Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Red Lanterns #29

They say that road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I am starting to wonder if the Red Daughter storyline for Supergirl is a road to good intentions paved with Hell. I have said before that the overall tone of Supergirl since the inception of the New 52 has been pretty grim, a mix of anger and grief with the character being portrayed as petulant, angsty, gullible, and stupid. While there have been glimpses of hope, for the most part the characterization of Kara has been about as far away from classic Supergirl as you can get. And becoming a Red Lantern seems to be about as rock bottom as she can get.

When it was announced, I blasted this as one more effort by DC to shove a dark Supergirl down the throat of their fans, despite ample evidence it doesn't work. Then the writers Tony Bedard and Charles Soule hit the publicity trail and kept saying that this was a redemption story, a transformative story, a way for Supergirl to turn the corner. I have read enough flotsam in interviews to read those statements with a grain of salt.

But so far, and we are only a handful of issues in, I have to say that I am pretty pleased. There has been enough going on these books, enough subtle nods that Supergirl has some growing to do ... and seems this close to being ready to do it ... to make me think that Bedard and Soule meant it when they said they wanted Supergirl to be heroic again.

Enough preamble.

Red Lanterns #29 came out this week, written by Charles Soule with grungy beautiful art by Allesandro Vitti. In this issue, we finally get another interaction between Superman and Supergirl, this time around her acceptance of the ring. And Soule does a good job of showing how Superman has finally had it with Kara, calling her out on her decisions and telling her she needs to live with them.

In some ways, that interaction with Superman is refreshing. He has bent over backwards, almost foolishly so, to acquiesce to Supergirl's wishes, since she arrived, for personal space. There is a big part of me that says that makes no sense for either character. But that's that. At least here he shows her some tough love. It is tough ... but it is love too.

In other ways, this interaction is frustrating. Recently, in Krypton Returns and Batman/Superman and even Supergirl there has been a bit of warming between the two characters. So this also felt like a step back.

Lastly, I love Vitto's art. It is thick-lined and 'messy clean' which is just perfect for this title. I'll point out some great stuff throughout the review.

The issue starts with the now semi-rational Supergirl seeing what she can do with her new array of powers. Skallox decides to fire a salvo of 'neutron star tipped' missiles at her to see what she can do.

It looks like Supergirl has been practicing with the ring because she sets up shields, slings some red energy blasts, and for the most part handles herself quite well.

Of course, one sneaks through blasting her. While it doesn't harm her, it does bring out the rage, making her destroy the missile bank in anger.

I have to say, Vitti draws a great Kara, strong and thick, powerful. But I absolutely love the pointy sleeves, one of my favorite parts of the older costumes. And this is a nice panel tho show Vitti's style, powerful thick lines with flecks here and there. Beautiful.

As I said before, I don't think Supergirl is ready to fully embrace chaos and rage in her heart, even if she says so.

Here Guy shows up to stop Zilius and Skallox from giving Kara an alcholic drink, grabbing it from her. When Kara yells she can do what she wants, she shatters the glass in his hand, harming him.

Look at her response. She immediately feels remorse, apologizing, and wishing to help. My guess is 'true' Red Lantern would probably say 'serves you right' or something similar. It shows just how internally conflicted Kara is.

It is a nice touch, a nice moment, and in stark contrast of the Kara which ripped apart the missile launcher and eagerly grabbed the booze. I think this is the real Kara peeking through the layered on angst. I think it shows that her heart is in the right place and just needs to be shown the way.

Guy knows that Kara being with the team is a disaster waiting to happen. Eventually Superman is going to come looking for her. This isn't the right team to be leading a teenage girl. Their first act was to give her a stiff drink. And she hasn't exactly been able to keep things under control.

Knowing all this, Guy leads the team to Earth, sends Kara on a fake mission, and heads to Superman, hoping to rid him of this distraction.

I like how Guy is the voice of reason on all levels. He knows that Supergirl is too young to drink. He knows that his team really can't handle her. He is basically a good guy here, no pun intended.

Guy flies down and actually assists Superman in rescuing people from a tidal wave in Indonesia.

Now I have lamented the semi-reboot nature of the New 52. It is clear that all the recent Green Lantern major arcs, the Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night, is in continuity. Meanwhile, lots of other stuff was wiped away. So to see Superman not recognize Guy threw me for a loop. It really took me out of the moment.

That said, despite hearing that Hal disparaged and warned Superman about the Reds, Kal is willing to judge Guy on his actions. I love this scene were Superman says outright that if people do the right thing, he is okay with them.

And, again, Vitti shines showing this thick muscle-bound lantern-jawed Superman. He just looks like the strongest guy on the planet.

All the niceties melt away when Kara shows up in her Red Lantern garb.

Family comes first and Superman roughly grabs Guy accusing him of doing this to Supergirl. I love that sneer on Superman, showing just how ticked off he is by this turn of events.

Of course, Guy explains that the ring finds the bearer.

But then the ugly truth about the ring is leaked. The ring replaces your heart. And you can't simply take it off.

Kara didn't know that fun fact. Look at the initial shock, a bit of dismay on her face. It shows that maybe she didn't think things through. It shows that maybe she wouldn't be happy being like this for the rest of her life. I think the first panel again shows the real Kara. Maybe she thought she would join this 'gang' for a little bit, working through things.

Of course, when she finds out the truth, she lashes out with rage, attacking everyone around her including Superman.

Nice transition by Vitti here, going to a very thick line and more darkness and shadows when the anger surges.

And then we see just how lost Supergirl is.

She isn't happy that she has to remain like this forever. She isn't happy that no one told her. And she claims that no one understands just what she is going through.

Nice art here, with Supergirl being small with the other Lanterns looming big. But more importantly, look at the sadness on her face as she says no one understands her. She isn't sneering. She isn't angry. She is crest-fallen. For a while I have said that grief is the main emotion for this Supergirl and she simply doesn't know how to process it. Wonderful art.

But this is the thing that bothers me ... immensely.

She could have talked to people! Helped them understand!! She could have talked to Superman!!!!

This is where we need a Gates/Igle Supergirl #34 moment, that realization she can't strike it out alone. What we get is a turn as a Red Lantern.

And here is my favorite scene. I think that Superman here is a proxy for many Supergirl fans. I would love to hear Soule talk more about this.

When Kara talks about how great the Lanterns are for being independent and kick-ass, about how maybe she deserves to be a Red Lantern, Superman chides her.

He has done everything she has asked of him. He has left her alone. He has let her wail about Krypton. And she has watched her not deal with it in any constructive and healthy way. He complains about how by clinging to anger she has simply become anger. And he turns her back on her, hoping she feels satisfied with who she becomes.

I have said all of those things to myself as I have read this Supergirl's stories. Why hasn't she reached out? Tried to move on? Embraced her family to help her?

I even thought about turning my back on the character with this Red Lantern arc. Me!

This is Superman metatextually talking for me to this character we both love.

And then he really lays it out in a stern but loving way. She has thrown any help he has offered in his face. She doesn't want a role model now. He can't help her if she doesn't want it.

But she is family. Guy better do what's right.


That is a great great page with a great Superman. It actually humanizes him a bit. He has done what he can with Kara. He will still be watching. But it is up to Supergirl to find herself now.

And with that Superman leaves saying that Supergirl is family. He will be watching. He loves Supergirl and will be there for her, presumably when she is ready.

Once more, I love the art here with Superman almost faded out by the bright light behind him. He is the moral high ground here, dazzling. The massive cape makes him an even bigger figure. Fantastic.

The book ends with a nice cliffhanger, teasing the upcoming battle with Atrocitus.

I will say it again. I wish this Red Lantern story never happened. I would prefer Supergirl asking for help, accepting a coffee from Kal like in the last Supergirl #34.

But if we need to raze this Supergirl persona like a phoenix to have her emerge new and heroic, so far so good. This issue shows a Supergirl who isn't pure rage, who seems to be lost and lashing out but who wants to help. She doesn't want to be this thing forever. She needs to move on. And we have a Superman showing some tough love for his cousin. He affirms he will be there ... but when she is ready to accept his love. Wonderful.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll get the young, bright, fierce, passionate Supergirl I want. I just have to get through this.

I have had my complaints about Charles Soule's work in Superman/Wonder Woman. But here (and in She-Hulk) he seems more in his wheelhouse.

And, as sprinkled throughout this review, Allesandro Vitti is superb throughout this issue.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

This issue was fantastic, I have to say. I am utterly enamoured with Vitti's art and the interactions between the Red Lanterns and the Super-family. While you've had your misgivings, and I've given my opinion already, I'm relieved it's working out (so far). Fingers crossed that Soule takes it in a positive direction, overall.
It's really nice to get a review where someone who knows the continuity/the characters so well can point out some of the elements I would otherwise gloss over. The moral imagery of Superman here was amazing, yes. I appreciate the "Nice cape."
Is anyone else confused by the issue ordering though? The Supergirl is, what, two issues behind in continuity?

Martin Gray said...

Excellent review, I agree with everything. It really does seem that Soule is on 'our' side and will have Kara come out the other side a more rounded person. I just hope Jeff Lemire is paying attention and not going to portray Kara as 'hell on wheels' in JLU.

When the New 52 kicked off, Dan DiDio said DC wanted to portray its most famous characters in their most iconic forms. Hopefully Supergirl will get there eventually.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

I am more hopeful that this is going to be some sort of redemption story now. There are enough hints of her 'true' personality peeking through the rage.

We'll have to wait and see though.