Monday, July 2, 2018

Back Issue Review: Supergirl #5

At the end of Supergirl Season Three, Kara exposes herself to Harun-El, a proxy for black Kryptonite. The last episode closes with a clone/copy of Supergirl wandering in the icy plains of Siberia

This isn't the first time we have seen a version of Supergirl split off after Black Kryptonite exposure. It certainly isn't the first time that we have seen a 'Dark Supergirl' emerge as a personality or doppelganger. Heck, on the show itself we have seen evil Red K Supergirl as well as Earth-X Overgirl.

I know the show runners have talked about Mark Millar and Dave Johnson's Red Son as a template for next season. But I try to look back at Supergirl history as it pertains to the character's current continuity. And that means I should look back at a Black K created Supergirl identity.

Unfortunately, that means looking back at Supergirl #5 from the 2005 series. 

Now I am going to be up front. This isn't a good comic book.

It certainly isn't a good Supergirl story. And there are a lot of things about it that I loathe. In fact, it was the bananas approach to this volume that prompted me to start the blog lo so many years ago. I couldn't stand by and think that there were people who only knew *this* Kara. So buckle up for a bumpy ride.

You need to remember that in 2005, Supergirl was a hot commodity. Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner had brought her back in Superman/Batman. Turner was a red hot artist and his lengthy, all torso, waif of a Supergirl was vivid, grabbing the attention of people. This was the return of Kara Zor-El, cousin of Kal. Her book exploded onto the shelves, initially selling a ton.

The title was helmed by Loeb as writer for the first arc. Ian Churchill had a cleaner line than Turner but brought the same aesthetic to the art, a sort of prurient peep at an ultra-thin, barely dressed Supergirl, pouting and punching her way through the DCU. Loeb had her angry at the world.

Supergirl #5 ended the first arc and had two initial covers, with Turner and Churchill swapping classic and dark Supergirl figures. It sold well enough to get a second printing, all Turner. And it rather muddily ended the story in which an evil Kara emerges from Supergirl to attack anyone who crosses her path.

Are you still here?

Okay, onto the events of the book.

In Supergirl #4, Lex Luthor uses his Infinity Kryptonite Gauntlet to blast Supergirl with Black K. A black garbed Supergirl emerged.

In the opening of Supergirl #5, the Dark Supergirl tells Supergirl all the history that she has forgotten. Zor-El wanted Jor-El dead. He rocketed Kara to Earth to kill the helpless baby Kal. And Kara is more than happy to comply.

In flashback, we see the teenage Kara waltzing around her father naked, barely covered by mist and a sash to keep this semi-clean.

So just so we are clear. The story asked for a 15 year old girl prance naked in front of her insane, murderous father while promising to kill a baby. That was Supergirl.

And yes, Churchill's art has Kara look like she was pulled in a taffy machine.

The 'real' Supergirl came to Earth without much memory. This was one of the main reasons Batman didn't trust her. The Dark Supergirl was saying that these 'mad Zor-El, kill Kal-El' memories were the true ones.

On the moon, the two square off. And Dark Supergirl is pretty emphatic. She is the truth.

Yes, Ian Churchill has the mini-skirt be about the size of a napkin.

And then the question is raised. Who is the 'real' Supergirl? Did the Black K release the actual Kara Zor-El.

This idea that Kara is inherently evil and violent is one that keeps cropping back up. We have seen it in all incarnations. But this Loeb version (and subsequently Joe Kelly version) and the early New 52 version delved a bit too far. It never works.

The JLA show up and Dark Supergirl is ready to mop the floor with her. Supergirl knows that the best thing to do is to get the two of them away from the heroes before Dark Supergirl hurts or kills them. (You may remember that this Supergirl beat up the JLA earlier in the book!) So Supergirl grabs her evil doppelganger picks her up and flies her off. She heads to Gotham because she knows Batman, at this point, has the Kryptonite ring.

And yes, Batman is sporting a cape that must be 100ft in diameter.

Batman doesn't pull out the ring. Instead, the rest of the Trinity shows up to try and get control of the situation.

Remember, the Dark Supergirl's mission is to kill Superman. So she is thrilled by their appearance, saying in Kryptonian (here and on the next page).
"How like your father, Kal-El! You arrogant buffoon!"
"I am so going to enjoy killing you!"

And yes, I have no idea how that tiny little skirt doesn't fall off.

It is clear that the Trinity can't figure out who is who or what is what.

What's worse is that during the battle the black-clad Supergirl says she is the other Supergirl. Dark Supergirl switched their clothing at super-speed. So even we don't know who is actually who.

So the right thing to do is for Superman to pummel both into submission. Even Wonder Woman gets into the mix, swinging free.

One of the things that had been posed early in the Supergirl stories was that she possibly was stronger or faster than Superman. I don't think it was met favorably. I suppose Loeb read the tea leaves that this wasn't going to fly and so this was his way of putting a pin in that idea once and for all. He emphatically states he could overpower and outrun her. Now he looks angry.

Still, the Dark Supergirl (now dressed as Supergirl ... maybe) still wants to test the theory.

I don't think those rib cages are physiologically sound.

Finally, Batman dons the ring to slow things down.

Now I honestly don't understand this ending. But Wonder Woman wraps the Lasso of Truth around both Supergirls and asks 'Who is Kara Zor-El?'

Ironically both choices in the internal dialogue don't sound nice. An evil person pretending to be good? Still evil. A good girl gone bad? Still bad. Where is the 'hero who believes in Hope, Help, and Compassion for all?' Years away.

But one of the copies of Supergirl simply disappears.

Did they merge? Did one go away? Are the memories of Mad Zor-El true? Is Kara still thinking all the evil thoughts?

Did you honestly think we'd get an answer?

A classic colored Kara appears from the magical haze.

She obfuscates things a bit. She is Kara Zor-El. All that happened on Krypton doesn't matter anymore.

Does that means she was sent to Earth to kill Kal-El? Maybe.
Is she evil? Maybe.
Should she be monitored? Maybe.
Should the Trinity, her Earth 'parents' watch over her? Maybe.

Sort of a non-ending.

And then Loeb gives up a semi-meta end page. He is leaving the book. This vision of Supergirl may be ending.

So he has her say that she will discover the truth over time. But no matter what happens, there is only one version of Supergirl. I suppose he is trying to say that his version is the actual Supergirl.  A bit haughty, especially given how the cracks in this foundation of a Supergirl history ultimately led to a complete collapse until Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle began to rebuild her from the ground up.

I think I have commented on the art enough. This is why bike shorts were necessary.

Thanks for sticking this out with me. I know I shouldn't curse the darkness. I should be lighting a candle. But this reminds me very much of Swamp Thing's talk about aphids in Swamp Thing #50.

Perhaps we needed all this decay and destruction so that a purer vision of Supergirl could grow out of that fertile loam.


Anonymous said...

Personally I don't think the issue was SO bad... It was merely mediocre, IMO.

Of course, maybe it's because I'm comparing it to WHAT came after. Those issues are particularly fresh in my mind because I've been fixing summaries on the DC Wikia, which means I've had to -shudders- read them again. What on Earth were they thinking?

Eddie Berganza being the SG editor back then explains much. Didn't he say at some point that's what a realistic depiction of a teenager girl is like? Jesus Christ.

Anyway, back when I first read this issue, I thought it was obvious Dark Supergirl was lying. She was a villain and the former issue made clear she liked messing up with someone else's minds, why would somebody believe her? When both Supergirls got merged back, Supergirl being the only left proved to my eyes she was the real one and DSG merely spouted garbage.

But, no, the next writers decided she had to be speaking the truth. And they tanked a best-selling book.

Peter David thought his book would sell like hotcakes if he was allowed to use Kara Zor-El. Well, Kara's book initially sold like hotcakes, but I wonder how many old-timers Kara fans dropped the book because they weren't as patient as you. I remember people in the "Superman Through the Ages" message boards complaining back then.

Anonymous said...

I actually enjoyed this book. I have never really cared exactly how Supergirl's costume looks as long as it is undeniably Supergirl, and this is.

I don't really dwell on Supergirl's age, behavior and clothing in combination either. She is of another species and another culture. If one needs for it to make sense in human terms, head canon it to whatever. As far as Jor-El is concerned, Jon is already a man. I leave it up to the writers and artists to do their own interpretation.

Regarding Supergirl and evil, I don't mind it as a way to tell a story as long as she eventually finds herself being the character of hope that she is.

I think that for any iteration of Supergirl, something that defines her should be the ability to become the brightest light despite the harshest origin. Having this version of Zor-El, gave the opportunity to tell a new story. Rehashing her silver age story wouldn't have been as interesting in my opinion.

Then of course the issue isn't flawless, but I think it it is a pretty good story all in all.

It's a B+ from me.

Martin Gray said...

Perhaps the worst-ever Supergirl story, just revolting in story and art. Let's hope the TV people don't take too much inspiration from that.

iopy said...

Anon01, I’m one of those old time fans, and hearing Kara was coming back brought me back to being a regular Superman family reader. By mid-point in the Candor run I dropped out again because I honestly started feeling the book was being written and edited by people who had some really strange ideas about teenage girls. Creepy ideas.

The Supergirl concept in the 21st century jumps back and forth between Kara being a young woman and hero looking to find meaning and a place for herself, and angry lolita teenager stereotypes accompanied by creepy soft-core art that makes my skin crawl. In addition to the wonderful Gates/Igle series compare this to the Kara in Superhero Girls and Orlando’s recent run versus anything about Kara written by Lobdell or Nelson in the New 52.

DC’s inability to settle on who the customer for Supergirl is has made for occasional tough reading over the last decade plus.

Anonymous said...

> I think that for any iteration of Supergirl, something that defines her should be the
> ability to become the brightest light despite the harshest origin.

> DC’s inability to settle on who the customer for Supergirl is has made for occasional
> tough reading over the last decade plus.

Let me pick up and echo those two points above, especially looking at the recent history
of Supergirl comics, specifically with this version and New 52. For me at least, both didn't
have a bad start to the story overall -- seeing (Dark) Supergirl effortlessly pummel Luthor
and the JLA, and I still crack up at Dark Supergirl's "Fastest, maybe. Smartest? Nuh-uh!"
burn comment after taking out Flash -- but it was the overall editorial (mis)direction and
directive from TPTB that really in the end showed they just didn't "get" Supergirl... or
in this case, "we brought Supergirl back, Now What(TM)?" as the stories between #5 and
#33 (shudder) would eventually show.

The mess that was the Kandor storyline, never mind "Claire Kent goes to highschool..." I
keep wanting to delete them from my memory but I'll never be able to.

As you've pointed out before Anj, I can only look at each "bold new direction" as a lesson
to TPTB that messing with the classics is just a recipe to fail. And what comes of the
Red Son storyline of TV Supergirl, well I can only hope they succeed and avoid missteps;
only time will tell how that effort pans out...


Anonymous said...

Previous Anon here... let me put in an obligatory DCSHG plug here for 4x24.
Now THAT is what the Supergirl/Batgirl relationship is all about right there!!

And in the theme of "bold new directions," I can only see how things go with DCSHG, but I'm worried I'll have to
bid farewell to gem moments like this...


garyb said...

Did you pick the DCSHG episode you meant to pick?

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt Lauren will make a really entertaining show, but what Shea Fontana has done is uniquely incredible - I wish it would never end.

Shea also gets that Kara and Babs is a match made in heaven in the same way Maihack does. I can only hope that Lauren is able to tap into that friendship without turning everything into a Cartoon Network joke. The new art style has me a bit worried about the path.

I'm gonna be honest. Dude is greedy. I want both versions, but if I got to pick, I would choose Shea's version even without seeing the other. It's just that good.

Seeing her placed on Batman now is heartbreaking. It's a great opportunity for her as Batman sells 50k+ even if it's a turd with a bat on it, but it's a great loss for DCSHG to have her talent there.

What is it they say: You either die, or will see your heroes become writers for Batman villains.

Anonymous said...

Yeah there is nothing worse than seeing your Fave Get a Huge Push and Revival from a "Fan Fave" and all of it in the catastrophically wrong direction and "Dark Supergirl" is a nigh perfect example of that notion. I honestly think Loeb et al dreamt up the black costume Kara so they could really sexualize her inappropriately sans consquence. I mean all of it, yikes.
I'd call this rock bottom but there were a good DOZEN bad decisions imposed on poor Kara going forward...

Still As far as the TV show is concerned, I think MB has a great villainess turn in her, that part has potential at least.


Anonymous said...

First Anon here

"Having this version of Zor-El, gave the opportunity to tell a new story. Rehashing her silver age story wouldn't have been as interesting in my opinion."

Well... It's your opinion, which you're obviously entitled to, and I'll not try to change your mind. I'm glad you find enjoyment in that storyline.

Nevertheless, I'd argue Zor-El sending Kara to Earth to kill Superman is a shaky foundation. Given that said foundation produced what is widely considered one of the worst runs of the character, got tweaked once and retconned out twice and was replaced with an upgraded version of her Silver Age origin which was the beginning of what is regarded as one of her best runs ever, I think I'm not alone in thinking this.

"Anon01, I’m one of those old time fans, and hearing Kara was coming back brought me back to being a regular Superman family reader. By mid-point in the Candor run I dropped out again because I honestly started feeling the book was being written and edited by people who had some really strange ideas about teenage girls. Creepy ideas."

Unless I'm mistaken, Eddie Berganza was the SG editor back then, which explains a lot. Let us remember he also edited the Superman books during the terrible "H'el on Earth" crossover.

I recall back in the day, "Superman Through the Ages" forumgoers complained loudly about the then-current direction as praising Mark Waid for writing her properly in the Legion book ("STTA" is a Pre-Crisis Superman-focused site. Most of posters are Pre-Crisis fans who don't care for Post-Reboot Superman. In other words, it's Bizarro Superman Homepage). Supporters argued the original Kara was "sassy".

Yes, Pre-Crisis Kara was sassy.

She wasn't made out to be a whiny moron who can't stop complaining about a rampaging monster ruining her dancing and partying so that DC can promote their newest, hottest hero who is presented as determined, brave and selfless.

God, SG Vol 5 #12 was BAD.

"DC’s inability to settle on who the customer for Supergirl is has made for occasional tough reading over the last decade plus."

Hence, the readership bleeding.

"Claire Kent"

A little nitpicking: her first Earth identity was "Claire Connors". Anyway, that storyline was... pointless.

Anyway, it's interesting to go way back and check Anj's first quick reviews, written while "Way of the World" was coming out. "Girl Power" earned a B grade back then. I certainly think it was mediocre but not C or D-grade bad.

I'd like seeing Anj revisiting "The Supergirl from Krypton" someday and telling what he thought about Kara's return back then.

Anj said...

This take didn't work for me at all. And yes, the Joe Kelly stuff coming up is even worse.

Hard to believe it was a response to these early issues that spurred me to do this blog. Even harder that I gave this a decent grade then. I was young, just starting out, and didn’t know any better.

Anyways, thanks for all the comments and for sticking it out through this review!

William Ashley Vaughan said...

Groan! What a terrible period in Supergirl's history. The only reason I made it to ten issues of that series was because DC kept changing writers and I kept hoping that the new writers would write her as the courageous, optimistic heroine that she is supposed to be. No such luck. Except for the two Bedard issues that guest starred Karate Kid and Una, I didn't pick up the book again for thirty issues. Thank you Tony Isabella for alerting me that the dark times for Supergirl were over. Looking back, the Bedard issues were when the book started to turn around. Kelly Puckett and Ron Randell followed with a solid run, beautifully illustrated, that positioned her as a hero again and set her up for the greatness that was Gates and Iggle. Gates and Iggle's run was a golden time. Gates was unquestionably the best Supergirl writer since Leo Dorfman.

Anonymous said...

They couldn't even decide which ridiculous version of the original blue skirt to use - the one without the gold bottom fringe, or the one with it (on a couple of pages). Dark Supergirl has a silver fringe throughout. The gold fringe came and went over time depending on -- well, the colorist maybe? But the edge has to be pencilled and inked. So, who knows.

The skirt was actually longer and normal-looking before the bike shorts finally appeared.

Speaking of costumes, and the friendship with Batgirl, DC has decided to throw out everything that is quirky about the current Burnside version of Batgirl.

She's moving back to Gotham City, and being given back a traditional spandex costume including skin-tight boots, a pointless mask -- AND, they are putting her back in a wheelchair!

The current Batgirl is goofy, awkward and total fun. The costume is one she threw together from thrift shops when her previous costume was lost in a home fire. It's got a leather jacket, has snaps and zippers and high-top sneakers. It's so real they could actually move it straight to the TV or film screen without changing it at all.

It was different. If you want super heroes in spandex, you can read Starfire or something. There's no lack of traditional costuming.

They are also giving her a bigger utility belt so more stuff can fit in it. Well - nonsense. The joke of the utility belt is that anything you need in there, will be in there. No need for a bulkier belt.

Anyway, I'm not happy about this. They cancelled Birds of Prey and I guess Batgirl also isn't selling well enough?

I am pretty sure the wheelchair arc won't go on too long. But it sounds like they want to Gothamize/Batify/Darken her. That will suck out all the charm from the story.

And so many were upset they ever put her into a wheelchair in the first place, and how they did it, how are they going to react now that DC is dipping back into that well to stir up some drama? It should be a painful plot left in the past.

It's not like the series isn't diverse - her roommate has MS and uses a wheelchair and a brace.

Between that and the upcoming new DC Super Hero Girls... well, one way or another, things change.

Anonymous said...

Didn't know about the Batgirl changes. I loved the Burnside version. Batgirl shouldn't be a gloomy female version of Batman. She should be the bat that makes adventuring look fun and exciting.

Anonymous said...

I was the anonymous who posted above about Batgirl. It won’t be entirely “grimdark” per the new writer, Mairghread Scott’s, words.

All articles about this that I’ve seen are quoting from this interview, which also shows Sean Murphy’s new design:

While she is smiling, I think that costume is awful. Boring and ugly. But I’d be interested in hearing other opinions.

Babs is evidently going to lose cognitive capability along with mobility. Though it’s temporary, it sounds depressing. I guess the storyline will be shooting for the inspiration of her fighting through personal obstacles.

Martin Gray said...

That temporary Batgirl costume IS pretty awful.

But can we get back to Supergirl?