Friday, August 23, 2013

Review: Supergirl #23

Supergirl #23 came out this week and after reading it  was crestfallen. It is as if DC simply doesn't know how to handle this character. Every time I start to see the fainest glimmer of something positive happening in this book, every time I feel the slightest bit of optimism about this book, it is squelched and I slide back to pessimism.

You see, in the prior issues of this title I thought that writer Michael Alan Nelson was building towards something good, that the book was going to turn the corner. It felt like Supergirl was going to put all the angst and loneliness and pain and put it behind her, re-establishing herself as a hero on Earth. But after reading this issue, after the 'shocking' ending, I feel as if we aren't turning a corner at all. Instead we are barreling down the wrong course at breakneck speed. After reading this I thought we were back to square one. Heck, I thought we were back to 2005, as one of the more detestable storylines by Loeb/Kelly is rehashed.

That's right, in the never-ending battle to make Supergirl dark and gritty, in an effort to differentiate and separate her from Superman, Nelson gives us a retread. I keep trying to understand why DC feels they have to force fit Supergirl into this style book. But I don't think I will ever understand it.

The art here is fine. The book has a really fabulous cover by former artist Mahmud Asrar. It has the feel of Dave Johnson with a wonder art deco patina. It really is visually engaging with the red angular cape standing out from the grimy background. Interior art is split between Diogenes Neves and Chad Hardin.

Last issue, Supergirl feld I'Noxia after hearing Cyborg Superman's plans for her. The book opens with her being chased by memories formed from the super-dense material I'Noxia is made of.

These beings are built from Kara's memories and perceptions of these people. It is an interesting mix of truth and Kara's feelings. These things chase her down and berate her and beat on her, a mix of both psychological and physical warfare. I thought that this was a decent plot twist, a way for Supergirl to face her fears, to deal with what has happened to her, and to move beyond it.

And Nelson goes through everyone Supergirl has met over these two years, from Superman to Reign to Wonder Woman to Tycho to H'El. It is as if Nelson wanted to hear what Supergirl feels about all these people. Again, I hoped that this was a form of catharsis, a way for Kara to literally deal with these feelings.

I do have to say that Supergirl's responses are a bit harsher than I was hoping for. From calling Superman a sanctimonious poseur unfit for the family crest to ripping the Wonder Woman drone in half to telling Tycho she wished he stayed dead, it is a bit dark. I don't think you can work your way through difficult feelings by simply lashing out violently.

It isn't all bad.

I liked this exchange with the Silver Banshee. Remember, these are Kara's memories coming through these constructs. So when Siobhan yells at Kara that she was abandoned on Earth, left alone to deal with a demon, it is actually Kara's guilt in leaving her friend behind that is being expressed here.

It made me think at the time that Supergirl realized that she actually has some responsibility on Earth, her new home.

And I liked that Reign shows up and tells Supergirl she is the fifth World Killer.I have always thought this might be the truth given Zor-El's experiments, the new powers, the empty fifth tube. So to hear in this way that Supergirl has the same fears was interesting. Maybe part of Supergirl's fears of getting close to people is that she worries she might lose control, become something akin to a world killer.

I think the concept of World Killers is a good one and an important part of this Supergirl's history. We still don't know the whole story. I'm glad they aren't forgotten.

While battling through these things, we get a nice piece of characterization here.

Kara screams she doesn't kill worlds, she protects them. It shows this Supergirl might be moving along the hero's journey, not only recognizing her responsibilities but accepting them. It is a bright spot amongst all the hate and anger she spews here.

I have to say I thought this scene went on just a bit too long. While I commend Nelson for giving us some face time with all the major players who have crossed Kara's path, the scene is 10 pages long! That's half the book! By the eighth page or so I felt like I would have rather sacrificed how comprehensive this was to move the story a long a bit more.

Still, at this point, I thought this might actually be some form of psychotherapy for Kara, working through her feelings openly. And I thought this was going to end up with Supergirl saying she needed to 'go home', to Earth, and deal with the real people ... not these figments ... hopefully in a more mature way.

The battle with the hyperdense memories takes its toll on Supergirl. She is still dying of Kryptonite poisoning and this battle sped up the disease process.

As per his plan last issue, he captures her hoping to use the building blocks of her body, the actual tissue, to recreate his own body and reclaim his memories.

I do want to know exactly how Cyborg Superman ended up on I'Noxia. Above he talks about how he swore to protect the I'Noxian city after it was cast away by its maker.

I did like that Nelson calls back on the blue lights of Sanctuary here, showing that on Krypton blue lights are never good.

Boy, that Nelson Power Girl issue feels like it came out years ago. That issue had a very different tone, a very different feel. It was the reason why I thought things might be getting better on the book. 

And Cyborg's plans actually come to fruition. Supergirl is disintegrated, the K-poisoning isolated and disposed of, and her cells placed into a machine to rebuild the Cyborg's body.

No Supergirl fan should be happy to see her die, even if this death is clearly temporary.

Things need to move fast though because the Cyborg's maker is heading to I'Noxia fast.

No big surprise, the 'maker' is Brainiac.

Now this is a nice double page spread showing how massive Brainiac's ship is, implying artistically just how big a threat ... a power ... that Brainiac is. But was this moment big enough to warrant this big art?

But even up to this point I was still thinking this might all turn out okay. Maybe this was a quick way of Nelson removing the Kryptonite poisoning as well as having Supergirl face her feelings rather than running from them.

And then I get this last panel, the coup de grace, the reason why my optimism has dissipated.

The Cyborg Superman's body is rebuilt and he turns out to be Zor-El.

At first I thought this might be a feint of some kind. The Inoxian material is built on memories. Maybe the Cyborg Superman has some of that in it and Kara's last thoughts were so strong for her father that the echo of her memories manifested. But then I read this interview and it isn't a fake-out. The Cyborg Superman, the new arch villain for Supergirl's rogues gallery IS her father.

Once again, Zor-El has been cast as a villain. It isn't enough that in this darker New 52 that he lied to Alura, experimented on Kara, drugged her, and shot her into space without letting her know why. It isn't enough that our last sight of Zor-El is him lying on the ground, shot by Alura. That wasn't dark enough, that wasn't different enough from Jor-El. Now he becomes a pure villain.

I suppose this fits right into DC's 'grimmer and grittier' world. You can't have a parent who loves you and saves you. And now, Supergirl's father will want to fight her and kill her. I can see the cover blurb now 'The only way for Supergirl to save the world is to KILL HER FATHER!!!'

Remember the 'Kill Kal-El' Zor-El? We already have seen a villain Zor-El in a world where Supergirl was angry, alone, and violent. Remember that 6 or 7 years ago? That version of Supergirl didn't work then. Why recreate it.

And with this plot twist, suddenly I don't think we are going to turn a corner. Now I think that Kara's angry and violent outbursts at the beginning of the issue isn't catharsis. Maybe this is how DC and Nelson want to view her. And so why not have a villainous Zor-El?

Why not? Because this isn't Supergirl.

Overall grade: D+/C-


Martin Gray said...

Very nice review, and if I'd seen that Nelson interview prior to writing my own, I'd have been less Mickey-taking, and more annoyed. Why is it that modern writers don't get that Krypton was a Paradise Lost - if the system, the parents there are worse than what the Super-Refugees find on Earth, where's the pathos?

When I think of Supergirl, I think of the Superman Family's sweet spot, a place where dark things can happen, but a good nature and optimism prevails. Who really wants a world of darkness for Kara? Instead, it's just one rotten incident and letdown after another.

Oh, how I wish we were watching Linda Lang at college ...

AndNowInStereo said...

The first physical comic I've ever bought, ladies and gentlemen. What a landmark issue to start my collection with!


I really, REALLY hope this is just a trough and not the "new normal" because this book needs some lighter shades to go with the dark. And while I'm sure Nelson has big plans for Cyborg Superman, I'm also confident this new dynamic is going to be damn weird and I have no idea if a) he's up to that challenge and b) he can convince me that a book about Supergirl should have such a story in it. Because I NEED convincing. There's a reason I haven't dug into the previous series much, because it's just too weird and grim at the beginning and I liked the (relative) simplicity of the New 52 book. Why did Group Editor Berganza of all people not remember this? Is he still just as blinkered as ever? (See here for what he said in 2007

Also Martin, amen to that x1000. And written by Kelly Sue DeConnick as well! What could have been!

Anonymous said...

You are right, this is not Supergirl, this is The Incredible Hulk circa 1975...right down to the villain's plot to appropriate the power/health of the captioned brute. Yeah I was let down by this issue, Supergirl cursing her friends and annihilating their facsimiles, not using her head one bit in the battle and ending up the Damsel in Distress. Say what you like about the Silver Age Supergirl but she outwitted her opponents and used her brain on a regular basis. This one is all "Supergirl Smash Bad Feelings!"

Jay said...

Longterm, I don't think Zor-El as Cyborg has any staying power, personally. I am however not abhorrent to a story of redemption for the character, fighting off all Brainiac has done to him and dying for good a hero. And with a New 52 Hank Henshaw already existing, its child's play after that for his consciousness to tap into that Brianiac tech, and become the new, proper, and fully villainous Cyborg Superman. That's how I'd play it, at least.

Count Drunkula said...

As a fan of Birds of Prey, Hawkman, and Firestorm, among others, I've grown quite used to that feeling of "this series is damaged beyond repair and won't get any better."

I'll give you the same advice I gave Luke at the Being Carter Hall blog: Hope the title gets canceled and that your favorite character gets picked up for a team book. Then maybe the series will relaunch in a couple years with a more heroic agenda.

Gene said...

I miss the pre-Flashpoint DC universe.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments and commiseration.

I do hope we get to see victories, and Kara on Earth as a hero.

I do wish we were seeing Linda Lang in college, Gates preferably or DeConnick.

I hope the book isn't damaged beyond repair. BUt I am worried.

And seeing her insult and trash even constructs of her family and friends as well as enemies was disheartening.

Come on DC! Do what's right!

Gear said...

Anj, I agree with everything you've said. Right now the book seems to be in trouble, and DC seems to be clueless about the character.

On the bright side, go back and pull out some older issues, look at what was going on in Supergirl 23 back in 2007. Gates and Igle pulled the character out of that and all of the weird "kill Kal-El" and "murder your classmates" stuff that went before.

Even this mess could be fixed. But DC needs to find a clue for that to happen.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have so much a problem with the final reveal - I was already traumatised by Supergirl's death.

The problem with Supergirl #23 isn’t that she dies. If she had succumbed to the poison (whether that was after heroically defeating Cyborg Superman or not) then that wouldn’t have been so big a problem, it would have been perfectly in-keeping with her image as a superheroine and a fitting “end” for her, leading to a happy recovery in the next month or two.

The problem is two things: 1) she was completely disintegrated; and 2) it was in a very graphic, horrifying manner almost worthy of a disturbing snuff story.

While the villains casually watched and commented, Kara was shown to have totally “failed” as a heroine – she couldn’t think up an escape fast enough, was powerless to stop her death, broken to the point of crying, sobbing and begging to not die alone, and killed in an incredibly mean-spirited way that made you wonder if the writer had just had a really bad day at the office.

Even in comics with their wacky physics and cheap death, being completely disintegrated is a big deal. Even if Cyborg Superman “rebuilds” her from the ash/molecules exactly as she was before she died, you can’t help but feel (especially if, like me, you think Star Trek transporters are killing machines) that the lonely and hopeless Supergirl of issue 23, who has spent that past two years being generally disorientated and hurt/battered at every turn (with lots of near-miss deaths already) will still have actually, positively died.

We’ll get a “copy” of Kara, but it won’t be the same Kara. She’ll be identical, but the one who died so pathetically in issue 23 is still just as dead.

That’s what’s making me angry and upset with this issue. Unless the writer is very clever and calls on the supernatural, time travel or the “it was all just a dream” plot devices to bring Kara back, it simply won’t be the same Kara, no matter what DC tell us to believe.

Jay said...

Out of curiosity, why do you have such a hard time accepting any method of reversal to this process that will simply result in Kara being restored? If one can suspend their level of disbelief for a sci-fi concept such as cellular fusion, why cannot there be a process of diffusion?

Anonymous said...

Its not the gimmick, it's the "road to the gimmick" wherein Supergirl "dies" basically in the fetal position weeping and begging for her life "going out like a punk" in the street patois.
What "kills me" about all this is that there are editors at DC who read these scripts and approve them without a second thought. Which in turns leads me to the inescapable conclusion that Kara Zor El is nothing but a jobber & cannon fodder to the TPTB at DC....And if so what would be her long term prospects?
Any takers on that?

Anj said...

Thanks for discussion.

I do think that she will be reconstituted from the taken tissue. I wonder if DC will tweak things form there, maybe removing the sunburst power and streamlining her with classic Kryptonian powers. Or by saying that the new Supergirl hasn't guzzled yellow sun forever and so is less powerful now.

But I do think the moment of death, crying and powerless, was a terrible moment for Supergirl.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to lie I was disappointed with how Kara was treated during this comic. I hope that Supergirl's "death" was just a way to get the kryptonite out of her, but I don't think disintegrating her was the best way to do it. Hopefully she is back alive in issue 24.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see some people agree with me on this one.

There's suspension of disbelief, and then there's suspension of disbelief. Seriously, nothing would make me happier than the writer pulling some cheap handwave where we get Zor-El doing something supernatural to retrieve Kara's soul/ghost/whatever and combine it back with her fake I'noxian body to recreate the real deal. I've no problem with that, especially if it means seeing how violently she'll react to what he did to her :)

But, there's a difference between portraying something like that (which requires suspension of disbelief) and just glossing over the entire point that having someone disintegrated and then having a copy made, means the original is dead UNLESS you call on crazy comic book metaphysics to bridge the gap.

Kara's death didn't just overstep a real world physical impossibility in the way her powers do, it creates a metaphysical problem as well (i.e. getting all into philosophy, personal identity, etc) and the extremely mean-spirited way it happened, combined with the possibility that the writer will totally gloss over the obvious problem and just call it a day, is what's made me angry with the whole thing.

See, it's two things. Even if she hadn't died in the issue, the way she was being written as a helpless and weak victim, was really terrible. I know it's consistent with earleir issues where each time she's nearly died she's practically given up until something comes to inspire/rescue her, but still - it sucked. Then there's the separate fact that she really did die, in a pretty definitive manner that leaves very few escape routes for the writer without causing a situation where the restored Kara simply is not the same person. She'll have never been to Krypton. She'll have never been to Earth. The molecules/tissue that she's made of will have, and her false memories will tell her she has, but it just won't be true. She won't be the same person who died, and that's sad for a fan of that person.

Anonymous said...

Also note that due to the incredibly annoying interruption of "Villains Month", we won't be seeing any Kara again until mid-November.

We'll probably get a final page reveal of her in the October #24, but no resolution regarding how a new copy of her will relate to the one who died, until the following month.

elknight20 said...

I, totally, agree with you, Anj.

On everything, there.

Anonymous said...

Nelson should re-write her resurrection so it's more like what happened to Spock in the original Star Trek films.

There needs to be something that confirms the same Supergirl is recreated, otherwise she's going to look like a complete hypocrite battling clones in Issue #25 - isn't cloning about creating a copy of someone from some of their tissue or DNA?

Anonymous said...

The only thing that could save the Supergirl who got disintegrated would be Superboy warning her in the past on Krypton in Superboy issue 25, changing the timeline so she isn't killed.

I would love that, for him to (as the solicit says) keep her safe in terms of both the younger version of her leaving the planet and the time-travelling version of her who's going to be replaced by a copy.

Yota said...

I can see a teenage girl crying for her life. I mean, a lot of people would, and this incarnation of Kara is... Awful. Were I the humble writer, however, I might use this seeming death as a plot device to give the character a complete 180, relieving her of the kryptonite poisoning and various character flaws, since, y'know, maybe she'd be reconstituted slightly off from the original, if that makes sense (not that it needs to)... Which I'd be fine with at this point, given that DC seems determined to just push their heads further up their respective asses rather than produce a quality comic.

I really hate the New 52. My pull box is getting fewer and fewer repeat series each month.