Friday, March 3, 2023

Review: Action Comics #1052 - Power Girl Feature

Settle in. Because I will open up this review with a lengthy preamble. But grant me this introduction because it speaks about a problem I see that is pervasive in comics these days.

Action Comics #1052 came out this week. The book is now an anthology with a main Superman story by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Rafa Sandoval as well as a Lois/Clark/Young Jon story by Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks. As a fan of the old Superman Family anthology I was pretty happy about this new format.

And with writers Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Joshua Williamson (over on the Superman book), there really has been a feeling of family. Everyone has been treated well and with respect. Even this variant cover by Rafa Sandoval shows that closeness. In particular, and given the focus of this site, Supergirl has been treated well by those writers. I'll add Mark Waid over in World's Finest has also been giving us great Kara content recently.

That isn't to say that things have been great for Supergirl recently. Her own book ended 3 years ago after she left Earth (again) and turned dark (again). She was treated as a glum loner in Future State, living an isolated life on the moon with Krypto as her hero. And of course, she was a drunk, sad, angry, traumatized character in Tom King's Woman of Tomorrow. Suffice it to say, things have been rough for Supergirl lately as time and again she was given to creators who don't understand her character or her history or simply don't care about it.

All of this leads to the third feature in Action Comics #1052. There is a Power Girl story written by Leah Williams with art by Marguerite Sauvage. I love the art. 

But the story does not work for me. 

Williams has taken Power Girl, one of the most physical and confident characters, a leader and powerhouse, and made her into a telepathic psychiatrist. She has taken away the physicality of Karen and given her this passive power. And worse, in this story, she has taken away that confidence. Here is Karen, the former chairperson of the JSA, the CEO of a tech company, and made her feel shunned by the super-family and diminished in her own mind in comparison to Supergirl. 

Even worse, Williams has taken Supergirl and made her a sort of narcissist. Someone who puts on airs of perfection. Someone who imagines herself in princess gowns. And also someone who isn't the brightest bulb.

So who is the real Supergirl? The hero with the penchant to go dark? The sad loner on the moon? The drunk, angry, traumatized survivor? Or the narcissist? Or is she the mature, optimistic, bright young hero in World's Finest? Why can't DC figure it out?

And who is the real Power Girl? The one from the popular Palmiotti/Conner run? Smart, sassy, brash? Physical bruiser? Or this one, suddenly someone who is a therapist?

Honestly, this feels like Leah Williams had a story to tell of a hero becoming a counselor for other heroes and decided to bolt that onto Power Girl. Like Tom King bolting suicidality on Mister Miracle. And Tom King bolting depression and anger on Kara. Like Tom King bolting genocidal selfishness on Adam Strange. I have seen it so much lately ... an author bending a character out of shape to fit a narrative instead of writing a narrative for the character.

This isn't how I think Power Girl or Supergirl would act. But here we are. As always, your mileage may vary. On to the story.

Last issue, Omen and Power Girl helped Beast Boy who was cut off from the Red. Even though she is a novice on interacting on the psychic plane (so novice she doesn't even realize she is using telepathy here), she has intuited that Gar's problem was not self-imposed.

And then the next 'client' shows up ... Supergirl. 

Did Omen put out a flyer saying she was open for super-hero therapy?

From the door, there is a coldness between Karen and Kara. Karen complains about how Supergirl doesn't seem to acknowledge her. Kara rolls her eyes. Does that seem right?

It turns out that Supergirl's problem is she can't communicate. 

We learn within the story that it has been going on for a week and Supergirl thought the problem would 'just go away'. Really? A well-seasoned hero like Kara, someone who has enemies, has been attacked in all manners, wouldn't acknowledge she can't speak normally? She wouldn't think it was a plot? She just lived with it? What did she do during that time? Not talk to anyone?

While Karen's power of telepathy and psychic interaction is passive, she gets there by being mentally physical, imagining herself punching her way into someone's mind.

Inside her own mind, Supergirl imagines herself in a flamboyant, shimmering ball gown/pant suit, a sort of Disney Princess version of herself. Even amateur psychologist Power Girl knows this means Kara thinks very highly of herself. 

So Supergirl is conceited?

No matter which prior version of Supergirl you feel is the right one, none of them would think of themselves like this. 

Inside Kara's mind the two heroes fly around a version of Argo City.

Unlike Gar, Karen thinks Kara is doing this to herself. 

The very notion upsets Kara so much that she is able to mutter that the idea is 'stupid'. Because these two are at such odds that even a suggestion by Karen provokes Kara.

Suddenly the therapeutic, psychological answer is clear. Piss Kara off and break the aphasic spell.

And then this interaction that seems completely off from the characters' histories.

Karen says Supergirl puts on the airs of a perfect sister, a perfect hero, a perfect keeper of Kryptonian tradition. No Supergirl I have read has ever put on a haughty persona like that. She is the approachable super-cousin. 

And how far away is this from Tom King's lauded 'broken' Kara.

And then Karen says she considers herself the 'imperfect' Kara, as if an established, heroic adult would ever compare themselves this way. This is completely out of character for the confident, self-assured Karen I have read all my life.

Look how they are glaring at each other. I just don't get it.

To push things along, on the mental plane, Karen begins demolishing the Argo City in Kara's mind. 

Suddenly, with the destruction Kara can speak again.

Karen deduces that Kara was avoiding the problem, burying it instead of fighting it. So Kara just ignored her inability to communicate for a week because of the 'tight lid' she keeps on herself.

Still don't think this sounds like Supergirl, in any way.

Karen wonders if these attacks on people adjacent to her are somehow attacks on her.

Then this bombshell.

Power Girl does not feel welcome with the Super-family. She feels she is forgotten. It is clear it bothers her even if she says she doesn't care.

I must admit, she hasn't been in any of the more recent group gatherings. But I never felt it was a snub as much as Karen didn't feel like part of the group and is so independent she was leading her own life. 

I was already having some questions with this new direction of Power Girl. It is such a leap from her prior characterization for her to be a telepath. Now to see how little she thinks of herself in the context of her prior confidence seems off. Change can be good ... but the verdict is still out here.

But also this take on Supergirl feels way off. A conceited, buttoned up Kara holding things back? Ignoring a major issue like this attack? And one brutally cold to Karen? 

For me, it is another in a line of weird character takes on her. Ones that seem out of character but done to push forward a story. 

I know, this was a long review of a back-up story. But this one really struck me because (again for me), it felt completely wrong for two characters I love.

Overall grade: D+ (raised secondary to the splendiferous art)


Martin Gray said...

A fair grade for a terrible story, you hit all the nails on the head. This reads like the story of someone who thinks they have brilliant insight into characters. The idea that Kara would ignore the problem, that the rest of the Supers would ignore it, is ridiculous. It totally goes against what Phillip Kennedy Johnson is doing in the main strip.

And Power Girl deserves so much better too. Whatever happened to editors who saw themselves as custodians of characters and continuity?

SG Fan said...

I've not read the comic myself, so won't comment on the details though Anj I think has some good points here. Seems like the writer doesn't have a good grasp on how Kara's being currently presented or presented in other things (like World's Finest).

As to questions about how Power Girl and Supergirl should interact, it's always surprised me that this never seems to happen as much as one might think it would. Like, all the times I can think of is when Kara was first back pre Nu52, one good issue of her Nu52 run, and like now this. So, it seems it's something DC doesn't seem to quite know what to do with themselves.

Personally, and this is just my take. Since Karen and Kara are 'twins' in a tiny sense, I feel they should have a relationship but more akin to maybe Big Sister/Little Sister, or at the least cousins who do mostly get along. Definitely they should have different personalities to make clear Karen's not just an older Kara and vice versa with Kara being younger PG. Which can lead to some occasional frustration between both, BUT like a healthy family, they do work it out in the end. Plus, maybe while there might be some initial oddness between the Super Family when one or the other first shows up, eventually Clark, Lois, etc, do recognize Karen as a member of the family. So, it's not like Karen spends all her spare time with them or Supergirl, but when they do, things are good as you'd expect the Super Family to be among them all.

Just my two cents on how to handle PG & SG. As to her apparent new 'psychic' direction...yeah I don't see that lasting. I get them trying to do something new with PG but since she was kind of limbo for a while, going maybe back to some of what makes Karen stand out, being a CEO, in her own city, tackling things her way would have been better.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the story, but what is with Power Girl's reference in one of the panels you posted to Supergirl being a "perfect sister"? Sister to whom? Does the writer (and editor) think Kara and Kal are siblings instead of cousins? Guess PG might mean herself (a figurative "sister"), or maybe it's explained in the story, or maybe I'm just missing something obvious.

williamslagun said...

Here’s another article by CBR posing yesterday singing the praises of Sterling Gates’ Supergirl and how it SHOULD be the inspiration for the movie:


William Ashley Vaughan said...

Here's another CBR post from the same author criticizing the terrible decision to use Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow for the movie template. This is his third defending Supergirl against efforts to make her anything less than an inspirational hero.

Anonymous said...

I swear to Rao, when a new writer is onboarded at DC Comics, the last question they are asked is "Do You "Get" Supergirl?"
And if they roll their eyes and answer No, they are immediately assigned to Supergirl. Except Now I think they also ask if they "get" PowerGirl as well.
This story is amazing NEITHER PG or SG are at all, recognizable...PG feels excluded?? Wasn't she created specifically to be OUTSIDE Kal-L's shadow?? A pushy super female who was a little more conflictual/competitive with her older super cousin? Granted I am drawing from 1975, but Peege doesn't even go in for the House of El's color scheme or Indica for Cthulhu's sake! If she feels excluded it is entirely of her own doing.
Making PG a super therapist is just plain ridiculous, it seems like one of those hastily thrown together changes to the character/setting that more aligned with the Bronze Age Supergirl Feature. In short yet another slapdash attempt to get Kara Zor-L out of Kara Zor El's Shadow :)
Power Girl has always been foisted on us as "Supergirl Done Right", How is Any of this janky nonsense "right"?
As for Supergirl, her eye makeup was tragic, her narcissism all but palatable and her costume a sad attempt to mimic the MCU'S "Captain Marvel"...this was a Giant Step Down for Supergirl AND Power Girl in every way.
and the Disney Princess Gossamer Pants Suit was Naught Save a Cry for Help.
But this is DC and Supergirl you have to be relieved that she is being depicted as a catty bratty narcissist, and not some zombie hit girl for alien tween...


Jim Werner said...

Great points Anj! Karen and Kara deserve so much better! In an interview, Leah Williams said she did a ton of research on Power Girl, and when she asked editorial what version she should write, they told her not to worry about past stories or continuity. Now, if that's true, I don't know why she would go with this nonsense after doing the research, so who knows, but Andy Diggle said that DC told him the same thing recently! I don't get it!

As far as Tom King goes, you are spot on! I've said it for years, but most of his fans are fans of him, not the characters he writes, so when he writes his nonsense, they defend it because they only know that version of the character. I warned you about him writing Supergirl when it was announced, and you, rightfully so, told me that you would wait and see what Tom King would do with the character. Once it came out, though, you said something that has stuck with me as the truest statement regarding Tom King - You never want him to write your favorite character! Once he does, it definitely opens your eyes!

That being said, I think Leah Williams just doesn't know or understand Kara and Karen at all and is trying to fudge her way through.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments.

It all seems a bit off the rails. Interested in hearing more from folks who are primarily PG fans.

I'll continue to follow this here.

Anonymous said...

Just curious as someone pretty new to the character, aside from Worlds Finest when was the last time you really enjoyed a Supergirl story? A lot of people really loved Tom King’s portrayal so it’s interesting to see that you seemed to have loathed it. Especially now that James Gunn seems to be rolling with it. What was the quintessential Supergirl by or for that matter Supergirl run for you?

Anj said...

Always a good question.

I would say that the high water mark for the character in more modern times was the Gates Igle run in Volume 5. But there has been solid stuff since then for me. The James Peaty story that followed was solid. In the New 52, the Tony Bedard run (which included Red Daughter of all things) and the Johnson/K.Perkins story at the end were solid stories with a relatable Kara. I think the Steve Orlando back end of Rebirth, when he tightened things up was just getting to be a very good read when the plug was pulled.

Outside those 'main continuity' books, I think Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade is wonderful.

And I think the Kupperberg/Infantino runs showed a confident young hero.

Heck, I really liked the Peter David run, even if that wasn't Kara.

All that said, it is easy to see that the runs I eliminate are the ones where she is angry/dark/unsympathetic/pessimistic.

KET said...

"Karen says Supergirl puts on the airs of a perfect sister, a perfect hero, a perfect keeper of Kryptonian tradition. No Supergirl I have read has ever put on a haughty persona like that."

Seems more to me like SG is being employed as an archetype, and portrayed in this tale as symbolic of the dead weight of nostalgic fandom. And since Power Girl was originally conceived as 'sexier SG with a 70s butch feminist attitude' as perceived by male writers, it also makes perfect sense to redefine Karen as well. However, I also see these psychic abilities as merely a temporary imbalance in order to propel her character somewhere beyond merely being the alternate dimension doppelganger of Supergirl that PG's always been.

Both characters do need to become more separated from each other's oeuvre for a bit, since one of the two is already being plotted out to become more developed as an individual movie star in the next few years.

Further developments should likely become more interesting. :)