Friday, June 30, 2017

Review: Supergirl Being Super #4

Supergirl Being Super #4 came out this week, the finale to the out of continuity Prestige Format mini-series by Mariko Tamaki, Joelle Jones, and Kelly Fitzpatrick. And I have to say I was very impressed with this ending and somewhat stunned because of the shocking, rather open-ended conclusion. If this sells well or is received well, things are certainly teed up for there to be a sequel.

Let's not think about the future yet. Let's comment on the story at hand.

This has always been a 'coming of age' story about Kara, learning about her past, revealing her powers, and trying to understand who she is. In this issue, she takes a major step on her journey. She recognizes her past; she understands where she came from. But she is ready to be her own person, molded by the lessons she has learned on Earth. She becomes a hero in this issue and I loved it. Yet despite learning to love who she is, in many ways she ends this story more alone than ever. But there is hope for a fuller future on the last page which is genius.

Joelle Jones provides the art on the book with Kelly Fitzpatrick on colors. It is gorgeous. There are silhouettes, great angles, some stretching of perspective, and characters that feel real. Kara looks like a teenage girl. I have always loved Jones' art. I really loved it here.

On to the book!

Last issue Kara freed Tan-On, the Kryptonian prisoner of the evil track coach, Dr. Stone. With a sudden lifeline to her home planet, Kara is tempted to run away with this young man.

But I love the very meta way that Kara has thought about her own life throughout this series. She comments on how inane her life sounds - a messed up teenage rebellion story with a girl running off with a stranger. It is crazy and kind of stupid. I am sure this Kara has derided stories with plots like this.

I do have to add I love the first panel as a great mix of words and art. Kara feels unsettled, like there is no ground under her feet, as she jumps from her window with no ground under her feet. Great colors here too, evoking that setting Kansas sun.

Meanwhile, we learn more of Tan-On's back story. He was sent to Earth as an ambassador back in 1981!! When he landed in Alaska, the military was there waiting for him, bringing him in before his powers could fully manifest and locking him down. He has stayed there, sedated and subdued for all these years.

Now I did have to try and mind-canon why he looks now like he did 35 years ago! I know Kryptonians might be well-preserved on Earth. But Tan-On has been kept out of the sun. Shouldn't he have aged a little? Instead he looks like he stepped off of a CW show.

Usually in stories like this, it is baby Kal who has been captured that needs rescuing. Making it an adult who came peacefully but was tortured is a nice new wrinkle. Regardless of looks, he isn't ready to trust anyone from Earth. He tells Kara they aren't safe and never will be safe.

Now Kara has had a different life. She was raised by loving parents. She has close friends. Her only experience with humanity hasn't been torturers. She thinks that Tan-On is bit extreme.

But then she sees first hand just how evil Earth can be. Dr. Stone has kidnapped Kara's friend Dolly to lure Tan-On and Kara back into their clutches. Kara can't let her friend die. And Tan-On is more than ready to head back and see his captors.

Is there any doubt that we aren't supposed to like Tan-On. Look at his blase body language as he leans against the wall. He seems so smug.

A quick flight and Tan-On is able to find another lab in an abandoned LexCorp building (uh oh!). As soon as they land, Tan-On runs off. Meanwhile, Dr. Stone is able to subdue Kara with Kryptonite and plans to experiment with Kara as well.

You can see how evil people think they are the heroes in their own stories. Stone tells Kara that these experiments will hopefully save Earth by discovering clean renewable energy. She describes her life as complicated. The ends justify the means.

Of course Kara knows that Stone has been experimenting on Tan-On, has kidnapped Dolly, and may have caused the earthquake that killed Kara's friend Jen. That isn't complicated. That's evil.

No doubt Stone is evil.

Turns out Tan-On isn't exactly noble. He didn't run away. He ran through. He murders everyone in the lab! Kara can't believe it.

And then he becomes something of a bullying, controlling creep. He tells Kara that she must join him in and do as he tells her to. They are going to destroy the LexCorp power source. Then they will move on. She isn't here to be a 'good Earth girl'.

Thankfully Kara isn't swayed. She is going to save Dolly. She isn't going to kill anyone. Now will she blow up the LexCorp generator, ax explosion they learn will destroy all of Midvale.

But Tan-On isn't done. If Kara won't listen to him, he'll convince her to join him. He tells Kara he will make Earth a pile of ash. He says she is naive. And then he says that he needs to amputate the connections Kara has to Earth, the first being Dolly.

He drops Dolly off the top of the building while trying to restrain Kara. In a great page, Kara remembers being unable to save Jen from falling to her death. And that memory, a painful one which has plagued her, instead drives her to save Dolly. I love the whole set up of this page. The sepia memories. The angled action panel with the forced perspective. Just perfect!

That leads to the inevitable melee between Tan-On and Kara. And during that fight, all the repressed memories that Kara has been glimpsing in dreams surge forward. She remembers her parents saying good-bye to her. And she knows now that her home planet is gone.

Again, this is another great two page spread showing the current Kara shocked as she remembers. And then that nice symmetry of the young Kara/current Kara crying is spot on.

Tan-On doesn't believe that Krypton is gone (remember, he got rocketed her 20 years before she arrived). He says that Kara and everyone she loves will die for her lies. He blasts the generator, dooming Midvale, and flies off.

It is almost miraculous that Kara discovers her super-breath power, freezing the generator and saving the day.

In one afternoon, she has uncovered and evil plot, rescued her friend, learned her tragic origin, and saved the city all while using powers she hasn't even openly used. I think it makes perfect sense that she looks this exhausted after the fight. The art just sells the fatigue.

And I love the playful banter between friends, a much need chuckle amid the carnage.

Nothing left to do but wrap things up. Tan-On has most likely survived. The corporation knows who Kara is and will want to capture her. She can't stay in Midvale. She needs to leave.

And then there is something of a bomb. Dolly shows Kara pictures of Superman being active in Metropolis. I assumed that Kara was the only El in this Elseworlds. Suddenly, Tamaki opens up a whole universe. Boom!

So Kara decides to head to Metropolis and find her destiny. We see her grieve at Jen's grave. We see her say goodbye to Dolly. We even see Dolly name her Supergirl! Another great page. And an interesting turn.

I don't know if a 17 year old girl heading to the big city with a fistful of cash hoping to find her way makes great sense. But I guess there isn't a better path.

One thing I did miss should be here? A goodbye conversation with the Danvers. We hear that Mr. Danvers gave her some money to survive on. But these are the folks that raised her and loved her. They are the ones that gave her the values that helped her reject Tan-On. Give me a page of them hugging and saying they are proud and that she'll always have a home there. I kind of felt cheated.

If the blurry Superman pic on Dolly's phone opened the door to a new universe, the ending kicks it wide open. The mastermind behind the experiments on Tan-On and Kara? Lex Luthor! And he's wearing a Green K watch! He directs his troops to track down 'Subject Two', Kara.

And Kara in Metropolis? Well, let's just say she looks up in the sky and sees something that isn't a bird or a plane. Great ending.

Standing alone, I was very happy with this mini-series. It is very YA in its approach to Kara, trying to find an identity in her crazy teenage world. That is an every day problem but things are compounded by her secrets. Over the course of the story, she faces tragedy, steps into the role of hero, and decides to continue on that path. It is an emotional story where Kara wears every pang and hiccup on her sleeve. Overall, I thought it was wonderful.

And if this is just an opening chapter, I'll be even happier.

Overall grade: B+


Martin Gray said...

Terrific review, I may well go back and buy the issues I never bothered with, just to encourage such quality work.

So Tan-On is a bad guy... bet that surprised precisely nobody.

You're right, there should have been the emotional beat of a parental farewell - heck, given Kara suspects Tan-On is alive, and that he'd already threatened to destroy her ties to Earth, she should be ensuring their safety.

Anonymous said...

Excellent issue and series.

Tan-On being evil isn't surprising. He arriving in Earth back in 1981 IS surprising and unexpected. I wasn't expecting that. It's an interesting wrinkle.

Somewhere else a reader wondered if Professor Stone would be Cyborg's mother. I hadn't thought of it, but it's an interesting theory.

And you have to love how Stone thinks she's one of the good guys. And Kara calling her out on her crappy self-justifications.

And Kara faces her inner doubts for last time: Can she trust humans? Well, her parents and her friends are good people, Tan-On is an over-controlling murderous creep -it's painful obvious he regarded Kara as nothing but a tool-, and she refuses to another world die. So, at the end, her choice is clear: Being Super.

Superman and Lex Luthor existing in this universe is surprising. I thought for sure Kal-El wouldn't exist or he'd land on Earth several years from now. But he's around and his career has just begun!

I agree there should have been a scene where Kara said goodbye to her parents.

The final scene is great, mixing a homage to Superman #1 -Superman's pose- and Action Comics #252 -Supergirl flying overhead-. Or it's a homage to Superman and Matrix sky encounter? Unless Tamaki says otherwise, and given my feelings regarding Byrne's harmful and ill-conceived reboot, I'm going to assume Action Comics #252.

I wasn't expecting such an open-ended conclusion, but it works.

The art has been wonderful, but I particularly love the last scenes. Kara's body language is absolutely natural and relaxed.

So, Superman has just started out his hero career, and Supergirl has just met him. Let the Heroic Age begin in this universe.

Anonymous said...

"Dr Stone the evil track coach"...HAR!!
Yeah this ended abruptly and yes a goodbye scene with the Danvers' was in order, as well as an explaination of Kara's faulty memory...but its a sort of prologue to "The Rise of Supergirl" so I can take it faults and all.
If Tan On didn't believe Krypton was blown sky-high then its logical to assume that his first priority is to get home and report to his superiors about the savage state of affairs on Earth, "Enter Brainiac" for any notional sequel.


Anj said...

Thanks for comments. Where's hoping we get a sequel. If the odious Superman Earth One got a second book, this certainly deserves one.

KET said...

Frankly, I thought the mini-series was working well on pretty much every level, until the final pages lowered the bar into merely conventional superhero fare. Makes me believe that DC editorial forced an alternate ending than what had been originally intended.


Anj said...

I have been interested in seeing comments here and on-line that the inclusion of Superman somehow diminished this series. I thought it just opened things up so much more.

I'll have to mull this over a bit.

Thanks as always for the discussion!

Anonymous said...

"I have been interested in seeing comments here and on-line that the inclusion of Superman somehow diminished this series. I thought it just opened things up so much more."

I agree with you, Anj.

KET said...

"I have been interested in seeing comments here and on-line that the inclusion of Superman somehow diminished this series. I thought it just opened things up so much more."

It wasn't merely Superman showing up in costume; Lex Luthor's unnecessary appearance, and the routine villain turns from both Tan-On and Coach Stone showed up first. There were hints of deeper characterization from the latter two...then poof!...everything went into flat 'evil adversary' mode, with vague, mundane 'explanations' for both changes. Upon re-reading, book four still seems like a grafted-on ending in place of what could have been.


Aaron said...

"Makes me believe that DC editorial forced an alternate ending than what had been originally intended."

I definitely agree with you, KET.
I admit to being a tad confused in this final issue; when Kara used freeze breath to stop the explosion, why would she say 'I don't think I killed him.'? Did I miss something? It's like a chunk of story was missing. And Kara saying 'I don't even know how to kill someone from my planet, you know, if I have to.' So, is this Kara willing to kill? It didn't emphasize her morality code as much as I was hoping for. I know she's only just discovered who she is, but she would know that she wouldn't (or would?) want to kill people.
This 4-part book series was great, very emotional too in places. I felt that it could have gone on a little longer. And yes, some scenes saying goodbye to her parents would have been great, it fell a little short because of this oversight. A great book though. The art was amazing.