Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: Supergirl #47


Supergirl #47 came out this week and marked the "end" of the long-running Reactron storyline. After several months of Supergirl issues linked very tightly to New Krypton, this issue was a sort of breather. Sure, Reactron's fate is a key part to the bigger story and the overall arc in the super-titles, but this issue felt like a turning point in the Supergirl title.

Truth be told, this really is an Alura issue, with Supergirl acting as a background character. But I didn't mind that one bit.

Alura has been one of the more complicated and therefore more interesting characters I have read recently. She's been cold and cruel at times. She has been morose and despondent at times. She has been confident at times but nervous and frail at other times. Her behavior has been so erratic, I thought for a long time that she was suffering from Kryptonite poisoning.

This issue really provided some back story to Alura, putting the spotlight on key scenes in her past and showing the readers that her feelings are well established and not secondary to some bolt of Kryptonite energy.


The book opens up on one such flashback, a scene before Zor-El and Alura are married, a scene in which Zor-El is telling Alura how much she loves her. She tries to repress her own feelings, saying that the Science Guild believes that love is simply a chemical response to external stimuli. To acknowledge love therefore would be to deny who she is trying to become. And yet she does love him.

But before we hear her say those words, this scene transitions nicely to her voicing her hatred of Reactron.

That technique of showing how a scene from the past is impacting current time, is contrasted to current time, is played out throughout this whole issue. It really shows us the inner feelings of Alura and again showcases how conflicted she is.

I do find it very interesting that Alura who has always been portrayed as a very passionate and emotional character, was at one point trying to bury her feelings under a cold logical persona.


When Reactron plays the 'tough guy' in his jail cell, Alura promises him that she will be the last person who will claim to be his executioner. It will happen; he will be executed.

Throughout this "Year Without Superman", I have really loved the little origin logos. This Alura one is particularly lovely, with Alura written in the Action Comics font.


As it turns out, Alura has kept Reactron's presence on New Krypton a secret. She knows that many Kryptonians will want revenge ... will want to kill him outright. And she plans to bring him to trial.

As always, there are small things in comics, artistic nuances that make me love the medium. Here Kara and Alura are flying next to each other. But their flying positions say so much. Kara simply looks graceful, one leg bent, hand outstretched as if she's reaching for the future. Alura, by contrast, is flying with her legs straight, almost rigid and her leading hand is a closed fist. These subtle differences remind the readers that the two are very different people.


Back in her office, Alura's fears of Kryptonian sentiment about Reactron are confirmed. The parents of one of the men Reactron killed in the assault in the Arctic have come looking for justice. They have heard that Reactron is on New Krypton. When they begin to badger Alura about his whereabouts, she responds with force.

This physical confrontation is more powerful when contrasted to that opening flashback. Alura went from a young woman trying to suppress her emotions to someone who lashes out because of them.


That evening, Alura recalls another scene from her past, a scene in which Zor-El again tells Alura how much he loves her. He grabs Alura's hand and places it in the middle of his chest so that she can feel his heart beating. That memory has now been tainted by the more recent tragedy of Reactron's hand on Zor-El's chest.

It is that juxtaposition of memories, those two different hands on Zor-El's chest, which really provide the reader with some valuable information about Alura's state of mind. What should be a cherished memory is now associated with the most painful memory possible. She cannot remember that night with him without immediately thinking of how Zor-El died.

We see Alura place her hand on the empty half of her bed, the place where her husband should be, and we see her cry. She is still grieving.


The following day is Reactron's trial. He is brought before the Council for a preliminary hearing to establish that he is mentally competent to stand trial.

In what I think is one of the best scenes in the book, the entire trial is questioned by Reactron's defense attorney. Dyn-Xe, the lawyer who defended Superman in World of New Krypton, believes all the charges should be thrown out and Reactron returned to Earth.

He appropriately points out that his client is not of New Krypton, is not bound to the rules of that planet, and is merely a soldier who followed orders. While he understands Alura's desire for justice, he feels that this is not the forum. He even insinuates the improper nature of this trial by pointing out that Kal-El isn't there. He wonders if Superman is even aware that Reactron is on the planet. Dyn-Xe knows that Superman is a man of honor. Superman would point out that this is a sham of a trial and would not allow it to continue. Dyn-Xe even go so far as to question Alura's state of mind, her ability to pass judgment. He wonders if she is too close to this case to be objective.

I agree with him wholeheartedly. I don't think the Kryptonians would be happy if one of their people were brought before a court on Earth and subjected to our laws. There were no extradition papers. There was no discussion with Earth government to bring Reactron to New Krypton. This seems more like a witchhunt more than a trial. That said, when Reactron was given to the appropriate authorities on Earth he was promptly released. Alura may feel this is the only way that he can be brought to justice.


Before the trial can go any further however a group of Kryptonians, led by the mourning parents from earlier, burst into the courtroom. They have only one thing on their minds. They want revenge.

Shockingly, as the lynch mob train heat vision on to Reactron, it is Supergirl and Alura who jump to his rescue. They dive in front of the heat vision barrage, saving him. Despite his brash exterior, Reactron again shows his cowardly nature. He begins bartering, saying that he can give the Kryptonians information.

I was not shocked to see Supergirl jump to save Reactron. That is what a hero would do. It did shock me however that Alura would rise to defend him. This would've been an easy way for her to get what she was hoping for. And she would've been above reproach.
Instead she says that the mob simply cannot kill Reactron. Just when I think I understand Alura she throws me a curve ball. It is this sort of diametrically opposed feelings within one person that make her so intriguing. How can she promise him that she will be his executioner on one page and then leap to his defense and state that he cannot be killed a few pages later.

I bet Alura is a very fun character to write.


We get some background into those feelings as we are shown another flashback. This is a much more recent flashback, only back to the Brainiac storyline. Here Zor-El and Alura are still in the bottled city of Kandor watching Superman and Brainiac fight. We see those giant figures in the background here.

Alura says that she hopes Superman kills Brainiac. This statement shocks her husband. You can see on Alura's face that she is filled with hate for Brainiac. She thinks it is ironic that the artist Zor-El is telling the scientist to be less emotional. But that is not what Zor-El is saying. He's saying that Alura may have those feelings but she should be above them. He doesn't think that they should succumb to hatred.

I love that last panel. As Zor-El says that they need to be true leaders in the background looming large is the family crest of the House of El. People who wear that Shield should not be hoping that anyone gets killed.

While I have been talking about how these flashback scenes give us a better sense of who Alura is, I also have to say that the scenes really flesh out who Zor-El was. We didn't get to see much of him before he was murdered. You really get the sense that he was a good man.

And you also get the sense that Alura's emotional instability was present long before she was struck by that Kryptonite bolt when Kara was cured. Alura's behavior isn't Kryptonite poisoning. This is who she is.

And yet back on New Krypton, we see her try to espouse Zor-El's ethics here. He thinks they should be above wanting revenge. Perhaps that is why Alura is saying that Reactron cannot be killed in this manner. Maybe she wished to honor who Zor-El was, what he stood for.


Unfortunately in the skirmish, Reactron is apparently killed. Commander Gor reports to Alura that Reactron attempted to escape and was vaporized..

And just like that the Reactron story seems over. It is an anti-climactic ending. There doesn't seem to be any catharsis here.

The characters just wander away.

Supergirl leaves New Krypton to return to Earth. Alura is unable to stop him from leaving.


The last scene of the book shows Alura in Zor-El's tomb. She is talking to her dead husband.

And what I think is just a delicious turn of events, we learn that Alura did not try to save the Reactron because she wanted to honor her husband's feelings. We learn that she wanted Reactron kept alive so she could get information out of him. And if she needs torture to wring it out of his body, she will torture him. In fact, she puts Commander Gor on the job and he seems like just the sadist who would get some pleasure out of it.

I don't know if I can say that Alura is evil. But I know that I cannot say that she is good. She may be trying to do good but the ends rarely justify the means.


In her heart even she knows that this isn't the right thing to do. She collapses before Zor-Els casket hoping that the information she obtains is worth this erosion of her morality.

Again, the fact that this panel is drawn in the perspective that it is adds a lot to the ending. Not only do we see Alura as a very minute component here, echoing her own sentiments of feeling small, we also see it in the context of the Zor-El's tomb which is just bathed in light. That light emanating from him, reminding us of who he was, is such a wonderful contrast to her statements.

I know that one of the recent concerns about this title is that the Supergirl character has been lost in the New Krypton storyline. At times it is felt that this isn't really a Supergirl title but more of an adjunct to Superman. I think that this issue turns the corner. Yes this was an Alura issue but clearly her character impacts Supergirl greatly. We have seen tension between Kara and Alura throughout Sterling Gates' run on the title. This issue really adds dimension to that relationship. We really get a better understanding of who Alura is.

And as much as I have talked about how Brainiac 2 is one of the best characters in comics today, I really feel that Alura is right up there as well. She seems like such a roiling cauldron of conflicting emotions, she has been through so much trauma, and she seems to want to do the right thing. I don't know if I can easily explain my feelings for the character. At times I like her and at times I don't. But I usually feel some sympathy for her and I think that is a tribute to the writing of this book.

While the Reactron story clearly isn't over at least this chapter of it is. The next issues all seem to be dedicated to Supergirl and her activities on Earth and I'm looking forward to those greatly. But my guess is that when I take a look back, that this character driven issue focused on Alura is going to be one of my favorite issues in Sterling Gates' run.

As I have mentioned above, comics work best when words and art come together. I have nothing but good things to say about Matt Camp's art in this book. It is a very clean and detailed style which suits this book well. I have to say in some places it reminded me a little of Geof Darrow. That is high praise. I also thought he did an excellent job in making subtle changes to Alura's face which clearly showed how she has aged from those earlier flashbacks on Krypton to the current events on New Krypton. While I look forward to Jamal Igle's return on Supergirl #50, I think the book is in more than capable hands.

Overall grade: A

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

How long before Kara figures out that her own mother has duped her like Mirabai and General did on Earth?
And imagine the fireworks when she finds out and confronts mom.
I was a little nonplussed to see Kara so sanguine about Reactron's death, yes he killed her father and she wanted justice done, but he is also the best means to clear her name on Earth, some registry of her ambivalence might be in order. Maybe she just doesn't quite comprehend how badly sullied is her name on Earth?
Still I love the fact that Alura can't stop her daughter from commuting to Earth, she could call out the Army maybe but imagine the spectacle that would make...Likely SG would still escape anyway.
Isn't that every 15 year old girl's dream to fly off on a whim?
BTW interesting earthism on page one, Kara calls Alura "Mom" not "Mother" like an Earth teen would...it'd be funny if her "Mom" admonished her for it.
Honestly, the evolving Kara Alura relationship is one of the most interesting in the DCU right it has everything!
John Feer

mathematicscore said...

I just want to chime in and say this was one of my favorite issues so fare. While I am not a fan of the trend of late (actually, for the last decade or two really) of erring on the ugly side of human nature (torture, deception, etc) I thought it was well handled here. The writing really sucked me in on a rollercoaster with Alura. Other writers have showed Alura's negative traits hamfistedly at best, but Gates nailed it here. I was shocked at the ending, even though prev appearances should have preparted me. This is a testament to the skill of Sterling Gates. Applause for not having a cariacature when we can have a character.

Gene said...

This issue felt like a John Ford western. The sunset at the beginning of the issue reminded me of one of Ford's movie trademarks.

I saw some parallels between Alura's character and John Wayne's character from "The Searchers." You want both of them to succeed in their quests, yet their methods and mindsets appear repulsive at the same time.

TalOs said...

Anj said...

Truth be told, this really is an Alura issue, with Supergirl acting as a background character. But I didn't mind that one bit.

Noir I for that matter.

And you also get the sense that Alura's emotional instability was present long before she was struck by that Kryptonite bolt when Kara was cured. Alura's behavior isn't Kryptonite poisoning. This is who she is.

Which makes total sense after the lengths Sterling goes to fully flesh out her back story and have the reader in turn now comprehend all past decisions Alura has made ever since emerging along with Zor-El out of Kandor upon it being re enlarged.

Kudos Sterling! :)

Question: so does this mean Alura being struck by renegade Kryptonite bolt wont be followed up at all in turn now? Sterling? :/

Jamal Igle said...

Talos,
The bolt was never a plot point.

Mart said...

Wonderful issue, great review. I laughed at the start, with Alura as Dr Temperence Brennan, with her denial of emotion. But who wouldn't melt before a partner as good as Zor-El.

Never thought I'd see a comic in which those Silver Age stalwarts would be in bed before getting married. Tut!

It was good that the creatives gave us enough to guess the ending. Lovely to see the smile wiped off Reactron's face.

Sterling, Matt and co did a terrific job - I hope Mr Camp is Jamal's regular second.

TalOs said...

Jamal Igle said...

Talos,
The bolt was never a plot point.


It's not? Oh ok then, I can forget about it now.

Thanks Jamal! :)

Anj said...

How long before Kara figures out that her own mother has duped her like Mirabai and General did on Earth?
And imagine the fireworks when she finds out and confronts mom.


There will be fireworks!

Between Project 7734, Alura, and Lois, Kara doesn't have too many people left to turn to.

This definitely will only strengthen her feelings of belonging on Earth.

Anj said...

The writing really sucked me in on a rollercoaster with Alura. Other writers have showed Alura's negative traits hamfistedly at best, but Gates nailed it here.

I completely agree.

She has been a paradox and has really been shown all over the map emotionally and psychologically but it all seems to fit. You can tell that the trauma in her life has definitely scarred her.

I think she is a great character.

Anj said...

I saw some parallels between Alura's character and John Wayne's character from "The Searchers." You want both of them to succeed in their quests, yet their methods and mindsets appear repulsive at the same time.

Wow!

Any day with a 'Seachers' reference is a great day.

There definitely is a 'might makes right' or 'the ends justify the means' feeling with Alura. And yet you can tell she is struggling with her own decisions ... as if she knows what she is doing is wrong.

Anj said...

Question: so does this mean Alura being struck by renegade Kryptonite bolt wont be followed up at all in turn now? Sterling? :/

That was a theory we bandied about here to explain Alura's behavior. But now we see it is more deeply rooted.

Thanks for the official answer Jamal!

Anj said...

Sterling, Matt and co did a terrific job - I hope Mr Camp is Jamal's regular second.

Agreed about the scene in the bedroom. Unheard of in my youth!

But I also thought Matt Camp did a superior job here.

Adam Smasher said...

Beautiful cover and Matt Camp’s interior art wasn’t too bad either (though I didn’t like the way the council was represented. It looks like Reactron is surrounded by Pez dispensers).

The relationship: Though Zor seems too perfect and Alura too cold (what did he see in her; personality wise?), the flashbacks scenes work (both dialog and art). It was heartbreaking seeing the tears in Alura’s eyes as she lay on their bed.

Supergirl is barely a presence in her own title. I know this is an Alura story but SG barely had a personality... but I wonder if this was intentional. Is this how Alura sees her own daughter, as someone who stands in her shadow? SG barely registers as a blip on the radar

One ?? When Dor-Ox first leaves Alura, she says “or at least Alura would ask we think that” -- Hu? Is that an oddly structured run-on-sentence? I can’t make sense of it.

This was another solid issue and it was so nice not to be directed to another title at the end.

Anonymous said...

HMmm so the much discussed k-bolt did NOT alter Alura's personality she was always a ice cold...(w)itch.
:D
Well, the revelation itself settles much discussion nigh this past year...Funny that it came out on this blog and not the DC Boards....but then again the DC boards are a bit of a wasteland and announcement like that would garner no interest therein.

John Feer

And-Ru said...

I really enjoyed this issue.

It's amazing what Sterling Gates can get done when he's left alone to do it.

Less stupid crossovers please!

http://bottlecityofkanga.blogspot.com/2009/12/supergirl-47-blue-boots-and-boo-hoos.html