Supergirl #37, the second issue by new writing tandem of K. Perkins and Mike Johnson, was released this week and was a blast. Supergirl #36 was a great launchpoint for this new direction for Supergirl, finally establishing her as a hero on Earth and then sending her into deep space. That inaugural issue was a great issue, building on Tony Bedard's redemption of the character and showing us a strong, independent Kara still trying to find her way but moving forward confidently.
This issue takes place entirely off Earth as Perkins and Johnson uses the issue to showcase Crucible Academy, showing us the classes, having us meet the teachers, and giving us more information on the new supporting cast members. What impresses me the most about this issue is that it shows us these things without necessarily telling us this. We don't get bogged down in exposition.
And, more importantly, the pacing of the issue is impressive. We have action sequences. We have several plots introduced and moved forward. And ... amid all that ... we have those small quiet character moments that deepen characters.
Now I love Supergirl accepting Earth. Last issue we saw her working as a barista and telling Superman she was going to continue to defend the planet. We needed this issue to lay down the foundation of Crucible. But I hope Kara doesn't stay off-world too much.
I haven't even mentioned the art yet!
Emanuela Lupacchino is really shining on this book right now. Her Supergirl really hits the right notes, mixing youth, enthusiasm, and strength. The characters' expressions are wonderful, feeding the tone of the scene. And the action sequences show a powerful Supergirl.
And I had to include a look at this Darwyn Cooke cover. I want this as a poster! Just a great reminder of Supergirl's long history! Streaky!!
So we start out with Kara starting out at the school, designed to teach the future champions of worlds. She is pegged as a champion of Earth, a nice way to show that Supergirl has accepted Earth as her homeworld (even if she still feels a little uncomfortable with that designation). Once again, it shows her growth, not only internally but externally. The galaxy considers her a Earth hero. (Far cry from the Supergirl how rode a space motorcycle out into space under Nelson.)
And we also meet the classmates in her study group. It is a nice little group shot, reminding me of Bevery Hills 90210 or Saved by the Bell. More importantly for this moment, we get to hear Kara's early perceptions of the group. Maxima is smart and cold and a quick fighter. (She could be a foil for Supergirl or maybe a reminder of who she was.) Tsavo is an overly emotion fighter. And Comet is the popular guy, something of a preener.
The descriptions of the characters fit nicely into classic stereotypes of students and would be fine as such. But happily, we learn they are a bit more complex ...
And, as I have said almost too many times but still think it is worth repeating, I love that Perkins and Johnson are building on what has come before rather than simply wiping the slate clean. So last month we saw Kara thinking about Siobhan.
And here we see her talking about Michael! This makes me very happy. I like continuity although I am not a slave to it. But the 2014 character progression of Supergirl was wonderful. I am glad this new direction is acknowledging and building on it!
And then we get a crash course on Crucible.
We see a snippet of 'Tactical' class, which sounds more like History as the teacher, Korstus, teaches about planetary diplomacy and takeovers. But there is a sense of 'history being written by the victors'. Korstus' lesson about a peaceful alliance between two worlds is disputed by Maxima who says her mother witnessed a bloody conquering.
There is something unsettling about Korstus.
One thing I have loved about Supergirl in all her incarnations is that she is highly intelligent, always a student, and definitely something of a science geek. Whether it was the Otto Binder Linda Lee tinkering with a chemistry set in Midvale Orphanage or Paul Kupperberg's grad student, or Sterling Gates' Kara rebuilding a robot as a kid or joining the Science Guild or even this Supergirl showing some science when fighting Simon Tycho, Supergirl has been a learner.
So I loved a page here of her being invested in her classes, especially this panel. I love the look of wonder on Kara's face as she throws herself into her studies!
I also enjoyed the scenes of Kara sparring or teaming up with her study group members in more Danger Room style 'missions'. In one we see her 'fighting herself' like in the cover (they turn out to be psychic projections by Comet).
In another we see her rise to be a leader when Tsavo can't pull it together to defuse a bomb under pressure.
This is probably my favorite scene in the issue for a couple of reasons. Just a year ago, Kara was a complete loner who probably would have watched this thing blow up in Tsavo's face. So I like how she rushes to help him.
But more importantly, I think it showcases the growth in Kara. She is learning to be a leader and to trust herself when to intervene. I always like the idea that Supergirl will be the leader of the next generation of heroes just as Superman is with the current.
The inner workings of Crucible turns out to be more than just a school. I wondered if it was something more like the battle training by the Warlords of Okaara (in the old DCU). Here it feels even a bit shadier.
Professors Amata and Korstus don't like each other much. Amata seems to have a higher ideal for the school, thinking it a place to make leaders ... not warriors. But Korstus' words make it feel more like a place where he can raise an army.
And the 'High Council' has the feel of the Science Council of the Donner Superman movies. The heads of the school talk about Crucible needing to be a peace-keeping institution, especially with the Green Lanterns busy. And Korstus thinks cloning warriors is the best way to accomplish that.
This whole thing sounds wrong. And it doesn't get better when Korstus says Kon-El is the focus of his cloning plan.
I think Korstus has his own agenda.
I do love this visual though, the giant holograms of the Board surrounding some cosmic tree. What is the tree? Yggdrasil??
But we don't get to learn more of Korstus' plans.
Instead we get backstory for Kara's study group which show they are much more than stereotypes.
Maxima planet is dying from underpopulation. Maxima's family doesn't care for her potential as a leader. They want her to breed!
I can only imagine the incredible pressure there is on her to be something of a planetary Eve. I also wonder about how constricting that role might be. Maybe Maxima wants to be something more. That is a very interesting wrinkle to this character and a decent homage to her prior incarnation's desire to mate with Superman.
And Tsavo's backstory is deeper than him being the animalistic brawler of the group.
His planet Ngo is being torn apart by a civil war. It must be difficult for him to be away.
Outside of the revelations about Maxima and Tsavo, I also liked that Kara was being a good friend, visiting these two and simply talking to them. That also is about as far from a 'disaffected loner' that you can get. She even can empathize with Tsavo and his fear of losing everything.
Just great character moments for all three.
And again, you get the sense of Supergirl being a leader here.
This heart-to-heart is interrupted by Amata who says that the Civil War on Ngo has reached a crisis and Crucible is going to send forces to try to bring about some peace. And that includes Supergirl and her study group!
This felt maybe a little bit forced ... maybe. Would you send Freshmen into war? Maybe Tsavo was felt to be needed given his understanding of the planet? But is Crucible a school? What about graduates? Did they get a call? I think I need to learn more. But it felt off that Crucible would send the potential future leaders of worlds into the fray. I would think they would send the fully-trained alumni.
On the planet we learn that Tsavo is a prince! And the royal family is being attacked by rebels led by Tsavo's older brother! Talk about a dysfunctional family! Nice cliffhanger!
So overall, this issue continues the solid work that started last issue. We get action. We start to peel away the layers of Crucible. (There is more to this place than simple classes.) We learn more about the new supporting cast and their complex personal back stories. And we really get to see Kara shine in all her roles - student, friend, hero.
And it is all so beautifully rendered by Emanuela Lupacchino, inker Ray McCarthy, with colors by Hi-Fi.
This is a great way to wrap up 2014, showing just how far Supergirl has come over this year.