Thursday, November 18, 2010

Back Issue Box: Supergirl #40 and #41; The Other Satan Girl

When a creator has a passion for a character it usually shows up in their stories. As readers you can recognize it immediately. There is an ease to the way a story unfolds; every decision a character makes seems like a natural progression from their last one. They 'get' the character.

And an important part of that 'getting' a character is having a knowledge and appreciation of a character's history. So when Landry Walker is able to ease in aspects of all the Supergirl incarnations in the Cosmic Adventures mini-series, it shows his love of the character. And when Sterling Gates has his Supergirl grow like the pre-Crisis Kara, when he puts Brainiac 5 and the Legion back into her history, it shows he knows his stuff. Even Satan Girl is a nice nod to the Silver Age.

While Peter David's Earth Angel Matrix/Supergirl was a very different character than the Kryptonian Supergirl, she was a compelling character. And it was clear that David had an absolute devotion to the Supergirl character. From Leesburg to Dick Malverne to Comet to guardian angel 'Kara', there were homages and references to much of Supergirl's Silver Age history throughout his run.

With Supergirl Annual #2 and Satan Girl still fresh on my mind, I thought I would thumb through the back issue box and look at Supergirl #40 and #41 from PAD's run and look at his version of Satan Girl, a now 3-time 3-version Supergirl villain.

Now these issues are 80% of the way into David's massive first storyline in which Supergirl discovers she is a Earth-born angel, created when a pure soul (Matrix) merged and sacrificed herself for an inherently flawed and sinful being (Linda Danvers). Along the way, Supergirl discovers that she isn't the first or only Earth Angel. In fact, Supergirl reminds a local mystic of the last Earth Angel of Fire, someone named Ember. If you don't know this storyline, I will do my best to keep this coherent. I may not be successful. And so we begin ...

Intrigued about Ember and still learning who she is herself, Supergirl visits Tammy Neil, Leesburg's local mystic and descendant of Ember.

Ember manifested in the 1700's as an Earth Born angel. She did not use her powers frequently and as such she was able to live a long life. Since she was prudent with her powers, she was not 'corrupted' by them. I never really liked this aspect of the angelic condition here. It seems that as mortal flesh is flawed that the holy powers the angels use will eventually become corrupted and the host will veer to evil and eventually be damned. It all sounded to 'Spawn' for me. But that is why Supergirl's flame wings evolved from feathery looking to more bat-like.

As Ember did not use her powers often, she did not fall quickly, instead living for centuries. But that also means she did not help many people with her powers either.

Neil sets up a magical circle which, in theory, should allow Supergirl to astrally project back to Ember's origin and observe in hopes that she will be able to learn about what it means to be an Earth-born angel.

Unfortunately, the spell goes awry thanks to the Chaos stream which runs below Leesburg. Instead of sending Supergirl back, it resurrects Dolores Pratchett, a Satan worshipper from Ember's time. Someone, we will learn plays an important part in Ember's ascension.

She crawls from the grave in her other identity ... Satan Girl!

Guided by the spell, Supergirl streaks to the cemetery where she encounters Satan Girl for the first time.

And Satan Girl immediately recognizes Supergirl as Ember's successor. I thought this was a nice panel with Ember ghostly image overlying Supergirl.

The two skirmish into town.

Satan Girl seems to have a very personal grudge against Ember, calling her a harlot and seducer of husbands. And, with rage on her side, she successfully skewers Supergirl with her pitchfork. Yikes!

That attack somehow acts as a spell, sending Supergirl's soul back in time, into Ember's body.

Here we see Dolores accusing Ember of being a devil worshipper and her husband's mistress. It turns out that Ember was a slave of Dolores, acting as nanny for Pratchett's daughter Rachel. In fact, Rachel so loved Ember she tried to help Ember escape before the accusation.

If Supergirl is in Ember's body in the 1700's, then Ember must be in Supergirl's body in the present.

Remember, Earth born angels are created when a pure soul sacrifices themselves to try to save a sinful person. So what is going on here?

Satan Girl gives us some of the back story. Even if Ember was a great nanny and beloved by Rachel, she was a Satan worshiper, learning the black arts with Dolores and sleeping with her husband.

Satan Girl can't understand how someone so tainted could ascend to angel status. Even more, she doesn't understand why Ember didn't revel in her powers.

Satan Girl saw Ember be transformed into an Earth Angel when Ember was burned at the stake. Angered by the ascension, Dolores vowed revenge. She committed unholy acts and asked for dark power from the Carnivore. He granted her wish and Satan Girl was born.

Satan Girl and Ember clashed many times over the years until finally, overwhelmed by the evil Satan Girl was doing, Ember slew her. Now a killer, Ember was cast down into the pit, suffering eternal damnation.

I love how the initial Satan Girl outfit looks like the original version from Adventure Comics #313.

If they are bitter enemies, why would Satan Girl bring Ember back? Is there something more happening here? Some ulterior motive?

The answer is yes.

If Ember is in the present, she cannot die at the stake in the past. Right now, if Supergirl dies in her place, Ember will never have become an angel, will never has killed Satan Girl, will never be thrown down into Hell. Ember is selfishly tempted to let Supergirl die in her place.

Still ... why would Satan Girl want that?

Suddenly the two souls of the Earth Born are able to communicate. Ember admits to Supergirl that she is afraid, afraid to go back in time, afraid to die at the stake, afraid to suffer damnation again. Supergirl reminds Ember that we can only do what we think is right. What does Ember's heart say?

Obviously, Supergirl dying in Ember's place isn't right. And Ember knows it. With the flames licking at her feet, Ember returns to her body, sending Supergirl back to the future.

With Ember dying at the stake, Dolores' daughter Rachel throws herself on the pyre to try to save Ember. At last ... a pure soul has sacrificed herself to try to save someone damned. An Earth Angel is born. It also means that when Ember was cast down, that Rachel's soul was also cast into Hell.

Satan Girl hoped that by shuffling the deck that Rachel would not merge, that the Angel would not be formed, and that therefore Rachel would move on to Paradise. In it's own way, it was a noble cause for Satan Girl, even if it meant leaving a wake of dead bodies behind her.

Despite being a somewhat selfish and self-centered character, Ember makes the ultimate sacrifice her, returning to her body knowing she will die, be reborn, and end up in Hell.

Overwhelmed with anguish, knowing Rachel is again in the Pit, Satan Girl tries to lash out at those around her.

But with the timeline reset, with events again unfolding the way they had before, life leads Satan Girl dies, crumbling to dust.

In the end, that last moment of self-sacrifice by Ember leads to her salvation. She saved Supergirl and therefore was elevated to heaven - both her soul and Rachel's.

Okay, this was pretty heady stuff. I know I am in the minority but I love the PAD Supergirl, in particular the first 50 issues. I think that exploration of religion in a world of super-heroes, that story of self-sacrifice, of the temptation of power, of how pride always comes before the fall, and redemption ... it all just worked. It still works. I love that run and reread it often.

But, as I said above, despite not being the usual 'Superman Family' fare, David inserted as much of the pre-Crisis Supergirl's history into this character as he could. Here, Satan Girl is literally a satanic girl. Nifty.

These issues are usually in the $1 box at bigger cons. The Satan Girl reference makes it an nice little homage issue to have in a Supergirl collection but otherwise I would say this has of low importance overall for the character.

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

Modern comics don't seem to want to deal with redemption, or salvation. For that matter they don't do joy, rarely seem to do non-romantic love, and even have a hard time dealing with simple affection or friendship. They do anguish, rage, jealousy, avarice, pride, vengeance, horror, sexual attraction (in a juvenile way), and sometimes romantic love. But none of the former, and I'm not sure why other than they don't lend themselves as easily to high drama or punch-outs.

PD's Supergirl run seems to have done this, at least what I've been able to read, and though I didn't buy them in the original run I am slowly filling the gaps by buying back-issues. They're a treat, and something I'm really sorry I missed the first time through.

valerie21601 said...

Well I now know where they got the inspiration for Satan Girl's look in Supergirl Annual #2. It seems that not only did they pay tribute to the Silver Age Supergirl but also bit to the Peter David version of Satan Girl too.

Anonymous said...

Wait, so the horned chick was Satan Girl!? Man, I skimmed over that issue....Any other important things I missed in that series?-ealperin

valerie21601 said...

Wait, so the horned chick was Satan Girl!? Man, I skimmed over that issue....Any other important things I missed in that series?-ealperin


Anonymous said...

Actually, from what I read, Dolores wasn't interested in Rachel going to Heaven. No, she saw Supergirl replacing Ember as a way for Rachel to be spared from Hell. That way, Dolores would get her daughter back. But I doubt Rachel would've been interested in going back to her mother after all the children she slaughtered, regardless of her intentions.

This really is one of the best Supergirl stories I've ever read, to that point that I've paid for artwork at cons of Ember and Rachel. Okay, once, but I hope for more.

Although that panel of Rachel and Ember ascending to Heaven... those looks on their faces... not really sure what to say.

csaver said...

One little wrinkle in the story that always bugged me is the fact that when it comes to Earth-born angels, its not just that a pure soul has to sacrifice itself for a corrupt one, but that the two souls become one.

In the comic, Satan Girl admitted that her and Ember "clashed" over the years. Doesn't that mean that mother was fighting her own daughter. One of the charms of PAD's Supergirl series was how Supergirl and Linda Danvers would switch back and forth, and how their different world views would interract. Unfortunately, with Ember's case, it seems that's all we get....Ember. Isn't Rachel still in there somewhere? The way Satan Girl talked, it was as if Ember "absorbed" Rachel, taking her away, as if Ember was the jar that was holding Rachel's soul.

MY theory is, and I have no real evidence here, just a gut feeling, that Ember was supposed to play a larger part in the Supergirl series, considering the foreshadowing that PAD wrote in multiple issues before this. Instead, as good as this story is, it seems like a quick resolution to get Ember off the stage. Not really sure why that would be, but one reason might be they were going to introduce the blue skirt-white T shirt Supergirl of the Superman Animated Series, and they wanted PAD to work his character towards that look, and he figured his future Ember stories just wouldn't work, so he did a quick two issue story to wrap it all up.