Thursday, July 9, 2020

Back Issue Box: Supergirl #32

My copy autographed by Peter David, Sean Phillips, and Leonard Kirk
I have been thinking a lot about Supergirl's legacy lately.  Who is this character in DC Comics right now? If you started reading comics 10 years ago, do you have an coherent sense of who Supergirl is and what she means? Do you find her heroic? Inspirational? Do you even like her?

This line of thoughts reminded me of one of my favorite issues in the Peter David run, Supergirl #32. By this time in the comic, Supergirl was embracing her 'Earth Angel' persona. She was looked on as a hero. And she was starting to inspire people.

Pride cometh before the fall. This confidence in Supergirl in her new role needed to be broken by The Carnivean, a demon trying to take over heaven and the universe. And the best way to do that was by perverting Supergirl's legacy and make her doubt herself. Of course, this comes to fruition in the classic Supergirl #48. But we needed to see that erosion of Supergirl's self-worth. Some of that comes with a tarnishing of her legacy.

Peter David had the long game in mind with this book and this issue is an interesting stand alone chapter. The story here, of Supergirl freeing young girls from self-trafficking is wonderful and timely. However, you can see how even the best of intentions and lessons can be perverted.

Perhaps the best thing about this issue is the art. The cover, by then regular artist Leonard Kirk, tips off the them of the story, a backlit Supergirl, in shadows from her flame wings and sporting the red anger eyes, is being led by a band of young armed girls. It is the internal art that makes me giddy. It is drawn by one of my favorite artists Sean Phillips. The fact that I get Sean Phillips drawing Supergirl in one of my cherished runs still amazes me.

On to the book.

We start out in a dingy flophouse in Thailand.

There a middle aged man approaches a very young girl. A girl so young she is playing with dolls, here and angel.

There is a brief exposition. The girl's family owes money. She will 'work off' her parents' debts in this place. But the trade is obvious. This man plans to have sex with this child.

This is an dark place to open up a story. But this is a reality.

And then Supergirl shows up.

I talk about how Supergirl fights injustice with fierce determination. Here Phillips gives us that so beautifully. Poised in a fight position, just enough shadow to make it hard to make out her whole body. There is an angry sneer here, but again anger at the situation.

And the 'shall we dance' quip. Perfect for a young hero ready to throw down.

With an almost comic ease, she walks through this brothel, tossing men aside while they break chairs over her head. But when they start to shoot, Supergirl decides to end things.

She brings forth her flame wings and burns the place down. This is the end of this place.

It is a great image of an inspirational, almost holy Supergirl. She seems totally in control and totally superior to these reprobates.

And yet, as we see, perhaps this is playing right into the Carnivean's hands.

In a flashback, we see just how Supergirl found her way to this specific den of sin.

In Leesburg, we hear Supergirl give a decent hero's speech, invoking determination and compassion to right the world's wrongs.

A reminder that this series started with a very sinful and damaged Linda Danvers fusing with the naive Matrix Supergirl. She has come a long way from those early, uncertain days.

There, she meets a young girl from Thailand living in a home in the States.

This girl tells Supergirl about her friend Mai (the girl playing with the angel doll in the opening scene). When the implication of child trafficking is made clear, Supergirl decides to step in and do something about it.

I do find it interesting that the girl's name is Mai ... close enough to Mae (what the Kents called Matrix) to make me wonder if Supergirl sees herself in this child who is being exploited by people. Or if this is someone she can save, much like she herself was saved.

Back in Thailand, the heroics hit a snag.

Although freed from this place, the girls have no where to go. Remember, their families sent them there, to pay off debts.  They have no powers to protect themselves. Who will once Supergirl leaves.

It sparks an idea in Supergirl. Perhaps she can teach these girls to protect themselves.

The men running the brothels go to the Carnivean's man and ask for protection. I mean, why would someone like Supergirl turn her wrath against a small industry in a small country?

I love the response.

"Every so often, one of these do-gooders takes a whack at social ills."

Ahhh, comics! They're never political are they/ (/sarcasm)

But Supergirl literally begins a march across the country, leading an army of young girls against the sex dens. She lets the girls lead the way but she enters when she needs to.

She is teaching them to stand up for themselves. She is empowering them.

Unfortunately, this means violence.

She tries to teach compassion as well. Going far enough to free themselves and be in charge of their own lives but not too far.

Finally, they reach a brothel that has become better defended.The men have heavy duty guns, guns that actually incapacitate Supergirl for a short period of time.

And when Supergirl falls unconscious, the girls rise up. In the name of Supergirl, they attack the men and kill them.

They kill them ... in the name of Supergirl. Let that sink in. Supergirl's inspiration, her legacy, has been twisted into something terrible.

This is not what Supergirl wanted at all.

This isn't a victory for her.

And then the epilogue.

While Supergirl laments what she has done, the Carnivean looks on satisfied. Supergirl needs to me made humble if his plan is going to work. Indeed, the very people who set Supergirl in this journey were working for the Carnivean. They set her up.

I have to say, I completely love this run. And this issue, what with the Phillips art, stands out as one of my favorites. I knew, once more, that this was going to be a nuanced run. One where they hero could both win and lose. One where Supergirl was going to be built up, brought down, and then fly high again.


Will Supergirl be known as a hero? Is there a legacy for her now?

If you see this issue, buy it. It is a nice primer for the tone of David's run. And it has Sean Phillips' art.  Well worth the couple of bucks it'll cost you.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

This story is also reprinted in Book Four of the Supergirl TPBs, which includes issues 32-43 plus Young Justice 12-13. It's the last volume DC published, though you can also find copies of the older TPB reprinting the "Many Happy Returns" arc (issues 75-80).

Compared to the latest run of Supergirl, it's quite the experience reading a story that is so much more sophisticated.

A "twist" ending - not everything can be solved as cleanly as Supergirl would like, and despite her best intentions, things end up on an ambiguous note. One type of problem has been replaced by another, which would have different but also bad social consequences.

But Supergirl has her values, and she tries to convey them to others - apply pressure where needed, but not more than necessary, and back it up with compassion. Even the score, but don't go too far.


Anj said...

Thanks for comment.

Love this issue. And you succinctly say why I love it!