Thursday, November 6, 2008

Review: Superman/Supergirl:Maelstrom #1


This is a long post, so bear with me.

I wrote just yesterday about my optimism for the Palmiotti/Gray/Noto Superman/Supergirl:Maelstrom miniseries. It was optimism knowing that there is always a chance that optimism can melt away to disappointment.

This is the first issue of a 5 issue mini, so I have only read a small portion of the whole story. Still, I have to say I was pretty disappointed here.


The story opens on Apokolips where we meet Maelstrom. Maelstrom is not a Female Fury in training. She is not a warrior or even in the military. No, she is down among the laborers but she has aspirations far away from that lowly status. She wants to be Darkseid's bride. She does not just serve Darkseid, she loves him and she is willing to do anything to get his notice. That includes stealing contraband Boom Tube technology and heading to Earth. Maybe if she brings Superman's head on a platter, Darkseid will love her back.

Now there is some good plot possibilities here. Just how often do people dream on Apokolips? How does one advance their status there? Are you born in a caste that you die in ... or can you move forward? We know Apokolips is a bleak place where people are in the elite or a slave. But I can't recall reading a story from the point of view of a slave who wants more on Apokolips rather than freedom. So this was a good start, an original character with an interesting point of view.

Maelstrom arrives in Metropolis during a week when Superman is away on a mission in space. He put Supergirl in charge and she initially complains of a slow week of action until something gets her attention.

Yep, nothing like a bunch of cars being thrown into the air to get a super-hero's attention. Perhaps best done in the classic Miracleman #15, but more recently seen in Supreme Power, it is an effective method of bringing the heroes to you or delaying them as you escape.


Unfortunately for Supergirl fans, what we then get is a 7 straight pages of Kara being tossed around like a rag doll and beaten like a heavy bag. First the dreaded 'swing you around by your hair into a bunch of stuff' technique. Then Supergirl gets punted into a skyscraper.


She recovers just in time to see Maelstrom upend a whole hospital building ... the whole hospital!!!! That is some prestigious strength there. Supergirl can only watch as the building crumbles scattering people everywhere .... injuring most, killing some.

Flying to the rescue and to confront Maelstrom, Supergirl is quickly dispatched. Maelstrom grabs her by the face and buries her into the pavement. Maelstrom calls Supergirl 'weak and useless' and is about to kill her when Superman shows up to save the day.


3 pages later, Maelstrom is soundly defeated and sent back to where she came from.


Supergirl is able to barely rouse herself and thankfully her first thoughts are for the injured people. Superman casually tells her he has already saved the survivors. She then passes out again.

Okay, I have to admit I cringed a lot here ... but let me finish the issue and then I'll get into my review.

Cut to 3 days later with Kara sulking on the moon. Superman gives her another pep talk, one we have seen him give this Kara a handful of times already.

"You're not the first to fail," he says ... sort of like the 'it's okay to be scared' line from Action Comics or the 'you can't save everyone' lines from Puckett's 'Saving Thomas' story.


Supergirl begins crying, telling him this was more than failure, it was catastrophe. She even confides about her 'self-doubt'.


Superman tells Supergirl that he feels he is to blame because he threw her into a life of hero-ing without overseeing her training himself. He should have taught her how to use her powers himself. And he plans on doing it. They are going away from Earth for a week to train.

He tells Kara that he asked Power Girl to watch over Metropolis while they are gone. That's a real nice way to help her self-doubt. If I was Supergirl this is how I would have heard that: "Hey Kara, you failed keeping my city safe ... so while we are gone I put someone in charge I can trust, your better trained and more discipined clone from another Earth. I always liked her better."



Despondent, Supergirl tells Superman to leave her alone. Put he puts down his foot saying whether she likes it or not, he is taking her with him.

The issue ends with Maelstrom being re-educated by Granny Goodness. I guess we are supposed to look at Supergirl and Maelstrom as two sides of the same coin. Both are young and want to improve their standing in life; both are in the shadow of someone bigger than life. And both are going to need to train/survive to reach their goals.

Whew ....

First off let me say that I absolutely loved the art work on the issue.

Now, the first thing I tried to do after reading this issue was figure out where I was going to put it in continuity. It can't be now because I don't think the 'current' Kara would act this way. Supergirl seems like such a newcomer here that it would need to be early on. The fact that Superman is talking about her training puts it very early.


So for me, I am going to wedge this after issue #5 but before the Candor arc. This storyline seems to best fit in the year we missed when we move 'One Year Later'.

If we are talking about that Kara maybe I can understand some of her reactions a little better. She just dealt with the evil persona manifesting itself. She was recently under Darkseid's thrall. And she was new to Earth and heroing as a whole. So maybe ... maybe ... I can understand her emotions here. And I certainly liked the fact that when she awoke her first thoughts were to save the people, not rage over the defeat or sadness about the failure. But to see her crying, to hear her lamenting her abilities, to see her sulking on the moon ... that seems too extreme for this character.

And I also find it very unsettling that she was defeated so soundly by Maelstrom. Kara was trained by the Amazons in the ways of combat and did have some adventures prior to this. And around that time we were seeing a Kara who was giving the Trinity a run for the money. To see her trounced by a character who's only experience is the hard life on Apokolips also seems a bit out of touch here. Maelstrom is no Female Fury but she gives Kara a beating. This is only made worse by the fact that Superman basically defeats her by putting her in a bear hug.

I have said it before, writing Supergirl is a tricky business. I do not envy the writers. It is hard to please Supergirl's fans. We want her to be strong both physically and emotionally ... but we want a hint of vulnerability. We don't want her to be infallible; we want to see her succeed and fail, learn and grow. But we don't want her to constantly fail or seem weak.

Superman can be a great catalyst in Supergirl stories but he can make things trickier. Supergirl fans want Superman to be in her life, and we don't mind him being a role model. But I don't think we want him to be a over-protective father figure nor do we want him to always outclass her. At least not all the time.

So to see Kara beaten, defeated, saved by Superman, crying in self-pity, and being pulled from the doldrums by Superman ... it was a bit too much of the things I don't necessarily like to see.

I am going to call this an early adventure of Supergirl. There is great potential in this story. I realize that this is just the beginning of this arc and maybe we see a stronger Kara the next 4 issues. I certainly hope so. Because I don't think she was treated well in this issue.

Overall grade: C-

19 comments:

oracle_x said...

Absolutely agree with you Anj. After the glorious panel in Action Comics #869 when Supergirl diverts the missile, and the complete reinvigoration of the character in Supergirl #34, I'm just not that happy to return to a less than average Kara. This mini-series is just being released at the wrong time. It's Kara so I will grab the whole run, but given all the mis-steps, I'd rather be focusing on the future rather than be dwelling on the past.

Michelle said...

Wow...that sounds awful. I was cautious about this series to begin with because the cliched premise of 'woman who tries (and of course fails) to achieve power by marrying a powerful man' turned me off. But then to show two characters who are (supposed to be) equal in strength being shown to have such a disparity, along lines that are blatantly gendered, and then have Superman *force* Supergirl to do what he wants 'for her own good' - that just finishes it for me. It wasn't "training" that gave Superman superior punching power - that was the writer. This isn't just about *my favorite* character being humiliated. This is a sexist story I don't want to read, period.

Nikki said...

I miss Legion Kara, you know the competant one who stops and earthquake by whistling!

Anonymous said...

Yeah the beat down troubles me to no end....I like the idea of Superman training SG since I thought that her being initially trained and housed on Paradise Island was nothing but DC's perpetual "Diana-mongering" at work.
But it isn't really necessary for Supergirl to FAIL in order to illustrate the more positive aspects of her relationship with Kal El OR for her to receive some training and guidance from him.
On the other hand they are teasing the notion of a roll reversal down the line in the mini so that might be interesting to read....role reversal being the core of some of the best silver age stories IMHO.

I also suspect that the blizzard of Supergirl stories we are seeing lately are a sort of covert retcon designed to shunt aside some of the blatant contradictions indulged by Joe Kelly et al.
Just a thought, could be wrong.

John Feer

Anonymous said...

the story was done for superman confidential over a year and a half ago actually from what i read then released as a seperate mini series after noto was done with the art...so a lot has been covered since they first wrote it.

that said, there is a role reversal and more coming.

Anj said...

oracle_x said...
Absolutely agree with you Anj. After the glorious panel in Action Comics #869 when Supergirl diverts the missile, and the complete reinvigoration of the character in Supergirl #34, I'm just not that happy to return to a less than average Kara. This mini-series is just being released at the wrong time.


Thanks for the post.

You are so right. Supergirl #34 seems like a lifetime ago. We have already had to suffer through the B&B issues.

Luckily, it's just 2 weeks til #35.

Anj said...

But then to show two characters who are (supposed to be) equal in strength being shown to have such a disparity, along lines that are blatantly gendered, and then have Superman *force* Supergirl to do what he wants 'for her own good' - that just finishes it for me.

Thanks for the post.

I can only hope that the series and relationships improve over time. But I can see your point.

Anj said...

On the other hand they are teasing the notion of a roll reversal down the line in the mini so that might be interesting to read....role reversal being the core of some of the best silver age stories IMHO.

It looks as though the training takes place on a red sun planet and at some point, Kara is the protector.

While I can guess that Kara will 'learn' in this mini, the set-up this issue seemed extreme.

Still, no place to go but up.

TalOs said...

Nikki said...

I miss Legion Kara, you know the competant one who stops and earthquake by whistling!

HELL YA! Although, we can certainly do without her believing her time being spent with the Waid/Kitson Legion being nothing more then a dream though. BLUGH! Hell, the Legion were that desperate to make her face reality that they had to "visit"/ship her off to New Krypton itself just for her to finally realize she really had found herself in the 31st Century.

Back on topic though, I too thought that this was a real let down of a mini special, especially after having read the all new Terra title and seeing the way they had wrote her coming off as come starting her Superhero career to that of this particular Supergirl's portrayed own! And it pains me to say that because Terra truly is being written as a female competent Super family member to that of our beloved Supergirl! And don't even get me started on Superman thinking he could just bully his cousin in to doing what he wanted while she's at her lowest. Um, last time I checked Superman it's actually SUPERGIRL who's the elder cousin here and NOT you pal! Show some respect for the poor girl who changed your poopy diapers will ya! YEESH!

Alas, it seems like we now have this "Maelstrom" (or as I like to call her "Super tran", I mean come on she looks like Superman with balloons and a frickin' wig!) as well as Power Boy as yet another being of her rouges that now helm from Apokolips as such. (But I think i'd prefer Power Boy over the earlier mentioned any day right now given the choice)

Heath Edwards said...

i didn't mind this issue, too much. certainly, it doesn't seem to be the supergirl we're going to be getting in the main series, but its better than some we've read...
did enjoy the art, and though i like jamal igle's supergirl, i do wish his colourist would use the blonde that phil noto has managed to score with his kara. very nice, and a touch more exotic than the usual yellow-blonde a lot of the heroines have...

Mauricio said...

I have yet to get my copy but I read part of the review so I'm going to give a general comment on the main issue of this review and reactions.

Regarding the beating Supergirl takes and her reaction, actually that is not the real problem.

Based on what I saw here, the mini-series is out of place regarding the development of the character in the main series and the fact that Supergirl was suppose to have been trained by the amazon so you'll expect her to know how to fight. This is another one of those cases where a new editor/writer ignores the current state of the character to expose his idea for his story.

As for the beating goes, I think Supergirl and any other similar character has to take her/his defeats wherever they're close or one-sided like this one otherwise Supergirl (and any other) would be invincible and therefore it wouldn't be a superheroine adventure, it would be more like some 'soap opera' because the villains would be as common as taking out the trash.

Therefore, Supergirl taking a beating on a one-sided battle is not the problem. Her reaction is not the problem, she's 16, wants to do a good job, already made mistakes in the past and now comes this woman that easily beats her up.

The main problem is that, that's not the Supergirl you see in her series in the current issue been printed at the same time as this one, and this leads to .. Superman disposing of Maelstrom so easily, now, this is not because he's Superman or Superman been better than Supergirl, it's wrong because both of them are suppose to be pretty much even in power so you could go, ok Superman is suppose to be more experienced in the use of his kriptonian powers and fighting foes that match or surpass his power level , etc.. but Kara was trained by the amazon, and frankly unless the amazon are very bad teachers, she should be able to handle herself better.

Not to mention that his is one training that Superman didn't get, in fact, I think he was someone who probably never got into a fist fight until he started as Superman, so if you put them both at the same level of experience, who knows how to fight ? Kara.

---> blame the editor and writer for not trying to fit Supergirl as she is at this moment in her book.

I have my own 'super gal' and hope to get it to print again, I didn't made her invincible and I don't want her to be invincible, she's probably half as powerful as Supergirl, or at least like the Supergirl from JLU (which is less powerful than the comic book version) but if I get her to get a beating like that it would be for her development as a character and the stories been told.

I wonder if I'll change anything I said here once I get my copy.

Anj said...

i didn't mind this issue, too much. certainly, it doesn't seem to be the supergirl we're going to be getting in the main series, but its better than some we've read...

Thanks for the post.

You are right in that this issue was better than some of the one's in her main title.

It just felt like a step backwards given everything else happening with the character.

TalOs said...

anj, sorry this is off topic but any chance you'll be reviewing "Sallville" season 8's recently aired "Bloodline" return of Supergirl centric ep? *Crosses fingers and prays that he does* It truly kicked much booty ah! :D In fact, it's actually THE highest rating ep since 07 itself for the show in particular in accordance to TV Guide!

Oh, and here's a recently conducted interview with Laura Vandervoort talking about her return to the show and even her finally wanting to spill about that one time rumored Supergirl spin-off to boot!

http://www.tvguide.com/News/Smallville-preview-Kara-35371.aspx

Anj said...

As for the beating goes, I think Supergirl and any other similar character has to take her/his defeats wherever they're close or one-sided like this one otherwise Supergirl (and any other) would be invincible and therefore it wouldn't be a superheroine adventure, it would be more like some 'soap opera' because the villains would be as common as taking out the trash.

I don't think anyone wants her to easily dispatch foes. Where would the conflict be?

I think that it was that she was so outclassed by someone who should not have been able to do that.

Thanks for the great post.

Anj said...

anj, sorry this is off topic but any chance you'll be reviewing "Sallville" season 8's recently aired "Bloodline" return of Supergirl centric ep?

Review later this morning!

Mauricio said...

ok, I just read my copy, the fight is not as bad as I though it was from the comments here and the review. So hold my opinion that I posted before:

- the book is out of continuity regarding the current state of the character.
- it's no important if Supergirl (or any other) gets pummeled once and a while.
- blame writer/editor for not looking up the state of the character to make the story fit.

Anj said...

Thanks for the great posts about the issue.

- the book is out of continuity regarding the current state of the character.

Over on Geoff Johns boards, Palmiotti says out right that the story is not in continuity.

- it's no important if Supergirl (or any other) gets pummeled once and a while.

I think all Supergirl fans understand that she is going to be beaten at some point. I did not react this way when Puckett had Reactron defeat her.

I think it is more that she should not have been outclassed by a commoner from Apokolips like this. I think that was my bigger problem. Especially given the near lack of effort it took Superman to dispatch her.

- blame writer/editor for not looking up the state of the character to make the story fit.

My guess is this was written and drawn a while ago and so seems out of touch with the current state. Thus the 'not in continuity' statement.

I will get the miniseries and continue to review. Thanks again for your great comments!

Anonymous said...

I should have read your review first before buying the issue. Sure, maybe this beaten-up and tearful Kara is just a ploy and in the end of the series she may emerge as a heroic and strong (and interesting and inspiring) Kara. But I'm like, "dude, let me know when that happens."

mmm

Mike said...

My reaction shows that I've spent too much time on a certain website -- when I read that last panel with Superman I shouted, "Superdickery!"

Since it's practically an Elseworlds, I'm going to try to appreciate the story on its own merits. As in, what if Supergirl hadn't been trained by Amazons and wasn't very powerful yet?