Friday, September 21, 2012
Review: Supergirl #0
I have been pleasantly surprised with DC's Zero Month finding most of the issues to be solid origin-based stories and decent jumping on points. But no title seemed more geared for a zero issue than Supergirl; the details of Kara's trip to Earth have been a mystery since the beginning of the book. With this week's Supergirl #0, we finally get some answers ... and a couple more mysteries.
One of the things that I have commented on ad nauseum here has been the difference between the Supergirl character in the book and the one presented in publicity by DC's PR staff and editors. While the publicity makes her sound like an angry loner with a mean streak, the book itself shows a character with a deep seeded sadness. Sure, she has occasionally exploded (literally) but she has always seemed to have the right motives, the desire to help others. In Supergirl #0, which takes place on the last days of Krypton, we get a sense of why she has that core, who she was in her own environment, and basically the type of person she is. I liked what I saw.
On top of that, we get a better sense of Zor-El, his abilities, his obsessions, and his overwhelming love for his daughter.Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be madness in him, just desperation.
And we also see the lengths Alura will go to in order to protect Kara as well. Prior glimpses of Alura made her seem like a rigid traditionalist with a strained relationship with her daughter. Here we get to see a loving mother trying to protect her child.
On top of this characterization which really builds a foundation for the Supergirl character, we get answers. When was she rocketed? By who? And who shot Zor-El?
There are some minor details which I don't know if I have wrapped my head around yet but overall this was a very good issue. The creative team of Mike Johnson, Michael Green, and Mahmud Asrar just deliver here. On to the details ... and since this is a big issue with big revelations, this is a long review.
The issue starts in Zor-El's secret lab, a lab hidden from the Science Council, where he is running experiments which push the boundaries of the Council's ethics. So already we know something about Zor. He is willing to do what he thinks is right even if it flies in the face of authority. That sort of determination is something that we have seen in this Kara ... heck in the best of all incarnations of Supergirl. I thought this was a nice little way of showing where Kara gets some of her internal strength.
Now, preparing to do whatever necessary to save your daughter is one thing. To experiment on your teenage daughter without her consent is something else. So maybe there are some boundaries that shouldn't be crossed. The words here have to be deliberate. 'Code Matrix' has to be some subtle homage to the Matrix Supergirl. It also implies, especially given this is the World Killer lab, that this Kara was altered by these experiments. So maybe these new powers - the super-intuition, the corona wave solar flare, the combined vision - isn't simply because female Kryptonians process yellow sun energy differently. Maybe she has been enhanced. I have to admit ... I don't know how I feel about this quite yet.
Zor-El knows that the planet is doomed. But he can't come right out and say it. Why incite panic? Or risk his own freedom to do what he thinks is necessary? Instead, he has to act somewhat in secret to try to save what he can. With the blessing of the Science Council, he has placed 'generators' around Argo City. We know those are really force field generators, designed to save Argo. Again, this shows a sort of headstrong 'I know best' attitude in Zor.
There is always a lot to compliment in Mahmud Asrar's art but you can just feel the fatigue and desperation in Zor-El here. He is racing against the clock and it shows.
As I said before, one of the things I loved about this issue was seeing Kara in a comfortable environment. It gives me a better sense of who she is.
So despite the ongoing feud between Zor and Jor, she still visits her aunt and uncle, still plays with her cute little cousin. She has a sense of family and loyalty. She clearly loves little Kal. So she has a strong emotional core.
Interestingly, we also hear her comment about bickering classmates, equating the Jor/Zor dispute to 'mean girl' nonsense. But that statement also makes her sound like she is simply above all that. So there is an implied maturity here.
But that fraternal disagreement is based on Zor's experiments. Jor-El doesn't approve of things he has seen Zor doing (the world killer stuff, I suppose).
At home, Zor-El continues to push himself to the limit. Time is short and he needs to get everything ready. He is curt with Alura, hiding his plans with Kara and the planet's destruction even from his wife. So Zor is complicated. He isn't the sunny purely good guy we saw with the last Supergirl.
He keeps a phaser set on stun by his side because scientific caste members have been attacked. There is a lot to digest here. First off, the scientific caste sounds a lot like the science guild from prior Krypton culture. I am glad that the super-books are maintaining that part of Krypton's history. Second, these attacks are probably from the 'doomsday' anti-science cult we saw in Superboy #0.
But lastly, you never see a gun in the first act unless it is going to be fired in the third.
With the clock ticking down, Zor takes Kara to his main lab in Argo.
Alura, who had been curious about Zor's research, discovers that he has been using Kara as a guinea pig. On top of that, she is startled when Superboy appears telling her there is still time to say goodbye to Kara.
Suddenly there is a new mystery in this book. How the heck did Superboy end up here. It makes my review of the Superboy on Argo City seem prescient!
Anyways, we have already seen Kara in the crowd shot of Superboy's origin in Superboy #0. Now this. Somehow these two get to be part of each other's origins even if it means time travel. Hopefully this will be spelled out in H'El on Earth. But more importantly, what an interesting message from Kon. He doesn't want Alura to miss this moment, he calls Supergirl Kara. He seems to ... care! What an interesting future moment for us to peek at knowing what Superboy is going through now, knowing what Supergirl thinks of him now.
Zor-El meanwhile has his rescue of Kara timed to the second. He takes her to the lab, has her get into her 'family crest' outfit, and shows her the pod she is sent to Earth in.
I know that I have been talking about this solid emotional core and maturity that Kara has shown but this panel reminded me that she is still an adolescent. But this panel, so wonderfully drawn by Asrar, speaks so much. The beaming smile, the shy knocked knees, the brandishing of the cape. This sort of childlike joy she evidences, just from wearing this outfit, reminded me that she isn't a fully formed adult despite her upbringing and set of values. She is in many ways still just a kid, learning about the world.
But the world is literally crashing down around them. For some reason, presumably because he has drugged her, Kara passes out. Zor has the time to tell her what she is doing and she begs him not to send her away.
I thought this was a good moment for the two. The father who loves his child so much he has to send her away to protect her. It isn't an easy choice; he is weeping.
This is a different portrayal of Zor-El then we have seen recently. He resides somewhere between Kelly's insane murderous Zor and Gates' perfect father figure. This is a complicated guy stuck in a bunch of no win situations.
I do think his heart is in the right place. We have surmised in the past that the raw power of the World Killers is what powered his generators, made the force field. He basically admits it saying that he has redeemed himself, using their power to save lives.
But he also says it is saving Kara's life. He must have altered her genome, using the work he did on the World Killers as a template to increase Kara's capabilities. I have to say, I am still on the fence about this one particular detail of her history. I'll need to see it play out a bit more before I decide if I like it or not.
Also, in a nice piece of symmetry, we get the reverse angle of the speech Supergirl heard off the sun-stone crystal in Supergirl #5. We see Zor recording it.
We know that recording ends with Zor-El being shot. I had always assumed it was a kill shot. But that gun from Act 1 was a stun gun. And it is Alura who pulls the trigger.
Back in my 'who shot Zor-El poll' I listed her as a suspect and the person I hoped would not have pulled the trigger. (Of course, back then I thought it would make her a murderer.) Now knowing this simply stuns him, I suppose it is semi-justified. She has learned that her husband has experimented on their child and is planning to rocket her off the planet. I can understand why she would be angry and try to do everything in her power to stop him.
Congrats to those people who voted for her!
Of course, she arrives to late. The pod speeds off just as Argo's shields go live ... just as the planet explodes.
I love this image of Alura, simply defeated, ragdoll-like in her sorrow. We have always seen Alura in a position and posture of strength. To see this image of her humanizes her.
So a very solid and intriguing origin story here ... one that answers a lot of questions.
We know now that Supergirl was rocketed at the same time as Kal. Now why she would orbit the sun, or finally break orbit and land on Earth ... I don't know.
We know that Argo survived. It must have been Zor-El (or perhaps Alura) who built the wormhole gates between Argo (as it orbited the blue sun as seen again in Supergirl #5 ) and Earth. Perhaps he was hoping to reach her, be reunited with her. And this is why Reign says the lab she awoke in was in space. It was the Argo lab she was in, powering those generators.
Zor-El survives being shot. Perhaps that is why he and Alura seem very much a team when seen as a vision in Supergirl #6. Maybe, once she learned why he was doing what he was doing, she forgave him. Heck, maybe they are in the Survival Zone given how they appeared. I am glad he survived this far although it does change the impact of the shooting dramatically
We know why Supergirl thinks she was on Krypton just the day before. We know how she got into her uniform (I guess some short term amnesia about her conversation with Zor is expected). And most importantly we have a sense of who she was on Krypton.
Mahmud Asrar's art is supreme in the issue especially in the characters' expressions, magnifying the power of each scene.
Now can I deal with her amplified genome? And how did Superboy get there?
What I really want to know is what did all of you think?
Overall grade: A