I still worry.
But this issue is a prototype for what first issues should be like, laying out the main plot, the subplots, the points of conflict, and sprinkling in some action and suspense. This was a very nice job by Greg Rucka to get me excited for relatively new characters headlining a huge DC title.
Added to this is some great Eddy Barrow's art. Occasionally in Teen Titans, Barrows' art has seemed rushed or distorted. This issue was clean and slick. I usually don't comment on this but Ursa was chillingly sexy.
I simply did not expect to like this issue as much as I did. Wonderful!
Oh yeah ... and Thara isn't Superwoman.
Overall grade: A+