Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: Supergirl #19

Supergirl #19 came out this week and has a 'very special issue' feel to it as it covers a current social issue, gender identity and individuals identifying as non-binary. For those of a certain age, the 'very special' designation was assigned to television episodes or specials which were supposed to be about a more real topic, in hopes of educating and spurring on discussion. Whether it was after-school specials about teen pregnancy or Saved by the Bell covering drug use or Superman teaching us about the perils of drunk driving, these stories are part of the cultural landscape.

And so this issue concentrates on Lee, a new character, non-binary, and how Supergirl helps Lee. We see how Lee has been coping with issues at home and school. And we see how Supergirl can empathize and be there as a source of hope and inspiration. Supergirl is an ally, befriending, defending, understanding, and being there.  And, in the end, everything ends well. Maybe too well? It feels a little too easy, a little too pat, a little too quick. But when you only have 20 pages and you are only dedicating one issue to the story, things have to happen and fast. 

I certainly don't mind issues like this or this issue in particular. I'm still learning about this stuff myself and could use all the education I can get. But this is a volume of Supergirl which is ending next month. We have a lot of Kara's story to wrap up. Who knows if we are getting another Supergirl title book any time soon. So I just wish there was more time and space to deal with our title character which would mean an entire issue given to a character we have never heard of before and may never hear about again was a nice stand-alone story in the bigger epic. That said, with the impending ending, maybe the creative team felt this was their only chance to produce this story.

Writers Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala give Lee a unique voice and bring the emotions nicely. I care about these characters. There is a great callback to Supergirl's history. But I'll say again, things feel a bit rushed. I was glad to see that we still got some momentum on the lingering plotlines of Supergirl and the DEO.

The book starts with Cameron Chase, former regional director of the DEO, still on the run from Mr. Bones and the current administration. Chase and Shay Veritas have deduced that Bones has been working with Mister Mokkari, a known evil Science Sadist from Apokolips. And now we hear that he is behind all the shenanigans which have transpired in the book, like who gave Phantom Tech to Tycho Corporation. 

She demands Bones cut off ties with Mokkari but Bones fires back saying he knew all along about these plans. I think he might protest too much.

I do like that Orlando ties off the plot string about the Tycho Phantom Tech. But I wonder if there is a feeling he has to bring this volume to a complete close so whoever comes next has a clean slate.

And is it just me that thinks Lar-On looks just like Jeff Bridge's The Dude from The Bog Lebowski?

Meanwhile Ben Rubel continues to question his role in CatCo's publicity demolition of Supergirl. He follows up on a story submitted to their open source website. And that's where he finds Lee. Lee initially says that they weren't sure they could trust Supergirl but then Kara's actions won them over. Interesting that Lee wonders why Supergirl would care since she is white and blond.

Lee was running away from home during the Zor-El attack on National City. Luckily, Supergirl arrived to save Lee from an attack by a zombified Argo City citizen. As has been the case for this Supergirl, she not only saves Lee but promises to check in later (we have seen her do this already in this run). 

Sure enough, Kara does check in. Off on a mountaintop, Lee divulges that they are non-binary, feeling neither like a girl or a boy. Lee hasn't told anyone and that uncomfortable feeling has led to issues at school and home. 

Kara tells Lee that parents always come from a place of love (which I don't know is 100% true). But then says that her parents hurt her by throwing her in a rocket and saving her without asking. That seems like misplaced angst.

At the school, Lee tries to go into the girls bathroom and is confronted by the bully of the piece, Chuck, a tall athletic blond white person. He of course fires slurs and violence at Lee.

Lee's initial talk with Kara made me think they were genotypically female. Chuck's barbs made me think Lee was genotypically male. Perhaps that is the whole point of this story. We aren't supposed to know or care about that. Lee is non-binary. That is that.

When Lee talks about feeling like some monster because of their feelings, Kara brings up her past as a Red Lantern, a time where she was so confused and angry she became something she wasn't. I love that Orlando and Ayala bring this up. One, it is a big part of Kara's history and the first time it has been acknowledged in Rebirth. But more importantly, it shows empathy by Kara. She can relate.

Bolstered by Supergirl's understanding, Lee comes out to their parents. Here the mother calls Lee 'mija' which I suppose gives us some clearer history. 

Lee's parents seem to immediately accept it all. They'll have to learn too.

Chuck again tries to bully Lee, who apparently punched him at some unseen point. When a fight seems like it is going to break out, Supergirl suddenly arrives, saying she is Lee's friend.

But Lee wants to fight this battle. Lee points out that Chuck probably isn't angry at Lee's gender identity and is instead angry at the problems in his own life, including his parent's divorce and his father coming out. Because, of course. Every villain these days needs some sympathetic back story.

And just as easy as Lee's parents hugging it out, Chuck backs down having learned a lesson. 

Again, this all seems so quick and simple.

But this does give Lee some confidence. They have finally been honest to themselves and others. They have been accepted. And they didn't need Supergirl to save the day. Sure Kara inspired Lee. But it was Lee who did all the heavy life lifting.

This is what being an ally means. Not lip service. And not overpowering.

Ben publishes the story on CatCo and soon everyone knows about Lee.

And now it is Lee's time to return the favor. Lee talks about how Supergirl isn't infallible and people should forgive Supergirl.

It all seems to dovetail nicely into Orlando's tagline. Supergirl chooses Earth, so we can save each other's lives. 

Nice to see Cat and Eliza (as well as Chuck, Belinda, and Lee's father) all listening in.

We finally see Ben back in his apartment, feeling proud of himself and talking to his oblivious mother. But that conversation is interrupted because Kara needs help.

So overall, this feels like a story that I have read before. Justice is for all people and Supergirl fights for justice. So of course non-binary Lee will be saved and deserves to be saved. 

It being told in this issue means that we have next issue's scant 20 pages to wrap up everything. 

I haven't even mentioned the art! Jamal Campbell brings a very polished look to the book. I love the feel of the art here. And between the scenes tugging the heart strings and the opening street battle with the zombies, everything shines brightly.

I also should mention Artgerm's variant which seems to be another '5 second later' cover from Superman Adventures #21. Even the buildings are the same.

Overall grade: very special


Carey said...

"I certainly don't mind issues like this or this issue in particular. I'm still learning about this stuff myself and could use all the education I can get. But this is a volume of Supergirl which is ending next month. We have a lot of Kara's story to wrap up. Who knows if we are getting another Supergirl title book any time soon. "

More and more I get the feeling that the twin events of Bendis signing a DC exclusive and Berganza being fired (which were announced within ten days of each other and in that order) means that the Superman editorial office has no idea what is going to be happening to any of the characters. Like you, I very much enjoyed this issue and would have preferred more room to the dangling plot threads and regular characters, but I suspect that when this issue was commissioned (and, iirc, heavily publicised) Supergirl wasn't going to go on hiatus/be stealth cancelled with issue 20.

It's a real shame that every time Supergirl gets a really good creative team with a likeable take on the character and an interesting supporting cast events from the main Superman book come along to derail it. The Orlando take is the best since Gates, and its very much a shame that this is coming to an end, especially since the addition of Houser and exploring Kara's civilian identity more than her Kryptonian heritage (something I always enjoy in my superhero comics).

As you said in the last sales thread, Supergirl sells well enough to continue her own title, especially when coupled with the character having her biggest general population popularity with the tv show. I'm desperately hoping that after the Bendis fuss dies down a new Supegirl series is launched that is simply a continuation of this one. Fingers crossed...

Anonymous said...

This was maybe my favorite issue of the whole run.

I finally got to see Chase and Lar-On again. Their missing months, I need that series to happen one day.

We finally get to see them connecting to New 52 Supergirl as Red Lantern. I need it to feel like we are in an evolving world but where the past matters. Kara still carries the memories of being a red lantern and it shapes her.

But most of all, this is a wonderful story of friendship and belonging. Is this a necessary story? I don't know for a fact as I haven't lived Lee's type of life, but from what I have seen the last days on Twitter I have to say yes. Yes these type of stories are necessary. As long as there are people who can be full so full of vitriol about others life choices that does them no harm we have failed as a species.

I don't know what is in the minds of these people who are filled with such hate. Maybe it is like in this arc, that they have issues they cannot resolve and lash out at others. Either way, our experiences shape us.ayne there are some young readers who decide to walk Kara's path because of this issue instead of treading down the path of fear and hate. If so... It was worth it.

Martin Gray said...

Yes, everything did seem a little easy, but I suppose if you're writing a story to encourage someone scared because they feel different, you can't have the parental response be terribly negative.

Further thoughts at my own review...

Anonymous said...

Nice review of the interesting story. I'm not sure what I have to add to the points you made about the main story.

That 2-page "BENDIS IS COMING!" centerfold was jarring, insensitive if not downright offensive. Maybe they should have included an image of a bomb or at least a steamroller. All that white space is where all the soon-to-be-invisible characters can be stacked up.

Was cancellation ever made official? Steve Orlando's tweets were heartfelt but somewhat ambiguous. Maybe Jody Houser's tweet made it official.

I have some more trivial observations, I suppose, to make:

- That Orlando tagline you refer to (Supergirl chooses Earth so we can help other) is conspicuously absent. Seems it would apply to this story, even if it is mostly about Kara helping Lee.

- The artwork is great. Different from the standard fare, with every panel borderless; most dialog balloons hanging borderless from the non-edges; the panel compositions; the coloring. It's all gorgeous. Stylized in a way that works for me.

- Not to take away from the great Artgerm "B" cover at all, but I think the "A" cover is also a gem. Immediately reminded me of something by Amy Reeder with Guy Major - Supergirl #58 (Jan 2011). This cover by Jimenez with Sanchez is practically a (reverse-angle) homage to that 2011 cover - the squint in the eyes, the shade of lip gloss on the faint closed-mouthed smile, the shading of the hair in the light. Hard to surpass that Reeder/Major golden-hued cover, and I wouldn't say this one quite does, but any cover that reminds me of it is a great cover.

- I love any Red Lantern reference. Any reminder that she's still that New 52 character makes me happy. I admit I liked that version a lot. The prior version (2005-2011) also evolved into a very likable character.

- I wasn't confident about the "montage" near the end. The standard, perhaps cliche, in such cases is for the narration to suit the person being depicted at that point in the montage, but I couldn't make the connections. ".. an alien savior, Supergirl isn't perfect" sure doesn't sound thematically connected to Bones unless we are meant to think he is having second thoughts about his vendetta. I'm not even sure who the narrator is! Ben? Felt like this was reaching for something, but missed.

- Kara's difficulty speaking with English contractions was really on consistent display in this issue, which does make me wonder how she fakes talking as Danvers. Maybe this halting speech is just part of a Supergirl disguise?

- Ben recently kissed Kara and they cuddled together (innocently, sweetly, is how I read it) for a night together on a beach. If he can't sense, after those intimate moments, that Supergirl is Kara Danvers, then Supergirl has some other powers that we don't know about. Hope we find out in #20.

Sigh. One more issue, and hoping for something great. Except for a year between the end of the 2005 series and the start of New 52, there's been almost continuous publication of a character that was at least named and looked like Supergirl. So, we'll wait and see.

Aaron said...

Great review, Anj.
I loved this issue so much! What an amazing example of who Kara is and what she stands for.
Steve Orlando obviously knew the book was ending, yet he went ahead with this story, and I believe it was the right choice. Knowing it is ending makes it even more essential that stories like this be told; it stresses the importance Kara places on compassion and hope; that these traits matter greatly. I think it best that emphasis be placed on how inspiring Kara’s character is (to go down swinging, as it were), rather than do run-of-the-mill stories merely to wrap up the current arc; to do that would detract from Supergirl’s strengths as a character. In this sense, I feel that the timing of this issue is perfect. Issues like this one will go a very long way to cementing the inspirational legacy that has been Supergirl Rebirth.

As a side note, I resented seeing the double page advert of, “Bendis is coming.” I thought, ‘yeah, at the expense of what I’m currently reading!’

For cancelling this book, I can only surmise that DC has had a recent blow to the head.

Anonymous said...

Pros of this issue: great art, loved the suit design- it has a very metallic finish to it and the cape is just waiting to fly away by itself. I also want to know what lar-on has been eating to suddenly get a face and body like that. As for the issue, it was a simple story meant to bring people, who are traditionally excluded from society some support and hope. I can appreciate that.

Cons: I did buy a Supergirl book right? Or was it a ben rubel or Lee Serrano book. I don't mind hearing such stories but when I buy a title called Supergirl I always expect her to be in the front and center of the action. Only one issue left, let's see how they wrap things up or maybe they might leave a few threads loose deliberately.

KET said...

"That 2-page "BENDIS IS COMING!" centerfold was jarring, insensitive if not downright offensive."

Yeah, that ad was pretty obnoxious, considering that it's now obvious that his arrival is putting this series on hiatus. Supergirl fans really didn't need to be reminded of this fact.

"I did buy a Supergirl book right? Or was it a Ben Rubel or Lee Serrano book."

Seemed like a Supergirl story to me. The central theme seemed to be one of acceptance, which is a modern Supergirl trait. Rubel is a supporting character 'on the fence' about supporting her, and guest character Lee explained his advocacy for her. This story also helps cement how Kara's circle of influence can possibly be overlooked by those who are mainly just thinking about themselves and their own situations.

I also liked that this issue didn't really sidetrack the present story plot of the Girl of Steel at odds with a rogue DEO headed by Bones. The reappearances by Cameron Chase and Lar-On kept that Shay Veritas cliffhanger from #18 percolating (which I figured would be addressed in #20 anyway).

The last panel was a bit of a surprise reveal for me, since I was reading it digitally. Will Kara open up to Ben even more? Looking forward to finding out what her plan is in #20.

Overall, I concur with those who find #19 to be one of the best single issues of this entire run. Inspiring.


John (somewhere in England) said...

When I bought Supergirl #19 I had a brief conversation with the shop assistant about the title's imminent cancellation. After I'd exclaimed that DC work in mysterious ways he replied "They all do". It seems DC are not alone when it comes to exasperating and unpredictable chopping and changing.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see someone can still produce a decent non violent "one off" issue...everything is padded and serialized these days the impact of storylines correspondingly dissipated.
I guess this version of Supergirl is going down fighting with the whole "Altruist of Steel" thing, it's a great thing to me, at least she is staying consistent to the end.
Yeah the whole "Bendis is Coming" had a whole Orwelllian Feel to it, once again DC thinks some hot-sh*t creative can save the day if we grant them carte blanche....just remember when Jack Kirby jumped ship to DC it merited no more than a single one page house advert across the board, and Kirby can justly be cited as a carte blanche creative who truly added to and enhanced the DC Mythos.


Anonymous said...

Good issue.

I also think this issue was solicited before DC decided to pull the plug. Now Orlando has one single issue left to conclude his history.

Nice to see Supergirl's history being referenced rather forgotten. Hard to believe "Red Daughter" has paradoxically become one of her most famous storylines, the one non-SG fans know and talk about. Anyway I think Kara is deluding herself a bit when she says "That wasn't me. That was who they were afraid I could be." Yes, Kara it WAS you. People were afraid of you, but it was you who chose to hold on your anger, bitterness and grief instead of moving on. And your cousin rightfully called you out on it.

One of the best moments happened when that bully hit her with his bookbag. Her deadpan "Seriously?" expression is perfect.

Anonymous said...

I've just noticed... Campbell has Supergirl grabbing fistfuls of her cloak, Giffen-style. Coincidence or intentional homage?

And, as always, Artgem's cover is wonderful.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the great comments and discussion.

I didn't even think of the irony of the Bendis ad!

And glad to see Kara as protector of the downtrodden!

Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but... Another AC #1000 variant cover featuring Supergirl!

I like this cover. There's a... feeling of them being a close family whose happiness is threatened by a monster. Also, Doomsday filling the background makes me wonder if Bendis is slightly rewriting the Death of Superman, replacing Matrix with Kara. If so, I'm sorry for Matrix but happy for Kara.