Superman #17 came out this week, the last chapter of H'El on Earth, about as muddle a Superman family crossover as I have read. Thank goodness it is over so I can put it in my rear view mirror.
I have had major issues with this arc, mostly around the inanity in Supergirl's characterization. But I also have had problems with the way the other members of the family have been portrayed as well. The characters read differently from chapter to chapter and from book to book. The Supergirl in this book is much different than the one in her own title. The Superboy in this arc is way more heroic and way more inspired by Superman than he has ever been in his title.
But, as I feared at the end of Supergirl #17, there isn't enough space in this one issue to wrap up this arc in any meaningful way. We are rushed through a simple solution (harming H'El snuffs all his machinations), problems that have cropped up in the plot are simply ignored (Superboy doesn't seem to be dying anymore and in fact seems stronger than ever, it isn't the draining of energy that will blow up our solar system it is the activation of the time ship), characters change their minds dramatically (Supergirl goes from smitten and angry follower to murderous and familial in the span of minutes), and we still don't know anything about H'El or his plot. When there is that many things swept under the rug, the story can't be satisfying.
Now I can imagine that some people will say I should be happy that Kara was the 'hero' here. But I can't forget 7 issues of stupidity. And I can't be happy to see Supergirl try to kill someone.
If there is one bright spot here, it is the art of Kenneth Rocafort which really shines. It is a pretty book to look at. Too bad the words ruin things. Let's start picking at the scabs.
So part of this arc was the introduction of 'The Oracle', a cosmic being of immense power, brought to Earth by the hornblowing alien from Stormwatch. His arrival was part of the cliffhangers of this book. He towered over the Earth last issue. With all that buildup, you would think he would have some role to play in the story.
Instead, through exposition, we learn that the Oracle is called to 'bear witness to threats of time and space'. So he isn't an active part of this story at all.
Superman tries to communicate with the Oracle but all it does is flood his mind with memories things that are and some things that 'should not be'. Most of the memories shown are parts of the origins of the characters as we have seen in the New 52 (see Kal's rocket and Kara in her pod). So I don't know what shouldn't be. Maybe this is some way of saying that the timeline still isn't right? Or is it an out for DC if they want to re-write some of the super-origins if they grow tired of these newer versions?
Either way, the Oracle leaves. He really had no impact on this story ... none. So why include him? Or why spend so much time making it seem like he was part of the story when he wasn't?
As I said before, the plot twists of the earlier issues that need to be resolved are simply ... resolved.
So suddenly Kara, who was shouting her love and praising H'El just moments ago, suddenly says that she and H'El 'never had love'. I suppose I should be happy that Supergirl isn't willing to risk Earth and recognizes the errors of her ways. But the truth is, this is sooo different from the way she acted in the first 7 issues of this arc and not much has changed other than Wonder Woman basically telling Supergirl to open her eyes. The first part of the characterization is idiotic given the cautious nature of Kara in her book.
On top of that, Superboy who was dying moments earlier, genetically twisted and mangled, barely able to stand as Kara pounded him, now looks fine and actually is powerful enough to bring down H'El's energy gathering station. So I guess that has just been forgotten.
I don't mind these heroics ... in fact I applaud them. But just a couple of pages ago, she was enamored and he was almost dead. You can't change things this quickly and have it read right.
How about the plot point that our solar system is going to explode if H'El succeeds. Well, I think it was implied in prior issues that it was the absorbing of all our sun's energy that would lead to that galactic catastrophe.
Now that has been changed. Now he has simply absorbed the energy he needs without threatening the galaxy. It is the actual rip through the time stream from his ship that will destroy us. Of course, this new plot twist means that the time machine can work ... which we see at the end of the book ... I think.
But you can't change that threat from the draining energy to the use of the ship, not in the last issue.
I also wonder why Superboy has got such a postive feel to him in this arc. Here he plays the role of Kryptonian conscience wondering if they would approve of H'El's plans. Of course, this is the guy who describes himself as a living weapon, who doesn't care about Superman, has been programmed to kill Superman, and who recently stomped through an issue saying 'kill, maim, destroy'. Again, I actually like Superboy's growth here. It is just felt off given who he has been in his own book and even in some places of this story. Wouldn't that line have come better from Diana?
As I said, the 'dying Superboy' looks pretty spry here as he holds back 'time shards'. Any time the writer has a character apologize for their dialogue (here Kon saying he is making things up as he goes) I cringe.
As for Kara, since she is seeing clearly he realizes it is time to make a stand. Again, I am glad she is asking herself these questions. I just wonder why now and not when she first meets H'El.
As odd as some of the dialogue has been, this rant by H'El stood out as the clunkiest. 'Humans all think they're all so damned special. They're not.' Doesn't that seem a little petty coming from someone who thinks we are below him on an evolutionary scale? Would I say 'Squirrels all think they are so damned special. They're not.' And the 'damned' just seems bitter and ... well ... human. Why would he say that?
I suppose we haven't really heard H'El's true origin. Maybe this will make more sense then.
As for Supergirl end game, she realizes the H'El is controlling everything psionically. The only way to stop the timeship from leaving and taking the solar system with it is to eliminate H'El.
So, risking herself by holding a chunk of green K, she stabs H'El in the chest.
That's right folks ... Supergirl tries to kill the enemy!
This isn't a wounding attack. This isn't hitting him in the head to knock him out. This is stabbing him in his heart.
Do I like a Supergirl who would risk her own life to save millions? Yes.
Do I want to read about a murderous Supergirl? Not me.
With his bleeding open chest wound, H'El falls into this temporal swirl and disappears.
So H'El isn't stopped.
And he uses his energy to go through a time warp.
So ... why did he need the ship?
I suppose that seeing Kara almost sacrifice herself to save the galaxy is a good thing. That said, seeing a dying Supergirl in Superman's arms is a bit too reminiscent of Crisis #7.
And the heartwarming 'I did it for my cousin' is a complete turnaround from the 'stay out of my business and away from me' Supergirl we have seen throughout this arc. Why would she be so loving of him now when she has shunned him since the inception of the DCNu? If this was an olive branch extended to Superman I suppose it works a little. But it sounded almost too sugary of an answer for that.
I just think that characterization has been so erratic in this story that it is hard to feel like there is any internal consistency. I can only imagine what this would read like if I read all the chapters in one sitting.
As for H'El ...
He really didn't need a big solar-system killing timeship after all. He ends up going back in time and arrives on Krypton. So even moreso, the 'victory' of the heroes is hollow. H'El succeeds!
So let's take a look back at the arc.
Superboy seems to come out of this whole thing looking the best. He has matured and actually sounds reasonably heroic. He is inspired by Superman. Of course, he should still be dying ... but we'll see if that is even addressed. Superman comes out looking okay ... although he basically was a guest star in this arc. He routinely got pummeled by H'El, didn't tell his cousin his concerns and sent friends to throttle her, and had nothing to do with the outcome. Supergirl comes out the worst because in the opening chapters she is too trusting and naive of H'El (which is the exact opposite of her in her own book). She turns things around in this issue but it is so sudden it makes her seem unstable and immature.
As for H'El. We don't know who he is. We don't know his true origin. We don't know how he got his powers. We know nothing of him.
The Oracle? Why was it even in this story? Or why was their such a buildup about it being here in prior issues if he didn't do anything?
I think I have laid out my concerns about the inconsistent plot points and characterization enough not to reiterate.
I am glad this story is done. Because at least it is done.