Saturday, May 11, 2013

Happy Mother's Day: Superman Adventures #39 Review

With Superman:Unbound just released and Mother's Day tomorrow, I felt there was enough serendipity to do a special review today. An animated Superman, a Supergirl struggling a bit to fit in, Brainiac, and a strong presence from a mother figure made Superman Adventures #39 the perfect issue to review today.

'Reunion' was written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer with art by Bret Blevins and Terry Austin. That is a pretty solid creative roster for a KidsWB book. And it shows in the quality of the book. This a nicely nuanced book that is still full of enough action to keep everyone happy.

I also think this cover works well, the trapped heroes looking horrified a bit at whatever villain is before them. There are enough visual cues even from that silhouette to maybe get some idea. But that sub-title of 'A Ghost From Supergirl's Past!' adds to the intrigue.

As Superman Adventures was spawned from Superman:The Animated Series, a short Supergirl history lesson is warranted. In S:TAS, Supergirl lived on Argo, a sister planet of Krypton which was flung from its orbit when Krypton exploded. Thrown into an ice age, Supergirl's scientist mother put the family in suspended animation. Unfortunately, only Kara's pod survived a cave-in. Discovered by Superman, she was brought to Earth and embraced as a 'cousin'.

 The issue opens on a somber note with Superman and Supergirl having traveled to Argo to both recover any historical records they can but also to give Kara a chance to say goodbye one last time and get some closure.

As we zoom onto a graveyard service, we see the icy desolation of Argo, and we hear a prayer to Rao for her mother Kala. The composition of that last panel is just wonderful, a sort of up-angle shot from low behind the gravestone looking up on a Kara hidden in shadows, a nice artistic manifestation of grief. The dark tones of the colors contrasted to the bright torches also works.

 With the service over, Kal and Kara begin hauling out some computer banks, hoping to recover some of Argo's history. As they are, Kara hear's her mother's voice calling out to her to be careful. Warned by the voice, the two luckily avoid falling off a collapsing walkway.

I like this moment where you can see just how much Kara is hurting. Shedding tears, holding the remains of a doll, hoping to hear her mother's voice. It sounds like it would be cliche ... but I thought it worked here.

Also, in this issue, there is that sense that Superman is trying to rein in Supergirl or treat her like a child. Here he tells her she must not have heard Kala's voice.

 Back on Earth, it's Mother's Day and all the Kents are celebrating in Metropolis. While Ma and Pa cut a rug, Kara despairs a bit. She loves Martha and the Kents and feels like family, but the recent episode on Argo has her thinking of her mother more and more. The hope is STAR labs can unlock the records.

The Clark/Kara relationship is always interesting. It really has the sort of ups-and-downs of family. He is overprotective of her and sometimes dismissive, but there is always that core of caring. I like how he comforts her here.

And yet, a panel later when STAR Labs explodes, the very labs where the Argo artifacts are, he tells her she can't join him!

Common sense (with a nudge from the Kents) wins out and Supergirl joins Superman.

Again, I love this interaction. It is Kara's youthful exuberance that is such an important part of her character as she strives to do what's right. Here she riffs on the classic 'This is a job for ...' line.

And Superman's response is equally amusing. He says he doesn't use a tagline, especially when he doesn't know what he is facing. But his 'do you mind?' snark is almost classic Silver Age Superman/Supergirl.

Arriving at STAR, the team is finally met by the Ghost From Superman's Past. The Argo computers went on-line, took over the STAR facility, and even invaded LexCorps computer system.

At STAR, a female Brainiac drone walks out of a chamber. She clearly is Brainiac but she has Kala In-Ze's face and voice. She is based on Kara's mother!

But she is also Brainiac. She creates a red sun lamp in the lab, sapping the heroes of their powers.

And she uses the Brainiac program she downloaded from LexCorp to rebuild Brainiac himself.

But what is with the Kala-based Brainiac?

With Argo slowly dying, Brainiac sent a probe to the planet to gather their data. That probe lived in the only working tech on the planet at that time, the In-Ze lab. The probe watched Kala struggle to find a way to have her family survive. After all that study, she used Kala as a template for her body. And it was her voice that warned Kara on Argo.

But that sounds like a protective mother, as much as it sounds like a Brainiac drone.

However, Kala's love for her family must have been so profound that the probe learned that as much as it learned Argo's history.

When Brainiac talks about destroying the Earth and killing the heroes, Supergirl pleads with the drone. If she learned anything from Kala, she would know that she can't allow the Earth to die. Amazingly, the Kala drone rebels.But she is a simple machine which Brainiac shatters.

And when Brainiac talks of killing Supergirl, the broken drone does the only thing she can. She turns off the red sun ray.

A brief but dramatic battle follows where Superman and Supergirl destroy and dismantle Brainiac.

But there is a splendid coda to the story, another look at this drone.

How great must Kala's love have been to alter this machine's thoughts on life and love?

She even sounds like Kara's mother saying that she can sleep in peace, knowing Kara is loved, and is the protector of Argo's history.

It is a great scene which impressed me when I first read this story. Powerful on many levels.

With a new sense of closure, with this reconfirmation of how much her mother loved her, Supergirl is able to move forward, asking Superman if they can spend the rest of the day with her new family.

What a wonderful story for Mother's Day, showing just how strong and never-ending a mother's love for her child is. Kudos to Dorkin, Dyer, Blevins, and Austin.  I hope you all enjoyed it.

For a Supergirl collection, this would be of low-importance for a collection. However, if a fan of the Timm-Verse Supergirl specifically, I think this is a key issue and worth finding.

Overall grade: A


Gene said...

I miss the Timm-verse Supergirl. I would argue that her characterization in the animated series influenced how Supergirl was depicted in the regular comics from her 2004 reintroduction as Clark's cousin, to Smallville, to even a little bit in the New 52.

This was one of the best Supergirl stories out there. Its too bad she only appeared in three issues of Superman Adventures. She could have easily carried her own series.

valerie21601 said...

I wish I owned this issue. I will put it on my comic book wish list. I am a huge fan of the Kara In-Ze version of Supergirl.

Anonymous said...

Check the Supergirl: Maid of Might site for links to this issue.
-- DW

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

I feel lucky to have this in my collection Val. Definitely worth looking for.

Anonymous said...

I miss the STAS Comic the way a dog misses his favorite bone.
I can't point to a single Supergirl appearance therein where I felt she was misinterpreted or mishandled.


Gene said...

I agree. STAS Supergirl redefined the character for generation.

Anonymous said...

This is a nice issue. And STAS Supergirl introduced Kara to a new generation of readers, in spite of DC's obsession to erase her from history. Even if she was not the original, Kara In-Ze was as close as possible without outright telling "She's Superman's cousin from Krypton".