Supergirl #15 came out this week, the latest chapter in the H'El on Earth. So far this has been something of an uneven crossover, each issue tangentially linked to the last but thematically feeling quite different. H'El's story is sort of oozing out slowly over each issue as well. While we know the big plan is to 'save Krypton', we know little of the hows or the whys.
Unfortunately, H'El has decided that Supergirl is the weak link in the super-families. She is the one he can most persuade to join his cause. And, unfortunately, that sets Supergirl up to be the patsy here, the fall guy, the villain. Part of her main story is that she needs to become acclimated to and accepted on Earth. And making her side with the villain, fight Superman and eventually the JLA, derails that. And that would be a shame because there has been such progress on that front in this book.
Writer Mike Johnson has been writing the most sympathetic Kara. We have seen her struggle with her feelings, opening up slowly to people around her on her new home. Seeing her dealing with grief and slowly opening up has been great. And, in some ways, this has made this a more vulnerable Supergirl, strong in resolve but emotionally fragile.
It is this fragility that H'El takes full advantage of here, showing her and reminding her of all she has lost. He even sets himself up as an empathetic figure for her. It is horrible but somewhat understandable.
As always, Mahmud Asrar does solid work here. Action scenes are dynamic. But the quiet scenes have such power, with small art flourishes which add so much.
The issue starts with a flashback of Kara and her best friend Tali joy-riding around the city. It is easy and breezy talk. Tali talks about kissing her boyfriend even though there has been no official gene-match yet. Kara talks about kissing 'someone' but a meaningless kiss. She won't kiss anyone now unless it means something.
That last line ends up being something meaningful. But as important is the tone of this scene. We have rarely seen Supergirl smile. We know she is dealing with major trauma. Seeing her like this, smiling and laughing with her friend, it shows us the 'real' Kara. It also shows us who she can be once she embraces Earth as her home.
We flash forward to the current time. In Sanctuary, Kara is actually crying as she remembers her friend.
When asked by H'El, she immediately toughens up and says she is fine. Even her body language shows it. She looks rigid, as though she is steeling herself. Great Asrar work.
It is sad that this Kara has to bury her emotions, afraid of showing them. It is this stuff that I think Superman could help with. But again it is this grief that H'El is playing on.
H'EL takes her to the now vacated Fortress (we see Superman and Superboy on the outside unable to re-enter). He tells Kara that the key to Krypton's salvation is within Kandor. And then, somehow, he is able to shrink her and send her into the bottle.
If remembering her old life is painful, being shown it like this must be torture. Supergirl calls it a nightmare. While the Kandorians may be in stasis, it must look like a giant mausoleum.
If he is trying to remind Kara of what she lost, of what she can gain, what better way is there?
Now one thing I don't like about this is Supergirl's willingness to go forward simply on faith. I wish she would ask H'El exactly what his plan is instead of having it revealed piece meal and helping with each step. And I also wish she would ask more questions about H'El himself.
For example, for some reason H'El can't enter Kandor himself physically. He can only send an astral self. And of course, it is his 'true self', what he looked like before his travels. But he can't remember fully what happened.
So why can't he enter Kandor fully? I wonder if there is some sort of Kryptonian DNA filter on the bottle. Only full Kryptonians might be able to enter. And if H'El is a hybrid clone, maybe he can't get through. That mix of genealogies might also explain his hatred of Superboy - a sort of self-hatred tranferral.
My theory on H'El is at the end of this review.
And look at the effect on Supergirl, to see him like this, to hear him like this. He is similar to Kara in many ways, a lost soul, pining for home, and with some memory gaps making things that much worse. He has set himself up to be the perfect kindred spirit.
It is as if he knows every string to pull to get Supergirl on his side. Wonderful expressive work by Mahmud Asrar here.
After a brief fight with some remaining Terminauts and after seeing her friend Tali in stasis (another powerful moment feeding into Kara's hope), Supergirl finishes the task at hand. She removes the 'quantum crystal' from the heart of the city. Somehow the city 'needs' the crystal, I assume to maintain the stasis field or life support systems. But if Krypton never explodes, if The Collector/Brainiac are defeated in the past, then there won't need to be a bottle city power supply. So Kara takes it and leaves.
More than any other place, it is here I would hope that Kara would have asked for the complete plan. 'Ummm ... hey .... before I unplug this city and possibly doom these people, can you explain just what it is you might do? You know, like some details, chance of success, etc?' It wouldn't be that hard.
Once outside, lays it on thicker. He talks about feeling like a monster, abnormal, out of place. And he thanks Kara for treating him like he is whole again. Whole is bolded. More on that later.
But this once more plays on Supergirl's empathy. She must feel like a monster on Earth, abnormal. She mustn't feel whole with so much of her life missing. Of course she will want to believe in him.
Heck ... she'll even kiss him. And we know she wouldn't do that unless there was a connection. And that connection has been laid out this whole time. Heck, she even looks smitten in that last panel (again nice expressive work by Asrar).
Can I understand why Supergirl would fall for all of this? I suppose. Do I wish she didn't fall for it hook, line, and sinker? Do I wish she would have asked a few more tough questions? Yes.
And as for the kiss ...
Well, I have seen her kiss lots and lots of bad guys in the Silver Age. I suppose this could be an homage of sorts. Not that Silver Age stories would work now.
As for H'El, here is my new theory.
I do believe that H'El was Kryptonian and lived on Krypton. I'll even believe he was a contemporary of Jor-El. What if he also learned that Krypton was going to explode and tried to figure his own way out. What if his idea was some sort of cloning/DNA merging, trying to make himself into someone who could survive. And what if that experiment went horribly wrong, making him a walking nightmare, living in pain. Maybe he wants to go back in time to stop himself from becoming this H'El. And all this 'whole' and 'together' talk with Kara. I hope he isn't going to try use her DNA to 'wash out' the other strands.
Per usual, this chapter of H'El on Earth was an interesting read because it is so strong on characterization. Here we see just how Supergirl might be persuaded to join this villain, to turn her back on her new planet, to try to find love in someone who is hurting as much as she is. It is a much better story than the sullen reasons seen in Superman.
Again, I do wish Supergirl was smart enough and curious enough to ask a few more questions.