Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Supergirl RB #10

Supergirl #10 pushed forward the Batgirl team-up arc 'Escape from the Phantom Zone' plot at a fantastic speed. Writer Steve Orlando really keeps the pace of this storyline up here, having a lot of events happen in an almost Bronze Age manner. Things happened here that made me say 'I wasn't expecting that'. Surprises are always happy events for a grizzled reader like me. But I always hope that out of the blue events will be explained or expounded on later.

Even with the pedal down, Orlando really keeps this a character-driven issue. We continue to see Supergirl growing as a hero, dealing with some insecurities, but standing up for what she believes in. This Kara who helps people, even those who have wronged her, is wonderful. And we start to see how she is influencing others. Small moments with Psi and Ben Rubel show this. Even her interaction with Batgirl shows how their personalities interact.

And to make matters better, Orlando continues to mine the depths of Supergirl and Superman mythos. There are some wonderful callbacks to the Silver Age and Bronze Age here. This leaning on the past continuities shows a certain respect for the character and her history. That makes me very happy!

The art is by Brian Ching who brings that rough feel to the proceedings, maybe most appropriate for this issue in the Phantom Zone. The covers by Robson Rocha and Bengal are great, grabbing my eye when on the shelf.

On to the book:

The first callback is perhaps the best. The book opens up with a woman imprisoned in Limbo Town, the home of Klarion the Witch Boy. When given a rotting piece of bread for a meal, the woman is able to use its putrid nature to conjure spiritual soldiers to break her free. This was supposed to be a spell-sterile place, showing she has some power.

Outside the prison she runs into the Fatal Three: Emerald Empress, Magog, and Indigo. They recruit her onto their team. I love that Indigo is there. Having a Brainiac as a villain is a Super-family staple and, of course, was a villain on the first season of the Supergirl show. So that's great.

But let's face it, the big reveal is that this magical woman is Selena! The Heir to Ataxia!!

Selena was the villain of Supergirl's 1984 movie and has never been part of the comic continuity. So that is just a perfect addition to the Supergirl world. I am a bit surprised to see this as in the past DC wasn't allowed to use the movie character names because the Salkind's owned the rights.

And Ataxia is a medical term for loss of voluntary control of muscles. Slick!

In the Phantom Zone, Supergirl realizes she is losing her powers. Batgirl and Ben Rubel are shocked that there is no easy way out of the zone. And they are suffering with the lack of solid material to orient themselves.

Luckily, a phantom ship arrives. Captain Jiln-Ka is in charge of the Val-Kon ship. There is a solid city called Aethyropolis.

There is a lot to grasp here. The ship being there is a bit too convenient. I don't think Jiln-Ka has been around before, or the Val-Kon. But Aethyr was the living being that embodied the zone in the early 80's Steve Gerber/Gene Colan Phantom Zone mini-series. And the riffs on that mini-series will continue.

I like that Batgirl is appropriately cautious about the sudden appearance of this 'rescue'. But Supergirl also realizes they need to get someplace solid.

The next page Jiln-Ka drops his disguise and reveals he is Dr. Xa-Du!

He has rallied the inmates of the Zone to follow him. He has promised them that he can break them out. And currently, he is trying to gain enough energy to shatter the walls of the dimension. And his current plan is to boil some inmates to infuse their energy into his mystic wrappings. That is pretty dark stuff. And he knows that Kara's remaining solar energy will boost him tremendously.

Then he will activate the Aethyr Switch.

Given the deception only lasted one page, I don't know if the Jiln-Ka plot twist was really needed.

I did like the little nod to Kryptonian dialect with Xa-Du calling his captives Bat-Girl and Ben Rub-El.

Stuck in the Aethyropolis prison and awaiting being boiled, Batgirl seems to jab Supergirl for the lack of planning. Of course, a Bat-family member has contingency plans on top of contingency plans.

For a second, Supergirl seems to doubt herself. Maybe Batgirl should lead this mission. But then Batgirl seems to take a step back. Supergirl's understanding of the Zone and the people will be invaluable. Kara just can't let her guard down so much.

This is the #Rebirth Supergirl. She definitely has her heart in the right place. She is definitely growing as a hero. But I don't want her to be so naive as to be caught off-guard all the time. Hopefully this is just a teaching moment.

The plot keeps flying forward.

Supergirl realizes that the Aethyr Switch might be the Aethyr Key, that is Psi. In something of a leap, Batgirl assumes Psi is in the Zone and being held against her will. The World's Finest (and Ben) need to rescue her.

Okay, I like that Psi is part of the story. I am glad she isn't in the Fatal Five. Psi has always been something of a tragic figure, manipulated by others. That seems to remain true here. But assuming she somehow got to the Zone and isn't teaming up with Xa-Du seems like Batgirl is making assumptions, the very thing she just chastised Supergirl for.

I do like the interplay between these two. I think they are more similar than they realize.

In this case though, it turns out that Batgirl is right.

Psi did make it into the Zone. She didn't like what Xa-Du was doing. And she shielded herself within an energy globe to protect herself from him. Xa-Du makes all sorts of egg references to this globe. He'll crack the shell and get the yolk and force Psi to blast open the Zone.

Again, this seems like a bigger leap than I usually like. How did Psi get there? If she is that powerful, why didn't she just leave? Why didn't she attack Xa-Du? Why take this passive approach? I can only hope we get some sort of flashback next issue.

Just before being brought to the boiling cauldron, Ben opens up to Supergirl. We again here how he was tossed out of his house. This time we hear that having a kid was cramping his parents' bon vivant lifestyle. He sees some similarity between his life and Kara's loss of her home.

Still, he doesn't want to be rescued. He doesn't want to just go along for a ride. He need to be his own person.

I think this isn't the whole story. There is going to be more to Ben than just absentee parents. My guess is some sort of reveal about his person - gender, sexuality, politics, past - is still looming.

After a jail break, Batgirl and Supergirl find Psi. Remember, the last time they met, Psi treated the heroes pretty rough.

Once again, we see this new calling for Supergirl. She is willing to forgive. She wants to help first not fight. And she'll trust people to move on with her.

The idea that Psi has been suffering all her life because of her powers and could use help seems spot on. Just like the original Psi was looking for someone to help her deal with her powers, this Psi has been abused and imprisoned all her life. Despite that, Supergirl doesn't react like Psi is a super-villain. She extends a helping hand.

This is my favorite moment of the book.

Then Xa-Du shows up and ruins it.

He scrapes Supergirl with a poisoned spiked gauntlet. Without powers, this could kill Supergirl.

I'll tell you, I wasn't expecting a poison attack from Xa-Du. It seems a bit incongruous.

Regardless, seeing her potential new friend envenomed is enough to set Psi off.

Incredibly, Psi manifests herself as a huge magenta dragon, leveling Aethyropolis and endangering everyone.

Once more, Supergirl knows that Psi is hurting and needs help. Although she is beaten, powerless, and poisoned, Kara jumps off a floating rock in the zone into the maw of the Psi-dragon. This Kara is selfless. She is willing to put herself in danger to help someone else. And she hopes for the best. This is another great moment. Kara puts Psi's needs over her own.

A dragon being in the Aethyr is also a great call back to the original Phantom Zone mini-series again.  Fantastic!

I wonder sometimes if I am too hard to please as a reader. I hate decompressed stories and I wax poetic about the comics of my youth. But then, I read this issue and have some quibbles about jumps in the plot that I wish had just a bit more explanation.

The bottom line is that this was a very entertaining issue, moving at a brisk pace but including some great character moments as well. And the fact that this book included Selena, Psi, and an Aethyr dragon makes this old reader grin.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

It was a very good issue, although it left me with many questions. Why did Psi need to Kara to teleport in the Zone back in the Batgirl Annual? How Xa-Du did plant in her head the "key" to the Zone? Why did he say her Supergirl could guide her in the Zone? How did he capture Psi?

I guess we could also wonder why Psi was even a prisoner, since obviously she could have broken free at any time, but I'll chalk it up to Psi being unaware of her true power. She panicked when she came face-to-face with Xa-Du and created her psionic bubble. Then, when Xa-Du poisoned Supergirl, she exploded and drew her real power.

I think the "His claws are envenomed" sentence is a tad awkward, though. Who does talk like that?

Nevertheless, I liked a lot of scenes. Selena making her first appearance in the mainstream universe (nice surprise!). Supergirl and Batgirl planning together. Xa-Du's unapologetic and nightmare-inducing cruelty. Supergirl trying to reach Psi out twice.

I'm afraid, though, this issue will sell poorly because of Superman fans with a grudge. You know, the kind who is still mad because Superman lost one fight against Supergirl (never mind Superman often loses fights against other Kryptonians less experienced and with less time of sun exposure than Supergirl) and are so sore that they claim she'd never stand a chance against Darkseid or Doomsday (So what happened in "Great Darkness Saga", "New Krypton" and "Reign of Doomsday" then?), and present "Supergirl Vol 5 5) as evidence she's weaker when Superman not even fights Supergirl in that issue.


Anonymous said...

Agree with our host, good issue (I love goofy out-of-the-box technobabble) but a lot of leaps in plot logic, it seems clear that every issue of this rebirth Sg revolves around getting her into position to demonstrate the degree and depth of her innate selflessness....Batgirl might be a good counterpoint to that impulse if the two of them get a chance for some hero-girl talk...
Stoked to see Selena back for another round (hell it only took 33 years) , where is Bianca and Nigel I wonder??



Peter LoCasto said...

Anj did you get the other movie reference? The reason Selena was in Limbo Town's jail was for crimes against someone named "Nigel Goodman." Nigel was Selena's "boyfriend" in the movie.

Martin Gray said...

Lovely review. I was fine wth the leaps in logic because, well, comics. I was having such a good time with the high adventure that I didn't mind. I did laugh at Ben thinking his being sent to boarding school was comparable to Kara being fired into the unknown dangers of outer space, aware everyone she knew was dying. Blooming millennial! Still, he's getting more likeable.

I don't agree with non-JF Anon that this issue will sell badly due to recent interactions with Superman on the TV show - we've seen time and again that adaptations don't do much to spike comic book salads.

Selina could be fun, but if we're visiting Witchtown, I want me some Klarion! Anyone for Teekl vs Streaky?

Anonymous said...

And out in the wings, shooting his cuffs, adjusting his tie....combing his perfect mane in his gleaming cufflinks...Ethan The Gardner, just....biding his time.



Anonymous said...

"My guess is some sort of reveal about his person - gender, sexuality, politics, past - is still looming."

I suspect you're right about this. Ben's setup has the personal reveal of a sexual or political nature all over it. I do like Orlando's writing, it is genuinely good including his Midnighter and Apollo mini series. Plus he references a lot of DC history in his stories. But I do wish he wouldn't use the 'progressive soapbox' approach to his writing so often.

As for Supergirl sales being affected by the show brought up by Anon, I doubt that. As a fan who was annoyed at Supergirl beating Superman for no good reason, I wouldn't drop the comic for that reason. As Mart said, mass media adaptations don't really increase sales of comics.


Anj said...

Thanks for great comments and the Nigel Goodman callback! I had forgotten!

I can roll with some plot jumps but there was a bit here. Hope we get more explanation next issue.

aa3on said...

I've finally caught up on my Supergirl reading (finally!). I'm loving this arc so far. It's really showing Supergirl in a much broader setting than the introductory first arc, which is great to see/read. I love Steve Orlando's writing; Supergirl comics are my escapism. Great review, Anj.

Thayse L Couto said...

I have to say that I like more and more of this arc,is always good to see Kara interacting with another heroes, especially those who don´t attack when they see her.

I don´t think what happened on tv show will interfere in the sales,I doubt that anyone who is enjoying the comic would stop reading because of what happened on the show,the people who would be mad to actually do this would probably not be reading Supergirl in the first place.