Saturday, June 11, 2011

Review: Kelly Sue DeConnick's Sif #1

We are one week away from the release of Supergirl #65, the first part of the three part Kelly DeConnick/Chris Cross arc before the presumed reboot of our favorite Girl of Steel. And before we move onto the new DCU, I should focus on the here and now.

I admit that I hadn't read anything of DeConnick's prior to her announced run on Supergirl but heard great things about her Marvel work, especially the Osborn mini-series. I figured I should get a look at DeConnick's stuff so I could get a better sense of what to expect in Supergirl. And why not post the review here so others can do the same or chime in. Osborn is a 5 issue mini and therefore too long for here. I also wanted to see how DeConnick handled a female lead. Luckily, she did a couple of one-shots during the Women of Marvel publicity event from a year ago, the perfect sort of book for a peek here.

And so, here is a review of Sif #1, written by Kelly DeConnick with art by Ryan Stegman. Be aware, this is a somewhat historic moment for this blog as this is the first Marvel book to be reviewed here.

Just a quick blurb about one-shots like this. They must be incredibly difficult to write. You have to boil the essence of a character down to the basics and make sure you cover those. People need to know just who the character is when the issue is done. And you need to tell a complete story.

I also have to admit that I haven't read any Thor comics that don't have Walt Simonson somewhere in the credits. I haven't read any Sif adventures since the mid-1980s. So one thing I was grateful for was the 'recap' opening page of the issue. It at least set the stage for where the character is.

And it sounds like things have not been going well for Sif as of late. Loki had possessed Sif's body while Sif's spirit lay trapped in the body of an elderly cancer patient. Just before that mortal woman died, Thor was able to place Sif's spirit back into her Asgardian body. Despite her return to godhood, Sif decided to live in Broxton Oklahoma rather than ascend back to Asgard.

Okay, so that is a lot of psychological trauma for the Goddess of the Hunt to endure. Defeated and helpless, lying dying, saved at the last minute but imagining what Loki would have done with her body for the time he was wearinf her skin, Sif seems lost, lacking the confidence we have typically seen in her. Now if this was an ongoing title, you can imagine that Sif working her way back to feeling 'normal' would be the first year of the book. I think of the Gate's Supergirl recovering from the psychological trauma of New Krypton. That recovery was in both the BizarroGirl arc and the Dollmaker story, 8 issues in total. DeConnick has to get Sif there in one.

You can see just how uncomfortable Sif is in her own body right from the start. Sitting in the tub of a dingy hotel, she examines all her battle scars, almost as if she is rediscovering them, as if they happened to someone else. Why stay here rather than be in the golden halls of Asgard, unless this somehow mirrors her psyche right now?

Sitting in the tub, she hears a noise and springs to action fearing an attack. She recites who she is, her warrior's resume, but it feels empty. She's trembling, afraid. 

And she almost kills her kindly landlady fearing that she is Loki come back.

It must be awful for a Warrior Goddess to feel like this, cringing at every sound, fearful of a bogey-man like Loki.This is not the Sif I know. It isn't the self she knows.

With nothing to do, she goes to the local Broxton bar, dealing with the standard 'bad pick-up line cad' that seems to reside in every bar in comic books. But again, why be drinking here when you could be in the mead halls of Asgard. It is as if Sif isn't ready to be there yet, as if all that has happened to her has lowered her it's as if she isn't ready to be the Goddess of the Hunt again, like she doesn't feel she deserves it.

As if that wasn't bad enough, DeConnick adds a sucker punch. Beta Ray Bill shows up looking for Thor. Oh, and Bill has his new girlfriend with him. Sif and Bill used to be an item. It is awk-ward! And adds another ripple of despair to Sif's already tormented life.

Bill's ship (the Skuttlebutt? ... really?) is being taken over by some Borg-like technology. Bill and Ti Asha Ra were able to escape before they were consumed/absorbed and they need someone to get on board and free the ship and it's inhabitants. The ship now is rigged to not allow any Korbinite like Bill back on board. Bill was hoping to find Thor. Instead, Sif volunteers.

Sif is looking for a purpose. She knows she is languishing in Broxton and needs a change. Maybe she has a death wish. But for whatever reason, she shakes the dust off and decides to do something.

Dressed more appropriately, Sif is able to get on board. The ship is littered with tech-drones trying to infect all comers. The invaders seem typically nefarious, hoping to spread their hive-mind bliss to the far corners of the universe.

Sif is able to rally a bit on this battle field, saying she won't be taken down by 'the sniffles'.

As if to hammer home the fact that Sif's issues right now are more mental than physical, Bill tells her that even a Goddess can defeated by an enemy in her head. Right now, that enemy is Sif herself. She needs to reclaim her life.

Like any warrior goddess book, we have a nice spread of pages of combat. Sif really has to wade through the mind-numbed horde on board. And DeConnick and Stegman have a nice battle sense, mixing in sword play, kicks, and punches. Makes me think we might see a nice fight scene in the upcoming Supergirl arc.

Moving her way to the central chamber, Sif takes on a heavier burden of tech-germs and has to fight to remain in control of her own body. In essence, this tech-virus is trying to 'wear' Sif's body just the way Loki did. This alien plays the part of stand-in for Loki; it is the chance for Sif to finally face her fears, face her prior defeats, reclaim her self-confidence and self-worth.

I did like that she sees Loki's face there. She isn't just fighting some virus-laden alien. She is fighting the memory of Loki's trauma. She guts him.

And that's that. The emotional dam has burst. Freed from fear, filled with anger, ready to lash out at everything that has happened to her, Sif destroys the central node of the virus freeing the ship.

I thought this was a nice panel. Sif is actually relatively small in the panel, but near-surrounded by the enemy. It gave a claustrophobic feeling to the fight, as if she feels smothered and literally needs to hack her way to the surface.

That battle was symbolic of her recent history. After defeating her enemies, both internal and external, Sif is able to take control of her life.

She even gives her blessing to Bill and Ti Asha.

And reclaims her role of warrior goddess. Armored, sword drawn, striding confidently to the audience, stern visage ... this is the Sif I know, not the one in sitting in a bar, beating up goofballs.

And I don't think this story is necessarily over. She swears vengeance. I would not want to be Loki.

So I thought this was a pretty good issue, if only for the fact that DeConnick is able to bring this mental catharsis to a conclusion in 22 short pages. So the story, the enemy, the resolution all seems a little rushed but it had to be. What would this story have been like over 3 issues? Of course, I am not basing the entirety of DeConnick's work on this book and would love to hear what people have thought of her other stuff. But this issue certainly showed a strong female lead, some character development, and good dialogue. Makes me optimistic.

As I said above, one-shots need to get to the fundamentals of the character. I think readers will know the strength of Sif after this issue.

Ryan Stegman's art seems a little rougher than it was in the She-Hulks mini-series from this year. That murkier linework is effective in the blood soaked pages on the ship. Travis Foreman's cover is very nice outside of the napkin Sif is wearing as a skirt. What is that? A hankerchief?

Blog friend Mart Gray thought a little less of this issue. Here is a link to his review on his great 'Too Dangerous For a Girl' blog. It is always worth reading other reviews and I would recommend this one (and the blog).

But either way, I liked what I saw here and it makes me think this upcoming Supergirl story is going to be very good.

Overall grade: B+/B


Nikki said...

What disappointed me about this issue was that Sif never realises that how she feels must be how Jane felt when Sif posessed her. Its just never discussed but then I always did prefer Jane to Sif.

Gear said...

ANJ, thanks for the great review.

As you said, it's hard to cover everything that needed to be covered with a subject like this in a one issue special. I was impressed at how well she dealt with it in a short space, and how she captured the real feelings of a survivor. A victim, true, but a survivor too.

Nikki, that would be a great next step in the story. Re-connect with yourself first, then look at the bigger ramifications of what happened next, including how it relates to your own actions. It's where I would have liked to see the story go if it had been more than a one-shot.

ANJ, by the way, you should add DeConnick's web site to your Professional Links since she's now an official contributor to the Supergirl mythos:
She's got a short entry right now on making story pitches for the current DC reboot.

TalOs said...

Y'know, while reading the review on Kelly Sue DeConnick's venture on Marvel's SIF title the only thing i kept thinking was just how somewhat eerily similar it all was to how that of PAD's SUPERGIRL #50 turning point with how he had Matrix/'Mae' awakening in the body of a Earth born teen by the name of 'Linda Danvers' and Mae now having to come to terms with the fact she could never return to her original created by pocket universe Lex Luthor purple (later pink) colored protoplasmic goo self yet inspite of it all making the best of who she was now i.e. an entity comprised of both herself as well as Linda and still operating as Supergirl regardless.

Anyway, welcome aboard SUPERGIRL Kelly Sue DeConnick as well as Chris Cross! =)

PS: I second Gear's recommendation for Kelly Sue DeConnick's own blog to be included in your link section, Anj. =)

Martin Gray said...

Thanks for the link, Anj, but more, thanks for your fine review. It made me take another look at the comic. Great insight, sir.

Anonymous said...

When did Sif become Xena the Warrior Princess? Back when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee were the Capos' d regime at Marvel, Sif was a simpering wench whose chief job was to gaze up at Thor with nigh canine adoration.
Marvel always had a wretched record with super heroines (name ONE book headlined by a female hero from the House of Ideas from 1961 thu 1970...) and back in their heyday almost all their supporting female characters were depicted with intense condescension and sexism.
So I sort of love it when "The House of Ideas" feels it must over compensate...
Is Sif gonna start beheading people like Wonder Woman or shooting up school buses like (ye olde) Supergirl?
Kidding, I'm just very anti-Marvel thass all, welcome aboard Ms. DeConnick.

John Feer

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments and suggestions. DeConnick's blog is now here as a link.

Interesting comments all. I went in with a complete open mind, no understanding of who Sif was now, and enjoyed the read.

Nikki said...

She's still like that John. When she's not with Thor she's a lot better. If I hear her defer and say 'my lord' one more time, I swear. In The Mighty Thor #2 last month she was emoing about how Thor didn't want to sleep with her when he had a glowing wound! How I look forward to Jane issues. Jane has sass and independence around Thor, Sif doesn't.

Anonymous said...

My point is, it is sort of hilarious to see Marvel self consciously POWER UP all these weepy passive aggressive female characters...
They still hold the record for the worst treatment of a superheroine what with Ms. Marvel's extradimensional seduction by her "son"....

John Feer

Anonymous said...

" How I look forward to Jane issues. Jane has sass and independence around Thor, Sif doesn't."

Like someone who has read Thor's Silver and Bronze Age issues I have to say this is completely untrue.