Friday, April 22, 2011
Review: Supergirl #63
Supergirl #63 came out this week, the penultimate chapter of James Peaty and Bernard Chang's 'Good Looking Corpse' story arc. That also means we are nearing the end of the Peaty/Chang's tenure as creative team on the title. Despite all the issues surrounding their run ... taking over from Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle's prolific run, the sudden departure of Nick Spencer ... the team has put together a compelling and entertaining story so far. It's hard to believe that it's already almost over.
As the second to last chapter, Peaty has work to do here, lining things up for a satisfying conclusion. That means revealing who the villain is ... because we know there is more to Alex than meets the eye. It also means keeping the Lois subplot moving along as well, something I have liked about this arc very much. This is definitely how I picture Lois being characterized and with her near absence in Grounded, it has been nice to see her in action.
While much was revealed in this issue, I still need a little bit more on the villain's backstory, a little bit more of some of the character's motivations, which means next issue has a lot to cover in a short period of time.
It was nice to see Amy Reeder back on cover duty here. You can really see the fear in Supergirl's eyes here. I know that I was worried that the hand clutching her here was Comet's hand, from the PAD run on Supergirl. While it would be nice that Comet would be back in continuity, it might also have opened up a can of worms. Suffice it to say, it isn't Comet.
Last issue, Alex had knocked Supergirl unconscious and teleported away to his lab, leaving Kara alone with the insipid Harvard students from the first issue. Their continued presence at least in some ways justifies the pages of conversation we had from them in the first issue, although I still think too much time was wasted on them there. There is more to them than meets the eye here.
This is a small piece of a nice 2 page spread with long horizontal rows of panels, showing Supergirl awakening, gathering herself, and zooming off to find her friends. Bernard Chang really is doing spectacular stuff here.
As Supergirl tries to fly away from the evacuated Harvard grounds, she finds the university covered in a force field. Now, if she really wanted out, she could burrow underground and see if the dome is a sphere. But there is too much mystery to be solved on campus. She is trapped, alone save for the students we know are Alex' friends.
The issue's art work is an interesting mix of panels. After the two page spread above with many small panels with tight focus, we get several large splash pages like this one. I always say big moments deserve big art. I also say that spalsh pages sometimes means less story is being told. I don't know if this warranted all this space, no matter how beautiful the art is.
For me, the best part of this issue was the Lois subplot, her dealing with Cadmus employee Catherine Devereaux. Devereaux told Lois about the Cadmus project back in Supergirl #60 only to discover that Alex had killed her son Jason in response.
I like that Lois has the compassion to follow-up on this end of the story, to see how Devereaux is holding out. It also gives Peaty an opportunity to flesh out some of the backstory here. I liked this line where Lois tells Devereaux about a friend who also lost a son, obviously talking about Cat Grant. Devereaux asks 'did she survive' and Lois says 'in her own way'. Just the most perfect response to that question. Cat has survived, but not unscathed.
After talking more, Devereaux reveals that not only did she learn about the project, she help set Alex free.
Meanwhile, at his secret base at an abandoned Cadmus site in Central City, Alex begins breaking down the spirit of the heroes he has captured. He has already seized control of Miss Martian and Blue Beetle, enslaving them telepathically. Interestingly, Damien's mental training makes him the hardest to break down. But Alex finally worms his way in to see what Damien fears.
Here is another splash page, this one deserving of the space, as we see Robin's fear is that he will embrace his role as Ra's Al Ghul's heir and slaughter the entire Bat-family. Powerful piece.
Of course, the motivation here seems off. At first in this arc, Alex seems hell-bent on killing young heroes. So why not simply kill the ones he has under his control. While draining them of secrets might help his cause, once that has been done wouldn't he just slaughter them? I know, knowledge is power and right now they are serving him. But I would have liked one line from Alex saying it rather than me having to infer it.
Back at the hospital, we learn more about Alex. Here Devereaux talks about how she felt for this clone being made, born and reared in a tube, trained to loathe the heroes, but basically unloved. To a mother like Devereaux it was more than she could bear to watch. She felt for Alex.
Even if Alex promised to cure her son Jason of his leukemia (that is part of why she freed him), she still thought Alex deserved better.
Per Devereuax, he was named Unit X.X.X. and lived in a test tube, raised by an artificial intelligence father, and basically lacked the upbringing a child needs. She thought that was inhumane.
Now Alex has telepathic powers which might have nudged her to have those feelings and free him. And, of course, since her own child was dying, she might have been an easy target for him to control. But none of this seems entirely consistent with the woman who went to Lois in the first issue afraid of what was being made. Unless, after freeing him she realized what he was.
That said, before the scene ends, Devereuax, now sporting the Alex-controlled pink eyes, says she is still close to him and seems to prepare to attack Lois. I hope these differing sides of her character - worried whistle-blower and surrogate mother - are explained a bit more. Maybe his mental control on her is spotty?
In my favorite Supergirl moment of the book, Kara realizes it is a little too convenient for only three students wiped of their memories to be on the campus with her. She is suspicious. And using some parts remaining from the battle drones she has defeated, she jury-rigs a machine with the fly-over app on her phone that shows that Alex' friends are also cloaked drones. It is a nice moment, reminding me of the tinkerer Supergirl who was part of the Science Guild.
It also shows that Alex might be free from Cadmus but he is just as alone. Even his friends are fake. In fact we see what I assume are the real students in some suspended animation device in his lab.
With the force field over Harvard about to run out of power and no one to delay Supergirl from bringing the fight to Central City and Alex' 'primary hub', Alex decides to face off with Kara.
After a couple of pages of him tossing her around like a rag doll with his telekinesis, a battered Kara lands in his clutches. He even tells her that there is only a little Kryptonian genes in his make-up, just some 'extra spice' as he puts it. (That at least explains the heat vision we have seen.) And then we have the big reveal ... it's Dubbilex.
So a couple of things here. Supergirl shouldn't be defeated by being tossed around a room unless there was some telepathic attack on top of the physical beatdown. Maybe this is a ruse by Supergirl to get close to him?
Secondly, I don't think this is the Dubbilex. This must be Unit X.X.X., something built off the template of Dubbilex. Does that mean he's Triplexxx? I have to say I never guessed this ... and that always makes me happy. I like to be surprised. Clues were there though ... a Cadmus built clone, with telepathy, and a name with X ... maybe I should have guessed it. I think I was still trying to shoehorn another human in there too much, first Lex Luthor, then Maxwell Lord, and then Sam Lane. So this was a nice reveal.
Overall this was a good chapter, setting up the big finale. I definitely like how Lois is being used here. And Supergirl continues to shine here. In this arc we have seen her trash robots imitating super-villains, leading other heroes, and here use her science know-how to stop another threat. Sure Alex has beaten her the last two issues but that means he is a viable threat. There are some minor characterization problems here but all in comparison to the opening chapter which was co-written by Nick Spencer. I wonder how much of these speed bumps come from that writer discrepancy.
Peaty continues to craft a very good Supergirl story. And Bernard Chang is just doing sparkling stuff here. I hope both of them find work at DC after this story.
Overall grade: B+