Friday, November 30, 2012

Review: Superman #14

Superman #14 came out this week and was the next chapter in H'El on Earth. We finally get all the members of the super-family together, dealing with the wild card in all this, H'El himself, and the conflict he represents.

Pulling off a crossover probably isn't easy. But this is a three title crossover, all related - not something company-wide. It should be relatively easy to bring the creative teams together to make sure that everything in the story is smooth. I say this because everything that I loved about Supergirl #14 ... the cousins slowly becoming closer, Kara slowly accepting Earth, wanting Kal to be part of her life, rushing to her Earth friend to tell her what happened, recognizing Kon as a person ... it all is basically undone by writer Scott Lobdell here. And as a result, this issue has a completely different feel to it, even though it is the next chapter, picking up immediately where the last one left off.

Say what you will about New Krypton, James Robinson, Greg Rucka, and Sterling Gates all presented the characters in the stories the same way. Thara was Thara and Zod was Zod and Supergirl was Supergirl regardless of what book they were in.

But here we get differing personalities of the main characters in each title. Add to that the continued characterization of Clark/Superman in Superman portraying him as a sort of emotionally stunted and clingy individual, a sort of whining and insulting guy. And that isn't Superman either. I can't believe how he interacts with the people around him, whether it is Lois or Kara or even H'El.

Kenneth Rocafort provides the art here and it is truly stunning in some places. In particular, his H'El looks monstrous with massive scar tissue marring his face.

The opening scene has been previewed lots of places on the internet. In it, Lois confronts Clark about his quitting the Planet and Clark confronts Lois about her new living arrangements. And Lobdell actually starts out okay with a splash page of Lois and some exposition showcasing just what an amazing woman she is.

But the dialogue quickly changes, Clark sounding petulant, like a jilted potential suitor who can't understand why Lois can't love him. It is initially passive aggressive and kind of creepy.

Here, for example, Lois says Clark's bed is untouched. He responds 'just the way you left it' meaning Lois hasn't rumpled Clark's sheets. Really??It sounds like something in a bad teen drama. There is plenty to cringe about here.

And when Lois tells Clark he should come back to the Planet, he gets a bit snippy and asks why she didn't tell him she was moving in with Jonathan, something he learned when he creepily read her texts. He can't own up to that so he has to back track and say he was able to infer what was happening.

At least Lobdell has him question why he did that bit of stalking! That feels like damning with faint praise. How about having Superman not read her texts instead and respect her privacy.

And it gets worse. Lobdell actually has Clark say that Jonathan seemed like a 'booty call' for Lois only to suddenly become 'the love of her life'. Did Clark just say 'booty call'?? It is clear throughout all of this that Clark feels dismissed as a potential suitor because of this. If Lois loves Jonathan where does that leave him? Again, it reads a little too Gossip Girl for my tastes in Superman.

As for Lois ... she thinks Clark is her best friend. It is clear she doesn't look at him romantically at all. It unfortunately makes most of what Clark said even more cringe-worthy. And she pushes him about his own love-life. She also can tell he has found someone ... and she is right. After all, he has been kissing Wonder Woman.

So does Superman love Lois and Wonder Woman is a fling? Does he have feelings for both? If so, can he begrudge Lois from having feelings for someone else too? I am all for a Clark and Lois relationship. I want them to be together. But this seems uncomfortable. And the dialogue seems juvenile or tawdry. Why would Lois want to hang out with this guy?

 And that takes us to where Supergirl #14 ended. You might remember that in Supergirl #14, Clark told Kara to call him anytime. Kara thought that she should let Kal into her life. And she was going to Clark's apartment to tell him about H'El.

Okay, so this is a bad time for Kara to show up. But read the captions. According to narrator Clark, Supergirl is 'awkward at best' and 'antagonistic at worst'. Does that sound like the Kal from last issue, the one who has time and again tried to welcome Supergirl into his life over in her title?

After rushing Lois out (she assumes he is interviewing comely cosplayers for his blog), Clark gets downright irate with Kara. He shushes her! Then he whisks her away as Superman, insulting her by asking her if she was denied oxygen in her pod, and then yelling at her saying it is 'an INSULT' to 'FLY INTO MY DOORWAY and blow a lifetime of secret identity'. It seems rash and harsh and not at all like the Kal in Supergirl.

As for Supergirl, last issue she seemed unsure of H'El and his plans. Here she seems to have bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

Here is a great look at Rocafort's H'El. Disturbing, scarred to the point of being horrific.

And he again tells his origin as a test pilot for a prototype rocket Jor-El made to escape Krypton's destruction and head to Earth! The path sent him to black stars and quasars and that hard trip made him who he is today.

Clark is appropriately skeptical of all this, reminding Kara that Krypton had no space travel program. H'El is lying. Maybe these are implanted memories? Maybe he is the failed 01 clone from Superboy? It would explain the similar powers and his increased animosity to Kon.

Ready for more bad Supergirl characterization?

She sternly tells Superman that H'El arriving and promising to go back in time to stop Krypton's destruction is the first good news she has heard. Earth is a 'floating ball of mud and sweat'. And then she has him talk to the hand.

I don't think I have seen this callous or flippant a Supergirl in her own book. It doesn't sound right.

It is clear, Lobdell is going to make Supergirl be the patsy in this story, the character easily swayed by the bad guy.

H'El offers Superman the same proof of his loyalty that he offered Kara, by producing Superboy out of thin air and promising to kill the evil clone, just as he did last month.

Superman acts quickly and decisively, punching H'El away from Kon, sending him flying into a used car lot where H'El's flying body causes explosions and flying debris.

Supergirl chastises Superman for the move since it jeopardizes his 'precious humans'. I can only assume that Lobdell hasn't read Supergirl's book at all since from the very beginning she has always valued human life. She stopped fighting in  Supergirl #2 when she saw it might endanger bystanders. She defended the city and its people from the World Killers. She befriended Siobhan. She also seems to think their lives are valuable.

And Superman defends his punch saying he knew exactly where H'El would land. So he knew he would wreck cars and come close to hurting people?

When H'El pushes the attack, Superman flies off after he makes Supergirl promise not to hurt Superboy. She dehumanizes Kon by calling him 'the clone'. Again, remember just last issue when she saw him as a person and told H'El not to kill Superboy? Here she 'acquiesces' not to hurt Kon until Superman comes back. It is completely different from the last chapter!

Of course, H'El isn't happy with this response. He anticipated that Superman wouldn't be in on the plan. And so a brawl ensues.

So here is the deal. H'El just compared humans to insects. How could Supergirl back him?

And did Superman just say he was going to kick H'El's butt back to space?

And a brokeback pose for Superman!

During that fight, Superman emerges out of an explosion and yells at Supergirl saying this situation is all her fault. He calls her a 'peroxide brat' (would Kara even know what that means?) and a variety of other insults.

It turns out this is H'El who feels he needs to divide the cousins. He needs Kara to help him and therefore he needs her away from Kal.

Here is the deal ... I was honestly surprised that this turned out the be H'El. Because, unfortunately, I could completely see Lobdell's Superman talk like this to his cousin. Isn't that horrible that this wouldn't seem out of character for Superman these days?

With Supergirl unconscious and out of the picture, H'El begins hammering Superman. Superboy decides to jump in, defending Superman, only to also be crushed by H'El's presumably psionic power.

The dialogue about being less than a clone as well as the look of his powers makes me think he is a failed NOWHERE project both jealous and angry at how Kon was created.

I put this up because somewhere in all the interviews Lobdell has done he said he had a moment where H'El took Superman to someplace in the city and said 'in one year your greatest failure will happen here'. I wonder if that was changed to this 'three years ago you failed here' moment instead. I suppose if H'El knows the future he might realize he wouldn't be successful, especially if Kal is still on Earth a year from now.

Disgusted with Kal, H'El simply leaves.

Okay, maybe I have been a little rough here. Superman sizes up someone powerful and unhinged and tries to stop him. That skeleton is fine I suppose.

But the whining 'why don't you like me and mess up my bed' talk to Lois didn't feel right. That whole scene was odd to read. And Supergirl's characterization here seems almost opposite of what it was in Supergirl #14. The conversations between the cousins seems rude and over the top. They might not have ever been best friends ... but they have never been obnoxious and snippy. Where is editor Eddie Berganza in all this? Doesn't he note the different tones in the books? Didn't he see that Supergirl and Superman act completely different here than they did just a week ago?

And we didn't learn anything new about H'El in this issue. What is his plan?What exactly are his powers? Why leave when he did?

We are three issues into H'El. I'll try to remain hopeful.

Overall grade: C-

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Commission Woes

 I read with some empathy the Bleeding Cool post about artists completing commissions in a timely fashion and fans struggling with the wait time. Here is the link:

I have two stories to tell which showcase how these things can go both well and poorly. But the latter experience made me change the way I get commissions entirely. This is a long post retelling stories, so read if interested.

The commission that went well netted me this great Dan Brereton commission. I can't remember when exactly this happened but this was one of my first commissions so I would put it around 2006. I contacted Brereton via his web site and wondered about commissions. He emailed back and we settled on a style, price, and time line. Up front he let it be known that it would be several months so I had an understanding of when to expect the piece. In many ways that worked out for me. A few months after the initial deal, I emailed and asked if I could upgrade from a pencil sketch to a painting and as he had not begun the commission he was able to do so. In the end, I waited less than a year and got this piece. Brereton touched base with me when he was close to finishing and I was thrilled when this arrived. That's the good story.

I am going to be a bit lame and not say who the artist is for the commission which went awry. But I will say that he is best known for indy work and does not produce a lot of comics, certainly none on a consistent monthly basis. And I will say I was a big fan of his art and still am. I contacted the artist via his handler and asked if commissions were ever done. I was told full commissions went between $400 and $600 dollars, a price significantly out of my range. That was in May of 2008.

Approximately two months after that initial interaction, the agent emailed me and said there was a new offer, a deluxe sketch book with a 'convention style' commission sketched in the inside cover for $120 (sketch and book). As a fan, I jumped at the offer with the caveat that the commission be on a separate paper so I could display it. The agent said the commissions would be done at the SDCC that year, which was imminent. The money was sent via Paypal in July 2008. But it didn't get done there.

Every couple of months I would email the agent just to get a sense of where we were and each time a response would come back that the artist was finishing some other work but was then going to get to work on the commissions. And as a fan who wanted the piece I was fine with that. I understand that work is work and commissions are done on the side.

In July 2009, a year after payment was sent, I emailed again. Again I said I wasn't necessarily in a rush; I just didn't want to be forgotten. The agent again responded saying that the artist was dealing with 10 weeks of deadlines and gave me a soft guarantee that things would be done within the next 2 months. To their credit, at that point, they did offer to refund my money and remove my name from the list but I really was a fan and really wanted the piece.

I tried to reach the agent in October and November of 2009 when I hadn't gotten an update. I got no response. In December I emailed again, and got a response saying the artist has been getting 'project after project' and so they had no idea when it would be done. I forwarded the two month pledge from July and got no response.

I emailed in February and March and did not get a response.

In April 2010,  I sent an email and this time, for the first time, admitted I was frustrated. It had been 21 months since I had sent payment. I understood that 'work' came before side projects but I wasn't asking for the major commission, just a con sketch, something that could be done in an hour or so. That I had paid for the piece and wanted it but I was at the end of my rope.

The agent again reminded me that I could get my money back if I wanted. They also said they would keep me on the list and I could resend the cash when the commission was done.

I felt like a bit of a jerk, unloading on the agent so I sent back a response, again from April 2010, apologizing if I sounded angry and reiterating that I just wanted the piece. I also didn't want to get my money back if I would only need to send it back when my time came up.That seemed like a waste of everybody's time. I just wanted the commission and could I get some idea of when.

The agent responded that they understood the frustration. But another new project had rolled in and that it was unclear if he would ever get to an "old con sketch". In May, the agent emailed me and asked if I would consider a page of art from a comic the artist did instead. I thought that was a fair deal but held out hope for the commission. We agreed to extend the commission deadline to October 2010 (27 months post-payment) in hopes it would get done by then. This is how much I wanted a Supergirl sketch from this particular artist.

In October 2010, the commission was not done. I asked for a page from a particular miniseries. I was sent back a list of a handful of pages I could choose from and I picked one. I still would have preferred the commission but I felt I needed to cut ties. The page arrived in December 2010, 29 months after payment.

It was a tiring and drawn out process. And it basically stopped me from ever getting a commission done outside of at a convention where I know it will be finished. I haven't looked back.

In some ways it limits what I can get. The Brereton piece is gorgeous and could not be accomplished at a con. And that went well, with good correspondence and an understanding of the timeline.

But this other story was too much. Too much uncertainty. And I felt a sort of growing animosity for the artist which didn't feel right.  I kept wondering what other projects were bumping my commission when I didn't see new material on the racks from him. I kept wondering why the agent would contact me about this offer way back when if this was how things were going to go. This was a convention style sketch, something which could have been done in a couple of hours on a lazy morning ... so I kept wondering why that small amount of time couldn't be carved out of the artist's day. And there were  soft deadlines throughout ... over the course of 2+ years! Did my fandom and my money mean so little?

Listen, I have no idea what was going on in the artist's life. Maybe things were crazy. But if they simply couldn't do the commissions, why not say so and refund the money.

Anyways, caveat emptor and all that. I stick to conventions sketches now. I would just say that if you are going to get a commission from an artist, some details should be hammered out ... a timeline, etc.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bullet Review: Red Hood And The Outlaws #14

The 'New 52' is just over a year old which means that some characters are still meeting each other for the first time. And so when the Superman or Supergirl shows up in another title, I am probably going to pick it up.

The latest sighting of Superman was in Red Hood and the Outlaws #14. Now I will admit that I picked up Red Hood #1 and thought the treatment of Starfire was so terrible, that I haven't been back. So I have no idea what has been happening in this book up to now. This isn't a full review as the back half drifts into a romantic tryst by Jason Todd with a Death in the Family twist. Instead, I'll concentrate on the Superman pieces.

Scott Lobdell is the writer here and in Superman so he might be trying to spread his vision of the Man of Steel. It also ties into the Superman Annual #1 from the summer, a book which I thought was a bit muddled. At least the scenes there haven't been forgotten.

Mostly though, the issue again portrays Superman as someone that other heroes seem to distrust. Lobdell continues to show us that others think Superman is lording over 'mere humanity' rather than being a hero, an inspiration, and despite his powers, down to Earth. It isn't the take on Superman that I have. And I think it isn't how most Superman fans want him to be portrayed. But it's here, like it or not.

Right off the bat, I can see that things have changed in the book. Starfire is a much more coherent, much stronger character in the book. And, shockingly, she is in a bodysuit!

The prior arc must have taken place on Tamaran because Kory is commanding the ship. Her first mate's name ... K'TTen. Yeesh. Along for the ride are the other outlaws Red Hood and Arsenal. And, a flight attendant Jason picked up also is there.

Approaching Earth, the ship is confronted by Superman who wants to speak to Kory.

As is typical, and maybe because they are Outlaws, the team wants nothing to do with Superman. Jason comes right out and says he simply doesn't trust Superman. Interesting that a character like him can talk about trusting anyone.

One thing I did like was that Lobdell notes that Batman does trust Superman.At least the Trinity seems like a unit.

The best course of action for the Outlaws is to teleport themselves to their island hideout, figuring even Superman couldn't follow them that way. But, he is Superman after all. Shortly after they arrive, he is there.

Does any image or page better encapsulate how Lobdell views Superman? He is descending from the clouds, the point of view is looking up at him, he is completely calm with arms outstretched ... it screams angelic or 'above us'. And then to add some grist for the mill, there are 2 pistols aimed right at him, all while Jason says sarcastically that Superman is 'real human'.

Now don't get me wrong, I love Morrison's Superman and he certainly has portrayed Superman as deific at time. But he also has Superman on the ground, helping people, inspiring people. Even in All-Star Superman, the most god-like ending of a Superman story, the scene many people talk about is Superman hugging the girl who is about to commit suicide. It is inspiring ... but personal and close ... not impersonal and distant.

And to add another layer of distrust, we learn that Tamaran and Krypton had strained planetary relationships. So Kory is going to keep Superman at a distance because of the politics of a planet which no longer exists and which Superman never stepped foot on.

Yep, everybody seems to have a reason to not like Superman.

Despite recognizing that they are outgunned, the Outlaws decide to attack Superman. Because that's what people do in the DCnU, distrust and attack Superman. Notice he never seems to move, floating above them all, almost impersonal in how he attacks them. And even the 'I don't want to hurt you but I will' just doesn't sound right coming from Superman.

It takes the words of Isabel, the non-powered flight attendant to point out it is absurd. That Superman could have forewarned the Outlaws so they wouldn't feel attacked. And they could always just ask Superman what he wants.

It turns out that Superman just wants to talk to Starfire about her episode with an agent of Helspont, seen in flashback, a panel lifted from the Annual. I guess Superman just wants to touch base with the other extra-terrestrials contacted. That would mean J'Onn should also be expecting a visit.

But it is an odd scene. Starfire admits she hasn't thought about it much. Arsenal derides Superman, telling him he should just ask the Outlaws for help. Even Kory says he 'needs' their help. And Superman again seems cold, saying he wants to bring them all in for their crimes. But since Batman vouches for them, he won't. It just seems odd.

After saying his piece, Superman leaves. Kory is surprised she didn't hate him. So again, someone assumes they will hate Superman and is surprised when he is an okay guy. Arsenal wants to go out and find Helspont and stop him! This feels like Bizarro world.

One thing I did like was Jason's surprise that Batman has vouched for the group. I am surprised too!

The remainder of the issue takes place in Jason's apartment as some drama with Isabel and the Joker ensues.

So this felt like another brick in the wall of Superman deconstruction from ultimate hero to distant mistrusted jerk. I want to blow up that wall!

Furthermore, who knows when or where this Helspont story will play out. In the Superman book? Here in Outlaws? Universe-wide crossover? It doesn't look to be happening any time soon.

The art by Pascal Alixe is decent enough, a sort of rough Eddy Barrows.

At the very least, the issue showed me Starfire isn't a brain-dead anymore!

Overall grade: C

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bullet Review: Justice League #14

Justice League was supposed to be the tentpole book for the New 52, a return of the 'Big 7' (I call it the 'Big 6 plus 1' because Cyborg is not and never will be The Martian Manhunter) written by DC bigwigs Geoff Johns and drawn by comic legend Jim Lee. I had high hopes that it would be fantastic.

I have been disappointed. It has never grabbed me. Never. The interaction between the members has felt stiff and stilted. Some of the characterization has felt down right wrong. And despite having been a team for years, all the heroes .... gasp .... don't trust each other. I suppose I should be used to that in the DCnU.

Perhaps worst of all has been the awful representation of Superman in the book. Here he is always floating, always above the others physically, always 'observing like a reporter'. It is wrong. And it is shocking given how great Johns wrote Superman when he was writing Action Comics.

As a result, the book has been on a sort of pull list suicide watch for the last few issues. When will I drop it?

Last week, Justice League #14 came out and the first half was on par with the earlier issues. I was pretty disappointed at how easily the Cheetah could almost outmaneuver the entire League. I thought for a second 'this is it, I am dropping this book'.

And then the second half happened. For once, Superman wasn't a smug floating jerk. He sounded like Superman. He acted like Superman.

It turns out that Barbara 'The Cheetah' Minerva has always been an evil doer, a criminal. And this seems to stun Wonder Woman who thought Barbara was good, that she became evil when possessed by the Cheetah spirit.

With that reveal, Diana wonders who she is, how she can move forward when she can't trust anyone, including herself.

And then Superman shows up.

I like how he calls her his inspiration because she always looks for the good in people. It humanizes Superman. He thinks he can do better when he thinks of humanity.

And then he brings her to Smallville, for a sort of palate cleanser of the worst of humanity. They have a slice of pie at a diner. They visit the Kent farmhouse. And Superman talks about how it is this bucolic, idyllic, quiet slice of the world represents what he is fighting for. That most people are good and deserve to be defended.

And then Superman says the things I think Superman should say.

"Sometimes good is what it appears to be ... good." "Sometimes it's still that simple."

Hurrah. Superman believes there is good in the world. He wants to defend it. He thinks of his upbringing when he needs to be inspired.

It is a nice moment.

This being the 'power couple of the DCU' that nice moments leads to yet another perfectly choreographed super-kiss.

And this being the DCnU, it has to end on a down note. The chip on Superman's cape allows Batman to creepily watch the two smooch. Holy voyeur Batman!!

It's a shame that the Batman piece is there because it did dim the light of the nice speech Superman gave here.

Anyways, that speech saved the book from being dropped by me ... at least for now.

Overall grade: C (D - first half, B+ second half, dropped due to Peeping Batman)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Legion Of Super-Heroes #14

Legion of Super-Heroes #14 came out last week, another issue by the creative team of writer Paul Levitz and artist Scott Kolins. It also felt like another meaningless issue in this book in which few moments have stood out.

As usual, Paul Levitz is able to sprinkle in some crumbs of good characterization and some seeds for future storylines that are inticing. In particular, the upcoming Fatal Five story continues to simmer on the back burner nicely.
But the main story here, this mission where Element Lad and Chemical King fight Braalian pirates seems like a waste of time and space. These are nameless villains who are little more than junk metal thieves. This doesn't seem to have any bearing on any major storylines. So nothing of consequence there. And from the Legion end, Chemical King struggling in his role as a Legionnaire has been seen before, with no new wrinkles were added this time.
Blog friend Dave Mullen says it best and I am going to quote him here. These current Legion stories simply aren't memorable. Indeed, this issue is utterly forgettable.
And Scott Kolin's rough art doesn't help matters. One thing that was memorable from the early issues here was the beautiful art by Francis Portela.

Now Levitz has always shown that he was a master at juggling the large roster of the Legion, making sure we catch sight of each character now and then. But it is clear that he has his favorites and Brainiac 5 is one of them.
Brainy has been central to the last several arcs and even the focus of the zero issue. Here, he is even around to help Element Lad. creating a device that can hone in on unusual magnetic patterns for the Legion to track, presumably leading them to the Braalian base.

Meanwhile, Cosmic Boy, injured last issue, is about to go under the knife for life-saving surgery.
So one of the interesting nuggets in this issue is the discovery that Cos has no ambient magnetism emanating from his body. Hmmm ...
We have seen Rokk lose his powers in the 5YL Legion. Could it be happening again?

And Brainy finally gets to the bottom of Comet Queen's betrayal. Comet Queen was, as many have figured out here, acting under a post-hypnotic suggestion placed by Saturn Queen. Congratulations to all who cracked that mystery!

What is interesting is that the suggestion was specifically to kill Brainy, not undermine the Legion.  Why would Saturn Queen do that? And weren't there easier times for Comet Queen to act on that compulsion? Let's say ... shooting him in the Legion HQ?

Meanwhile, Element Lad and Chemical King struggle against 3 Braalian robbers. Really?
I have seen Element Lad take down a whole planet of raging Daxamites. I have seen him cage Validus. Three petty thieves with magnetic powers take him out? By tossing rubble on him?
Was this brief elimination of Element Lad from the story forced in there to show how nervous Chemical King still is when in combat? I get it ... Chemical King has few skills right now. With Element lad unconscious, the best he can do is hide and hit the distress signal.

The other subplot bubbling away is the reformation of the Fatal Five. Sun Boy and Phantom Girl are sent to a sort of super-villain armory to check on the Persuader's Atomic Axe only to discover the axe is gone. It has been replaced by a hologram.
 Okay, that isn't surprising.
What is surprising is this odd exchange between Tinya and Dirk. He had just touched her on the shoulder to warn her about something when she goes ghost on him. And then says 'no touching unless I ask?'

What the heck does that mean? Is Dirk touching her too much? Does she not like personal contact? Does she, at times, ask Sun Boy to touch her? Is she just being kind of flirty ... strange for someone so devoted to her beau Ultra Boy. It was odd to read ... I hope we hear more about what that means?

After nursing his head wound and before reinforcements arrive, Element Lad dispatches the villains by turning their oxygen feed into nitrogen. It is done quickly, neatly, easily. Shouldn't this takedown have happened an issue ago? How did these guys last this long against Element Lad and Cosmic Boy? At least we get a brief peek at the rescue team which includes Shadow Lass and Lightning Lass, two characters I haven't seen enough of here.

Anyways, this was 2 issues of watching Brainy examine Comet Queen and Element Lad and Chemical King struggle to stop some pirates. Yes, the small moments are nice but that is like complimenting the garnish after eating a mediocre meal. There was little memorable here. And the Legion deserves bigger and better stories.

And I have never been a big fan of Scott Kolins art. Here it just seems too crude for a futuristic book.

Overall grade: C-

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: Supergirl #14

Supergirl #14 came out last week, a very satisfying read for this Supergirl fan and another opening chapter in the H'El on Earth story arc. Unlike Superman #13 which felt like a prologue, and Superboy #14 which seemed like just a brawl, this book felt like the true first part to this arc. It provides some back story for H'El himself. We see his powers and we hear his plan. I have to admit, his plan is different than what I expected.

But more importantly, this is simply a great issue for Supergirl as a character. Here we see her as a complex and sympathetic character. We see her struggle with her hopes and her reality, we see her interacting with Superman in a mature way, we see her say all the things I have been hoping she would say in this book.
Remember when someone (I think Matt Idelson) said Supergirl 'wouldn't rest until Superboy has been killed'?  When she was described as 'hell on wheels', more likely to fight with friends? Remember just last issue when Superman seemed to react to Supergirl like she was a brat? When Supergirl started yelling at Superman? And remember how worried I was when I read all these things?
None of that is here. None of it.
Writer Mike Johnson instead gives us a less bitter, less negative, more believable, and more hopeful Kara and ... and ... extended Superman Family! Add to that the typical spectacular Mahmud Asrar art, I was a very happy Anj.

Superman #13 ended with Supergirl and Superman arguing with each other. Superman was less than thrilled to see his cousin.
Supergirl #14 starts after that, after they have apparently worked together to carry the carcass of the Kryptonian dragon to Dr. Veritas' lab. While Veritas practically drools over being able to dissect the specimen, Kara wonders what it means that this thing was alive.
If she is alive ... if Kal is alive ... if Kon is alive ... if this thing is alive ... maybe there are more survivors of Krypton. It is understandable that Kara, who is still dealing with her new reality would latch onto that hope.
But Superman warns her about latching onto false hope. It is sensible ... and brotherly. And it is very much like Superman, to say that holding on to hope is never wrong. Fantastic.
As for Veritas, she seems a bit too excited about this, bragging about patents for new dissecting tools and all the new information she will gather. It almost seems Tycho-like.
But even better than that ... look at this!
When he is called away, Superman tells Supergirl to call his name whenever she wants to talk. He will hear her.
He is acting like family. He is looking to help, to be there for her. He isn't suffocating or domineering. He just wants to help. It is a wonderful reaching out by him to Kara. That is so different from the eye-rolling, 'look who showed up' Superman in Superman #13. This is what I have been looking for from him.

Supergirl doesn't stick around to let Veritas scan her as well. It is hard to trust an human after how Kara has been treated all this time. It isn't better when we discover that Siobhan, the one human Kara has trusted, is hiding a worsening compulsion. Siobhan is struggling to keep the Silver Banshee inside her. No big surprise, I suppose.
This is a very nice panel. The oddly blank expression on Siobhan's face as she looks at her glowing hand shows she has accepted, maybe enjoys the change. But I also love the little Banshee faces in her eyes. The art adds so much!

As great as Kal saying all Kara needs to do is call his name, this panel was even better. Back in Sanctuary Supergirl finally realizes that Superman is her only family and that she should reach out to him! It's about time! I have been saying she should be thinking that since the first issue. It makes sense! If she misses her home and family, she should be seeking out her family who can tell her about her home.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to see this panel.
Before she can act on that thought, she suddenly becomes exhausted and basically passes out.

She awakens on the sun with H'El. I have to believe that the sudden bout with sleepiness is somehow related to H'El.
After a brief fight in which H'El absorbs Supergirl's attacks, he tells his story.
He is loyal to the house of El. He was sent into space by Jor-El before the explosion. His travels have changed him. He seems to have telekinesis, teleportation, astral projection, maybe a force field. And the backwards S seems only intermittently visible. Hmmm ...
His mission? He wants to go back in time and stop Krypton from being destroyed! Maybe his powers include time travel? Maybe that's how the family were each on Krypton in the zero issues? It is a more interesting mission that what I thought it was going to be ... rewriting Earth in Krypton's image.
I'm not buying his origin though. I think he might be more obsessed with the house of El. I can't imagine Jor-El sending someone into space. And I certainly can't explain his powers. Maybe he self-lutilated himself, cutting the backwards S into his skin while looking in the mirror, all to be more like his hero Jor-El. Yeah, I am going with the obsessed angle.

I do think that Supergirl settles into a discussion with this guy pretty quickly. I suppose that a promise of saving Krypton is a good lure.
And he makes a good pitch about why she should even care about Earth, showing us at our worst, a war torn nation with factions firing on each other, endangering children who are fleeing for safety.
Earth is the 'opposite of Krypton'. That's the right pitch to make to Kara.

H'El shows he means business, bringing Kara back to Sanctuary where he has Superboy imprisoned. To show he understands Krypton and Kara, he will kill this clone at Kara's command.
And then there is another wonderful moment for Kara. She won't 'stop until Superboy is killed'. She could have killed him here. Instead, she calls him 'he' (not 'it'). She doesn't have H'El kill him (at least not yet). There is a sort of recognition and appreciation for the sanctity of life here.
It is again a nice moment for Kara here. She isn't blood thirsty or overly angry or unhinged. And yes, she did leave open the notion of killing him ... but I get the sense she never would. She stopped. And look at that expression in the first panel, this is someone who doesn't look like she could order an execution.

And I still don't understand H'El's powers. How is he holding Superboy here? How can he awaken him and render him unconscious with a thought. His power has a similar look to Superboy's TK. I wonder if there is a clone connection.

Is she too trusting to be considering this plan? I think it actually shows some restraint on her part that she wants to talk it over with Kal. The Kara from Supergirl #4 might jump at this chance. This one wants to mull it over; she knows more now. But I can also understand her being eager to see her home again. That's why it isn't an outright refusal. It is a sort of measured response.
To think of Kal at this moment, to discuss it with him (even if it is to try to convince him) again shows a new sort of acceptance of Kal being in her life.

To speed things along, H'El teleports Supergirl to Kal. Unfortunately, Kal is in Clark mode and sounds like he is about to confess his feelings to Lois when Kara bursts in. 

Amazingly, and probably with a nudge from H'El, she can suddenly understand English!! Hurrah!!!!! Now she can talk to people!

Kara, of course,  would have no concept about 'secret identities'. And it probably seems bizarre that Kal might be trying to have a relationship with one. In fact, these things might make Supergirl side more with H'El, that Kal hides his Kryptonian side. But the snippets of the Lois/Clark conversation are also very interesting.
It's a nice effective cliffhanger. And it is great to see Asrar's version of Lois.

So overall, a fantastic issue of Supergirl. She said all the right things here - hope for Krypton, acknowledging she should be close to Kal, sparing Superboy, and wanting to talk to Kal about saving Krypton. And Superman said all the right things - warning against false hope and saying he will always be there for Kara. It thankfully stands in sharp contrast to all the things we have read about Supergirl in this arc.

On this Thanksgiving week, I feel I need to thank Mike Johnson for realizing just who Supergirl is at her core, even if this Supergirl is having a rougher beginning than prior incarnations.

And great stuff, as always, by Mahmud Asrar.

Overall grade: A

Friday, November 23, 2012

Johnson And Lobdell On CBR

There has been any number of publicity spots about H'El on Earth and how it is going to help define the stability of the Super-family members moving into the future. I take the pubilicity about the Super-titles with a grain of salt. But more and more it sounds like DC wants to continue to fracture the super-family, make them be at odds with each other, and not even be friendly or courteous with each other. It is shocking. I have said it before, there is something inherently wrong with a DC universe where Batman is a more nurturing mentor than Superman.

Anyways, the latest H'El publicity was posted on CBR last week, a brief interview with Superman writer Scott Lobdell and Supergirl writer Mike Johnson. Here is the link:  As always, it is worth reading in its entirety. It is a brief interview and a bit sparse on new information. But some of it stood out dramatically. Here are my thoughts.

CBR News: How did this crossover collaboration start? Did the three of you flesh out the "H'el" idea and character together?

Scott Lobdell: Originally, we had planned to just use each other's characters and supporting players a little more freely, but as H'el started to become more and more developed, and the threat he posed became more horrific ,it became pretty clear that his origins, motivation and actions were things that could play out in all three books over the course of one massive story. 

Mike Johnson: We've been charting the evolution of [Kara's] relationship with Superman since the last page of our first issue, and the time was right to really bring things to a head. We didn't want to keep re-treading the same territory of Kara doubting whether Kal was really her baby cousin all grown up. In the crossover, we see that Kara has come to accept the truth, but that doesn't mean she agrees with everything Kal has to say, especially when it comes to H'el. We haven't seen as much of Kara's relationship with Superboy, but that changes starting with "Supergirl" #14 and onwards. As different as they are, they have a lot in common given that they are both young people struggling with questions about their place in the world and how best to use their incredible powers.

I suppose that it is good to know that this wasn't a DC mandate to have the titles crossover and a story was cobbled together. I am glad that the writers were together, came up with the idea of a crossover and pitched it to DC.

As for Supergirl, I still don't understand why ... if she misses her world so much ... she would run away from family. It also is depressing that Supergirl will immediately side with the villain of the piece. It seems to me that DC continues to want to isolate Supergirl, make her a bitter loner. It just doesn't fit the character. I have said if before and I will say it again ... I don't mean I want to return to the saccharin days of the Silver Age. I crave a complex Supergirl. We read one with Peter David. We read one with Sterling Gates. I have seen glimpses of one under Mike Johnson. I just hope DC doesn't force the character to be something she isn't.

After reading Supergirl #14, I think she will be safe in her own title.

CBR: This crossover villain seem to be hitting the Super-family in a more personal way than we normally see, pitting Kryptonian against displaced/cloned Kryptonians. What does facing this foe mean for your heroes on an emotional and personal level?

Johnson: What I loved about Scott's concept for H'el, and the fact that H'el would be the centerpiece of this crossover, is that he is so intrinsically tied to Krypton and the story of the House of El itself. It not only makes for a more interesting adversary, it raises the emotional stakes for everybody involved. Especially for Kara, who has yet to embrace Earth completely. Her heart is still on Krypton, so to speak, and H'el can relate to that in a way that no one else can.

I suspected that H'El would have a tie to the House of El given the 'El piece of his name. So that adds another wrinkle to this story, it makes it more personal. And I can understand that Supergirl might want to hear what H'El has to say. But ... don't you think if she is willing to listen to this stranger she would have the same interest in listening to her cousin?

As I have contemplated H'El, I have hoped that Supergirl will sort of realize that Krypton is dead after this arc. That the climax has here embracing Earth as her new home. So there is room for hope here. And if she does that, the logical fallout will be to seek out Kal as a friend. Will it happen?

Mike, as you said, it seems Kara is not as hostile to H'el and his ideas as Superman and Superboy are. Why would Kara be on his side?

Johnson: Because H'el speaks her language, both literally and figuratively. Kal is the "Last Son of Krypton," but he never really knew it like Kara and H'el did. The things H'el does that bother Kal don't bother Kara in the same way, because she can understand and sympathize with H'el motivations. One of the many cool things about the crossover is that each title has its own unique role to play. In "Supergirl," you will get to see a side of H'el you don't see as much of in the other titles, because in "Supergirl" you're seeing him through Kara's eyes.

Earlier in the interview, Lobdell calls H'El a tragic figure. So I suppose giving that character a forum to be viewed differently, to flesh him out away from a megalomaniac twirling his mustache, is a good idea. But I worry that Kara will agree with H'El's ideas. We have already seen Kara protect the innocent, stop fighting if she thought others will be hurt. If H'El's hopes are to re-write Earth as a new Krypton won't she be against it if it means destroying or killing?

I know, we need to see how it is played out. By why make Supergirl a quasi-villain?

CBR: This is the first time the three Super titles have crossed over in the New 52, and while fans refer to them as the Super-family, Superboy, Superman and Supergirl are just getting started. Was one of the goals of the crossover to start to unite the characters as an actual family, at least in the face of this new villain? Will they be more involved in each other's lives after this?

Lobdell:   I'm glad that we got to spend the first twelve issues of the New 52 developing the characters and their continuity in their own books. Now that that's done, I'm excited about the chance to really see how these three disparate characters will interact going forward. I would caution anyone, though, who thinks that the "Super-family" are those fresh scrubbed faces of yore -- all of them sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with Krypto and Streaky out on the porch playing cards with Comet the super horse. Tolstoy once said, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Did I get it right?


There is a middle ground between playing cards with Streaky and fighting each other and remaining distant. So this family wouldn't be together for the holidays, is described as the Superman writer as unhappy. 


I keep going back to the Sterling Gates (and even the James Peaty and Kelly Sue DeConnick) Supergirl book. That Supergirl was an independent young woman, finding her way, struggling sometimes. She had a good relationship with Superman but she was never defined by him. But they loved each other and hung out with each other when they could. Why is that frowned upon these days?

Why does this character family need to be splintered and angry? Doesn't DC see that the Bat-Family, as complex and unique as it is, works because they act like a family? Maybe a little disgruntled ... but together?

Where will the Supers be when this is over? I was lising hope until this week's comics. My review on Supergirl #14 should be up soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Stuff

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope the holiday treats everyone wonderfully! I figured on this day I would post just a couple of recent things about Supergirl that are worth being thankful for.

One thing I am thankful for is DC giving the Super-titles and Supergirl some publicity. A crossover like H'El on Earth helps churn up the pub-machine but any time the spotlight is put on Supergirl, I'm happy.

So over on the DC Source blog, Supergirl is one of the '5.2 reasons' to be addicted to super-heroines. Here is the link:

There is no text other than the title 'The Awesomeness that is Supergirl'. I wouldn't have minded a little description to try to lure new readers in. But to call Supergirl awesome is pretty cool.

Earlier in the month, there was a similar '5.2 reasons' column this time about the super-titles. Here is that link:

Supergirl got a little more love in this column even if the "Kicks 'S'" header is a bit groan worthy. Here is the blurb.

4. Supergirl Kicks "S"
If you haven't been reading Supergirl, you need to go here now and start. Seriously. We've been fans of writer Mike Johnson ever since his Lil' League arc on Superman/Batman (with art by American Vampire's Rafael Albuquerque) and unsurprisingly, he has been doing an amazing job on the Girl of Steel's self-titled series, penning a young Kara Zor-El that feels like a real teenaged girl lost in a world she barely understands—like "Alice in Wonderland," if Alice had superpowers and beat up the Queen of Hearts for being a crazy person and threatening the lives of pretty much everyone. It's a phenomenally well-written series only further enhanced by the incredibly beautiful art by Mahmud Asrar.

I should stop critiquing these things since they rarely sound like the book. Again, describing her as an Alice that would beat up the Red Queen makes her sound unhinged or a 'bad grrl' and I don't know if that is how Johnson is writing her. Sure Supergirl lashes out, but she also seems sad. It is more nuanced than Supergirl being a hammer and Earth a nail.

Still, I suppose any publicity is better than no publicity.

Over on his Twitter, artist Brett Booth posted a commission he did of the DCnU Supergirl. This is a great piece. I enjoyed Booth's take on Kara during the later part of James Robinson's JLA run. Congratulations to whoever scooped this up.

Lastly, I updated up my blog pages - pull list and commission. Holiday cleaning!

Anyways, have a happy holiday!