Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Bullet Review: The Clubhouse Of Solitude; Bizarro Comics

Last week I talked about a recent post over on Grant Morrison's substack where they talked about DC and the company's ideas on darkening the values and characterization of Superman and Supergirl. I agreed with a lot of what Morrison had to say there. 

In particular, this line about Supergirl stood out:

Why, I say, oh why, is it so hard to simply serve the concept and write the adventures of a smart, creative and kind-hearted teenage girl with superpowers? What purpose earthly or unearthly is served by making this character an embittered space tyrant?


And then this snippet about Supergirl:

When I brought the Maid of Might into the Final Crisis series, my take was very much inspired by the Dylan Horrocks/Jessica Abel story from 2002’s Bizarro Comics anthology book – in my opinion quite simply the greatest Supergirl comic ever. If any version of Supergirl should serve as a template for the character moving forward, this is the one…

Now I had heard about the Bizarro Comic anthology and what a great collection of stories it was. But a Supergirl story that inspired Grant Morrison and how they portrayed her in Final Crisis? This I had to read!

Turns out is a breezy story with some emotional punch. Supergirl, still active as a hero, meets up with Mary Marvel who has retired and grown a little older. There are some wonderful character beats for both. The art is clean and simple giving the story a sort of Silver Age patina. But this is a confident Kara heading out and doing good while remaining smart and kind-hearted. On to the story details. 

"The Clubhouse of Solitude" is brought to us by creative team Dylan Horrocks and Jessica Abel. And from the first page of this short story, you know Kara is going to be treated right.

She has apprehended a villain called The Detonator who has somehow strung up old school bundles of dynamite around the Statue of Liberty.

When Supergirl turns him over to the police, one of the officers calls her 'The World's Most Popular Superhero!'

Spying the time on one of the cop's watches, Supergirl realizes she is running late.

She heads to Bob's Cake and Coffee, a little cafe where Mary Marvel is waiting for her. This is a sort of annual visit with each other where to two can catch up.

It is pretty clear that Kara is still extremely youthful, looking like a teenager and even having that sort of energy around her. 

It is also clear that Mary, who was once a contemporary of Supergirl's is now a bit older. Her hairstyle is more staid. She has a few more facial lines. She is married with kids. And sometimes she feels old

But the two settle into a comfortable zone where you know they are old friends.

And there is some sort of timeline established. Aqualad hasn't seen Mary in twenty years. So a considerable amount of time has passed. But still it is all smiles as the two catch up.

Bob arrives with Supergirl's lemon cheesecake, on the hous for the Greatest Superhero Ever!

Yup. In this world, Supergirl is at the top of the food chain. Despite that, and all the heroics that must come with that, she is still a giggling young woman, excited over 'the mother of all cheesecakes' and eager to hear about her friend's life.

Bright and optimistic and happy while still battling evil.

That isn't to say the world established in this little tale is all sunny.

Mary hasn't said the 'S Word' in years, since 'what happened to Billy', implying that the original Captain Marvel had some unfortunate fate happen to him.

I do love how this relatively simple art still just speaks volumes. This is no insult. A lot of information is conveyed here. Mary's loose shirt and eye lines give you the information you need to see where she is in her life. There is some sadness in her face too.

And then some more commentary, probably about comics in general, even though this was released 20 years ago.

Supergirl talks about how things have become harsher. Aqualad's girlfriend was killed.

Harsher is certainly a good word for it. And there is a sort of sternness to Kara's face when she talks about it.

But this is supposed to be a happy lunch. Mary immediately changes the subject to ask about Kara's love life.

Supergirl says gives a rundown of all the things that usually happen to boys she falls for ... which truly sounds like most of her Silver Age adventures. She also doesn't know any 'normal' boys which is why she hasn't dated any. You wonder if maybe she should.

But she is all smiles around this. I do love how you can tell just by dialogue how these two care for each other like family.

And then some memories.

Streaky and Comet!

Look at how they just laugh about Comet becoming a horse. 

Yes, a smiling Supergirl who can poke fun at herself. AND she's the world's greatest and most popular hero.

But then duty calls. A fire alarm goes off outside and the two have to go their separate ways.

I do love the hug and the promise that they should meet more often. Good friends!

And then a happy Mary, having freely given up the heroics, walks home while everyone cheers on Supergirl for helping out.

Okay, this is a character-driven story, mostly dialogue between friends in a diner. But this felt more like the Supergirl I know than anything DC has recently published with the character. Truly delightful.

For me, there is something about the smart, caring, heroic Supergirl that just rings true. Pitch perfect.

I am working through the rest of the anthology now and it is a marvel. Worth picking up if you can find it.

And thanks to Grant Morrison for using this as a template and for understanding Supergirl the way I do.

Overall grade: A


Professor Feetlebaum said...

What a great story! Except for the red skirt, Supergirl looks just like she did back in Action Comics 252. Jessica Abel no doubt based her look here on Al Plastino's original, with the 1950s hairstyle and the short cape.

I like how the other patrons of the diner are giving side glances and smiles at Kara as she and Mary talk, as if she were a movie or music star.

I passed up this book when it came out and had no idea this story existed, but now I will look into getting a copy. Surprisingly it is still available at In Stock Trades, Cheap Graphic Novels and Amazon. I'm sure it's a later printing.

It makes sense that Kara and Mary would get along so well. Both being co-creations of Otto Binder, they're like sisters in a way.

Anonymous said...

This is very weird for me, as I ship Supergirl (albiet the Matrix flavour) and Mary Marvel!

Anonymous said...

I thought I knew of all post-crisis appearances of pre-crisis Supergirl but somehow I missed this gem so this is worth trying to find,

Matrix and Mary Marvel were friendly. There's a Peter David story running through his issues 68 to 70. Unfortunately the last TBP published from that era ended with the 4th volume, issue 43. There were supposed to put out more volumes, but the project didn't proceed.


Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

I agree that this was an unknown to me until Morrison mentioned it.

I do love it. I do love the other diners looking at her, a celebrity eating cheesecake!

Glad I found it and read it.

Martin Gray said...

Funnily enough, I tweeted a pic out the other week from the companion Bizarro World book, from a Supergirl story written by one Maggie Estep with art by… Dylan Horrocks. I could tell you’d missed that tweet but didn’t retweet, far too needy! Anyway, it’s a weird little tale, firmly in the Silver Age. Let me know if you need a look.

This story here is lovely, I just wish there hadn’t been the comment about Billy, the melancholy was already there.

Truly, the Bizarro books are real gems.

Anj said...

I did miss that tweet! Very busy work week!

Yes, would love to see the other Supergirl story!

Anonymous said...

Well it makes meta sense for Mary Batson to mentor the SA Supergirl as Mary Marvel was I think the first successful “legacy superheroine”...although retiring “because of what happened to Billy” once again denies a legacy female a shot at The Big Job.
BTW Mary & Kara make a very very effective team in Superman versus Shazam the Special Edition....even of Mary ends up having a cringeworthy crush on The Man of Steel.