Thursday, February 6, 2020

Back Issue Box: Supergirl #48

With Supergirl currently infected by the Batman Who Laughs and thinking she knows what is best for humanity, I decided to comb through the back issues find a similar tale from the past.

Amazingly, despite having blogged about Supergirl for nearly 12 years, I hadn't covered Supergirl #48 by Peter David and Leonard Kirk. This is one of my absolute favorite issues of this run so I can't believe I haven't reviewed it before.

The first 50 issues of David's run is a compelling story of faith, sin, humanity, religion, and redemption. And at this point, Supergirl, an Earth Angel, was feeling pretty good about herself. She was comfortable with her powers. She was accepted as a hero ... even worshiped by a group of people who recognized her as a true angel. And she was heading home after an adventure to get reacquainted with her boyfriend Dick Malverne.

Of course, it is when people are at their zenith that they are brought down to their lowesr. And this is that point. This Supergirl learns a lesson in pride and humility. And it almost brings a Hell on Earth.

This story is incredibly powerful. It starts with this powerful cover of a grieving Supergirl, small and faceless, nearly engulfed by the empty space.

But for me, the big point of the issue is that Supergirl immediately understands that her haughty position is wrong. The problem is she loses hope. And that can't happen. Let's get into the story.

The issue before ended with Linda bursting into Dick's apartment to shower him with love.

Unfortunately, she finds him dead. Dick had aggressive cancer, was seeing a faith healer, and ended up passing. Of course, Linda hadn't been around recently to try to convince him to seek more conventional medicine.

Artist Leonard Kirk leans into Supergirl history, aping the cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 here.

Of course, one of the great things about David's run as writer is that he riffed on Supergirl history and continuity a lot. I mean this is Dick Malverne. There is a Comet. She lives in Leesburg. It is everywhere.

That angelic howl of rage and despair echoes throughout the town.

The Church of Supergirl, her friend Mattie in the hospital, her agent Cutter, even her mother Sylvia all here it as it reverberates.

Nice overlay of the image here. And it shows just how powerful she has become.

But it truly is a wail of rage and despair.

Fiery eyed, she initially screams in anger.

But then she cries, realizing she has lost hope.

It is a tricky story. Dick had cancer early in the series. It miraculously disappeared. Later we learned that it was gone because the demon Buzz had possessed Dick's body. Supergirl was left with a horrible decision. She needed to help Buzz by getting him out of Dick's body and back whole. She needed to help Dick by getting a demon out of him. But in doing so, the healing magical aspect was gone and Dick's cancer returned.

If she looks at this situation, Supergirl could blame herself for this death. And that self-hatred and guilt is a heavy burden.

It is only made worse when she sees Dick's mother.

Again, that last panel with our hero made small, engulfed by empty space, hammers home just how small she feels.

And this is the last straw for Linda. She is out for vengeance.

Remember, Dick was being treated by a charlatan faith healer from the Church of Supergirl. This is another layer of how she could blame herself.

Buzz can feel the ripple in the spiritual firmament.

Supergirl is in full judgment mode. And that isn't good.

We see a stained glass window of Supergirl at the church. And then we get a great transition as the peaceful depiction of our hero ...

Shatters out in fiery judgement.

Just an incredible double page spread. I love how the chandelier is buffeted by the blast giving a sense of the destructive force. I love the glass shattering And I love how her position is close to the window's depiction, but how bat wings, fire, and clenched fists.


And she is in judgment mode.

Listen to her speech as she razes the church and chastises this Reverand.

She considers herself above him. She is the 'celestial glory' that he wanted to touch. She is holy.

And then this page as her power and anger continues to explode out of her.

She yells at him to crawl on the ground like the snake he is. She judges him and finds him in contempt. And if he doesn't answer to the law of the land he will listen to her.

That middle panel, our hero in a halo of flame, eyes a blaze, talking of judgment. This isn't the Supergirl we have known here.

Such incredible art.

And then this.

Her tirade induced a heart attack in Smith. And with his meds out of reach, he dies.

Supergirl brought about his death. Unlike the theoretical or potential guilt in Dick's death, the line here is much more direct.

This is what anger and judgment brings. Death. Murder. A stain on the soul.

And then the downbeat ending.

Supergirl learns she has killed.

Angry at herself, filled with self-loathing, she heads to Dick's grave to mourn. There she meets the villain of this story, the Carniverean. He reminds her that she wasn't there for Dick. She has killed. No one will accept her. But he will.

Completely defeated, drained of hope, she gives up and allows herself to be taken.

"Fine, it doesn't matter. Take me. I ... don't care anymore."

This is the lowest we have seen Supergirl get. But she has brought herself there. She sat in judgement and she has now found herself wanting. She knows she did wrong.


I have said before and I'll say it again. The first 50 issues of this run are spectacular, a long form story of redemption. And amazingly, it is available in trade now!

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

I’ve just reread the issue and you’re so right, this is great stuff. Poor Linda really goes through the ringer and yeah, vengeance is a truly ugly look. I loved little details such as the storybook girl in the classic Seventies outfit, and Lex’s line about YOU?!’ though the Hansen gag in the graveyard took away from a powerful moment.

It’s only just struck me... Linda was a sculptor and Matrix was at one point a protoplasmic blob, and on moving to Leesburg she worked every day to shape a new life. Clever old PAD.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, DC stopped publishing the trades after Book Four, so only the first 43 issues of the 80-issue series made it back to print. I bought them all, and wish the rest of the series was available for collecting in TPB.

It was kind of difficult to find copies of Book Four, except from Amazon. Comic shop retailers weren't ordering or stocking it - hence, DC just didn't publish the rest.

I wonder if they even solicited Book Five and then cancelled it, or it didn't get that far.

One can still also find the Many Happy Returns trade covering issues 75-80.


KET said...

"I wonder if they even solicited Book Five and then cancelled it, or it didn't get that far."

I don't think a Book Five even got to the solicitation stage...I never saw it. Seems like DC just quietly killed the TPB reissues of this run, since Book Four was under-marketed.

BTW, met PAD, Leonard and Robin at the Toronto comic-con a few months after this issue came out, as they were there to celebrate the release of the double-sized Supergirl #50. IIRC, they had mentioned that the Church of Supergirl's stained glass window scene was almost cut out of the book by editorial at the time.