Friday, August 10, 2018

Review: Supergirl #21

Supergirl #21 came out this week, the latest 'bold new direction' for the character which in some ways feels like failed 'bold new directions' of the past. In what seems to be an endless cycle, we have an angry Kara, feeling alien, not recognizing Earth as her home, and striking it off on her own. In the ten years I have been doing this blog, I think I have seen 'angry Kara' attemped and fail at least three times.

And yet here we are again.

Writer Marc Andreyko has Supergirl reeling from the death of the Kandorians and the reveal that Rogol Zaar was behind the destruction of Krypton. Fueled by anger, she decides that she will head off into space to try to uncover who else was in on the genocide of her world. She cannot escape all that she has witnessed. She has survivor's guilt. And she has to focus that rage somewhere. So into space she goes.

Andreyko said in an interview that Kara has never dealt with that trauma and that simply isn't true. Supergirl has been dealing with the trauma of her past throughout her continuity. Remember, this is the New 52 Supergirl, not redone with Rebirth. So this is a Kara that has learned that she can't bring her people back (in the best forgotten H'El on Earth story). This is a Supergirl that has fled into space to leave Earth behind her only to return (in the best forgotten Michael Alan Nelson run). This is a Kara who hit rock bottom and embraced her rage becoming a Red Lantern only to realize (and be told by a mentor Guy Gardner) that she is stronger and better than that. It is a Kara who defeated the last World Killer and called Earth home. And even in the Rebirth run, it is a Supergirl who truly claimed Earth as her home, faced off against her evil father, dealt with her creepily re-animated mother, and was living in it as Kara Danvers and becoming the hero of National City, swearing that no one else would suffer as she has. She has dealt with this trauma ... a lot.

So to have her reeling from it, making this decision based on it, felt a bit like two steps backwards.

The idea of her wanting to get to the bottom of Krypton's destruction is a decent plotline. But the motivation could have been something else - her desire for knowledge, her wanting to honor the dead of Kandor, to bring further merit to her sending Rogol Zaar to the Phantom Zone. To say it is Kara's anger and sadness driving her seems almost lazy.

Now that isn't to say the story doesn't have high moments. And I shouldn't be dismissing an arc on the prologue. But this felt neither bold nor new.

One thing I can unabashedly praise is the art by Kevin Maguire. Maguire is a legend and his work sings. His Kara is radiant. His expressive work is unparalleled. And he draws the best Krypto I have seen. The art elevates everything here wonderfully. Expect me to gush as I review the particulars.

On to the book.

 The book opens with an origin page of Kara being rocketed away from Krypton and crash landing on Earth. It is a 6 panel wide screen take which is reminiscent of Grant Morrison's 4 panel Superman origin in All Star Superman. But unlike the simplicity of that, we see how complicated Kara's was. From hugging her parents goodbye (not in continuity I believe) to crash landing with several flip overs to not having a kindly couple in her gaze, she has had a rougher time than Kal.

But the words show that all Kara has had is pain. She has tried to get over it but something always rips away the scab; now it is Rogol Zaar.

It is a shame that we start from this place, as if the 7 years of growth the character has had since the New 52 began are scrubbed back to this reality of emotional distress. Despair and anger? From the character who last issue flew over National City smiling and loving Earth?

Noe of that takes anything away from this glorious splash by Maguire of Kara looking out to the horizon, hair whipping in the wind.

At the Fortress, Kara says this place where she used to go to remember Krypton has just become another place of grief.

I love the transition here from memory to maudlin.

And to be honest, I think the death of the Kandorians is a better hook for Kara than investigating the destruction of Krypton. Maybe she wants to avenge them. Maybe she wants to investigate Zaar to make his banishment in the Phantom Zone a justifiable sentence.

 In a scene that smacked of Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle's Supergirl #34, Superman flies to Kara to talk to her about her decision to head off into space. Except that scene had Superman be a shoulder for Kara to lean on and the lesson was for Kara to accept Earth.

Here Superman has a lot of good points to make. She shouldn't fly off angrily and in an emotional maelstrom. He understands the importance of her mission it is the timing that seems off.

She gives a testy response, reminding Kal she is older than him. Than she calls him 'human', something really out of the earliest angsty days. I suppose this recap of her age differential makes sense as this might be a jumping on point for new readers.

While I don't like the foundation of this enraged Kara deciding to do this, I think we can see she really is emotionally labile. For a second she seems to be thinking about aborting the plan but then steels herself.

Again, Maguire excels here. Those lower panels showing the spectrum of feelings Kara is having is fantastic.

 And, as if to show that Kara isn't 100% rage, we see her leave a message with Eliza Danvers saying she is leaving.

This scene actually gave me the most hope. It is as if Kara couldn't face her Earth mother and still go. The line about not crying shows that maybe she is having some self-doubt about this mission.

I also was thrilled that Andreyko didn't completely sweep all the last years continuity under the rug. The Danvers exist as family Kara can come home to.

Another thing I liked was Kara's seemingly strong standing in the DCU. She talks about thinking like Batman and following clues, starting with Zaar's axe. And then she seeks out Green Lantern to get some answers. She is acting like a peer to these big guns.

Interestingly, the ring doesn't say it has no information on Zaar's axe. It says the information has been redacted. Someone is hiding something.

 This at least explains why Kara is so intent on investigating Zaar even though he is imprisoned. She thinks he must have had help in destroying Krypton and this redacted information shows someone is hiding something.

But even Hal can tell she is out for revenge which is a bad path. What I find curious here is that Hal references his conversion to Parallax, a story now over two decades old. Somehow that history can be commented on. And yet, all the times where Kara also veered to the dark side (I'll remind you again she was a freaking Red Lantern) is forgotten. It doesn't make much sense.

But that's that. With a new clue to follow up on, Kara heads back to the Fortress, dons a new version of her costume which collects solar radiation in the depths of space and plans to fly off. I have said before, I love the look of this new costume.

Thankfully Kal doesn't let the last thing they say to each be that brusque conversation. He sends a note telling Kara to take Krypto along as a comrade. It will make him feel better about this mission.

I love that Superman signs with a smiley face. But does he mean it when he says he understands why she is going out there?

Once more we see that Kara is really in some turmoil. She cries at the idea of Krypto joining her and then, like any dog owner, asks if the pup wants to go for a ride.

I am looking forward to some outer space hijinks with Krypto. I can only hope we see them having some fun and it isn't always film noir crime story.

Hal's redacted search did flag some criminal conglomerate. Obviously Zaar had some allies and here they are ready to meet Kara should she get close enough to them. Okay, I have to admit that is a decent cliffhanger.

So let's start with the positives. The art is just spectacular. I love the way Supergirl looks throughout. I also like that while Supergirl seems to be running on pure anger there is a sadness underlying it all. It makes her concerns and motivations complex. And Krypto is always welcomed.

That said, I just keep wishing we will get past the reimaginings of an angry Supergirl dismissing Earth and fueled by pain and sadness. Every time I think we have reached a point where we have settled into a new environment and will be reading super-hero stories starring Supergirl, we seem to reset back to the angry Supergirl mourning Krypton, feeling guilty she survived, and ready to lash out. I can only hope this direction lasts no more than a year and ends with her back on Earth, declaring it home, and defending it.

This is just the first issue. We can always go up.

Overall grade: C


Anonymous said...

I must say anj you are being way more positive than I was when I finished reading the issue.

I don't like the same rinse and repeat once someone new takes over, it makes me think that andreyko has no new ideas to actually explore. He can't do a more detailed character study and that 'she hasn't faced trauma' phrase really decreased most of the credentials for him. But who knows, this is just the first issue, I am willing to give this book a year at most.

Also, I don't know if this is just me but after Steve Orlando portrayed Kara so mature and intelligence, her voice sounded so very wrong in my head. The 'you are the cousin of THE superhero';'I am a smart, independent young woman';'It's good that I paid some attention to (some class)'
All this to me isn't Kara, she was always smart (the youngest in Krypton to join the science council), and all these dialogues makes her seem so...ditzy rather than intelligent and I hate it. Its like marc just watched a few ep of the tvseries and read some one off books and perhaps a few arcs of sterling gates before jumping in. Maybe I am being too intolerant of andreyko in just his first issue but I don't like this at all. I might just @/ him in a tweet if this doesn't improve soon.
I wished she had said goodbye to Eliza. The Kara of Orlando would have and I wanted one scene with Kara's adopted family before she blasted off into space. Also did anyone notice that in that small panel where the phone goes into voice mail, there are family pictures and with what seems like two girls with their parents- one with slightly brown hair (inspiration from the tvshow perhaps?)

Being a SG fan is so great during this time with the tvshow, news of a movie in development and an ongoing comic book. But it also means that one has to stay vigilant with various people and their 'new directions'. DCEU is one big concern for me.

But anj, you are being too generous with that C, I would have give an F.

Anonymous said...

Agree with your comments. There could have been other motivations to this quest, but I can see that Marc Andreyko wants to add a strong emotional layer to the quest.

It does seem like a step back, a repeat. One defense could be that people of all ages do slip and revert to past behavior and feelings when their hot buttons are pressed.

The Page 1 origin is a new version. You question the hug. I observe Kara actually crashed through the Earth's mantle and came to rest before dawn in a snowstorm in Siberia, not in this dusty spot. Mahmud Asrar drew a striking sequence at dawn when the sun first peaked out over the horizon.

Even in the first panel, Kara thinks snidely "Those Earthlings love their tidy aphorisms." Later, "Human"? "Parents"? Well, it's a consistent attitude.

I like the new costume too, and especially the Amanda Connor variant cover. I'm not a big fan of the Terry Dodson cover, but I blame DC's Rebirth main cover house style.

In the spaceship at the end, does the wider gold belt make you think momentarily of the 2004-2011 costume? The costume is a good amalgam of different eras, and the yellow running-shoe soles are a new and neat choice.

Kevin Maguire does draw some great, emotive sequences. And a wonderful Krypto. Andreyko got the baby-talk with Krypto just right.

Glad the book is back.

Anonymous said...

This is a hard issue for me to judge.
I think ultimately, the story arc has a much better premise than anything in Rebirth so far.
On the other hand, I loathe to see Kara this way. Especially second guessing the goodness inside her, as it is something she needs instilled from Kal.
I love many of the detailed faces in the art, but I also can't stand all the weird faces where the desire to be expressive just looks really wrong.
I love that Kara got a teamup in Krypto, and a vehicle clearly made for a new team of space friends.
I don't like that she can't have one of her own Superpets nowadays.
I am not to keen when people retcon origins, but I actually think this is better than Zor-El being hit from behind.

As long as this is it, and we are done with this temper of Kara, I think I am going to love this ride.

If Kara is going to be like this, for a year...I don't know...

Kara can be, and should be sad, even angry. She can doubt herself at moments.
But she should never be an ass and she shouldn't doubt her goodness.

She stands for hope, help and compassion for all.

I'm putting this at a B for now. I did really enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I didn't mean I agreed with commenter #1 - I meant I agree with the Anj review. I started writing it before I saw the first comment. (But I'm not at all trying to disagree with the first commenter, either - just clarifying what I meant in the first place. I respect the first commenter's opinions too.)

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

Maguire’s art elevated the grade greatly so C felt right. Plus I try to light a candle not curse the darkness.

Yes the new costume evokes thoughts of the belly shirt but isn’t one. I like it.

Also, she should always go back to hope, help, and compassion for alll. If she doesn’t, something isn’t right.

Stephen M said...

While I always imagined her as a holocaust survivor I've never seen where all this anger came from. Holocaust survivors seem to appreciate being alive, albeit in a subdued sort of way. Sort of like in the film with Slater and the flower and bunny.
Anger just seems cheap to me. Screen writing 101:"must have conflict".
Oh well, at least she wasn't cancelled, many were.

Aaron said...

Everything leading up to this issue rang some pretty loud alarm bells for me. From the images of Kara wielding an axe, to the (very ridiculous) statement that she’s never dealt with trauma. Because of this, the build up to this new issue was like re-watching the TV show going down the tubes (personal opinion). Everything felt, off… The TV show went more “sci-fi” and it appears they want the comics to follow suit.

After reading this issue, I kinda despaired a little. I’ve said before that I’ve always thought Supergirl was more relatable than her super cousin… However, I’ve come to realise that I don’t want to relate to superheroes. They’re SUPERHEROES. They should be leading the way for us (like Orlando’s Supergirl). I’m tired of reading an angry Kara. It’s as if they’re trying to turn her into a soap opera character with all the anger, depression, moping etc. As for Kara’s response of “I’ll take it under consideration” after Hal’s warning of not letting anger consume her… I just rolled my eyes and cringed a little.

There are, however, some good seeds planted in this issue, which does give me hope for the future and will keep me buying this book (for now). I think my favourite moment in this issue was Kal’s letter to Kara; and, of course, Krypto.
Will Kara find peace eventually, be able to deal with all the trauma… You know, EXACTLY where she was to begin with? Why did they call this issue 21? It feels and reads as if they’ve ignored most of Orlando’s work on the first 20 issues completely.

Great review, Anj. As you say, we can always go up. I really, really hope this is true. I’m trying hard to ignore all of my experiences that point to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

"Labile"? Respect re: the vocabulary, sir.

Anonymous said...

Is this "Angry Supergirl #3 or #4"? I've lost track. Consider that the whole "Angry Supergirl meme" goes back to Gerry Conway's version of "Power Girl" who was ill tempered and confrontational circa 1978 as she was a Marvel Writer's idea of "Supergirl, Done Right".
And that has pretty much been everyones big transgressive Supergirl idea since then, the main way to distinguish her from Kal El always seems to involve some infusion of anger.
I agree with Anj it is a step back and perhaps a confession that the writer is already struggling with the character...on the other hand I do think, the justification for her anger (she is now the last remaining living being with direct memories of Krypton) makes it worth building a story arc around and putting the entire supporting case on hiatus? Maybe not.
Mcguire's art though is at it's peak he is right up there with Schaffenberger and Mooney in my books after only one issue :) He even makes Krypto look good.
If not for the heavy storyline you could probably look forward some hilarious space hi jinx with Krypto just based on the art alone.

BTW take a good look at Supergirl's star cruiser, it looks like a chicken, she built a giant FTL capable CHICKEN...



Aaron said...

"Anger just seems cheap to me. Screen writing 101:"must have conflict"."

Well said, Stephen. I too think it's a bit of a cop-out characterisation when it comes to Kara. Just my opinion of course. Though I still do look forward (with some excitement and dread) to seeing where this run will take Supergirl.

Martin Gray said...

I’m with the gang, really not keen on Kara going backwards in the anger stakes.

Count me as another impressed by ‘labile’.

And thank you JF, I’m glad I’m not the only one seeing a chicken - in my own review over at Too Dangerous For a Girl* I called it the ‘Krypton Chicken’ - surely between us we can come up with something more clever than that.

* I know, plugging my own blog is cheeky, but I have a link in my review that loops right back to an earlier Supergirl’s Comic Box Commentary post that I thought relevant. But which one, eh? Anj, if I may invite people over while you’re away for the weekend...

iopy said...

Martin said:
“... surely between us we can come up with something more clever than that.”

I’m already calling it Baba Yaga.

Martin Gray said...

Oh, nice one iopy! I remember she was in a Captain Britain story decades ago - that house was scary!

William Ashley Vaughan said...

I enjoyed this issue much more than the rest of you. I don't think that Andreyeko or Maguire have any interest in doing a dark Supergirl. Maguire's bright, exuberant artwork certainly doesn't point in that direction. Also, if you look carefully, Supergirl was not being dismissive of Kal by calling him human. She is actually implying that goodness and sincerity are part of being human. The fact that she is moved enough by these qualities in Kal to momentarily consider taking him up on his offer is, I think, intended to show that she has come to appreciate humanity in her time on Earth. The fact that it is so painful for her to say goodbye to the earthwoman who has become a second mother to her reinforces this interpretation. If she is being a little moody, I think this is credible for someone who has just witnessed the genocide of a million Kandorians.

1st Anonymous, good job noticing the pictures of the Danvers family with a second child. I suspect that Andreyeko is planting seeds for Kara's eventual return to earth. The second child does raise a question. Is Andreyeko retconning Alex Danvers as having been part of the family all along? Was she adopted after Supergirl #20? Is this child not Alex, but someone else entirely?

I loved the Krypto scenes and Kal's letter. Also Supergirl's detective work. Andreyeko and Maguire have set up a genuinely intriguing mystery, especially the mention of "other casualties." Is the destruction of Krypton not the only atrocity for which Rogol Zaar and is potentially responsible. It looks like whatever conspirators are involved with Krypton's destruction are a dark circle indeed. Of course, calling them the Circle may be a red herring.

Anj said...

Thanks for great discussion and for pointing stuff out to me! I’ve been away most of today and seeing this thread was great! Didn’t see the Danvers kid!

And a Dark Circle! Brilliant Legion thread!

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Maybe we'll get an action figure set out of this arc: Supergirl, Krypto and the Supercoop! "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Krypto."

I'm willing to give Andreyko a chance and see how this pans out in the long run. I can understand how recent events have re-kindled some of the feelings Kara had put behind her. Having Krypto along (as a therapy dog?) should keep things from getting too grim. As long as Kara is taking on this mission, I hope that her investigations yield some results and that she's not off on a wild goose chase.

And when it's over, and she returns to Earth, I hope we can forget about Krypton for awhile.

So are Supergirl's memories of hugging her parents goodbye what actually happened now, or just the way she remembers it?

About goodbyes, I was disappointed that Kara only left a somewhat vague message to Eliza on the phone. I mean, if you're about to go off on a high adventure in the wild, vast reaches of space, your mother should know a bit more about it. Kara should have said her goodbyes to Eliza and Jeremiah in person.

"Rao's beard" didn't sound like Supergirl. Sounds more like something Thor would say.

Interesting that the Dodson cover showed Supergirl in a costume she doesn't wear in the story. The new blue skirt costume is the most Silver Age one Kara has worn since the Silver Age.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that maybe they should have started numbering it straight from one again. It would have been easier for new readers to get into due to it.

I mean, take my example- I binge watched the tvseries a year back, fell in love with the titular character and began looking up her comics. I started off with Supergirl: Being super, rebirth, new52..all the way back to kupperberg. Whatever I missed, I read up in here. I just read andreyko's interview where he states that he probably isn't going to mention her time as a red lantern since he isn't sure that the continuity is same or not. Like, can you imagine someone picking up the rebirth volume and reading Orlando mentioning her time as a red lantern, only for it to be never mentioned again by andreyko. I understand that comic crossovers happen a lot but I am still divided on whether these tie in events do more harm than good in the long run or not.

Just my two cents in here.

Also, Maguire may draw really expressive faces but I don't think anyone can beat Daniel henriques drawing Kara's hair in remarkable detail.

Carey said...

Great review- I think I was dreading this issue even more than you and therefore it came as a surprise when it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There were enough call backs to the Orlando/Houser making me glad that it hadn’t been ignored and there to return to if this or the next creative team want. The presence of Krypto also underplayed the inherrant darkness of the plot, and his appearance genuinely raised a smile when read.


It’s interesting reading Supergirl 21 so soon after the first three issues of the latest Doctor Strange relaunch which, effectively, have the same plots: a macguffin forces the titular character away from their usual environment and into outer space where they will be forced into acting like earlier iterations of the character.indeed, Strange is a fascinating mirror of Supergirl as, similar to this being the fourth or so retelling of “Kara is an angry teenager who needs to learn how to put it aside” plot, he is on his fourth or so “Strange is arrogant and needs to search for mystical enlightenment after finding himself powerless” plot. This time, in outer space

Which to me points to the inadequacy of the current trend for deconstruction in comics to look at precisely the wrong things from their origin stories. In the case of Strange it is always “arrogant former surgeon,” in Supergirl it is “teen survivor,” but both approaches miss the fact that it’s contrasting their “alieness” with humanity, especially with characters around them. As much as I love the Ditko dreamscapes, it was always his relationship with Clea that most grounded Strange as a character. And similarly, Kara works best as a young woman in a high school/everyday environment. For all the skill of their current creative teams, this seems to have been ignored.

Which leads me to ask: who exactly are both characters written for at the moment? Especially considering their mass media appeal? Comic fans of both, while accepting of their new status quo, do so begrudgingly; but what does any fan of the tv/movie version make of these current takes? And do these new directions appeal to those comic readers who have always been resistant to the characters?

It’s such a shame as the last couple of years have featured the strongest continued run for Kara since Gates and Igle shepherded her through the late noughties (and even then having to deal with the monstrosity of New Krypton). I’m hoping that the space adventures are temporary and we’ll soon be back at the high school/Danvers dynamics.

Anonymous said...

Regarding continuity:

I found that Andreyko interview (a web search of "andreyko supergirl red lantern" pulls it right up). It was just published yesterday.


He says Legion is off the table. And he "probably" won't reference Red Lanterns (or any other color, for that matter). And says good things about where the whole arc is headed.

Some of the interview is a bit confounding. He suggests Matrix was Kara, and that another version of her was raised on Apokolips. Did that happen? She was abducted and brainwashed for an arc, that's what I remember.

Red Lantern was more than mentioned during the Orlando run - I can't cite the issue/panel, but I'm pretty sure Red Lantern Kara was drawn at least once. Rebirth picks up where Supergirl in "The Death of Superman" arc left off, with the DEO trying to get Kara's powers back with sunlight.

There was a change of history a bit after Rebirth started thanks to the stuff Superman went through in the Superman Reborn story, but how much did this affect the DC Universe as a whole? Enough to alter continuity so much that elements of New 52 Supergirl never happened? Some things, like her relationship with Michael, were never mentioned again. I can't remember if the flashbacks to her time as a Red Lantern were shown before or after the Superman Reborn reset.

I'm overthinking it.

Anonymous said...

DING DING DING WE HAVE A WINNER "SuperCoop" it is, perfect name for Kara's Kruiser. And if there is a God of Mercy, Justice and Irony in Heaven Above then Supergirl will INDEED
turn to her Super Dog and say "You Knew This Job was Dangerous When You Took It Krypto!"


Martin Gray said...

Love it! And ABBA have the theme song sorted!

Anonymous said...

Oh boy another dark Supergirl yay!!! Sigh... I too am tired with the whole angry Kara thing, and the TV show seems like it keeps wanting to go darker in tone as well. It's honestly very depressing. Luckily my Supergirl movie Blu-Ray showed up to help knock some of the darkness away. I've found myself going back in time with the DC library and picking up some of the older stuff just to have some fun stories. Anyway I pray this book somehow turns out decent. It has potential, I mean at least she isn't saying **** Superman...yet.

Anonymous said...

I loved the Helen Slater movie, even though the whole was never as good as all the parts should have made it. I was disappointed that the sequel hinted at never materialized. Fast forward to the television series, and I was captivated. I had to learn more about Kara/Supergirl. I read through Rebirth, adding both Action Comics and Superman to the pull when that story intersected Kara's.

But I never got into the New 52. That Kara is Angry Kara, unsure of where she stands. Orlando's Rebirth pulls that Kara into the story as a girl who's haunted by her past and feels very much like a stranger in a strange land. It's only after she deals with her father once and for all that she understands that Krypton is dead and her longing for that past is longing after ghosts. She can mourn, but she clearly chooses Earth.

So I'm very concerned when we get told that Kara's never had to deal with her trauma. Say what?

I would prefer, if we are to have Kara slide back into Angry Kara, that we are shown that the situation has reopened wounds she thought were healed. This would help me enjoy the new run much, much more. Even beyond that, I'd like to see if the adventures with Krypto allow Kara to reconnect to her compassion.