Friday, December 16, 2016

Review: Supergirl #4

Supergirl #4 came out this week and was a very good issue, pushing the story along nicely and throwing in a lot of emotional beats. It is these character moments that make this such an enjoyable read, possibly the best issue of the title so far.

The underlying premise is that there is a war going on for dominance over Supergirl's spirit. Is she still beholden to Kryptonian culture so much that she would sacrifice Earth to regain it? Or has she put the scars and sadness of Krypton's death behind her and embraced her new home. It is unfortunate that we are mining this theme again. It has been played out in New Krypton, the beginning arcs of the New 52, and the ending arc of the New 52. But since #Rebirth might be the first Supergirl comic someone has read, I suppose it makes for a good opening arc, differentiating Kara's origins from Superman. She would miss Krypton; she actually lived there.

Writer Steve Orlando even has a nifty way of playing this theme out, having Kara's parents in conflict, a way of making the Earth/Krypton emotional fight also a very physical one. We saw the sets of parents interact in the Silver Age but I don't think that has been used recently, bring a fresh feel to the overall plot.

If there is one thing that detracted from this issue, it would be the art ... in places. Brian Ching has a distinct style and some panels of his expressive work are really wonderful. But there is also an unfinished feel to his work in places, particularly in his leaving of faces, noses, and mouths occasionally. Also, it was in this issue that I finally noticed that Eliza is missing a hand, something I may have noticed before if my eyes didn't gloss over things as Ching's artistic shorthand. This isn't a blanket complaint; most of the issue is beautiful.

On to the book!

The issue starts with National City under siege from Zor-El and his group of deceased, re-animated, cyborg citizens of Argo City. They don't wield the raw power of a living Kryptonian but they are strong and durable. This isn't going to be easy. The DEO mobilizes everyone they can. And they check to make sure their strongholds aren't breached, including Ghost Site #252. And who is there? Shay Veritas!

Veritas was a scientist friend of Superman's way back in the Scott Lobdell issues and eventually in the Tony Bedard Kara issues. She always seemed to be one issue away from being revealed as a villain but never strayed from the path of good.

I'll be interested to see what Orlando has in store for her. I thought she had decent potential if done right.

Zor-El's plan is to drain humans of their 'odic force' and use that life energy to truly resurrect the people of Argo. Back in the city, the robotic Alura is draining Eliza Danvers of her life energy in front of the captured Kara.

The roles of Zor-El and Alura have been a bit mutable over the last few years. Since the New 52, Zor-El has been portrayed as being something of an unethical scientist with a fragile ego. That said, he kept those traits hidden from Kara and the two had a close relationship on Krypton.

Alura was portrayed as being a sort of slave to tradition, trying to marry Kara off and keep Kara in rituals she didn't want to be in.

Here it feels that Kara had a much closer relationship with her mother. She is horrified by the things this automaton is saying, angry at what her father has turned her mother into.

Meanwhile, on Earth, National City is being overrun. The DEO can barely hold off the cyborg-Kryptonians. At CatCo, Cat huddles her staff into a panic room, built because she is a sworn enemy of Lois Lane.

So, first off, Cat here is overall portrayed as a the detail-obsessed, hard driven character we came to love on the show. We learn she has a flow chart for her lunch order. And a panic room? Brilliant. I like the fact the she considers Lois an enemy, although she is probably more of a professional rival. I don't know how that sits with everyone.

But I can't get past that blank face. Is she the Question? If it is the size of the character in the panel driving that choice, can't Ching construct the panel differently?

And then we get to the real meat of the issue, the emotional punch.

Kara can't escape because the machinery adapts to her attempts. She is stuck. And Alura begins berating her daughter. Zor-El was listening to Kara all along. He heard her complain about Earth and wish Argo was back.

But it is a Monkey's Paw wish. Even Kara realizes that this travesty of Argo isn't what she wished for. I think it is a turning point for her character. It is time to move on from wishing things were like they were. It is time to move forward.

And then there is a great scene were Kara implores Alura to not kill Eliza.

It is a great speech focusing not only on Alura's personality but also on Zor-El's narcissism. Zor-El might be saying he is doing this for Kara, he might think this is what Alura would want. But it is Zor-El trying to atone for his inability to save Krypton.

And Kara knows Alura would never say what she is saying or do what she is doing. This is Zor-El forcing that on her. And Alura is stronger than that.

Ching's art draws in closer and closer to Alura's face as we see her humanity slowly show on her face.Suddenly Alura remembers who she is and breaks free. She returns Eliza's odic force.

And with that Alura collapses. It is a very nice scene.

Eliza might be alive. But Kara is still captured.

But then we see some of that Science Guild brilliance shine. Kara realizes the bots which stymie her escape attempts 'listen' on a certain frequency. She screams a counter-frequency which incapacitates them, allowing her to break free.

I love everything about this. The scream idea is brilliant reminding me of Superman singing Darkseid to death in Final Crisis. Or Supergirl whistling an earthquake away in Legion of Super-Heroes.

I love her expression in the second panel, a little satisfaction on her face for science-ing the solution. That's solid stuff by Ching.

And the last action panel is appropriately large and loud!

There is a final goodbye to Alura who died again. I like this panel too. The idea of both mothers being present is powerful. And Alura sacrificed herself here, maybe realizing that Krypton shouldn't live again.

One quibble though. Would Kara call her Alura here? I think 'My mother deserves rest' would have been a more poignant line of dialogue.

While the mother conflict is over, the father conflict is just beginning.

Jeremiah Danvers has had little success in slowing down the Argo cyborgs. And now he has caught the attention of Zor-El. And my guess is, knowing Zor-El's emotions, he hates Jeremiah. He's probably jealous of him.

So I thought this was a very good issue for the title. Supergirl finally seems to realize that she can't go home again. Earth is her new home, the Danvers her new parents. And having her say goodbye to Alura again brings in some finality, some closure she didn't get before. If only the art was consistent throughout.

And those scenes on Argo give us a new wrinkle on the mother/daughter relationships that Kara has, both biologic and foster. I thought that whole scene was very well done.

All that said, I hope once the Argo City story is over we get some straightforward, 'I'm a hero on Earth' action. This is acceptance of Earth is a rebirth we have kind of already seen.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Nice insight, sir! I look forward to seeing the conflict between the dads, now we've seen how the mother problem played out. And yes, that scene of Alura's returning humanity is so nicely done by Ching, maybe he needs more time to draw individual issues, delivered via an artistic spotter.

KET said...

"All that said, I hope once the Argo City story is over we get some straightforward, 'I'm a hero on Earth' action. This is acceptance of Earth is a rebirth we have kind of already seen."

I'd have to agree on this point, although it may already be too late, considering the initial arc's protracted length. It's possible that this story arc focused too much on a resurrected Argo; however, I'm not really drawn into any of the action at CatCo or the DEO anyway. So far, Ben Rubel hasn't proved to be an adequate replacement for Winn and James on the TV show; and Chase still seems a odd-fitting substitute for an understandably missing J'onn J'onzz. Cat Grant's often prickly presence throughout this comic arc also gives off the impression of an unnecessary outtake from season one of the TV show, since Calista Flockhart is no longer an active cast member this season.

Like I had mentioned in a previous thread, Brian Ching's stylistic artwork hasn't bothered me at all, even his 'shorthand' when he doesn't bother to draw faces in background group shots. But writer Steve Orlando is pretty much putting me to sleep with the semantic wheel-spinning in this too-long story arc. Outside of the central character's bits in this issue, there's really nothing else clicking for me here...and no real sense of risk or urgency, as the invading army of robots on National City comes off as a rejected Myriad plot. Hopefully, this arc will have something more on its mind than 'got to stop misunderstood daddy' in the next issue, because that's been done to death already.


Anonymous said...

I like Ching's art it's different but I suspect its a little too weird and reminiscent of underground comics to go over with a mass audience. And I'm calling it, Zombie Argoans is a bit of a downer as the kickoff storyline.
I think there is a need to pilot to the show's hopeful tone that is the missing Berlantiverse element.
However that having been said, I LOVE "THINKING SUPERGIRL" I love it love it love it, when she thinks her way out of trouble she's been using her head since 1959 braininess is Supergirl's enduring trademark. She got out of that meshugginah cage all by herself...Klassic Kara Move.