Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review: Supergirl Annual #2

In what has been a highly anticipated book by me for some time, Supergirl Annual #2 did not fail to please. Written by Sterling Gates, the book re-introduces Supergirl to the Legion in a way that both looks back at the Silver Age and looks forward to the upcoming history of this incarnation of Kara Zor-El. As a long time fan, I am thrilled that the Legion aspect of Supergirl's mythos has been brought back; it was such an important part of her pre-Crisis history. We had been given a few hints about this back in Supergirl #52, the Last Stand crossover, so it was good to see those threads brought to fruition here.

As I said, this issue also is a nice look back into the Silver Age Supergirl/Legion stories. Sterling Gates obviously has a respect for those stories to include some hints of them here. The main antagonist here is Satan Girl, a riff on the villain from way back in Adventure Comics #313 (and don't worry I'll head to the back issue box to review that one soon). But even beyond that, there are a lot of Easter Eggs sprinkled through this book (and don't worry, like with Cosmic Adventures, I'll have an Easter Egg post of this issue). For old-timers and diehard Supergirl fans, these nods to her past are very appreciated.

It is clear that Gates has a solid understanding of Supergirl's history and her fans concerns ... it's all in this book. But for me, it was especially nice to see the rekindling of the Supergirl/Brainy romance.

The book sports a wonderful and dreamy cover by Amy Reeder. I like that Brainy and Supergirl are in a time bubble, a wink at their star-crossed and time-crossed relationship. The internal art is mostly done by Supergirl pinch hitter extraordinaire Matt Camp. His stuff is so incredible; I think he does a near perfect rendition of Supergirl. There are some pages done by Marco Rudy as well.

There really is a Silver Age magical feel to the story too, some things happen almost too easily or inexplicably, but I think that it worked given the tone of this book. This book also includes one of the best Supergirl scenes in all of Gates' run.

The book starts with Supergirl and the Legion saving Metropolis from a falling satellite. It is clearly an early version of the Legion given their members and their costumes. As such, I thought the very old Legion logo on the cover was more appropriate than the more modern one seen here.

Still, it was fun to see Supergirl and this young Legion team-up to avert this disaster. It really is all hands on deck as multiple Legionnaires are needed to slow the descent and save the nearby populace.

The satellite is some sort of orbiting lab of Brainiac 5's. He has been doing experiments on a 'Brocian hunting statue' that has been rumored to have magical properties.

In standard Brainiac 5 fashion, he has been a bit too caught up in his experiments to think of the downside. So he did not think about the potential adverse outcomes of bombarding the statue with chronon energy, he just did it. Unfortunately, it did result in this disaster. And worse, the statue becomes a 'magical time bomb', exploding right in the faces of Supergirl and Brainy.

That thirst for knowledge despite the potential pitfalls sounds like a young Brainiac 5.

That explosion reminds Supergirl of how she got to the future. The rocketship bringing her to Earth from Bizarro World also exploded mid-trip. The resulting explosion somehow flings Supergirl into the 30th century.

An explosion that catapults Supergirl through time? Sounds a little to easy, too lucky, too deus ex machina to get her into the Legion's time? Certainly that sort of stuff happened all the time in the Silver Age and this future feels like that future so maybe that makes some sort of sense.

One thing I did love was Supergirl's near immediate acknowledgment that this is not the 30th century that she had visited before. So we at least now know that she lived those 'Waid reboot' Legion stories. I don't know if that was ever 100% explained in a satisfying way so I am glad she said it.

I do have to say again (and probably will other places here) that Matt Camp draws a great Kara. That last panel is Supergirl.

The Legion are all too eager to have Supergirl join them for a time ... everyone but Brainy that is. At least here he recognizes the dangers of this 'experiment'. There are too many things that can go wrong with time travel, events that can be altered.

He even mentions some 'historical' events in Supergirl's life, none of which we have seen. Were these future stories that Sterling Gates had in mind before being lifted from the title? They all sound so interesting. 'The Scion of Superwoman'?? 'Lex Luthor's OTHER Son'?? 'The Deadly Day of the Doll-maker'?? Will we ever see those stories? Or will they merely be fodder for fan-fic?

As with Superboy, the Legion majority wins out and Supergirl sticks around having many adventures with them and ending  up joining them as a full-fledged Legionniare, flight ring and all! In other places like the JLU cartoon, Supergirl has felt more at home in the future time of the Legion, so maybe this extended stay is a reference to that.

But also, Supergirl recognizes that this is a more innocent time than her own. This is another chance to give herself some distance from the events in the present. There is no war here, or murder, or New Krypton. It seems almost like a vacation.

There is a great page of her early adventures with the group all of which I will review in the Easter Egg post.

But like many, I absolutely loved this panel, showing Kara's friendship with the other girl Legionnaires. I especially like how Supergirl tells Imra that her pink high-collared bikini is a good look. Could it be Kara is responsible for Saturn Girl wearing the Dave Cockrum costume of the 1970s?

I also like Kara's lounge-wear. The headband and S-shield off to the side evoke other versions of her own costume.

Despite being on this team of equals and the acceptance she feels here though, Supergirl still feels lonesome.

I think Supergirl simply realizes that her destiny is not here; she needs to eventually return to her time. She doesn't belong here.

That second panel is so fantastic, with Kara centered and small. You can almost feel the weight of responsibility on her. Again, how lucky we have been to have had Sterling Gates here for these last couple of years. He understood that there is this hidden aspect inside Supergirl.

I talked earlier about this issue having one of the best scenes from Gates' run and here it is.

While in the future, Supergirl visits the Superman Museum and meets the tour guide, an animatronic Jimmy Olsen who tries to get her to walk through the Hall of 1,000 Olsens. Instead, she walks to the Supergirl Memorial Hall. She hears how Supergirl, "during one of the greatest battles in history ... was killed stopping the worst threat the Earth had ever known, giving her life for her adopted planet." And then she sees how she dies. Look at the horrified look on her face. What a great panel by Camp.

Now the description sounds like her death in the Crisis ... but that has happened already right? And we don't see her death for obvious reasons. I am sure DC doesn't want to be handcuffed to some vision here. But more importantly, since we only see Kara's reaction it is more powerful ... more worrisome.

Since 1986, I think Supergirl fans have some sort of PTSD about her death. I think we are all worried ... always waiting ... for DC to kill her off again. By having Brainy talk about it in Supergirl #52, to address it so clearly here, Gates is poking an exposed nerve. The truth is, how can I not be happy with a creator who understands a character and her fanbase so well. This only adds to my appreciation of his run. I doubt that DC has any plans to off Supergirl again but this kind of picked at a scab and made the wound bleed a little bit again.

I absolutely loved this scene. Loved it. And that's without showing some of the Easter Eggs there as well.

Before Supergirl can process what she has seen, an emergency pops up calling her away.

Brainy's earlier experiment have somehow called S'tanicule Gyrstress ... or Satan Girl ... to Earth. Walking through the dimensional rift, she begins enslaving the population of Earth.

With little chance of defeating her and her minions (which includes some Legionnaires), Brainy activates an escape route device he has been testing, throwing Supergirl and him 4 days into the future. When they arrive, they find Earth aflame and in ruins.

In four short days, Satan Girl has simply taken over the world. Somehow hitting the statue of Satan Girl with time energy called the real thing to Earth. It looks like it is up to Brainy and Supergirl to save the day all by themselves.

As you can see, the pages of this 'Hell on Earth' are done by Marco Rudy who has a rougher style which I guess thematically fits the terrain. His style has a Sean Phillips/Jock vibe to it.

Unfortunately there isn't much time for them to formulate a plan. They are almost immediately attacked by a brainwashed original three Legionnaires. Despite Brainy getting mind-blasted, the two are able to beat a quick retreat.

During the Legion's assault, Saturn Girl, internally fighting Satan Girl's influence, is able to implant a message to Brainy and Supergirl. Satan Girl's 'Crimson Plague' (I love that and it's connection to the original Satan Girl story) spread over the world in a matter of days. Now, she is building a citadel to open up a rift for all her race. Supergirl and Brainiac 5 need to stop it.

To be successful, Supergirl is going to need troops and the only ones available to her are the 1,000 Olsens from the Superman Museum. Suddenly Elastic Boy, Turtle Boy, Porcupine Boy and all the other versions of Jimmy Olsen help Kara break into Satan Girl's fortress. Why the museum would have actually given the robots powers is beyond me.  Again, this is a little bit of Silver Age silliness ... but that's part of the charm here right?

There is a decent brawl between Satan Girl and Supergirl, during which Supergirl actually wields a longsword. Nice!

During this fight, an enraged Phantom Girl wrecks Brainy's force field belt and he gets skewered by Satan Girl. Luckily, before he dies, he is able to save the day. He has cobbled together a device that will siphon of the time energy that they absorbed (remember they were closest to the 'magical time bomb') to shut the rift and revert things to the way they were. Hmmm ... even more Silver Age nuttiness, where answers were easy?

Brainy's device works and the time line is set straight. Suddenly Supergirl and Brainiac are back on the satellite, the Brocian statue is still an intact statue, and no beacon to Satan Girl has been activated. Brainiac 5 no longer has a penetrating abdominal wound. Just like that those days have never happened.

And since we are back to the Utopian future, Matt Camp's clean style resumes.

I love the sly look between Kara and Querl. Perfect.

Well maybe not as perfect as this. The Legion bring Supergirl back to the present and she shares a kiss with Brainy.


All the knowledge Supergirl gained from her time in the future, specifically how she dies, is mind0wiped by Saturn Girl. After the events on Bizarro World and this diversion to the future, Supergirl looks downright elated. She has been through a lot recently and come out the other side.

Brainiac 5 on the other hand has a much sterner countenance. He vows that he won't let Supergirl die alone like the history books say. Awesome.

There is almost too much that happened here to easily encapsulate at the bottom of this review. I can only commend Sterling Gates for bringing back so much Supergirl/Legion history here. There is more to cover from this book and I promise I'll get to it. But the kiss with Brainy was just a perfect capstone to this issue.

On top of that, Gates also brings back the specter of Supergirl's death, leaving it out there; there is something of a delicious dread with that ...we all fear it might happen again so why not play on that?

And on top of all that you get the nearly perfect art by Matt Camp.

Marco Rudy has a rougher less polished style which might work from a story point of view but when the art changed, it was a bit jarring. And there was that Silver Age simplicity and serendipity with some events here. As a reader, you either recognize that was part of the riff here or it might bother you.

Overall grade: B+


valerie21601 said...

Overall I really enjoyed the SG Ann #2 story too, especially with Kara asking Brainy to take her out on a date later on. I do hope we get to see that story too. It did have something of the Reader's Digest Condensed Book feel to it due to the lack of space and pages to tell much about her adventures there but I thought it was a faithful to the spirit of the Silver Age of the Legion and Supergirl at the same time.

While I am glad to see Kara's future death being acknowledged. I worry that it will also wear out us, her long time fans with the waiting for the other shoe to drop syndrome too.

Anonymous said...

I have a great trust in Sterling Gates as a writer, it neatly counterbalances my distrust of DC as an institution when it comes to Supergirl. The problem is, that Supergirl's death is being hyped in this annual, and since Gates and Ingle are off the book at the end of the year we have NO IDEA what will be the outcome of said plot point. It may get abandoned it may get carried out well or ineptly we do not know. All we do know is that Sterling Gates won't have our back when the time comes.
Hence my concern.
And it just bothers me that the main association that everyone has in their mind about Supergirl is "dying young" (Thank YOU Marv Wolfman)....So we get that shoved in our faces periodically.
They will fix up Supergirl's damn panties but they won't do a damn thing about the whole Supergirl=a Premature Death equation.
That bugs the hell out of me, hype the death of someone else's favorite for once! Leave us out of it, otherwise I get the impression that DC thinks it can bully and tease SG"s fanbase in a way they dare not with say Wonder Woman or Ghod help us, Batman.

John Feer

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was really a fun read. I'll be looking forward to your further comments on the easter eggs hiding throughout this book.

This was definitely a Silver Age 31st century, so much so that Supergirl even comments to the Jimmy Olson hologram that she doesn't remember his relationship with Superman this way. That's not the Jimmy Olson we see in the current run. With Turtle Man Jimmy, Elastic Lad Jimmy, Super-Brain Jimmy, and so forth it's the Silver Age Olson.

So... did Supergirl visit yet another off-continuity Legion? Was the death she saw her own, or the death of Silver Age Kara in the first Crisis?

valerie21601 said...

SaintAsh has started a Querl and Kara fan club on devoted to the Brainiac 5 and Supergirl relationship.

Right now it's just a fan club with a BIG bunch of Querl and Kara drawings and fan art and even some of XTC in her own folder.

SaintAsh and I are working on going some fun stuff and other things for the Q and K fans.

Anonymous said...

My own theory is that the 31st century legion thinks the old DC hardcover archives are works of history...And clearly they have both the Supergirl volumes in their library.


John Feer

Anj said...

I agree that the 'other shoe dropping' feeling is always there with me. Unlike Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, if Supergirl 'dies' there is no guarantee that she'll be coming back.

I hope there was no editorial edict to include this in the story, which would make me more worried. I think Gates just realized that undercurrent is there in the Supergirl fanbase and thought he would acknowledge it.

But, as said, I worry with Gates off the title what someone else would do with that info.

Given what we have seen in Adventure Comics, I think this is THE Legion and not some offshoot.

valerie21601 said...

I recall reading a Gates interview where he said Kara would be visiting the "original" Legion and the previous one she had visited was the Earth-Prime Legion. (And that B5 is with Dream Girl.)

That this the second time, Kara will meet the Brainiac 5 of her time line. For him it would be the first time he meets her in person.

There are a couple of other ways Supergirl's death could go with with the story telling.

1.) In the eyes of the "Public" Kara is dead but she is living a private, non-super hero life, without her powers.

2.) Like in the JLU: Far From Home episode, she leaves the 21st century permanently for the 31st century for Brainy and the Legion. Never to come back.

With Kara's "death" the legends and the facts change and grow over the centuries and it's revealed the reality is actually very different.

Also I did love the Olsen brigade scenes too. Where the android says Jimmy was his best friend, my take on it. Is that over the centuries the myth and legends of Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Best Friend and Confidant grew and grew like Pinnociho's nose. Until there were a 1,000 Olsen tales.

Martin Gray said...

Some wonderful ideas there, Valerie.

Great round-up of your thoughts, Anj. The death business provided an interesting emotional hook for this issue but I wouldn't mind were Brainy's determination to help Kara not be followed up. I'm all for the death bit being dropped ... the Superman Museum exhibit is likely referencing the Classic Kara's death, which most people have forgotten. It may be that at some point in the various multiverse rewrites, someone remembered it, created an exhibit, and the idea that Kara died young stuck. But I'm happy never to be told ... let's move forward.

Anonymous said...

When she met Brainy again for the first time, again, a while back and it hinted of Kara's death, I was concerned. I though maybe it was just a nod to Brainy's loss pre-CoIE, but with this story, I'm worried.

Granted, this may have been a nod, or as Valerie suggested, a possibility of JLU-like "death," but I'm soo concerned that DC feels they must honor the time-tested tradition of death and erasure for Supergirl.

I'm so saddened by reading this story and what it suggests. Granted, her death may never come in our reading days, but the idea it might breaks my heart.

I was never more so relieved and excited as I was when I saw the yet-another Supergirl was Kara Zor-El, and all the pain from her death and dismissal could finally be buried. If they kill Kara again, I won't survive, as it were, this time. Her fans have been teased through the years by possible comebacks and even when she was first rebooted, why does DC feel that teasing of her death is respectful of the character and her fans?

I only hope that this was simply a way to acknowledge what came before and NOT an indicator of what we'll be reading in the future.

valerie21601 said...

I feel that IF DC Comic kills off and erase Supergirl again. Then they should take out Power Girl this time too. From what I have seen over the years, while the character of Power Girl is a very good character when she has had her own "Gates" over the past 30 years a few times.

It is clear to me the ONLY reason DC spared P.G. aka Kara Zor-L was spared from erasure was only because of the way her body and her chest was built. Not because of her stories, nor a proven track record at the time of the CoIE series.

I really do enjoy Power Girl's, bold, ballsy, in your face, never give up ever attitude character especially when she is written by a writer who understands her very well. But DC really flubbed it when it came to doing their re-boots on P.G. since then. Changing her origins at least three times I am aware of before finally letting her "remember" again her pre-Crisis life and letting her re-gain her Kryptonian heritage and identity.

IF DC insists on letting Power Girl to keep on existing and going on. Then us, fans of the current Kara should be able make such a fuss they will listen to us and find a corner for her to stay in and keep going on just like Power Girl and her group the Justice Society of America.

I am dearly hoping Nick Spencer is a fan of the Supergirl and Brainiac 5 pairing and will write great stories about their relationship and their adventures together.

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind, today's comic book writer likely came of age as a fan during the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" so their whole view of Supergirl is neatly encapsulated by the cover to COIE #7.
You can be sure they've never read any of her pre-crisis runs either in her two solo books or her featured run in Adventure Comics, Superman Family or as a back up feature in Action Comics.
I honestly believe this is a big problem with the character....the origin of the Supergirl=death equation as it were.
I don't know how to combat it save by blunt methods and if DC really is toying with a new snuff scenario, I for one will be done with company for good.
They need me a lot more than I need them is how I view it given the nature of today's sales.

John Feer