Supergirl #23 came out this week and after reading it was crestfallen. It is as if DC simply doesn't know how to handle this character. Every time I start to see the fainest glimmer of something positive happening in this book, every time I feel the slightest bit of optimism about this book, it is squelched and I slide back to pessimism.
You see, in the prior issues of this title I thought that writer Michael Alan Nelson was building towards something good, that the book was going to turn the corner. It felt like Supergirl was going to put all the angst and loneliness and pain and put it behind her, re-establishing herself as a hero on Earth. But after reading this issue, after the 'shocking' ending, I feel as if we aren't turning a corner at all. Instead we are barreling down the wrong course at breakneck speed. After reading this I thought we were back to square one. Heck, I thought we were back to 2005, as one of the more detestable storylines by Loeb/Kelly is rehashed.
That's right, in the never-ending battle to make Supergirl dark and gritty, in an effort to differentiate and separate her from Superman, Nelson gives us a retread. I keep trying to understand why DC feels they have to force fit Supergirl into this style book. But I don't think I will ever understand it.
The art here is fine. The book has a really fabulous cover by former artist Mahmud Asrar. It has the feel of Dave Johnson with a wonder art deco patina. It really is visually engaging with the red angular cape standing out from the grimy background. Interior art is split between Diogenes Neves and Chad Hardin.
Last issue, Supergirl feld I'Noxia after hearing Cyborg Superman's plans for her. The book opens with her being chased by memories formed from the super-dense material I'Noxia is made of.
These beings are built from Kara's memories and perceptions of these people. It is an interesting mix of truth and Kara's feelings. These things chase her down and berate her and beat on her, a mix of both psychological and physical warfare. I thought that this was a decent plot twist, a way for Supergirl to face her fears, to deal with what has happened to her, and to move beyond it.
And Nelson goes through everyone Supergirl has met over these two years, from Superman to Reign to Wonder Woman to Tycho to H'El. It is as if Nelson wanted to hear what Supergirl feels about all these people. Again, I hoped that this was a form of catharsis, a way for Kara to literally deal with these feelings.
I do have to say that Supergirl's responses are a bit harsher than I was hoping for. From calling Superman a sanctimonious poseur unfit for the family crest to ripping the Wonder Woman drone in half to telling Tycho she wished he stayed dead, it is a bit dark. I don't think you can work your way through difficult feelings by simply lashing out violently.
It isn't all bad.
I liked this exchange with the Silver Banshee. Remember, these are Kara's memories coming through these constructs. So when Siobhan yells at Kara that she was abandoned on Earth, left alone to deal with a demon, it is actually Kara's guilt in leaving her friend behind that is being expressed here.
It made me think at the time that Supergirl realized that she actually has some responsibility on Earth, her new home.
And I liked that Reign shows up and tells Supergirl she is the fifth World Killer.I have always thought this might be the truth given Zor-El's experiments, the new powers, the empty fifth tube. So to hear in this way that Supergirl has the same fears was interesting. Maybe part of Supergirl's fears of getting close to people is that she worries she might lose control, become something akin to a world killer.
I think the concept of World Killers is a good one and an important part of this Supergirl's history. We still don't know the whole story. I'm glad they aren't forgotten.
While battling through these things, we get a nice piece of characterization here.
Kara screams she doesn't kill worlds, she protects them. It shows this Supergirl might be moving along the hero's journey, not only recognizing her responsibilities but accepting them. It is a bright spot amongst all the hate and anger she spews here.
I have to say I thought this scene went on just a bit too long. While I commend Nelson for giving us some face time with all the major players who have crossed Kara's path, the scene is 10 pages long! That's half the book! By the eighth page or so I felt like I would have rather sacrificed how comprehensive this was to move the story a long a bit more.
Still, at this point, I thought this might actually be some form of psychotherapy for Kara, working through her feelings openly. And I thought this was going to end up with Supergirl saying she needed to 'go home', to Earth, and deal with the real people ... not these figments ... hopefully in a more mature way.
The battle with the hyperdense memories takes its toll on Supergirl. She is still dying of Kryptonite poisoning and this battle sped up the disease process.
As per his plan last issue, he captures her hoping to use the building blocks of her body, the actual tissue, to recreate his own body and reclaim his memories.
I do want to know exactly how Cyborg Superman ended up on I'Noxia. Above he talks about how he swore to protect the I'Noxian city after it was cast away by its maker.
I did like that Nelson calls back on the blue lights of Sanctuary here, showing that on Krypton blue lights are never good.
Boy, that Nelson Power Girl issue feels like it came out years ago. That issue had a very different tone, a very different feel. It was the reason why I thought things might be getting better on the book.
And Cyborg's plans actually come to fruition. Supergirl is disintegrated, the K-poisoning isolated and disposed of, and her cells placed into a machine to rebuild the Cyborg's body.
No Supergirl fan should be happy to see her die, even if this death is clearly temporary.
Things need to move fast though because the Cyborg's maker is heading to I'Noxia fast.
No big surprise, the 'maker' is Brainiac.
Now this is a nice double page spread showing how massive Brainiac's ship is, implying artistically just how big a threat ... a power ... that Brainiac is. But was this moment big enough to warrant this big art?
But even up to this point I was still thinking this might all turn out okay. Maybe this was a quick way of Nelson removing the Kryptonite poisoning as well as having Supergirl face her feelings rather than running from them.
And then I get this last panel, the coup de grace, the reason why my optimism has dissipated.
The Cyborg Superman's body is rebuilt and he turns out to be Zor-El.
At first I thought this might be a feint of some kind. The Inoxian material is built on memories. Maybe the Cyborg Superman has some of that in it and Kara's last thoughts were so strong for her father that the echo of her memories manifested. But then I read this interview and it isn't a fake-out. The Cyborg Superman, the new arch villain for Supergirl's rogues gallery IS her father.
Once again, Zor-El has been cast as a villain. It isn't enough that in this darker New 52 that he lied to Alura, experimented on Kara, drugged her, and shot her into space without letting her know why. It isn't enough that our last sight of Zor-El is him lying on the ground, shot by Alura. That wasn't dark enough, that wasn't different enough from Jor-El. Now he becomes a pure villain.
I suppose this fits right into DC's 'grimmer and grittier' world. You can't have a parent who loves you and saves you. And now, Supergirl's father will want to fight her and kill her. I can see the cover blurb now 'The only way for Supergirl to save the world is to KILL HER FATHER!!!'
Remember the 'Kill Kal-El' Zor-El? We already have seen a villain Zor-El in a world where Supergirl was angry, alone, and violent. Remember that 6 or 7 years ago? That version of Supergirl didn't work then. Why recreate it.
And with this plot twist, suddenly I don't think we are going to turn a corner. Now I think that Kara's angry and violent outbursts at the beginning of the issue isn't catharsis. Maybe this is how DC and Nelson want to view her. And so why not have a villainous Zor-El?