Supergirl #22 came out this week, the second part of the Cyborg Superman storyline and the third issue in the Michael Alan Nelson era on the book.
The plot, Supergirl trying to recreate a version of Krypton with the help of an initially nice but ultimately nefarious individual, unfortunately echoes the odious and all too recent H'El on Earth story. In some ways it is a bit frustrating for me as a Supergirl fan to see her character somewhat stuck in amber. Yes, she is a young girl who has been robbed of everything and thrust into a foreign world. Yes she should be stunned and in mourning. Yes she should miss her world. But we are now almost 2 years into this new incarnation and I would hope that the character would be able to move past that a little.
And yet, within this issue, there are some subtle and important differences from the Kara in H'El. Some elements of her being stronger, more resolute, and just a touch smarter. And ... I am really hoping here ... this story, as it is constituted so far, would be the perfect turning point for the book and the character. We have a Kara, alone, in space, and again trying to get back to Krypton in any way. When all of that goes wrong, when she realizes the folly in that, maybe it will lead her to embrace Earth and Superman a little bit more. I can dream, right?
Diogenes Neves and Mark Deering are on art here and they do a great job. In particular, there are some wonderful emotional close-ups of Kara, sometimes without words, which key us in to what she is feeling. And when the art supplements the script, bringing out more together than either could do alone, comics are at their best. And Mahmud Asrar creates an eerie cover which popped off the rack.
On to the story.
Last issue, Supergirl crash landed on I'Noxia, a sort of superdense sentient Play-doh world that can be molded by thoughts and memories. She also met it's caretaker or citizen the Cyborg Superman.
It is clear right off the bat this isn't Hank Henshaw from the old DCU. I find it very very interesting that Kara thinks he reminds her of Jor-El. We don't have a lot of information about his origin. It would be a new wrinkle for his genetic base to be Jor-El rather than Kal-El.
And he doesn't even seem to know his origin. He knows from the S-shield that he is Kryptonian but he knows little else about who he is or how he got there. His memories are 'hidden deep'. And so he asks Supergirl for some help. He wonders if she 'recreates' Krypton from her memories if it will help stir some memories of his own.
As I said before, this Supergirl has grown a little bit from the one who simply flung herself at H'El and immediately followed what he said. Here she immediately questions if she wants to go ahead with this since it wouldn't be a real Krypton but more like a museum set. That said, she also wants to help if she can. That is also promising! And so she starts thinking about her house on Krypton and magically it begins to form.
I'Noxia is an amazing place as it can replicate everything, right down to the scent of places. Just what is this place?
Of course, this being Supergirl, even the seemingly nice and somewhat tortured guys have their own agenda and are evil.
Cyborg Superman has a deal he wants to make. But he also is hiding just who he was created by. Some thoughts later.
After some prodding, Superfirl decides to jump in with both feet, allowing the I'Noxian technology to read her minds and completely recreate her little corner of Krypton. That includes creating a walking, talking, caring Alura.
I have complained in the past about Supergirl being quick to tears. But I think it fits this story so wonderfully. Be careful what you wish for. When this ersatz Alura first appears, it is painful. Kara knows this isn't her mother but some automaton sculpted out of memories and mass. If anything, as I said above, this sort of pain will probably push Supergirl towards accepting her new life.
I also have to say that this really reminded me of Solaris, both the novel and the movie incarnations. This isn't Alura. This is an Alura built on Kara's memories. It is flawed.
Just one quibble. As I'Noxia begins to build other parts of Supergirl's memories, it constructs other citizens. While she might call them Tal and Tak-Ro, that is clearly H'El and Power Girl in the background. Of course, Kara wouldn't want them here as it would spoil the illusion of the place. At least the script tries to correct this.
And it is an interesting line that Kara 'prefers' Kal as a baby. Again, maybe after this excursion she will prefer to see Kal as he is now. I can only hope.
Now if this seems to mirror H'El on Earth a bit too closely, there is the added element of Supergirl dying of Kryptonite poisoning. Based on that emotional initial encounter with Alura, my guess is she would not want to live in this animatronic world if she was in her normal state of health. It would be too painful.
But if you are dying, maybe a walk down memory lane, would be a comforting way to pass on. Maybe this would give her the peace she has been missing on Earth. Frankly, I can understand that sentiment.
And, at last, the real puppeteer shows up, at least in dialogue. Whoever it is, they don't want Cyborg Superman to do anything to Kara, not when studying her death from Kryptonite could be useful.
Let's face it, between the green balloons, the wonky font, and future solicits, Brainiac has to be the Cyborg Superman's maker. Suddenly, the idea of his genetic base being Jor-El becomes not only possible but much more intriguing.
The Cyborg Superman isn't going to fall in line easily. He is in significant pain from being ... well ... not whole. He makes his pitch to Kara. He will download her essence into I'Noxia, allowing her to live forever in her make believe world. He, in turn, will use her body to form a new complete body for himself.
I love that Kara immediately recognizes the insanity of this request. It is creepy. She even compares him to H'El. Maybe now she knows that bringing back Krypton is a fool's errand. There isn't a pause here as she contemplates it. She is out from the beginning. Once more, it shows she is probably moving away from the past and her desperate efforts to reclaim it. Even if she doesn't realize it.
Just like that she wants off of I'Noxia and away from this place.
This is where Neves does a great job with expressions.. I can't show all the panels. But there is a great panel where Kara shows some absolute shock at the request with a little 'What the ...?' mixed in. I love Alura's surprised expression. Later he has a shot showing an incredulous Kara trying to deal with how crazy the Cyborg is. Good stuff.
The Cyborg Superman is going to give up and decides to bombard Supergirl with her own memories. Dozens of Supergirls complaining about her life ... destroyed planet, backwards world, attacked ... to try to drag her down.
Maybe faced with a physical representation of all this angst and drama, it will spur her to move along. She is literally fighting her bad feelings about her life. She is literally being weighed down by all these feelings.
But she is able to shake all this negativity off and escape.
I thought this was a great scene with a lot of symbolism about what is going on in Kara's head and how she is fighting to get through it.
As she flies away from I'Noxia on her space bike, the Cyborg unleashes monstrous versions of everyone in Supergirl's life to chase her. Nice cliffhanger.
So I will probably be reiterating what I wrote in the introduction of this issue. While there are elements here that are a bit too close to the last big arc in this book, it is the differences in Supergirl's responses that stand out as a result. She realizes up front that someone is trying to take advantage of her and decides to fight.
And part of that decision is, hopefully, a turning point in her character. This is a different sort of Kara-tharsis. Battling the emotional heaviness weighing her down, realizing her family and her world is not coming back in any meaningful way, it all has to purge her of 'woe is me' disaffection and hopefully have her decide that she has to say goodbye to the past and embrace the future. Maybe I am transferring my own hopes here but while not overt, I just felt like this was more than a physical battle on I'Noxia. It was also a psychological battle in Kara on where she wants to go in life, dwelling on the past or moving on.
As a result, this is a perfect middle chapter in an arc. The plot lines simmered, there is progress, and we are moving towards a climactic finale.
It will be hard for anyone to replace Mahmud Asrar but I thought Diogenes Neves was solid here. He would have been on my short list of artists I would love to see take over this book (including Aaron Lopresti, Francis Portela, or Daniel HDR).