Monday, June 10, 2019

Back Issue Box: Supergirl #5

 Last week I reviewed DC Superhero Girls #SuperWho, an animated short in which Supergirl (and Superman) fight Chemo.

With that in my mind, I thought I would review Supergirl #5 from the Peter David run in which, you guessed it, Supergirl fights Chemo. Although, as you'l see, it isn't so much a physical fight as an existential crisis.

One thing that David did brilliantly in this run is walk a fine line between superheroics and metaphysical. This was the Matrix Supergirl, trying to figure who she was in this new universe she was in. She had questions about herself. Was she 'alive'? Was she a creature? Was she real?

And when she merged with the sinful Linda Danvers, there were even bigger questions. What was redemption? Did she have a soul? What was she?

In the end, we find out that this merging of Matrix and Linda makes her something even more than the sum of the parts. She is an Earth Angel. But here, early in the book, we don't know that. And Supergirl herself is pretty unsure of who or what she is. She is figuring out what powers she still has. She is trying to figure out whose life she should be living. And she is still asking those deep questions. Is she truly alive?

Who would ever expect Chemo to be a mirror for her to look into?

Gary Frank and Cam Smith are on art and the book is absolutely gorgeous. This is before Frank started to draw everyone gaunt with extra cross-hatching. The art is smooth, glossy, stunning. It was this book and its look that made me a lifelong Frank fan. Just brilliant.

On to the book.

 We start out at the Leesburg Water purification plant where the new system has started to show signs of self-awareness. We see a cute little fetal chemo forming.

Over the early pages we see this baby grow into a full blown Chemo. When the workers ask their supervisor to report this to the JLA, he scoffs. This Chemo was formed on their grounds and therefore the own it. He won't let this property get taken away.

 Meanwhile, in Smallville, we see Mae (Supergirl) and the Kents in a evangelical event. A pastor is giving a rousing sermon asking the throng if they know they are alive! This is literally a bible-thumping caricature of a crooked religious leader. He asks the crowd to give until it hurts while telling them that is how they know they are alive and doing the Lord's work.

Mae can't help but notice this minister's expensive jewelry and knows he is a charlatan. So she decides to give him a nudge with her TK blasts hoping to teach him a lesson. Unfortunately, the clergyman is as savvy as he is oily. Thrown across the room, he screams they have all witnessed a miracle. As a result, the crowd gives even more.

One thing I have to say, Gary Frank's Supergirl is simply statuesque.

 Back on the Kent Farm, Pa says that it was Mae talking about God and souls and redemption that made them bring her to something so obviously over the top.

Even Ma wonders why Supergirl is thinking so much about such heavy topics.

Because her new life is still ...well ... new, she hasn't revealed to the Kents how she has merged with Linda. They don't know her new life. Of course, having taken in Linda, this Supergirl wonders about who or what she is? Is she human now? Or still just protomatter?

Supergirl leaves but even Ma and Pa can tell. Something has changed. And they can only hope that 'Mae' can work things out.

 Another thing that David did so well in this book is set up Linda with an excellent supporting cast. from Cutter, her newspaper reporter friend to Maddie her resident doctor friend, the book had a great cast.

Here, we get to see her parents. There is her mother Sylvia, absolutely devout and always looking to the heavens for answers. And there is her father Fred, the world-weary police officer who isn't sure if people can change.

Yep, they are a glass half empty/glass half full couple.

 And David also did his best to inject Supergirl history into this new incarnation and continuity.

It is in this issue that Linda meets the 'new' Dick Malverne.

David even gives the audience a little wink by having the two seem to connect immediately, as if they knew each other from other incarnation.

Fred, Sylvia, and Dick all play big parts in the long form redemption story he laid out for this Supergirl, a story which actually culminates 4 years later in Supergirl #50. Imagine pitching that today in the current market?

 Of course, Chemo comes to life and begins tromping around Leesburg like the kaiju he is.

Linda slips away, becomes Supergirl, and flies into battle.

She figures the easiest way to defeat it is to drain it but it isn't easy. In fact, she ends up being engulfed by Chemo, finding herself inside it as seen on the cover.

I include this picture because the panel in the side is one of the pictures I use as source material when I get commissions done.

 Now inside Chemo, Supergirl has a telepathic conversation with the construct.

This Chemo wants to know if it can consider itself alive. It can sense that Supergirl is something more. She isn't just human. She is more.

Is Chemo alive? Is Chemo more?

Supergirl can't believe the questions. Chemo is a freak accident, a bizarre mix of chemicals. Even when Chemo points out that humans are simply chemicals, she shoots it down. Humans are more.

It is interesting to have Chemo asking the same questions that Matrix has been asking herself. And it is interesting to have Chemo actually have self-awareness and such deep thoughts. We usually see it as a mindless monstrosity.

 Still Chemo holds out hope. Maybe he is more. Maybe he is something else. Maybe he is becoming something more than he is.

But Supergirl says it isn't true.

Of course, knowing where this story goes, we know that Supergirl is herself growing, becoming something more, *is* something more.

 But when faced with this dismal reality that it isn't alive and it won't become something more. That it will always be a freak accident, not alive, Chemo gives up hope and dissipates itself.

What is interesting is that Supergirl herself thinks she lied to Chemo. How can she say that Chemo wasn't alive when she wonders if she is alive. Is a purple pile of protomatter alive?

I'll point out small art touches like Frank giving Supergirl wet, slicked back hair for the rest of the issue. She was just submerged after all.

The Chemo cyclone seeds to clouds and leads to a cleansing rain in Leesburg.

It is something that will give the people hope. And while she probably saved lives by dashing Chemo's hopes, she also turned away a creature suffering like she is suffering. Was such a decision worth it? Did the ends justify the means?

It isn't exactly 'The Coyote Gospel' but it was this issue (ironically the fifth issue like Gospel) that I knew this book was going to be special. I was gobsmacked. Just quietly thought-provoking.

They are putting this run out in trades now. Everyone should read it.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

Yes, clearly keeping a dangerous, unstable creature only because it's "yours" is a good idea. Apparently that man belongs to the Kryptonian "No reason to get worried. Surely everything'll be right" school of thought.

I must agree that Gary Frank's art was better when he wasn't overdrawing everything. "Extra cross-hatching" is a fitting description. It disturbingly reminds me of early 90's Image comics, full of unnecessary lines...

"Another thing that David did so well in this book is set up Linda with an excellent supporting cast."

...which was never seen again after his run. It's the Supergirl curse. She can NEVER have stable, developed supporting characters.

"It is in this issue that Linda meets the 'new' Dick Malverne."

Crazy idea here, but I wonder if David was hinting his human Linda might somehow be an incarnation of the original Kryptonian girl in order to give her Supergirl legitimacy to the eyes of long-time Kara's fans. I remember he said something about getting "Please, may you bring Kara back?" politely-worded requests constantly.

Of course, whatever his intentions were, they were eventually rendered irrelevant when Kara Zor-El eventually made her reappearance. And now that Doomsday Clock has hinted it was always the same characters since the Golden Age, whose history constantly changes every time Superman's is altered...

"I include this picture because the panel in the side is one of the pictures I use as source material when I get commissions done."

Oh, God, Supergirl was already suffering the indignity of a "napkin" skirt back then...

The battle itself was pretty heart-breaking. Ironically it reminds me that other Supergirl fought creatures who weren't quite alive not long ago. Unfortunately, her attempt to reach her clones out wasn't more successful than Matrix's talk to chemo.

"They are putting this run out in trades now. Everyone should read it."

It has been a while since a trade was solicited. I've heard DC has been forced to cut down the number of collections. I hope that the trades collecting Supergirl's fourth and fifth volume aren't among the "casualties".

Martin Gray said...

Wonderful review. It really is time I reread the entire run. Poor Chemo, he was so much more fun before DC decided he was nothing more than germ warfare with legs. And a self-aware Chemo... wow. I could see a Solomon Grundy mask filling the role Chemo plays here, though Peter David would have had to tweak the ending.

Martin Gray said...

PS I’d a really forgot Dick was around in this run. That’s how much I need a reread!

Anonymous said...

Peter David did include little things like Dick Malverne to make fans of Kara Zor-El more comfortable. He has an interesting blog with tons of discussions of this series. Here's a relevant quote:

"But when Supergirl did return, it seemed to fans like a massive tease and cheat. In name and general appearance she was Supergirl; in reality, she was a protoplasmic blob from a “pocket universe” (whatever the hell that is) that, in subsequent continuity, had never existed in the first place. She’d gone from living in Superman’s shadow to living in his shape (when she impersonated Clark Kent).

"When I took on the book, I was all too aware that any number of fans would just as soon have seen Kara return and take up her mantle once more. But that wasn’t going to happen; DC wasn’t going to dilute Superman’s status again. Still, I wanted to make the fans feel more at home. So I gave her as many of the exterior accoutrements of Kara’s former life as I possibly could. I gave her parents, and a secret identity of Linda Danvers, in a small town (called “Leesburg”, in deference to Linda Lee), and a boyfriend named Dick Malverne, and put Stanhope College nearby. Some fans thought I was being “in-jokey.” Nah. I just wanted to make the old readers feel at home as best I could.

"And her abysmal taste in men continued unabated. This grand tradition was carried over near the beginning of her re-creation as she hooked up with, of all people, Luthor. I mean, good lord, the only way Supergirl goes more romantically wrong than that is if she has Darkseid’s love child. I decided to maintain that spirit of questionable judgment by having her get involved with a demon from hell, followed by involving both her identities in a four-way love triangle with (honest to God) a super-powered horse-being whose double identity is a randy lesbian."

Wait - he forgot that horse-being was also a -- comedienne and ex-wife of Linda's friend Cutter. Oh well, he can't cite everything.

That whole blog post is at:

He has lots of other interesting Supergirl-related posts there.

As for Gary Frank, this is good work, and I prefer it to the work Leonard Kirk did - Kirk made everyone look like a horse-being. Ed Benes took things very much in another direction not to everyone's liking, but at least his work on that Supergirl series was very dynamic.

I can barely even look at work by Gary Frank now. Everyone looks like a 90-year old life-long smoker who spent most of their lives in the sun.

He's not the only one at DC who overdoes that kind of line work. It's the interior art house style, along with massively overdone wrinkles in clothing. (As if nobody buys permanent-press and nobody has an ironing board.)

Many of the newer books at DC look more modern - using color, not lines, to give faces some character. It lends more of a cartoony, animation or video-game soft sheen to things, which I prefer.

I too fear the rest of the Supergirl series isn't going to be released in trade format.

TPB #1 - on sale 10/25/16
TPB #2 - on sale 4/4/17 (6 months later)
TPB #3 - on sale 10/10/17 (6 months later)
TPB #4 - on sale 7/10/18 (almost 1 year later)

And now not even a solicitation.

TPB #4 was actually pretty hard to find.

One can still pick up used copies of Many Happy Returns, which I may decide to do.


Anonymous said...

I checked the trades collecting Vol. 5:

Supergirl: The Girl of Steel (January, 2016)
Supergirl: Breaking the Chain (August, 2016) (7 months later)
Supergirl: Ghosts of Krypton (May, 2017) (9 months later)
Supergirl: Daughter of New Krypton (January, 2018) (7 months later)
Supergirl: The Hunt for Reactron (January, 2019) (12 months later)

There is a large gap between the fifth and sixth trades, but it still got a trade this year, at least. It is more than what the PAD series have gotten since 2018.

Maybe less people picked PAD fourth volume? I mean, imagine a child who walks into a comic/book store because they want to learn more about Supergirl after watching the show or DC Super Hero Girls or playing as her in Injustice or some mobile game. They will find trades for maybe four different Supergirls, and they will get confused due to the overlapping numbering.

And if they pick a PAD book... they will get even more confused because they have just ever heard of Kara Zor-El from Krypton. It is hard enough start reading in the middle of New Krypton, but at least they know Kara, her family and her homeworld.

Anyway it would be a pity if PAD Supergirl had been cancelled before collecting the entirety of the first arc.