Supergirl #21 came out a couple of days ago, the second issue in the Michael Alan Nelson era on the title. While last month's issue with Power Girl was a humorous romp, this issue is much more serious and probably is a better barometer for what Nelson's style is like ... at least in the context of what he has said in interviews.
That said, while not as 'laugh out loud' funny as Supergirl #20, this issue wasn't exactly a dark, dour morass either. The more I read interviews with Nelson (and I have a post coming up looking at a couple of new ones), the more I think he is starting this comic in a darker place based on the history of this character but while looking at some light on the horizon, a sort of goal for Kara to move on away from tragedy. You get the sense in this issue that she almost wants to move forward but is still being weighed down by the inertia of her grief.
The interior art is done by Diogenes Neves whose work I know mostly from Demon Knights. It is a scratchier sort of art than Mahmud Asrar's but it works well in this issue. Mahmud Asrar does provide the cover, a near-insane and angry Supergirl who we don't see at all in the story inside. This image (like the scrapped cover of her crushing the Earth) seems more aimed at the 'don't piss her off' 'no affection for humanity' Supergirl which the DC hierarchy seems determined to shove down our throats.
The issue starts with a great scene between Kara and her only Earth friend Siobhan, a scene in which Supergirl says goodbye. In one succinct panel, Nelson actually lays out all of the things that has happened to Supergirl in the year and a half she has been on Earth ... and that's not even considering the worrisome aspects of her origin on Krypton - her dad experimenting on her, her mother shooting her dad, etc. With all the terrible events on Earth, Supergirl decides the best thing to do is to move on. It is a bit defeatist but it shows just how terrible this comic has treated its hero ... precious little has gone right.
I love Siobhan's somewhat curt and then gruff retort. She basically tells Supergirl that the right thing to do isn't to run from her problems but face them. Heck, Siobhan lives in a dumpy apartment where human waste from the one above is dripping through her ceiling, her father killed her brother, and her father's demonic presence is housed in her body.
Life sometimes isn't easy.
Siobhan storms off. Kara flies off. And both regret the outburst. Siobhan realizes that playing the 'pull your self up by your bootstraps" (knee straps here?) wasn't helpful to a friend in need ... at least not at this point. And Supergirl regrets not telling her friend she is dying of K-poisoning, meaning this could be a last goodbye.
It is a very good scene which felt very real.
So Supergirl steals a space-cycle from Dr. Veritas and flies off. Somewhere in deep space she receives a distress signal and immediately heads to the planet to help. There is no internal discussion ... there is no moping ... there isn't ennui. She decides she needs to go and help in an instant. This is the essence of Supergirl ... helping people and trying to do the right thing. This isn't what someone who doesn't care or who has completely lost hope would do. Hurrah ...
She arrives on a sort of floating city (semi-reminiscent of Argo) during what appears to be an earthquake. I thought this panel of her struggling with the heft of a falling building showcased Neves style nicely. You can feel Kara struggling under this weight. And the angle gives it a nice claustrophobic feel, perfect for this shot underneath a building.
The disaster seems to be a trap of some sort as we see a 'behind the scenes' villain deciding what sort of predicament would lure Supergirl in the best. This isn't natural at all.
And when the earthquake doesn't seem to get the response needed, a 'crix' is sent to threaten the city.
I love the dialogue here. Supergirl tries to talk to this giant first saying she is trying to change her ways from a 'punch first' typical response. Again, this shows that Supergirl hasn't given up on life, hasn't just resigned herself to death, hasn't allowed her self to become base or coarse because of what is happening.(Frankly, I applaud this idea of Supergirl thinking first, acting second.)
So she is running from her problems physically but she must still feel that there is a horizon, a destination to reach. Otherwise, why bother with all this.
I hope that this corona wave power doesn't become something of a crutch. Last issue she used it to destroy Sanctuary. Here she uses it to destroy the Crix.
Great panel and great use of near blinding color.
We again see the villains manipulating the events on the planet. Everything has been plotted and planned including this response from the populace, cheering Supergirl for saving them.
I find it ironic that the unseen villain with the red text words knows that this feeling of acceptance is rare for Supergirl and therefore an enticing way to manipulate her as well.
I will say that there were a couple of moments in Mike Johnson's run where she seemed to be embraced as a hero like this.
The lieutenant seen above morphs into a more 'acceptable' form to continue to try to control and dupe her. And so he becomes something of a charming and doddering older man who praises her for saving this world called I'Noxia.
While they are talking the ruined buildings rebuild themselves and he decides to come clean about the uniqueness of this 'planet'. It is made of malleable matter which morphs and bases itself on civilizations it has encountered. It describes it as the work of an older 'collector' which makes me wonder if there is some connection to Brainiac/Collector of Worlds from Action Comics. This cataloging and commemorating of civilizations sounds similar to bottling an actual city.
But this revelation also means the threats are self-imposed as well, something this emissary does some hand-waving about ... blaming it on faulty tech.
I like how Supergirl now knows that this all isn't real. Despite the moving parts, she calls it a 'model' and that seems right.
But things get more beguiling when he shows her that one of the civilizations they came across was Krypton. They have some artifacts but no details ... no memories. Maybe Supergirl can provide some.
In fact, she does remember the myth of Val-Ro and the Dramonicus. And from that memory this ornate statue springs from the mass of the planet.
And suddenly, as a reader, you can see the trap being set. If it only takes thoughts to rebuild this world into something new ... well maybe a 'New Krypton' is possible. The 'model' becomes more seductive.
And we hear even more. If enough information is given, the I'Noxia citizens can actually become the doppelgangers of real people.
If you are Supergirl, you can see just how attractive this could become. You can recreate home, live with your parents again, play with your friends again. If you think you are dying, why not die in a comfortable environment.
Nelson has done a great job so far in this issue showing the depth of character of Supergirl, helping people, trying to better herself. Is this false life going to be too tempting for her?
And then the grand manipulator finally shows himself. The Cyborg Superman has been molding the clay of I'Noxia. Will Supergirl work with him, recreating Krypton out of the matter of this world?
So overall I thought this was a very good issue. While we hear about the struggles Supergirl is dealing with, hear the sadness inside her, what we see is a young girl still striving to do what's right, still helping others. It would be easy to give up, wallow in misery, but she doesn't. And I loved that here.
My guess is that the Cyborg Superman is somehow linked to the Collector Of Worlds coming to Krypton way back when he shrank Kandor. His presence in space makes my initial guess of a Tycho/Eradicator construct highly unlikely.
And I think this is a great cliffhanger. It is a chance to see if Kara is willing to live in a 'virtual reality' to try to reclaim her past.
I can't help wondering if next issue will somehow echo Alan Moore's classic "My Blue Heaven" issue of Swamp Thing where Swampy recreates his town and controls all the citizens with his persona. After a while, his subconscious begins speaking to him through the constructs (specifically John Constantine) reminding him that a phony life, no matter how comfortable on the surface, is still phony.
I bet she gives in initially, a Krypton gets rebuilt, and then either 'Alura' or 'Zor-El' tells her she needs to move on, move away from the madness of that illusion.
We are two issues into the Nelson run and so far so good. I hope this wonderfully nuanced and layered characterization continues.