Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: Superman/Batman Annual #5

Superman/Batman Annual #5 came out this week and continued the Reign of Doomsday storyline started in Justice League of America #55. And yes it is a Doomsday story as he and the CyborgSuperman do their best to destroy everything and everyone in their path.

But really this is a Supergirl story with a lot of carnage happening around her. The issue wraps up the Dark Supergirl story started back in the Omega Man arc and does it in a very satisfying way. In fact, one of the reason it works so well is that it is a moment of calm in this book surrounded by the chaos of the brawling within the JLA satellite.

James Robinson really does great work in this issue. Yes, in many ways it is a 'smash em up' issue, a near nonstop fight from beginning to end. But within all that action, he still is able to give us some great characterization. So we hear how CyborgSuperman still wants to die but not at the hands of Doomsday and so fights on. And we can hear how much Dick Grayson cares for Supergirl. And, as stated above, we get a lot of Supergirl here as well.

And even more impressive is that the explanation behind the placement of the characters ... why Supergirl has time for some introspection ... doesn't feel forced.

On top of that, Miguel Sepulveda's art throughout the issue is just lush, highly detailed work which crackles on the page. If only Supergirl's boot didn't have heels! The art alone is worth the cover price.

With CyborgSuperman and Doomsday ripping up the satellite, Supergirl and Batman take refuge in the sick bay, a sort of fortified last stronghold on Watchtower. During the fight, Supergirl felt weakened and Dick realized that a retreat was called for simply for survival.

Most likely the battle triggered a defense protocol to flood the satellite with magic radiation, a way to weaken any potential Kryptonian villain (like Zod). In the sick bay, there is no radiation and so Supergirl is safe.

But Dick also realizes that to win this fight, Supergirl has to be in the game. He needs to get to the other side of the satellite and turn off the defense systems.

I think that it makes sense for the satellite to have significant defense systems both external and internal. And given the recent events of New Krypton, having anti-Kryptonian measures doesn't have the usual ring of paranoia and now seems more like common sense.

And yes, this twist does isolate Supergirl from the battle for a bit, a turn that leads to her story.

The CyborgSuperman continues to battle against Doomsday rather than let Doomsday fulfill his wish for death. Part of Cyborg's motivation is to prove that he is a bigger man that Superman. To defeat Doomsday would prove that. Hmmm ... given recent stories, I wonder if CyborgSupes really wants to die after all.

But while that battle rips up the ship, the Sick Bay medical computers go on auto-pilot and scan Supergirl. The analysis is that she is dying.

Great ...

I think Supergirl fans are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always waiting for DC to decide to kill her off again, erase her from continuity again. It is such a palpable feeling within her fanbase that I understand why creators would want to explore that. I know I had a 'here we go again' moment of angst when I read that panel. When a writer is able to evoke something like that, they have done their job. Now maybe people who aren't Supergirl fans just breezed by that panel. But I know I didn't.

Dick continues to make his way to the control panel.

Unfortunately the safety features in the X-Mansion Danger Room ... oops ... I mean Arena have been deactivated. To turn off the defenses, Batman has to make his way through an armada of villains. How can he survive this mess?

I really included this panel just to showcase more of Sepulveda's work. Wonderful.

One of the more interesting parts of this Reign of Doomsday has been the new powers that Doomsday is manifesting. He became armored against Steel. He developed energy blasts against the Eradicator. And here, after nearly being vivisected by CyborgSuperman, he develops the same organic machinery capabilities as Cyborg.  Moreover, the real CyborgSuperman suddenly finds that he can't repair himself. That is fascinating.

Even more interesting is that this Doomsday did not have armor or blasts. I am convinced that there are multiple Doomsdays, one for each of the Supermen. And now that I think that Lex is behind it, I wonder if this is some sort of Doomsday clone infused with some Amazo tech.

So brawls are all well and good. They are a fun part of comics.

But the best part of this story occurs in the sick bay. After a 'computerized' Dr. MidNite cannot diagnose why she is dying, Dick (from a distance and while on an open comm-link with Kara) activates another medical program, this one Dr. Fate.

Robinson remembers that Kent Nelson was a psychiatrist.

He points out that Dark Supergirl has manifested multiple times in the past. I love how Nelson equates the Kelly Supergirl, the one where Zor-El was telling her to kill Superman, was a 'Dark Supergirl' even if the costume remained blue. I don't think that undermines the Kryptonite poisoning explanation Sterling Gates used. In fact, it might add to it, a reason why those particular hallucinations came to the forefront.

Fate realizes that Supergirl has had so much psychiatric trauma both recently (New Krypton) and in the past (the destruction of the first Krypton) that she is being crushed ... literally killed ... by survivor's guilt and (I think) PTSD.

Even Kara knows that this manifestation of Dark Supergirl isn't evil. She's just acting like a self-centered brat. In comparison to the more villainous prior manifestations, I suppose it shows some personal growth by Supergirl.

Nelson knows Supergirl needs to simply accept that she is blameless in all that has happened. He says my favorite line in the whole book (and what I am sure will end up on my best of 2011 list) 'You survived because ultimately your mother chose her love for you over everything else'. What a great line about Alura, a character I still miss.

And finally Supergirl expresses her feelings .. she's angry and sad and tired and sad. Her life has been hard to live recently.

It might sound simple but Fate knows Supergirl needs to forgive herself, to move past the thought that somehow she is responsible for the tragedies around her. It is implied here (although never outright said) that bu shedding this weight from her psyche she will 'cure' herself, will stop dying.

In some ways this is just covering material already done by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle and Bernard Chang in Supergirl. A lot of these revelations were discussed, reviewed, revealed in the BizarroGirl arc.

Still, I think this was done well. It shows how complex Supergirl is a character. And it shows how deep Robinson's understanding of the character is.

And her introspective healing comes just in time. Right after turning off the magic field, Batman is about to die at the hands of Doomsday. He call for help and Supergirl arrives ... clad in the classically colored costume! (Ugh ... but those heels!)

Man, that is a great double splash page of Supergirl. Sepulveda's stuff is really slick. You can feel this right uppercut, shrapnel flying all around.

It gets better ...

Supergirl proceeds to beat the tar out of Doomsday for a couple of pages. She is able to finally cut loose. She even talks about how she wanted to take him on one-on-one, unlike the group battle in WONK.

Even Dick can sense it. "Her light is back.' 'She's magnificent.' And the art is spectacular.

And it even looks like she is going to win the fight, Doomsday in shreds.

But in a scene which eerily mirrors Crisis on Infinite Earth's #7, Supergirl is distracted by Batman before she can finish the job giving Doomsday just the opening he needs to defeat Supergirl. He then rips off CyborgSuperman's arms off.

And just like that  the fight is over and Doomsday teleports away with his victims. Doomsday teleporting? This can't be the Doomsday.

Unfortunately, the remaining Leaguers can't track Doomsday. His essence has been cloaked even from Blie Lantern's ring.

We do see where Doomsday went ... to the site of New Krypton. Another nice twist.

So I thoroughly enjoyed this comic ... more than I thought I would.

For one thing, the action sequences are crazy spectacular. I will admit that I like seeing comic punch-ups as much as anyone. And the battles here ... from Doomsday and Cyborg, to Dick vs the villains, to Supergirl vs Doomsday ... are all over the top and beautifully drawn.

But the Supergirl moment, the discussion of her feelings, her ultimate self-forgiveness, and transformation back to the real Supergirl, was all done so well. It just added a level of psychological drama on top of the wild carnage happening everywhere else. I think Robinson is really treating Supergirl right here, much better than he did in Cry For Justice. He just seems to 'get her' now.

And Miguel Sepulveda's art is powerful and nuanced. I can't wait to see what he does in Action Comics #900.

And no more 'Dark Supergirl'!

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Ah yeah Auf Weidersehen to Dark SG...the best I can see about this storyline is it did not do any damage to the real Supergirl's storytelling prospects.
Jean Grey...AKA Dark Phoenix
Mary Batson...AKA Black Mary Marvel
Kara Zor El...AKA Dark Supergirl
Anyone else see a pattern here??

For a few minutes at the end of this chapter I thought we were gonna get a good solid helping of "Karatharsis" but no, Kara escapes her cage of despair only to end up VictimGirl once again.
Lets hope we being set up for some real Karatharsis, but don't count on it...

John Feer

Kandou Erik said...

That was a great issue. I was impressed with the art too - sometimes with a large page-count storyline they can sometimes sacrifice quality art for expedient art. This looks like they took the time to give the artist reign over the whole issue. It just looks great.

Anj said...

For a few minutes at the end of this chapter I thought we were gonna get a good solid helping of "Karatharsis" but no, Kara escapes her cage of despair only to end up VictimGirl once again.

You know I almost used Karatharsis in my post when she was beating up Doomsday.

I think the nod to COIE#7 was also part of the 'dying' thread so I didn't mind. At least Robinson implied that Supergirl was about to kill Doomsday.

Anj said...

This looks like they took the time to give the artist reign over the whole issue. It just looks great.

I hope we see more of Sepulveda;s work in the DCU.

Jason said...

Great resolution to the Dark Supergirl plotline and I agree great line about Alura. I'm glad Dark Supergirl is gone and glad the way the story was wrapped up.

Anonymous said...

Love this issue for all the reasons you pointed out really, Nelson's line about Alura, Robinsons treating Kara with respect and him finally puting all of that Dark Supergirl stuff to rest.

And the Dick and Kara relationship, they act like siblings and they're very protective of each other. Dick is one of the few people who knows all of the stuff Kara went through when she was in her dark moments so yeah he's a major support for her. And I just love that after Doomsday took her he worries "Doomsday killed Superman, he has Kara, we have to go after her" I hope he doesn't stop thinking about her in the next JLA issue.

Gear said...

Loved the battles - the art was great, the story well paced, and it shifted nicely between dynamic action and moody exposition. I still have my hobby horse about how DC can't seem to draw Kara consistently (hair length, the heeled boots, cape is missing gold fringe, blah blah) but I'm in a very forgiving mood... everything else makes up for a lot of that sort of nit-picky stuff.

I know that Kara already went through self-examination in the Bizarro-girl storyline, but that sort of trauma requires a lot of work. The Bizarro-girl arc let her feel it was OK to be Supergirl again, now she can forgive herself for surviving when everyone else didn't. If this was reality she'd still have a lot to do - to find a way to forgive or at least not blame humanity, to regain full confidence in herself and her abilities, and to accept that she can trust the people in her life. Forgiveness and trust - first for herself, then for everyone else. Now I think I understand better why she hasn't gotten in touch with Superman on his walkabout - maybe she's not quite ready to forgive Clark for failing New Krypton (and he did, big time) or Earth for what it did. Or even know she may need to.

I know I'm probably putting more into the story than the writers intended. But a good story like this one, particularly when I had such low expectations due to "Dark Supergirl", makes me think and ponder long past the end of the read. I like it.

Anj said...

I know I'm probably putting more into the story than the writers intended. But a good story like this one, particularly when I had such low expectations due to "Dark Supergirl", makes me think and ponder long past the end of the read. I like it.

I completely agree. To a non-Supergirl fan, this might be easily forgotten. But there was so much good character stuff here that I also thought about it more, and reread it quicker than I usually do with new issues.