Friday, April 17, 2020

Review: Elseworld's Finest Supergirl & Batgirl Pt 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my review of 1998's Elseworld's Fines Supergirl & Batgirl. If just jumping on board, you can read my Part 1 review here.

I am reminded that this was 1998. We are deep into Matrix country for Supergirl at this time. In fact, at the time this issue came out we were more than 2 years into the Peter David run. The Earth Angel Supergirl was about to have a run-in with the protoplasmic remnants of the Matrix base.

But that means we were also over a decade removed from a Kryptonian Supergirl being anywhere on the racks. The very idea of a Kara Zor-El seemed forbidden. So this stands out as about as true an Elseworld's for the time as anything.

I gave Barbara Kesel kudos last review but more are needed here. Kesel throws in Easter Eggs for Supergirl and Batgirl that made me smile. And there is a key plot point that I can remember being shocked at the first time I read this book. I love when I am completely surprised by a plot turn any time I read a comic. And the ending seems like it is poised for a sequel, the two heroes friends. Alas, we never got one.

Matt Haley continues to really shine on art. I am impressed with the action sequences here. The work he does on expressions is impressive. I have never seen him on a con circuit but I would definitely want a commission from him.

And Tom Simmons colors reflect and complement the art perfectly as you will see.

On to the conclusion!

We ended last part with Supergirl rushing to Gotham to save a kidnapped Lex. Begrudgingly, Batgirl accepts Supergirl's help and the two head off.

It gives us a little time for Supergirl to tell Babs an origin story. And it is very Silver Age.

Even on Argo City, the Kryptonian citizens knew of the Earth heroes and their feats. And so to save Kara, they rocketed her there. But instead of being greeted by Superman, she is greeted by the Justice Society.

That second panel is pure Action Comics #252 cover, which makes me smile. That happy, bright, and obviously young Kara just bursting from her rocket, beaming a smile. That truly made me smile. And these added bits of history. Diana as mother. Abin Sur and Hawkgirl as people who knew Krypton. You can see how this is a nurturing world instead of one where she is taken to an orphanage. A very nice twist.

And it is clear that the Earth's yellow sun did her body good. It looks like she has grown a foot and definitely is more of a Power Girl physique in the present.

And then she met Lex and saw a kindred spirit. He could relate to her sadness. He was a friend and mentor.

This smacks a little bit of the Matrix infatuation but at least there isn't romance here.

Of course, Babs is still in her pure Bat-mode. She is so against superheroes that she can't recognize the good in them. Seriously, this is even a step further down pessimism and paranoia than Batman!

The two head to the abandoned carnival where Lex is supposed to be being held. But Barbara has a way to track where Lex and the Joker have gone. Using a series of tunnels which exist deep below Gotham (so deep even Kara didn't know about them), the follow the trail to ... dun dun dun ... LexCorp.

It is clear that Babs doesn't trust Lex because she has clearly been here before. The tech seems alien and the language is oddly Kryptonese. Of course, Supergirl still thinks Lex is a good guy. She thinks it is sweet he would use her language as his code.

Again, while she denies a romance, you can tell she likes this Lex. That would jibe with (for that time period) the more recent Lex/Supergirl history. Echoes of current continuity which ripple into Elseworld's often make them more interesting for me.

And then ... the plot twist.

Inside the Lex lab, Kara discovers the bioelectric basis for all of Lex's tech. The dead baby Kal-El.

Now this is a very dark turn and one I was not anticipating.

I just assumed that this was an Elseworld's where Superman simply didn't exist. Having Lex find and kill baby Kal-El is a grim story twist. And, frankly, since I didn't see it coming, I loved it.

Secondly, you have to love this panel. Kara is absolutely shocked to discover this. She clearly is reeling at the news. Not only is Lex not the hero she thought, he is a murderer. He killed her family. Haley plays up that sudden disorientation, that emotional wave of nausea, by having Kara's second eye warped from the fluid in the bottle. It has a very Ditko 'Shade the Changing Man' vibe to it, showing a lurch in her emotional well being. Great green shading by Simmons.

Suddenly filled with rage, Kara streaks up from the underground lab to the penthouse to confront her former mentor.

And she is irate and almost irrational.

Now I always say that I love a Kara who is fierce when she faces injustice. And I love a Kara that is still learning and fallible. But a murderous Supergirl ... stretching it.

Look at how smug Lex is. The law says nothing about the rights of aliens. He thinks killing Kal was eliminating a threat. How interesting that realizing he couldn't kill Kara he instead made her into an unwitting lackey.

Last week, I talked about how Batman talked down a murderous General Zod in Batman/Superman #8.  Here Batgirl tries the same logic.

Oh, and she very neatly places a camera down in the penthouse.

But Supergirl really isn't having any of it. She casually throws Batgirl out the window of the skyscraper. No one will get in the way of Kara's vengeance.

Those are some angry expressions on Kara here.

Well, actually, a couple of people will get in the way of Kara's vengeance.

One is Lex, now sporting a Kryptonite ring (again Kesel leaning into more current and actual DC continuity). And the Bane venom powering up the Joker seems to be Kryptonite infused. His blood is green. Between the two dosages, Kara is suddenly weakened.

Again, Haley and Simmons score here by putting the psychedelic background in. It gives that sense of vertigo and delirium Supergirl is probably feeling in the face of first time Kryptonite exposure.

Luckily Batgirl was able to survive being thrown out a penthouse.

And now we get a little backstory for Babs, her origin.

She and Bruce were both seeing Zorro that fateful night. And when that killer approached them in Crime Alley, James Gordon did what he was supposed to do. He tried to protect the innocent. The Gordons got killed that night.

I love the slow fall of the badge here. It not only signifies Jim's fall but it also is a sort of nod to the over-used image of Martha's falling pearls.

With her parents dead, the Wayne's adopted her. Iit is Babs who makes a graveside promise to bring in evildoers.

She becomes Oracle and Batgirl. And Bruce becomes her confidante.

That is a great Elseworld's origin!

Again, I am gushing about Haley's art. But isn't there something Mazzuchellian about that top panel.

It turns out Lex was the one who ordered the hit. Babs needs Lex to be brought to justice, not to be murdered. And, now brandishing Lex's ring, if she has to use force to stop Kara, she will.

But the thing here is the dialogue.

Even though our heroes are facing off against each other, Babs recognizes that Supergirl represents hope. She cannot be tarnished by Lex. She cannot be brought down.

Heady stuff.

And always true.

Even though Lex has basically confessed to killing Kal and being complicit in the Gordon murder, Kara knows his influence will make him basically untouchable.

But wait ... you didn't forget about that camera Babs planted did you?

This whole scene has been broadcast to the world.

With the truth known about everything, this story is over. We just need the wrap-up.

Lex is hauled into court.

He isn't answering any questions.

But it doesn't look good.

Meanwhile, Kara mourns the death of a cousin she never knew.

Poignant imagery here by Haley and Simmons. The darker palate and sky reflect the funereal feel of this.

Are the Elseworld's Finest now friends.

Well, Batgirl kept the K-ring and puts it in storage in the cave hoping she'll never need that insurance.

The book could have ended there and I would have shrugged at yet another gritty take on the relationship between a Super and a Bat.

But luckily, Kesel does an about face and does a Friendly Farewell. Kara confronts Babs in her secret identity.

The two seem like they could team up again, this time as friends.

That ending really made me swell.

So overall, this was a great Elseworld's. It is clearly a different world. It leans into the 'real' continuity enough to make there be some sense of familiarity. There is that unanticipated twist. And the art/colors just sparkle.

Definitely worth a purchase if you can buy it!

Overall grade: A


Bostondreams said...

One of my favorites as well. So disappointed there wasn't a sequel.

Anonymous said...

Great looking Silver Age Supergirl. And a fine looking early Batgirl too.

Fortunately, Batgirl is quite forgiving, after having been tossed through a wall or back down the shaft by Supergirl. I don't mind that she keeps the ring following the Batman creed, kind of "Trust but verify." (You really never know when a Kryptonian might go temporarily insane and turn into a heavy metal monster.)

That was the weirdest Joker - in both looks and personality - than I've seen in a long time!

The short bio of Supergirl in the back could also be a description of early Matrix - "Supergirl, protege of Metropolis magnate Lex Luthor and JLA member, trusts far too easily." You'd think the back cover would make an explicit mention that this was Kara Zor-El from Krypton. But neither cover mentioned it.

The solicitation didn't mention it either:

"Elseworlds. A beautiful Prestige one-shot introduces the finest team of a world you never imagined! In an Elseworld where Supergirl was raised by Wonder Woman and the Justice Society, and Batgirl is a vigilante who keeps Gotham City safe from villainy and super-beings, there could never be two more different super-heroines. But when the love of Supergirl's life--her benefactor, Lex Luthor--is kidnapped by the Joker--a bulked-up loser obsessed with Batgirl--the champions of Gotham and Metropolis form a reluctant partnership...and discover the horrifying secret of the Girl of Steel's origin. Written by Barbara Kesel and Tom Simmons. Art and cover by Matt Haley and Tom Simmons. FC, 64 pg. Prestige Format. Cover price $5.95."

Perhaps her origin was meant to be a surprise.


Anonymous said...

"It gives us a little time for Supergirl to tell Babs an origin story. And it is very Silver Age."

Nowadays it's hard to believe that there was a time when Kara Zor-El had. A. Single. Origin. Story. One of the reasons becasue I miss that incarnation. After "Untold Story of Argo City", her backstory was set in stone. It wasn't changed every two years because the writer couldn't come up with an origin decent or couldn't be bothered to read her book's first six issues.

Anyway, I love the Pre-Crisis-inspired origin, and Wonder Woman becoming her adoptive mother.

The story never delved into it, but Wonder Woman being Supergirl's mother means Kara had to be extensively trained in fighting arts.

Maybe it's because it Kara is so brawny.

"Of course, Babs is still in her pure Bat-mode. She is so against superheroes that she can't recognize the good in them."

Agreed, Babs was being an incredibly judgemental hypocrite. She is the Waynes' rich stepdaughter, looking down on everyone else since her shining glass tower rising over her private walled kingdom.

At least Kara calls her out on it.

"Now this is a very dark turn and one I was not anticipating."

I wonder if Kal-El is dead in this universe because back then DC wouldn't allow two Kryptonian survivors, not even in elseworlds.

"Even though our heroes are facing off against each other, Babs recognizes that Supergirl represents hope."

Funny how Babs all of sudden states Kara represents something better than her. I wonder whether Babs didn't want to admit she secretly admired her.

"But luckily, Kesel does an about face and does a Friendly Farewell. Kara confronts Babs in her secret identity."

Notice how Babs doesn't seem to care anymore for superhumans walking into Gotham.

(And meanwhile Wonder Woman has to figure out how cut ties with the JSA's erstwhile "benefactor" while explaining to her team that Supergirl is now friends with The Red-Haired Tyrant. Unenviable task)

I really like this ending, and them becoming friends. A Kara/Babs team-up back in 1998 seemed impossible.

By the way, I've looked it up, and "Elseworld's Finest" came out one month before Batman episode "Girls Night Out" got aired. I wonder if the decision to publish a Kara/Babs team-up was due to some kind of inter-company synergy.

"Perhaps her origin was meant to be a surprise."

Perhaps. Or perhaps whoever wrote the solicitation wasn't aware of the actual contents of the book. I mean, "Love of Supergirl's life?" "The horrifying secret of her origin?"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, though solicitations are often completely wrong. So wrong that no one who reviews comic books even bothers to mention the divergence, even when they include the solicitation text with their review. If solicitations are published two months before books go on sale, they're written weeks if not months before that. (After all, Previews magazine has to be printed and they lead time need time to prepare it.)

Still, you'd at least think whoever wrote it at least knew the book included Kara Zor-El, not Matrix/Linda.

Whether the relationship with Lex was romantic or not could have changed several times over up to the last minute, just by changing a couple of dialog balloons.

The horrifying origin? Well there is something horrifying in the book, that's for sure, but maybe something even more horrific was planned at one time. I shudder to think what that might have been!


Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

I love this kind of relationship, where the two lerne form each other. They both evolve, there is no arge. I appreciate when there is this kind of equality.

I had already seen the shoching true before reading the comic. Thanks you internet for the spoils...

Question for DC comic, we have batman/superman and Super soon with superboy and robin. Why we don't have batgirl/supergirl ?

Professor Feetlebaum said...

DC should bring back World's Finest Comics with a rotating cast of Superman, Batman, Supergirl, Batgirl and the Super Sons. Something of a combination World's Finest, Brave and Bold and DC Comics Presents.

Superman and Batman could team up for an arc, followed by a Supergirl/Batgirl adventure. For the Super Sons, Jon could visit from the future, or they could feature an untold story from before he was aged up.

Or how about a mix and match? Supergirl and Batman, Batgirl and Superman, Superman and Robin? Team up Jimmy Olsen and Damien in an updated version of the "Olsen-Robin Team" from World's Finest # 141.

Anonymous said...

I remember thinking that it was way out of character for the pseudo-silver age Supergirl to casually defenestrate a sister heroine...but then I thought "Batgirl kind of deserves it".


Anonymous said...

Never thought of a Batgirl/Superman team-up! Has there ever been one?

Batman/Superman (2013) Annual #1 (May 2014) had teams including Superman, Supergirl & Krypto, vs. Batman and Red Hood, with Batgirl and Steel working together vs. War World. I guess that includes everyone!

Other Batgirl/Supergirl team-ups include:

With Stephanie Brown:

- World's Finest (2009) - a 4-part mini-series. Supergirl and Batgirl meet for the first time and are featured as a duo in #3, but are part of the #4 finale too - though in #4 I'd say Supergirl is working more with Batman.

- Batgirl (2009) #8 - Supergirl lends a hand in one panel.
- Batgirl (2009) #14 - Supergirl and Batgirl go to see a Dracula movie together.

Supergirl makes 1 or 2 other cameos later in this Batgirl series which ran for 2 years.

- Batgirl Supergirl web comic - not official. Anj reviewed that here. . This Batgirl has Barbara's red hair, but obviously Stephanie's costume... and Supergirl is wearing some costume from the 1990s, or 2016, but this was published in 2011. I guess it's a fan effort? Not sure.

With Barbara Gordon:

- Batgirl (2016) Annual #1.
- Batgirl (2016) #19 - a flashback to Batgirl Annual #1.
- Supergirl (2016) #8-#11 - really barely a Batgirl cameo in #8, so the bulk of the story is in #9-11.
- All of the Mike Maihack web comics!

And finally - with Batgirl?

- Superman/Batman (2003) #19 reprinted as Supergirl (2005) #0 - Is that Barbara Gordon? Things may not be what they seem.

- Supergirl (2005) #14 - Cassandra Cain is dressed as Batgirl on the cover and in several pages, but at the time was running the League of Assassins. The story gives some unconvincing reason for why she's dressed as Batgirl when fighting Supergirl.

Are there others of any significance? There should be more!


Professor Feetlebaum said...

Batgirl and Superman teamed up in Superman #268 (October 1973), "Wild Week-end In Washington!", and again (by popular demand!) in Superman #279 (September 1974), "Menace Of The Energy-Blackmailers!"

By the way, Supergirl turned up in a newspaper crossword puzzle I was working on yesterday. The clue was a five letter word for "Supergirl's horse".

Anonymous said...

Pre-Crisis Supergirl/Batgirl team-ups:

World's Finest 169 (1967) - First Supergirl/Batgirl team-up
World's Finest 176 (1968)
Adventure Comics 381 (1969)
Superman Family 171(1975)
Detective Comics 508-510 (1981)

I think that might be it.


Surprisingly few team-ups, isn't it? DC Comics Presetns 86/Crisis on Infinite Earths 4 and 7 depicted them as intimate friends, but they didn't even reveal their secret identities to each other until 1981. I guess Marv Wolfman thought "Superman and Batman are best friends, and Supergirl and Batgirl are only rip offs, so they must be best friends, too".

Since more people has read COIE than their Pre-Crisis stories, I guess this is why comic fans assume they were always close friends. And then 90's Batman cartoon ran with it, and we know how influential it was.

I'm not complaining, though. I want them to be close friends. That's something Im grateful for.

On the other hand, Power Girl and Huntress were most definitely close pals.

Post-Crisis, Kara and Babs barely teamed-up on account of Supergirl being dead and Barbara crippled (and her memories changed so Babs thought she was teaming up with Power Girl the whole time). Kara teamed up with ORacle in the DC Universe Holiday Special 2008, but Stephanie Brown was the Batgirl she mainly teamed up with.

We don't talk about that time she ran into Cassandra Cain.

Post-Flashpoint Kara and Barbara teamed up in "Escape from the Phantom Zone":

I don't remember any more team-ups.

By the way, I don't know if it's been already mentioned, but according Adventure Comics 453, it was Superboy who inspired Barbara to become a crimefighter.