Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: Supergirl:Wings

With Superman:The Last Family of Krypton marking the rebirth of the Elseworlds line of stories, I figured there was no better time to look back at some of the more Supergirl relevant Elseworlds entries.

Supergirl:Wings came out in 2001, right in the middle of Peter David's Supergirl run, and mirrored that title's themes of spirituality, redemption, and heroics.

This is familiar territory for writer J.M DeMatteis whose works include Mercy, The Last One, and Moonshadow as well as more mainstream superhero fare. As with many of his headier works, I feel like I am missing much of it ... that I am not necessarily 'getting' all of what DeMatteis is hoping to convey. That can sometimes be irritating as I read and re-read to see if there was some pearl that escaped me.

Wings reads a little easier, if only because of the echoes of David's work on the main title.

DeMatteis starts off by showing us that all around us, unseen, are angelic beings. Humans are the most beloved creatures in God's ... in Hir universe ... because they are given free will. Some angels form the souls of humans, imparting in them the capability of greatness.

Others are Amenlee, literally guardian angels, charged with protecting their humans and hopefully guiding their souls to paradise. Unfortunately, many members of mankind turn away from their angels and head to damnation.

One such guardian angel is Matrix, a guardian angel to a very flawed and sinful young woman named Linda Danvers. Linda continues to sin, frustrating Matrix to the point where even the angel seems to be losing hope. She begins to question why God would love man so much.

Can an angel lose faith?

Matrix' feelings do not go unnoticed or unshared.

Her angel comrade Zauriel reminds Matrix of the love that God has for humans and the inherent goodness within mankind. But Matrix is still vexed, wondering why people would turn their back on Hir. This question consumes her thoughts; she cannot fathom why humans are so favored if they so often reject Hir holy way.

The Spectre shares Matrix's feelings with his usual dose of ire. The Spectre thinks mankind is simply unworthy and that those who turn away from the light should be cut down.

These versions of Zauriel (with his love of man) and the Spectre (with his blind fury) are close enough to their DCU versions to be instantly comprehensible.

Matrix hasn't lost all hope however and goes to look in on Linda. She finds a demon in Linda's room, a demon who mocks Matrix for her efforts to save Linda's soul.

This devil fans the fire of Matrix's crisis of faith. He calls her a failure, a fool for still trying when it is clear the path that Linda has freely chosen.

Unsure of her next step and hoping to clear her mind of all this doubt, all this questioning of Hir will, Matrix begins a sort of tour of the sacred beings and realms of the world.

Her first step is to see the woodland beings, the guardian angels of nature and the Earth. These are the lowest rung on the sacred, happy with their task of protecting the Earth and with no other purpose for their existence other than their duty.

Their absolute devotion is cloying in its comfort. They would never question Hir will. And what could be more comforting to a confused mind than a singularity in purpose. Matrix almost becomes consumed by these beings, losing her own will, but is able to shake off their droning. She doesn;t want to lose her doubts ... she wants them answered.

Leaving the green, Matrix next encounters the Phantom Stranger. As always, the Stranger walks between Heaven and Hell but also between the natural and the supernatural.

To show Matrix that not all humans are wallowing in evil, the Stranger shows Matrix a loving couple, sort of templated on Clark and Lana, and reminds Matrix of man's capability of boundless love. Then to help her understand the human condition, he has Matrix 'possess' Lana, having her experience that love firsthand.

It doesn't sway Matrix who feels this was an affront to Lana, a tawdry way to taste a snippet of humanity.

Again, the Stranger is close enough to his 'classic' characterization that this read well.

Returning to Linda, Matrix is shocked to see her nearly being devoured by the Spectre. He is disgusted by the evil within Matrix's charge.

Just as the devil had done earlier, the Spectre seems to goad Matrix, telling her she need to surrender Linda or face his wrath herself. It is as if Linda is a target for both Heaven and Hell and only Matrix stands in the way.

Angry that Linda has strayed so far, Matrix enters Linda's body, possessing it. Finding herself trapped within the flesh, Matrix feels assaulted by the very nature of man ... the need to breath, the stink of their bodies, the ongoing battle with  bacteria, etc.

But even more, Matrix is helpless against the compulsions of the flesh. Despite her attempts at purity, Linda's nature ... her lust ... takes over. She becomes amorous with her boyfriend Buzz. It takes all her will for Matrix to turn Linda away and then it is only with the help of Zauriel who frees Matrix from Linda's body.

DeMatteis' words flow nicely here, really conveying how Matrix is simply swept up by Linda's desires.

Even more confused about man's place and her place in the big picture, Matrix leaves.

Shortly thereafter Buzz and Zauriel have a conversation in which it is revealed that Buzz is actually the demon that tormented Linda before.

Moreover, it seems that Buzz and Zauriel are in cahoots. Just what is their plan? Or are they simply gambling with Linda and Matrix, playing a game the way God and Satan did with Job.

Either way there is more here than meets the eye.

Is mankind worth saving? Are they worth the fight?

Despite her recent travels and experiences, Matrix remains unsure. Looking for more knowledge, sge heads to see Ceetka, protector of the seas.

As with the woodland nymphs, Matrix nearly becomes part of the ocean hive mind. Once again, she shrugs it off, embracing her individuality.

Back on Earth, Linda is suffering through her own crisis ... a crisis of conscience. She doesn't like who she has become. Drowning in despair, she writes in her journal about feeling lost. It could almost be the beginning of the suicide note. But with Matrix gone, Zauriel steps in, reminding her that she is loved, and growing, and has the ability to make her way through the darkness and into the light.

Washed ashore after her visit in the waters, Matrix runs into the 'Clark' she spied on before.

He reveals that he is actually an angel, one of many living on Earth as a man, trying to better understand man and Hir love for them. It seems incomprehensible to Matrix. Who would lower themselves to the level of man?

It all finally reaches a head.

The demon confronts Matrix, telling her she should take his hand and join him, that she should give up trying to help man ... a fool's goal. He asks her to become, in essence, a fallen angel.

At the same time, the Spectre comes to annihilate Linda. Surprisingly, she prays ... she earnestly and honestly prays, begging for salvation.

And just as Matrix was about to take the devil's hand, that prayer calls to her like a beacon. It cleanses Matrix of her doubts and draws her Earthward where she fuses with Linda. Two become one in a holy union.

This form of redemption ... where one person steps up to save another who seems worthless ... is exactly the way that Matrix and Linda became an Earth Angel in Peter David's Supergirl. This was a nice reflection of that story.

Now truly an angel on Earth, Linda/Matrix is greeted by all the people she has encountered during this trial. They all played a part in this evolution, this fulfillment of Hir plan to create a newer and better being ... someone born of both human and angel.

We see how these beings all nudged Linda and Matrix ... tempting them to turn away from this path, but ultimately helping them reach their destiny.

What's more, in a nice reversal of the PAD version, here it was Matrix who was the flawed being, the one about to fall ... and it was Linda who saved her! It was Matrix who needed a guardian angel. It was Matrix who needed this fusion with humanity to save her.

As someone who devoured PAD's story, I thought this was a good twist. Even angels need saving.

And so a new form of life is made, a new angel to help mankind reach salvation.

I thought this was an interesting story, especially if you are a fan of Peter David's Earth angel arc of Supergirl. This is such a nice adjunct to that storyline, a fresh look at similar themes. One thing I have to say is that the  story feels very compressed. The tour of the afterlife feels like a whirlwind tour with each variety of being allowed only a page or two to be looked at. I feel like DeMatteis had a clear understanding in his head of this pantheon and the wisdom he wanted them to impart on Matrix but only had a short time to show it. I wonder if this would have read better as a two issue mini.

Jamie Tolagson's art is perfect for this sort of book. It is rough enough to capture the worldliness of man, how we are stuck in an imperfect environment. It also is just slightly warped enough to feel like other-worldly, supernatural.

This book is a little and almost unknown treasure. When I see it, it is in the fifty cent boxes at conventions. I don't think it had a big run and so might be hard to find. As a stand alone Supergirl Elseworld's, I think it has a space in a Supergirl collection although it had no lasting impact on the character. That said, if you like PAD's run, you should seek it out. As such, I would rank it of low/medium importance to a Supergirl collector.

This is one of those books I like more and more every time I read it.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

I remember this! I have it somewhere in the house.
Need to dust it off and take another look at it.

Martin Gray said...

I've never heard of this, which is weird. It sounds like the JMdeMatteist of tales, but I do like J Marc DeMatteis, I shall have to find it.

It strikes me as a shame, though, that Clark turns out to be an angel rather than simply a good human being.