Supergirl #60 came out on Wednesday and I have to say ... I was worried.
It was the first issue in the post-Sterling Gates era.
It had a pink S-shield.
It was plotted by Nick Spencer who has jumped ship.
I went in with low expectations.
Surprisingly, I thought this was a good to very good issue, setting up the premise of this story arc and introducing us to a new villain. Now I have a caveat about my overall grade here, something I will need to see happen in the upcoming issues to feel even better about this. But I'll admit, I liked it.
The writing is credited to both Nick Spencer and James Peaty, although I bet this is more of a plotted and scripted sort of thing. I'll talk more about the writing in a bit, but I think that Supergirl was portrayed in the right manner, something I wasn't sure was going to happen.
The cover by Amy Reeder (outside of the pink S-shield) is a nice one, showing a flying Supergirl turning to the camera.And Bernard Chang seems comfortable with the characters here. I was very happy with the art in the book.
The book opens at Harvard University where a student named Alex is talking to one of his buddies about how man evolves. It is often through conflict and being conquered. He talks of the evils of the Roman Empire, how they mistreated much of society, but also how the Romans brought civilization dramatically forward.
He wonders if super-heroes are doing humanity an injustice by stopping Earth from being conquered by alien races. Maybe these new masters would elevate mankind just as the Romans did.
We don't know Alex yet, but he is obviously bright, cocky, and self-assured. He is quick with the turn of a phrase. But he already seems very creepy.
The next scene jumps to Lois having lunch with Catherine Devereux, a former Cadmus employee who left her job to be with her child who is battling leukemia.
Catherine tells Lois of a project at Cadmus, a project which could threaten the world. She needed to tell someone so her conscience would be clear. Lois assures her that it is the right thing to do. And it doesn't matter if Superman isn't around, someone else is protecting Metropolis.
So first off ... this is Lois Lane. Not what we saw in Superman #707.
But more importantly, how great is it for Lois to talk about Supergirl protecting the city so easily, so confidently. It was a small moment but it struck the right chord of how Supergirl is viewed now, like a hero.
We then see Supergirl, flying over the city, acting as guardian angel.
I really think Bernard Chang draws a lovely Supergirl. She looks lithe and agile here. She does seem to be a bit long in the torso in this panel, invoking a sort of midway between Michael Turner and Jamal Igle.
She sounds and looks sure of herself as she patrols the skies. She even catches a young man who has fallen off a skyscraper. In a nice role-reversal from many Silver Age issues, the man tells Supergirl he did it so she would save him. He even hopes she'll give him her number. There is a great panel where you can feel Supergirl rolling her eyes at him. It is a nice little introduction for her to this new team.
But before we get more of Supergirl, we are back to the Harvard commissary where Alex is talking about his latest smart-phone app called Flyover. He created it so people could document when and where they have seen young super-heroes. It ends up being a sort of GPS to find out where heroes are, a way to triangulate their location.
Already on the grid live, the app is accumulating hits. Even the young man saved by Kara has downloaded her position.
The concept is interesting, social media being used for ill will. We recently saw it in Matt Fraction's Iron Man where people thought they were playing a smart-phone game but were actually piloting drones and fighting the real live Tony Stark.
But again, we are treated to a whole page of dialogue between Alex and some new students who arrive. Their talk isn't really important to the story, more small talk among friends. In the end, I wonder if there was too much talk ... but more on that later.
Presumably, based on her Flyover position, a small team of Superman villains gets teleported to Supergirl's area, ready to fight her.
This isn't Riot. These are some heavy hitters (although Kara does notice that Silver Banshee is there and doesn't usually associate with other villains): the Parasite, Metallo, the Kryptonite Man, and Silver Banshee. Supergirl shouldn't be able to last long against all these guys. She would probably struggle with one.
But like a hero, she doesn't fly away.
I love these two panels. Supergirl asks the villains who hired them. The Kryptonite Man reminds her they would gladly kill her for free.
I really liked the second panel. Supergirl succinctly asks them 'battle?' We see her open hand close to a fist. And as if to bring our focus onto her fist, we see the villains blurred in the background. If this was a Matrix movie, it would be a force ripple obscuring them when she balls up her hand.
It was panel progression that worked for me.
And, amazingly, she actually gets the upper hand, tossing the K-man aside and bashing Metallo.
I liked seeing her reflection in Metallo's mask.
But again, before we seem much of that fight, we cut away.
First we see the Daily Planet where Perry is asking for stories. Jimmy talks about a gorilla in a local zoo who is adopting stray cats.
Then Lois bursts in with the news that Devereux gave her. Cadmus was, once again, experimenting with Kryptonian DNA. My theories about this later.
Dispersed within the Planet scene is more from the Harvard Cafe.We learn that no one can remember when they first met 'Alexander the great', or how long they have been friends. He simply was in their heads. It is clear that Alex is more than a smart kid; he must have some sort of powers. I think I got it figured out ... but we'll see at the end.
And suddenly we are having all the scenes shown to us, one panel at a time.
Supergirl's success in battle is short lived as the 4 villains gain the upper hand.
Devereux goes home to her ailing child.
And Alex talks more. We finally learn what he is trying to do. He wants to eliminate super-heroes so the next wave of conquerors will be successful. But he'll eliminate Supergirl, not Superman ... because she is the future.
It is an interesting plot tied in to the plugged in community. But it does take us a while to get there. And we again get more panels where Alex and his friends are talking about girlfriends and dating. It seemed like wasted space.
It isn't just Supergirl he wants to kill. It's all the young heroes. And Flyover is just the way to find them.
Nice panel showing the scope of Alex' psychosis.
When his friends all call him on it, saying he's crazy, Alex tells them they won't say a word or he'll reveal a deep dark secret they all have - secrets he lists including cheating on tests, killing someone while drunk driving, and having an affair with a Dean.
And with that, Alex says he is done with college.
In a sick twist, Ms. Devereux comes home to find her child is dead, a note from Alex written in a book nearby, chastising Devereux for talking to Lois. It shows just how diabolical Alex is.
So what do I think about all this.
First off, clearly Alex is the project from Cadmus. He must be a clone who has been rapidly aged. Given Spencer's hints from before, I would have initially said it was the Luthor/Brainiac clone from Adventure. But the wrinkle about Kryptonian DNA has me thinking differently. Maybe, like Conner, Alex is part Luthor (get it A-Lex) and part Superman, only he's more Lex than Clark ... like 75% to 25%. Remember, in Supergirl Annual #2, Brainiac 5 talked about Supergirl's major adventures including 'Luthor's other son'. Alex has to be it.
Secondly, my caveat about this arc and the writing in this issue. I thought this was a good first issue because it showed us all the key pieces of the puzzle and gave us some insight into the villain. But this was told in a Nick Spencer style. There was a lot of talking going on, maybe tangentially concerning the main action of the story, but keeping us away from the action. This is the same pattern I have seen in 3 issues of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. I think it worked here because we were just getting to know Alex. But I don't know if I want to see this style every issue ... or even one more issue. I am about to stop reading T.H.U.N.D.E.R. because it feels like it has been spinning its wheels. Let's face it, Supergirl was only in a small part of this issue. That's fine to set the table, to give us the info we needed about the upcoming conflict. But I don't want her pushed to the periphery of her own title so snappy dialogue and meaningless repartee can happen. I mean, we learned a decent amount about the students Alex was friends with, their romances, their sins. Will we see them again? Did I need to hear all I heard about them? Or was that page space wasted?
I don't mean to sound negative. I know I am talking about a potential problem in the next issues. To be honest, I think that Spencer leaving might be the right thing here. I have more trust in James Peaty, that he'll keep Supergirl front and center.
Lastly, I wonder if its Banshee who will save Supergirl from her current predicament, payback for Kara helping Siobhan get a family talisman in Supergirl #49.
All in all, I thought this was pretty good. I hope the next issues can build on this, showcasing Supergirl more.