Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Supergirl #15

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.

Overall grade: B/B+


Lisa said...

Am I the only one who was hoping the "quantum crystal" would be called an omegahedron?

Unknown said...

Yes, that would be classic! I love this book and art!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Supergilr's vulnerable to HÉL due to still going through the Five Stages of Grief? ( Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and acceptance in no particular order. Kara's been through Depression, and is currently in Bargaining, trying to find some way to reverse the loss of Krypton. It explains why she's so vulnerable to H'EL, and also explains her behaviour to Clark. ( she thinks Clark doesn't WANT Krypton back, and is actively trying to prevent it) As for Superboy, I'll point out that Kara would have been brought up in an atmosphere that was highly prejudiced against clones; yet, Kara has shown signs of at least tolerating Kon.

Kim said...

I really don't know how to feel about this. They made the final kiss very silver-age with the "What? This can't happen!" but overall I agree. Kara should have been more suspicious.

Though with regards to the megapowercrystal... That was only said to power the city. The stasis is Brainiacs work and probably uses some other sort of powersource. So I can't quite see Supergirl removing the Kryptonian power source as risking their lives.

Anonymous said...

I think Asar needs to have some else ink his pencils. To me, everyone looks so puffy eyed as if they are about to fall asleep standing up.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

Omegahedron would have been a great touch. Sterling Gates had an alphahedron during his run.

And great point about the 5 stages of grief. I agree that Kara's journey is one of grief and this would be 'bargaining'.

Turns out that Asrar did some pencil only pages here (he usually inks them all). That may explain some of the art differences this issue.

Anonymous said...

Gosh are we all so sure that ye olde Supergirl deeply entombed supposedly in Superman's Shadow, was SO MUCH WORSE than the current version, an easily duped jobber who can't tell good from evil?
I dunno folks, I have a feeling we are gonna look back on this ish as the opening bars of Kara Zor El's Gotterdammerung...the one where she went over the top (and all part of storyline designed to Make SuperMAN look good as well).
There is some historic precedent to support my thesis, the original Matrix Supergirl became the Trophy Girlfriend of LEX LUTHOR and by the time that arc played itself out she was more or less pigeonholed by industry pros and the fans as an incurable bimbo and a bit of a Mark.
As Anj said not once in this issue did Kara question H'el even if his premise is about as persuasive as used car spiel...not once and she ends up kissing him as well.
I mean yikes, this is the very definition of being "Jobbed Out" in wrestling patois.
Oh and that line about being willing to sacrifice her powers to live on Krypton again, be careful what you wish for Ms Zor El....Thats a Mark talking...

Still I know how this will end, likely H'el's scheme involves immolating the Earth in order to save Krypton, at that point the price of Supergirl's dearest wish will become apparent and she'll switch sides again or else assume the fetal position while the menfolk bluster and lash out at one another.

I hard pressed to see how any of this does Supergirl any good in the weary wicked end, she has been depicted as having appalling judgement and the only way to efface that is to demonstrate she is equivocal as well.
Great relaunch to a great character...from Demigoddess to Dupe in fifteen issues, thank you DC Comics.


Anj said...

Still I know how this will end, likely H'el's scheme involves immolating the Earth in order to save Krypton, at that point the price of Supergirl's dearest wish will become apparent and she'll switch sides again or else assume the fetal position while the menfolk bluster and lash out at one another.

I think that thing that gets me is the lack of questioning here. I guess I can see that H'El pulled all the right strings. But this Supergirl has never seemed this gullible.

I hope she has a say in the fight. But be prepared. Next issue she fights the JLA. So it may get worse before it gets better.

valerie21601 said...

I wonder if Johnson is going to go the psychically brainwashed and manipulated at the same time route? After all didn't H'El "gifted" Kara with the instant ability to understand English?

I also wonder when the H'el arc is done will there be traces of the dark side he appears to be bringing out of her. It being a new way to show "Dark" Supergirl as a sstate of mind for Kara?

Anonymous said...

I think Supergirl should start speaking in that pidgin dialect, the Incredible Hulk used to affect "Hulk smash puny human!"
I mean since she IS taking on the JLA much like the Silver Age Hulk used to tangle with the X-Men, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four etc etc etc....
"Supergirl SMASH puny Justice League!!"


PRgirl1294 said...

"I think Asar needs to have some else ink his pencils. To me, everyone looks so puffy eyed as if they are about to fall asleep standing up."

I agree. And while he's at it, he should tell R.B. Silva to stop drawing Superboy's hair all long and shaggy and making everybody's face look fat.