Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: Supergirl Annual #1

Supergirl Annual #1 came out this week, a middle chapter in the current Fatal Five storyline and boy, was this one busy. Writer Steve Orlando keeps things moving forward at a near incalculable speed, switching scenes, having characters move in and out, and revealing plot points in a machine-gun style. This was one of those issues that while I was reading I needed to flip back a couple of times to make sure I knew where the action was taking place. It also was one of those issues that I read twice in the same day to make sure I understood it all.

In some ways, that rat-a-tat style works well for a summertime annual. Like an action movie, the pacing was so brisk that it felt like a roller coaster ride. In some ways, it didn't work for me as the information flowing was happening so fast that I needed to pause and absorb it (or reread it), breaking that momentum.

Perhaps I am being too grumpy. There is a lot happening here. But I shouldn't complain when most of the time I am complaining that nothing happens in comics.

The art here is done by Steve Pugh. Pugh's art has certainly changed over time. His work on the Vertigo Animal Man back in the early 90s is the style that I have imprinted on. This seems a bit more straightforward than that thick-lined style.

Buckle up your seatbelts. We are moving on to the story.

The issue starts with the overpowered Supergirl fighting a suddenly kaiju-sized Solomon Grundy. Because of the power levels of both, the brawl is even more uncontrolled than these things usually are. Buildings nearly collapse. The nearby citizens, dodging tossed cars and rubble, suddenly feel less assured with Supergirl than they had been. And then ... a new hero arrives.

Indigo, the Woman of Tomorrow, flies in to rescue people and try to put a stop to Supergirl's destruction. She not only warns Supergirl about the 'mayhem' today but also the horror Supergirl does in the future.

Now this is something interesting. Indigo doesn't seem to be an outright villain here. She isn't fighting Supergirl. She wants to stop this. Hard to believe someone this magnanimous is in 'The Fatal Five'. And I don't think this is a lie. Why lie to Supergirl this high up? So nice switch here.

And this whole 'Supergirl does evil in the future' is another timey-wimey plot that I find interesting. We have seen this in some of the darker days of the pre-Gates/Igle run.

Meanwhile, Selena continues to confront Cat Grant in the CatCo CEO's highrise apartment.

Now this is a great scene with Grant simply unimpressed and unfazed by Selena's display of powers. She continually puts the sorceress down, even saying that CatCo interns know more magic than Selena. So sassy!

Selena wants the access codes to the CatCo phone app and with a spell she has that info. Cat switches deliciously from dismissing Selena to vowing revenge. Love Cat's presence.

So a couple of things. The scene is brilliant. But would Cat, as CEO, know such technical info? Wouldn't Indigo, the Coluan, be a better choice to simply hack in? Is this a nitpick.

 At The Blade, the DEO Headquarters, The Emerald Empress has defeated the Cameron Chase and accessed the records in the DEO servers. Armed now with the CatCo codes, The Empress sends out videos of Supergirl's tender moments with Zor-El to everyone. Suddenly, National City sees Supergirl 'helping' the Cyborg Superman that tried to destroy their city. They learn he is Kara's father. And she sounds much more like an accomplice. Everyone's faith in her is shaken.

Again, I wonder about this as a plot. I suppose psychological warfare is a good way to break down your opponent. But why not just send the Fatal Five en masse to attack Supergirl instead of this chicanery?

Nice art here by Pugh with the inset panels of citizens looking up in dismay.

 Ben Rubel ends up getting into Cat's apartment and demands that they break into CatCo tower and shut down the app. He knows that Supergirl is being played.

Initially Cat is just as angry at Supergirl. But when Ben mentions how family can make you do crazy things, she pauses and changes her tune. She'll help figure things out. But Supergirl will need to own up to her 'lies'.

We have heard plenty of hints about Rubel's family issues. What crazy things has he done? When will he reveal his secrets?

But what about Cat's family issues? How much of pre-Flashpoint Cat was merged into this person with Rebirth. Her alcoholism? The death of her son? Hmmm ....

We then get a bit of criminal monologuing as the Empress reveals her origins and her dastardly plans to Chase. And there is some stuff to unpack her.

First off, she is from Orando now, not Venegar. She seems just as fickle as the original Empress, vaporizing all those who she feels has crossed her. But when she reconnects with her father,. she actually seems happy.

But then (again this is in the future), an army waving an S-shield banner lays waste to Orando and kills the Empress' father (shown in a very Crisis #7 splash page). Now is it really Supergirl who leads this army? Does this mean Supergirl is in the Legion at some point? Or is it simply Supergirl's legacy that this army follows? Are they zealots?

 So, in an effort to effect the time stream and to stop Supergirl's legend from growing, the Empress came back in time to destroy the Girl of Steel. And she formed her Fatal Five, all based on lies.

This is another page where we are seen how the Empress' specific goals matched up with those she has allied herself with. So she played on Magog's loss of a loved one, as she had. She talks about Supergirl not feeling consequences so she picks the robotic Indigo. She removes Selena from the torture of Klarion's town so she won't be tortured by her father's death. And, like Grundy, she wants peace and redemption.  Nice little sequence.

But it was all lies. She has manipulated these four to do her bidding.

 Indigo's early pleading with Supergirl actually impacted Supergirl. Kara flew off to the DEO Ghost Station, hoping Shay Veritas can help her.

With Supergirl gone, Indigo defeats Grundy (her ally) and declares herself the unemotional best hero for National City. Of course, lack of emotions leads to cold, calculating decisions. Be careful what you wish for Nationa City.

But more importantly, we have seen Indigo hanging out with Grundy. Does she know she is being played? Or is she playing along?

 At the Ghost Station, Veritas learns that Supergirl's cells are continually absorbing more energy. In fact, eventually she would burn herself out and explode. Luckily, through comic book science, Veritas can perform laser surgery to burn away the root of the problem.

Supergirl won't absorb more  and more energy. She explode anymore. But she is still super-charged.

It is a little comic book science-y. But I'll roll with it. What is weird is that we learn it is Selena who did this to Kara. So why the gun motif? The purple energy?

I have to assume that this super-charging is a story that last beyond this arc.

 But Supergirl doesn't have time really to think things through. The Empress has sent Magog and Selena to the Ghost Station to attack Supergirl's allies there.

Who should be there to help defend things? Lar-On!

Now I hope he isn't a true Kryptonian-level strength werewolf. I hope that his 'sickness' knocked him down a notch. I am all for super-powered werewolves. I love the idea. But he shouldn't be on the same level as Kal and Kara.

 But we don't dilly-dally at the Ghost Station. Supergirl knows the Empress is at the Blade and she needs to get into that base to help the DEO. Rather than fly straight there, she uses the tunnels below National City to try to sneak in. And who should let her in? Eliza and Jeremiah!

I like how they need to remind Supergirl that they are soldiers as well as parents. She doesn't need to send them away.

I want more of the Danvers in this book. I am glad we see them here.

But in the end, Supergirl confronts the Empress who lays out her whole plan.

She reveals how she manipulated the Five. She talks about how she has made people question Supergirl's goodness. She has hidden the events of National City from Superman. Supergirl is on her own.

And if the Empress is upset that Supergirl killed her father, you should be able to guess what the Empress is aiming to do next.


Scene changes. Motivations. Fights. New characters. Character moments. More scene changes. More fights. A lot happens here ... a lot. And we end on another cliffhanger. This is actually a middle chapter, something I am not used to an Annual being. But as a middle chapter, it did what it needed to do, pushing the story forward to a conclusion. But at times it felt a bit dizzying.

The art is fine. Pugh's page layouts are slick with different panel sizes and shapes helping the story flow.

So what did you all think? Am I just grumpy?

Overall grade: B


Russell Burbage said...

I picked this story up ONLY because it says on the cover "Attack of the New Fatal Five," and, well, I was sorely disappointed.

First of all, the new Fatal Five never actually attacked Supergirl. Brainiac Woman killed (?) Solomon Grundy, who is a giant (?). Faye Dunaway and Magog fight a Kryptonian were-wolf at someplace called The Scabbard. Dean Cain and Helen Slater show up in armor?

In other words, this was absolutely not written for somebody who would pick it up because of the cover, ie the random Legion fan. Totally confusing and not at all "inviting" to new fans. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I had no idea what was going on, and after reading this, frankly, I don't much care. I won't be picking up the next issue of Supergirl and to tell you the truth, I want my money back. False advertising!!

If anybody wants to read this let me know and I'll give you my digital code. Blech.

kenkraly2004 said...

A good issue in the 1st half of the annual but the 2nd half kind of did drag on a bit. Seeing Kara have surgery preformed on her was scary to see and the cliffhanger was ok but not the best. The biggest problem still with this series is Supergirl's supporting cast not being devolved enough like they where in Pre New 52 and it's been that way since Rebirth Supergirl started. Artwork improved but a little damp and story was decent 7.5/10

Anonymous said...

I liked this issue very much. Full of action and character moments. Maybe it was too story-packed, but I never got the need to go back and reread a scene.

I hadn't the impression that Indigo believed she was one of the good guys. I think she was pretending to be one.

"Again, I wonder about this as a plot. I suppose psychological warfare is a good way to break down your opponent. But why not just send the Fatal Five en masse to attack Supergirl instead of this chicanery?"

Well, Sarya talked about a "Supergirl dynasty" (which I find intriguing. Some Silver Age books featured Klar Ken, Superman XX, implying Superman founded some kind of dynasty. Supergirl also founded one?). My take is she not only wants to kill Supergirl but also wants to ensure no one tries to follow her steps. Magog stated they want to kill her "legend", too.

And Supergirl has now real troubles. Her motto is "Hope, compassion and help for all". "All" means "ALL", no merely "people society deems to be deserving of compassion". However, what do you do when you're pitiyng a mass-murderer? And when his victims call you on it?

"Initially Cat is just as angry at Supergirl."

And thinking the world doesn't need a Supergirl, most likely. Ah, the memories.

"We then get a bit of criminal monologuing as the Empress reveals her origins and her dastardly plans to Chase. And there is some stuff to unpack her."

So this origin is completely new?

"What is weird is that we learn it is Selena who did this to Kara. So why the gun motif? The purple energy?"

Good question. Maybe we'll find out why?

Anyway, don't you think "Cat" was going a bit meta in that scene? "Supergirl, I've run the numbers and I can't make off money of you. I have no use for you, so I'm killing you." Geez, it sounds familiar.

I love how villains are always so self-absorbed. Sarya ever thinks they'll have no reason to fight if she stops committing crimes? Oh, no, no way.

I look forward to read the ending.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. This isn't a standalone issue. To understand how Dr Veritas connects to Supergirl you need to have been along since New 52. For an avid Supergirl reader the back references are a good thing imo. Issues that doesn't build on the past takes place in and builds upon a meaningless world. World building is essential to good storytelling.
However the references are tough on new readers. I thought Wonder Woman was completely unreadable trying to start with rebirth and dropped it after some 8 issues.

Personally I think this was an ok issue but not great. It lacked any amazing moments and suffers from earlier mistakes. Orlando should never have had Cat/Selena shoot Supergirl. He has painted himself into a corner with that and the why-questions pile up and detracts from everything else.

I could argue that Indigo was kept away from the hacking by Empress because she actually believes in good and might not have doctored the footage to be out of context, but that does not explain why the pinnacle of rationality would accept being benched on the hacking duties.

B is a fair grade. I think Orlando is working on too many titles and doesn't necessarily give the thought needed into every issue.

I really love that the art has picked up though. Then I'm a bit frustrated that Ching went to Garage. Now that series is filled with his half finished faces and drawings instead, and I love the story there.

Yeah, I might be a little grumpy too lol.

Everything considered though I still have both Supergirl and Gotham City Garage as two of my favorite series right now.

Anonymous said...

I likd this issue and its tv-series like headlong pace, but agree with the above poster who opines that Annuals ought to be an opportunity for new readers to "parachute in" on character. In the good old days Annuals were eighty page giants with nothing but reprints designed to give a precis' of the characters history, nowadays its little more than a cover blurb. Attacking supergirl's sterling "reputation" is a good start on an evil plan since she is a little more dependent on public goodwill than her cousin, this is a consequence of her "loving the job" as opposed to Kal El's "Being the Job".


Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

As I said in my review, I like Annuals to be big standalones or the conclusion to a story. So this being a middle chapter is odd.

It says 'new' Fatal Five on the cover and regular readers have been following this group. I do pity the random Legion fan who came here.

And the idea of Supergirl being a legend that some army uses for their purposes is fascinating. Interesting.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

"As I said in my review, I like Annuals to be big standalones or the conclusion to a story. So this being a middle chapter is odd."

I saw a Batman fan complaining the latest Batgirl Annual wasn't a complete story but the beginning of one.

I remember the days when they were big standalone adventures, so I've got why some don't like the change. On the other hand, I'm not annoyed about it or going to downgrade the book themselves because of it.

"It says 'new' Fatal Five on the cover and regular readers have been following this group. I do pity the random Legion fan who came here."

On the one hand, comics should be accesible and written thinking of new fans. On the other hand, if you start to read a novel in the middle, you can hardly complain about not understanding what is happening; particularly if those plot points were adequately explained in the former chapters you chose to skip.

"And the idea of Supergirl being a legend that some army uses for their purposes is fascinating. Interesting."

Maybe we're missing the obvious. Emerald Empress talks about Supergirl's legacy and followers. Now, we know some future heroes that were inspired by Supergirl (and her cousin)?

Maybe Sarya -or whatever her name is now- is alluding to the Legion. After all, she looked to kill Saturn Girl. Sure, she's describing them like some kind of conquering army... but we know her vision was in fact manipulated. And of course she sees herself like the victim. The good guy. Right like Mekt Ranzz thinks he's been wronged and his little siblings are the bad guys.

Aaron said...

I loved this issue. So much was happening. Yet it still carried the emotional themes of Kara’s compassion; this is why I loved the cliffhanger; it was an emotionally traumatic moment for Supergirl and I felt for her in that moment. I love Steve Orlando’s psychology… It was perfect timing for this showdown; Supergirl is still earning the trust of the people and the Emerald Empress would know that, hence making her job easier to manipulate the citizens of National City (by using and Chase’s own paranoia) against Kara.
I think Steve Orlando’s take on Supergirl is the only reason I still read the character. I liked the New 52 but I don’t think I could stomach a similar iteration like that for Kara Zor-El. With my well-documented dislike for the TV show on the CW, Orlando came along at just the right time for me to retain my love for the character.
To be honest, I think that annuals have become merely a ‘bonus issue’ for writers to stretch out a little, like a chance to add some seasoning to their stories.
I’m loving the Supergirl comics and can’t wait to see what happens in the next issue. A great review, Anj. And thanks, as always, for the platform.

Martin Gray said...

Terrific review as ever. I've given my opinions elsewhere so I'll just ask a question: what did you reckon to Kara's inspirational 'hang on in there' image being Ben? OK, do she was picturing the moment she was really hanging on, but it seems to be rather overstating his importance to her.

Anj said...

Thanks for continued comments.

Left my comment on your review at Too Dangerous Mart.

I don't quite get the Ben image other than she is becoming friends with him and is impressed with his ability to move forward from whatever caused him to leave his family.

I am hoping that we get a little dedicated supporting cast time with the characters. In particular, some Kara Danvers in high school pages would be greatly appreciated.

Aaron said...

The way I see it , Martin, (and I may be being na├»ve here) is that when Kara went through the school floor, Ben helped her, even at risk to himself; he showed faith and he trusted her. Now with all that was going on during Supergirl’s surgery, she remembered what Ben did as a positive thing to hold on to, to distract her mind . Ben still had faith in her as other were losing their's. Supergirl remembered that at the moment of needing to find something positive to think of (as the surgeon asked her to do).
I’m sure there may be a deeper meaning that has yet to be revealed; but this is just how I interpreted it. But my brain is weird, so who knows... :)

Professor Feetlebaum said...

"Some Kara Danvers in High School would be greatly appreciated."

I'll second that.

I don't necessarily want "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis", but Kara needs a circle of friends she can just "hang out" and be normal with. also, some family time with the Danvers' would be nice.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks Aa3on, that makes plenty of sense.

And I see the TV show is giving us a Midvale flashback mystery. Yayyy!