Friday, April 10, 2020

Review: Elseworld's Finest Supergirl & Batgirl Pt. 1

I have been running Supergirl Comic Box Commentary for nearly 12 years now. When I first came up with the idea for the site, I knew that one of the things I wanted to cover was the many incarnations and little odd corners of Supergirl's history. Immediately I thought about 1998's Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl.

Here we are 12 years later and I still haven't covered it before today. And this despite promising several frequenters of the blog that I was planning to do it.

It isn't that I don't like the story. It is a fine Elseworlds book. Writer Barbara Kesel gives us a new universe where Barbara Gordon is a hard as nails, very Batman-like Batgirl who runs a very tightly controlled Gotham. Bruce Wayne is more of an Alfred role, helping her coordinate. Superman doesn't exist. Supergirl is a huge hero. And the main hero group is the Justice Society, led by Wonder Woman but with some interesting members and new characters thrown in. The story introduces us to this world, showcases the somewhat abrasive relationship between our title heroes, and throws in a powerful turn at the end.

The art is done by Matt Haley and is a visual feast. Haley definitely has a cheesecake style at times but also has all our heroes rather muscular fitting their vigilante adventures. Certainly his Supergirl is something to behold in her form-fitting bodysuit.

So why haven't I covered this?

Mostly I think I was daunted by the size. It is a full 64 pages. I wanted to give this the review and summary it needed. And it felt impossible to do in one going.

With the COVID19 pandemic happening and no new comics on the shelves, I thought it was time to finally get to this review. To ease the burden, I thought I would split the review into two parts running on consecutive Fridays. So off we go!

Get ready to see our heroes taken from their usual settings and put into a strange place and time!

Outside Gotham Arena, a a well armored Batgirl monitors the guests entering her city.

This is a classic, extra-vigilant, 'all I need is a gargoyle head to lean this foot on' Bat pose. You immediately can tell that this Batgirl means business.

And when she sees a costumed person riding underneath the incoming van, she isn't happy. 'Tarantula'  should know better.

My guess is Tarantula is something of a Spider-Man analogue.

With little fuss and armed with a pair of electric buzz-knuckles, Batgirl knocks him out. So not only is she all scowl-y, she has skills.

It turns out that the people in the van are the Justice Society, there as part of a Wayne Foundations charity event.

It seems that Batgirl's control of the city is pretty profound. The Society isn't typically allowed in the city limits. Batgirl only allowed it this time with certain stipulations (Tarantula hitching a ride not being on the rider).

Indeed, this Batgirl is akin to the Bat-god of Morrison. She seems to know all the Society's secrets, even that Captain Marvel has a word which will make him a boy. There are mental and physical tests she puts the team through before they can take the stage to prove they are who they say they are. This is very late 90s Bat-family. Of course she has all the contingencies.

You can already see that this is a different world. Green Lantern is Abin Sur. There is a young female Dr. Mid-Nite. Ambush Bug is a member. Captain Marvel is African-American. And there a new heroes like 'Vector'.
Again, Haley shines, giving us gorgeous, sexy, and very atheletic looking heroes.

With the Society early kerfuffle muted, Batgirl can slip into the arena and become best-selling mystery author Barbara Gordon. She is the host of this Wayne Foundation event which is gearing up to donate all proceeds to the Foundation's charities.

And given this is the first time in a while that the Justice Society is allowed inside city limits, this is a historic event.

That is one drop dead sexy Barbara!

And then the splash of one of our title stars.

There are 12 members of the Justice Society but only 11 are on stage. And that is because Supergirl is flying in, carrying a car with the 'King of Metropolis' Lex Luthor.

We have learned that Lex has revolutionized Metropolis into a city of the future with his inventions. He bankrolls the Society. He is a hero.

And he is romantically linked to Supergirl. We hear her inner thoughts of wanting a more peaceful life, not one so public and in the open. But she is a hero, an angel, and the people of Gotham deserve a show!

That is one drop dead gorgeous Kara too, flaunting what might be called a Power Girl physique.

I do like that Supergirl is modest, not wanting to fly around in a skirt to be peeked up.

The feasibility of a skirt as well as things like bike shorts and panty shots always will haunt Supergirl. But this bodysuit is an answer for sure.

We then seem to get some background into Lex and he does seem to be an upstanding fellow in this world.

He has come up with a new clean energy source, the Lexcell, based on some bioelectric discoveries.

Hmmmm ....

But things aren't totally perfect in Gotham.

The Joker, in this universe, is bulked up on Venom serum and completely obsessed with Batgirl. He needs to do something ... anything ... to get her attention. And the easiest thing to do is team up with a disgruntled Emil Hamilton and kidnap Lex Luthor.

Joker needing Batgirl's attention here reminded me of the catatonic Joker saying 'darling' when he heard of Batman's return in Miller's Dark Knight.

And seeing the Joker look like a pro wrestler, down to the striped wrestling togs, is ridiculous. Love it.

When news leaks of Lex's kidnapping within the city limits, it is time for Babs to jump into action.

In a semi-naughty, maybe PG-13 scene, we see a scantily clad Barbara scamper around the cave to get ready for action. (In interviews I have heard Haley said that he drew her nude but editors added in jet black underwear.

Instead we see what appear to be nanites course over Babs body, covering her in her armor.

Yep, Haley sure knows how to draw sexy women.

Similar to the Supergirl splash, I thought this was a nice page devoted to the other member of the Finest, giving us a worthy splash.

Meanwhile, news of Luthor's kidnapping has reached the Justice Society headquarters. (We see even more members of the team including Firestorm and Jade!)

The Society seems to shrug at the news. Lex is in Gotham. They have rules not to enter Gotham's limits, rules that have been in place for years. They won't violate these rules even if it means rescuing humanity's savior.

Well ...

Supergirl doesn't fall in line. And she won't let these ridiculous rule stop her.

What is perhaps the most interesting thing here is that Diana doesn't stop her. But it sounds more like Diana is letting Kara go so Kara will learn a lesson!

That both shows how much respect Diana has for Batgirl, enough that she thinks Batgirl can teach a Kryptonian a lesson. It also shows that maybe this is a young, brash Kara who is still learning. I love that sort of Supergirl.

And she quickly does learn a lesson.

As soon as she enters Gotham limits, she is blasted with a Kryptonite bazooka. It is probably the first time this Supergirl has felt this pain. And I am amazed that Babs somehow has this technology. But there we are.

It is interesting that Batgirl is so strongly opposed to paranormals being allowed in Gotham that she would attack a hero immediately. But this is the sort of paranoid, always prepared Bat-hero we have had for decades. So maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

At the very least, Batgirl knows that Lex is being holed up in an abandoned carnival. Maybe it is time for a team up!

I find it an interesting creator choice for our heroes to meet for the first time on pg 29 of a 64 page one shot. I wonder if Kesel had other adventures in mind. Because it takes us a bit of world-building background before we get to the action.

And if we reach a hero team-up, why not have a villain team-up.

Hamilton is ticked off because he feels Luthor has stolen all of Hamilton's IP. But Lex is never one to let an opportunity pass. He quickly buys out Joker's loyalty.

With the pieces finally poised on the chess board, we will see the second half of the story next week.

But so far, this has been a very solid Elseworlds. This universe feels pretty well formed. We quickly get a sense of this world. And this Supergirl and this Batgirl are fascinating. Supergirl seems more classic. Babs feels more like Bruce. There is a bit of 'Dark Knight Returns' friction between the characters to start.

And there is no denying that the artwork is very polished.

But the best is yet to come!


Martin Gray said...

I’ve never read this one, but I probably should. I hate the ‘get out my town’ attitude... why do other heroes back down? It isn’t HER town!

I’mnot keen on that Supergirl suit, teamed with the hair, she looks a tad too butch for me.

Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of Supergirl,

I read again the comic before my comment.

I love Barbara Gordon who whipes his hand after lex's hand kiss.

Jocker have the suit of the strong man of the circus for me.

How musch taller is Supergirl in this version ? she is more taller than wonder woman ?

SG Fan said...

A good review, haven't read this one in a while but maybe should go give it a re-read. I don't mind SG bodysuit looks, though a bit like the new suit, I think it's a little too much blue especially as Kara doesn't have a belt. I always wish they could work a little more red into the main suit. Like the red stitching the CW Supergirl suits have had, have that running through her legs or sides.

Anonymous said...

On the one hand, I quite like this story.

On the another hand, I take issue with Babs' portrayal. She's channelling the worst traits of Frank Miller's Batman: she's a tyrannical, bigoted jerkass who treats everyone -especially superhumans- as crap and gets away with it because she's the god---n Batgirl. And, of course, the story will go out of its way to show she's right (note how the Joker is a mere nuisance in this universe), and the nice and idealistic super-heroes are naive fools.

That scene where she tries to kick Supergirl out of the, excuse me, "her" city is a good example. "Leave my borders and you'll avoid further pain"? Babs, are you aware she can snatch, crush and hurl into the Sun your weapon before you can even think of pressing the trigger?

(She totally can. She's hovering, so her powers haven't been fully nullified)

(I don't think it's a Kryptonite weapon, though. I think it's a kind of sunlight-blocker, like the one Xviar used way back in "Who Took the Super out of Superman")

At the very least, Kara calls Babs out on being more concerned with keeping her out of Gotham than with capturing the Joker.

Otherwise, the story is pretty good, the alternate universe is interesting, and the art is excellent (albeit I don't like Supergirl's jumpsuit. It makes her look right like Superman. They could have used her red bike shorts suit if they didn't like the skirt).

Moreover, this story was written in 1998, ten years since Barbara Gordon got crippled and thirteen years since Kara Zor-El got killed off. There were no signs that they'd get ever un-fridged, and Kara wasn't even allowed to show up in alternate universes. Seeing a Kara/Babs team up back then was a miracle, so I can overlook Barbara's lousy portrayal and enjoy the rest.

Thank you for reviewing the issue.

Anonymous said...

"She is in love with Lex."

I'm sorry, but where did you get this from? In the story, Supergirl scoffs at the idea when Barbara brings it up, and states clearly he was like a father to her.

Anj said...

I'm sorry, but where did you get this from? In the story, Supergirl scoffs at the idea when Barbara brings it up, and states clearly he was like a father to her.

Oops. Meant to edit that out.

I hadn't read the book in years and was writing my review as I was going. I removed similar things from the car-carrying scene but missed this one.

Since removed.


Anonymous said...

Generally not a fan of the pants suits on Kara. A heroes costume is a part of the character's identity. People who start mucking about with her suit generally has their own idea of who Kara Zor-El should be, and tend to rewrite her character to be angrier.

Having said that, this is one of the better pants designs. The story is an interesting one that I enjoy. This works as well as it does because it is an Elseworld's story. Would I enjoy Kara in this dark world for a longer run than this oneshot? Probably not. But I love it for what it is, a great Elseworlds story.

Anonymous said...

I think Supergirl could stand to have a belt to break up this body suit thing. It's a bit extreme.

One of the Justice League members is named Interceptor, which reminds me that Supergirl became a member of the police force, code-named "Interceptor," in that Elseworld series from 2008, "Trinity."

Romantic or otherwise, Lex betrays Kara here, which is reminiscent of the Matrix/Lex betrayal (though that was romantic and for that matter was ugh). That storyline was -- 1992 era?

I think this Elseworld's Finest is from 1998 - were there many stories featuring Kara Zor-El post-Crisis and before 2004?


Anonymous said...

The only thing more boring than "BatGod" is "BatGoddess", Babs is typically arrogant & infallible and Supergirl is somehow an even bigger naive dupe than Matrix and that is saying something. On the other hand this is literally one of Kara's few appearances back in the days of DC's Berserk "Anti Supergirl Fatwah", I can recall thinking at the time a girl that dangerously credulous is somehow supposed to be an improvement on a girl that once had a super cat and a super horse.