Monday, October 30, 2017

Review: Supergirl #44

Tonight on the CW, the Supergirl show will air an episode titled 'The Faithful' about a cult of people in National City who begin to worship Supergirl as a deity.

This isn't the first time that Supers being viewed as new Gods has happened. From Countdown to the DCEU to innumerable other examples, superheroes being looked upon as the holy is well trod ground. And, in fact, it has happened in the past for Supergirl.

Peter David's Supergirl run (in Supergirl volume 4) had faith and religion and sin and redemption as major themes running through the book. Frankly, those concepts made up the bulk of the first 50 issues, a long form run on comics that I hold up there with the best comics can offer. Now much of that had to do with the redemption of Linda Danvers, the angelic nature of this new Supergirl being, her own hubris leading to a downfall, and then her ultimate self-forgiveness.

But given the fact that this Supergirl said she was an angel, it wasn't surprising that a Supergirl religion would arise. In fact, this faith impacted her greatly, making her wonder about who she was and what her place was in the world. It turns out, it impacted her negatively, another way to try to break her spirit.

I have praised this run throughout this blog's lifecycle, but Supergirl #44, Shadows of a Doubt, is definitely a strong issue with powerful moments. David, and long time art team of Leonard Kirk and Robin Riggs, bring all the power to bear, giving us character moments, soulful moments, and even a super-powered brawl.

But it all revolves around this Supergirl cult, perfectly captured on that cover with a deified statue of Supergirl being praised by the congregation.

On to the book.

The book starts with Reverend Varvel, the local pastor, talking to the local police about the 'Church of S', a new place of worship which has their followers adore Supergirl. The head of this religion is Dr. Bob Smith, a physician who hasn't practice medicine but does do faith healings where he seemingly rips the tumors from people's bodies. Varvel hopes the police will investigate but it is a touchy subject.

Varvel is right that if this man is giving false hope to terminal patients that he should be shut down. But there is a fine line, isn't there? Couldn't others say that about his ministry? Add to that the insanity that happens on a daily basis in Leesburg, there is the chance that Smith actually is doing what he is saying. After all, doesn't an angel (Supergirl) live there?

The meeting is interrupted by a man named Judah who comes in to state that Supergirl is a false idol, most likely a devil, who needs to be rebuked. Of course, she is the local hero. Varvel won't denounce her.

With that Judah leaves. He'll handle things on his own then.

Meanwhile, we see Linda at the bedside of her boyfriend Dick Malverne.

In a complicated story, Dick was cured of his cancer when an aspect of the Demon Buzz (a demon who has plagued this Linda and Supergirl) merged with Dick's body. In a recent story, Supergirl battled for Buzz, freeing Buzz from a Hellish prison and ridding Dick of that piece of Buzz's soul.

The unintended consequence is that without the devilish presence, Dick's cancer returned.

You can see how guilt and remorse is weighing here. Linda saved Dick by ridding him of a demonic presence. She also cursed him to an early grave, bringing back his terminal cancer. It is truly a damned if you do moment.

But for now, Linda is blaming herself. In essence, she killed her beloved. She flies out of the hospital in a rush.

And she angrily flies off to find Buzz.

As this storyline has moved on, the feather angelic wings of her Earth Angel manifestation have slowly become more bat-like. We had learned that the foibles of humanity eventually corrupt the holy presence.

Let's face it, remove the S-shield and this flame-eyed, batwinged, angry being would be taken for a villain.

And this is also part of the problem. This Supergirl has slowly becoming a bit more sure of herself, a bit more haughty, perhaps a bit more 'holier-than-thou'. And pride always comes before a fall.

But before she can find Buzz, she is called to her 'agent' Cutter Sark.

He shows her how an old-fashioned faith love-in for the Girl of Steel has formed on Stanhope University's grounds. This is a rally.

You can see some like how she looks. Other have stronger faith. Supergirl knows she needs to do something about this.

Meanwhile, if the police won't, Varvel decides that he'll confront Dr. Smith.

Sitting in a plush office surrounded by Supergirl tapestries, Smith initially is nice and collegial. But when Varvel talks about going to the police, Smith gets a bit more pointed.

He and Varvel are offering the same thing. Maybe Varvel is jealous. And maybe ... just maybe ... Varvel should stop poking around in Smith's business.

Later in the issue, we see Varvel beaten to a bloody pulp.

This Smith character is creepy. He's a charlatan. But in a world of purple rays, living angels, and heroes and villains being resurrected, I can see how people might believe.

At the rally, Supergirl decides to give an impromptu speech.

In one of my favorite pages in this whole run, she tells the crowd how they can help. Don't worship her. Don't spend their energy in devotion to her. Instead, they can do the little things to help each other. Donate to charities. Help the downtrodden. Take care of others.

It's wonderful. And the people seem to get it!

(I love the one girl in the crowd in the old school 70's costume with the flower wreath!)

Supergirl should have flown off then. Always end on a high note.

But before she can leave the stage, a diseased appearing, deformed baby is thrust into her arms. The baby's mother pleads for Supergirl to cure her child.

Supergirl cries ... and when her tears hit the baby, the disease seems to disappear.

You can see that even Supergirl is surprised. Is she something more than even she thinks? Is she more than a messenger??

We learn later that this was also a ruse, designed to build her up if only to make her fall from that much higher a height.

At that point, Judah arrives clad in white armor adorned with the cross, wielding a staff. After claiming that Supergirl is a false god, he attacks. He is Judah the Destroyer.

And despite all she does, from straight fisticuffs to her withering judgment flame vision, Judah is uneffected. She is thoroughly beaten. In fact, she is only saved by her worshipers flocking to her aid.

Alas, this baby healing and her battle only inflames the ardor of the faith. The Supergirl cult thrives. And some of their members suffer.

This leads to another battle with Judah. And then, in the truly powerful and achingly sad Supergirl #48, Linda confronts Smith.

I might have to review that issue soon. It may be my favorite issue of the whole run as it brings to bear everything that has happened before in a painfully poignant way, setting the stage for the end of this massive storyline in Supergirl #50.

Anyways, we'll have to see if the show leans into this arc at all. See you all tonight at 8p!


Anonymous said...

Religion, belief, faith, worship... are difficult, complex subjects which affect people deeply, and in my opinion superhero comic-books seldom have tackled them right. No matter how we want to pretend otherwise, most of superhero stories generally present a hero and a villain to be ultimately defeated after a physical and/or verbal confrontation. Not the best place to delve into complex real world issues.

So I get concerned when a writer decides to get real world issues in a super-hero comicbook. Even if you agree with the message, it may come across as one-sided, heavy-handed, poorly-examined or preachy. Or maybe the book reads the opposite exact of what the writer meant.

Moving on. That panel with Supergirl spreading her flame bat wings is scary. She looks more demonic than angelic.

I guess Supergirl could tell the crowds "Well, I AM an angel, which means you shouldn't worship ME but My Boss".

It's a pity this Supergirl hasn't been seen in a long time. It'd be great to see her and Kara enjoying adventures together, but I'm afraid she'll stay gone. DC would not know how to fit her in the current universe, and the Super books aren't selling like hot cakes right now.

Anyway I imagine the TV show will adapt the concept but the storyline will be very different (I'm still waiting to see Blackstarr...)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the introspective, Anj. I read the whole PAD run awhile back... I should go back and read it again sometime.
Can't wait till tonight's episode of Supergirl... I suspect they'll just adapt one of the existing Supers comics for the
source material; the execution will be the interesting part. Will it be a one-and-done kind of thing, or will it be a
recurring point within the Supergirl universe? I'm hoping for the latter, but something tells me it'll be the former.

We'll see... and see all Supergirl fans tonight!


Anonymous said...

"Varvel is right that if this man is giving false hope to terminal patients that he should be shut down. But there is a fine line, isn't there? Couldn't others say that about his ministry?"

No, they couldn't say that. And if they said it, they'd be wrong.

Whether he's right or not, Varvel believes what he preaches. Smith, though, knows his claims are false. Not the same situation at all.

And let's remember the existence of the Jewish-Christian deity in the DC universe is a proved fact.