Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: Supergirl #26

The Michael Alan Nelson era on Supergirl is over. The new creative team of writer Tony Bedard and artists Yildiray Cinar are on board. Bedard has gone out of his way to say that he wants to make Supergirl a likable character again, a hero. But we know that the 'Red Lantern' arc is just two months away.

It is in this tumult of change to the title that Supergirl #26 was released this week.

I have faith in Tony Bedard who seems to understand the spirit of the Supergirl. I don't know if I understand the Red Lantern idea. And unfortunately we will need to work through that storyline to see if Bedard means it when he says he wants to rehabilitate Kara.

One of the problems with Supergirl is that her character has been treated unevenly throughout the two years of the New 52. With different creative teams, Lobdell crossovers, and varying degrees of angst, it is hard to know who the 'real' Supergirl is. The last we saw her, in Krypton Returns, she was hugging Superman and apologizing for holding him at arm's length and then hearing Superman say that they needed to honor Superboy's sacrifice in the story.

In this story, Supergirl's emotional pendulum seems to have swung far away from anger. In this issue, Supergirl seems forlorn and depressed. There are lots of tears. At first, I thought that this seemed extreme. But on second reading, I think this was simply the wall of anger and angst that Supergirl has built around her finally crumbling under the weight of grief. And we also see some glimpses of maturity and growth in Kara, a welcome change from some of what we have seen recently.

As for the art, Mahmud Asrar is a hard act to follow but Cinar simply shines here. He has a nice smooth style and draws Supergirl wonderfully. His expressive work adds nicely to the words of the story as well. I am thrilled he is on the book.

The book starts in Bangkok with the new svelte Lobo trying to track down the massive muscle-bound brute who has been using his name.

There is an undercurrent of smoldering malevolence in this new Lobo. He isn't over the top, talking about fraggin' and being the main man. But when he talks to the Rhialla, the person who sent him to Earth, complaining that lead was a bust, and that he might be coming to her to let her know he is displeased, you get the sense he means it. There is certainly enough carnage around him.

I have never really been a Lobo guy so I don't know if I have much of an opinion about this new version. I will say the 'floating blue mustache and eyebrows' or whatever they are just confuse me and don't add much to the design.

In an effort to keep Lobo off her back, Rhialla sends him to Shay Veritas, someone who knows a lot about aliens on Earth and is more than merely human. Now I will have to go back and look but I think I have been saying that Veritas has been a closet villain since her first appearance when she was making moon eyes at Superman. She seemed liked the 'new' Maxima.

After 6 pages of Lobo, I was reminded that this is a Supergirl book.

Supergirl has returned to Earth from Krypton Returns and heads to The Block, Veritas' lab in the center of the Earth, hoping to confirm she has been cured of her Kryptonite poisoning.

The creepiness factor of Veritas is kicked up a couple of notches when the workers in the lab turn out to be .... her. Or some version of her housing the personae of other scientists. Veritas states they aren't clones ... but never goes further. Could they be some sort of adaptoids/androids like Dr. Bedlam uses? If so, it seems narcissistic to make them in her own image.

But look at Cinar's work! I love that simple panel showing Kara's shocked face. Just beautiful.

It turns out that Supergirl has been gone for weeks.

Realizing this might be a jump-on point for some readers, Bedard has Supergirl review the ups and mostly downs of her life so far in a very nifty 2 page spread. From crashing on Earth to meeting her 'sanctimonious' cousin, falling for H'El, dying of Kryptonite, fighting the Cyborg Superman, and then watching Krypton die again, it hasn't been a bed of roses. In fact, it has been a bed of thorns.

I did like this part of that recap. I wondered if Kara felt self-conscious when running into Power Girl, who seems to have it relatively together. I am glad Bedard voiced that.

And I don't know if I liked or agreed with the sanctimonious tag she puts on Superman. He has tried to help her and given her space. He hasn't tried to control her or even interact with her. I wish he would have continued to reach out to her!!! It also doesn't jibe with the hugs we saw in Krypton Returns.

That's right, things haven't been easy ... at all ... for Supergirl since she arrived on Earth. Some of that could be laid at her own feet. She hasn't been that open herself.

Turns out things haven't been easy since she returned to Earth either. Knowing that she needs to talk to someone ... anyone ... about her feelings, she headed to Siobhan's place first. However, it appeared that Siobhan had a new roommate. And then the pity party continues, with Kara saying her friend is better off without her.

On first read, I thought this seemed too extreme. Maybe this is just a friend visiting? Maybe Siobhan would let her crash on the couch? I am sure Siobhan would love to see Kara again and talk. Why would Supergirl assume the worst and fly away.

But on reread, I realized that this scene is supposed to show us the depths of Kara's depression. Anger can only go so far. Now the pain of her life isn't energizing her, it is dragging her down. I mean ... she hugs Veritas in the first panel!! When was the last time we saw that sort of raw emotion in this Kara.

The tears, the hanging outside and peeking in windows at people having a good time, the 'I don't belong anywhere' ... it  reminded me of this. That isn't necessarily a good thing.

It is a major change to her personality and drive. I suppose it might help explain the Red Lantern decision, that she is so worn down by life that she needs to lash out.

Despite that despair, there are glimpses of a growing Supergirl.

When Veritas is warned by Rhialla (who seems to be dealing from the top and bottom of the deck) that Lobo is on the way, Supergirl actually responds with some maturity.

Why should she immediately go out and fight Lobo. She should talk to him first. They even have something in common ... both members of a near extinct race.

How nice to see Supergirl thinking again, not just angrily reacting ... at least at first.

But her attempts at civility are shut down pretty quickly. Lobo doesn't want to talk to her. He even is somewhat smarmy, calling her honey.

I love the look of surprise on Kara's face. And the hushed 'honey?' by her is priceless.

Even if Supergirl doesn't want to fight, Lobo wants to get to Veritas. And Supergirl is in his way. And so, a brawl erupts.

Again, there is a sort of controlled mayhem in this Lobo. There isn't a lot of yelling and stomping. There seems to be more stealth and calculation. For me, that makes him more interesting than the old one.

After a little back and forth, Supergirl has finally had it and gives Lobo a wicked right hook, breaking his neck, and presumably killing him.

Of course we know this isn't going to happen. But from a Supergirl point of view I liked this for 2 reasons. For one, the emotional buildup of this issue leads to this punch. I think the purpose of this issue was to show that Kara can't ignore her feelings anymore, can't just put them behind a wall of cynicism, she has to deal with them. We see her respond in extremes this whole issue - flying away from Siobhan assuming she's been 'replaced', hugging Veritas, decking Lobo with all her might. I really feel Supergirl is on the edge. So this attack seems within the realm of someone in mental anguish.

And secondly, she immediately regrets hitting so hard, saying she didn't want to kill him.

In that way ... well in some way ... it reminded me of the beginning of Supergirl #34, Sterling Gates first issue, in which Kara has simply hit rock bottom and needs to start working her way back up to the light. That is about as high a compliment I can give this.

Of course this being the New 52, the lows here are lower than Gates' lows of a mean editorial and a soda to the face. And, this being the New 52, we know this isn't the first step towards repairing things. She has to go lower still. It is a shame because this would have been a springboard for that transformation to 'likable hero'.

So overall I thought this was a good first issue for Bedard. He shows us all the things that Supergirl has been subjected to, humanizes her by making her react in a way besides rage or snarkiness, and adds a couple of new pieces to the board.

If only ... if only ... things went up from here instead of tail-spinning into this Red Lantern nonsense.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

I'm always annoyed how every betrayal of Bangkok begins and ends with "strip club". I lived there for four years and there is so much more to the place. This was a good issue, but it wasn't as good as Nelson's or Gates's debuts.

Anonymous said...

I've always enjoyed Bedard's work in the past, but I don't even know if he'll be allowed to tell the stories that he wants to tell, regardless of his positive intentions with the character.

Dave Mullen said...

A rather generous review Anj!

For myself it was a very average issue and a disappointment given this is a new creative team.
There is nothing about Kara's tears and self-pitying here that we have not seen on a regular basis since issue #1, no sign that Tony Bedard is out to put his stamp on the character, no hint that Kara is getting to grips with her lack of direction and working out what she wants from life.
I can appreciate that she is depressed, possibly traumatised even, and this is why if Bedard was on a mission to address her problems and the books he would have dove straight in with some convincing material to tackle Kara's problems head on. Reading this issue brought to mind those runs on books when JM DeMatteiss would come in and take stock of a characters troubled mental/spiritual state and realign them with a new perspective to move them forward - remember his 90s character work on Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Moon Knight and Silver Surfer.
This is what Supergirl needs right now.

AndNowInStereo said...

I liked it, but it definitely isn't a Vol. 5 #34. This is a good issue, and it serves as a very nice jumping on point as a few people on Reddit have been telling me. I'd expect sales to be decent for this, it seems to have got some traction. But it's not starting with a bang, not yet. I reckon the characterisation is right, I was having all the feels (Siobhan was even eating pizza! Betrayal! *sob*) and the art looked great. Lobo also seems like a decent character here too, although I could have done without 5 pages of him to begin.

Veritas is weird. Talk about turning narcissism into a science! I can't tell if she's genuinely being supportive of Kara here or wants to take advantage of her. She does say something more important has come up as soon as Supergirl arrives. And she's clearly into aliens, as we've gathered that Lobo's boss sells her stuff. It looks like #27 might be a three-cornered conflict. Also, no way is Lobo dead - I gather that the classic Lobo has a healing factor that puts Wolverine to shame. So yes, this was all good, I just wanted a little more.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments.

Dave, I might actually be trying out this 'optimism' thing. It sounds like you are feeling about the way I did after my first read. I was pretty down about it. Maybe I am looking for the bright side.

Thomas, I agree this isn't as great as SG#34. But I will say it reminded me of it in the tone of trying to show how bad things have been before.

Here is hoping that Bedard is able to get where he wants to be with her.

Martin Gray said...

Top review, and great spot as regards weeping Kara covers, you know how much I love that image. It's not exactly empowering, buts it's a gorgeous drawing showing how Supergirl was back then.

Gene said...

The panel where Supergirl says "I didn't mean to kill you!" is a metaphor of how DC has treated its fanbase as of late.


Kim said...

One thing about the Red Lanterns is that anger isn't necessarily *bad*. Being furious about evil stuff that is going on is *good*. Red Lantern Supergirl could be good that way, in that she has a lot to be angry about, but she uses her anger to try and do good. If well done, Red Lantern Supergirl might be interesting.

Anj said...

Kim, I know anger can be a motivator if aimed at the right target.

In fact, I would say prior incarnations of Supergirl have had that fierce edge to her if she felt something was wrong or someone was being ill-treated.

I just think that hope and optimism is the core of that righteous anger, not rage alone.

We'll see how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

I dunno every issue seems to end with Supergirl making the wrong decision or blowing her stack or crying..."Supergirl SMASH PUNY CZARNIAN!!!"
So this was nothing new, except that they added a particularly sordid murder to the mix...yaaaa-ay this is progress!


Anonymous said...

And I am trying to see the bright side of Superboy, since in #26 Kon is mentioned as a founder of the Legion of Superheroes...