Jason Sacks: Life is full of mediocrity. We eat mediocre meals, watch mediocre TV shows, have mediocre days at work, read mediocre comic books. We’re surrounded by things that are average, that are the same as each other and the same as they always were.
That’s fine in some ways. Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, as they say, but consistency is also a sign of contentment. It’s a sign that things are good enough, that we’re not living lives of quiet desperation but rather lives of quiet contentment. We can happily glide along in our mediocre lives, sometimes experiencing greatness, but usually just enjoying life in that omnipresent (and omnipleasant) zone in the middle.
Every once in a while, though, there’s a red sky event and things change. Everything that we once believed was consistent and calm and mediocre in our lives has been turned upside down. There’s a divorce or a job loss or a birth or a universe dying and suddenly we come to see that former mediocrity in a different light, and often what we see is that something that we once saw as dull has been transformed – if not in reality, then in the mind’s eye.
Which brings me, in my pretentious way, to Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 and Supergirl.
In 1985, Supergirl was one of the most hated characters in the DC Universe, to the extent that people cared about her at all. She was the lead character in one of the most painful comic book movies ever made, and at the time the idea of there being a TV series made about her adventures seemed as remote as the idea of Green Arrow being on TV. Supergirl was seen as an unnecessary character, a distaff and inferior version of her amazing cousin, only with awesome ’80s hair, a silly headband and a frilly skirt. Even the geekiest comic readers never picked up her solo series, which routinely finished dead bottom in the sales charts, well below any Marvel Comics.
But Crisis begins the redemption of Kara Zor-El. It begins the road back to reclaiming this despised comic character. And it does so in a way that feels ultimately true to her character, to the life that her cousin lives, and ultimately serves as a totem of what we’ve come to think of as the pre-Crisis universe.
In Crisis #4 we’re given a Supergirl who’s transformational and inspiring. She’s powerful not just in her nearly infinite abilities but also in her steadfast courage and moral center. She knows that the threat she faces shows the limits of her power, but she knows she must press through. Because that’s what heroes do. She’s not ready to give up, even if her best friend, Batgirl (a former United States Congresswoman, by the way) is reduced to tears contemplating destruction.
Because that’s who heroes are. They rise to the occasion. They avoid their lives of mediocrity. And when they have to face a red sky event, they do so with grace and dignity and courage.
Kyle Garret: Perfect opening, Jason, and emblematic of this entire issue, I think. Whereas #3 (and even #2, to a lesser extent) felt padded, this is where we start getting some forward momentum. We’re building towards the “Big Bad.” The Monitor is no longer. And, ultimately, the heroes are failing.
But that’s the point. They keep fighting because they are heroes. Even looking ridiculous with that headband, Supergirl shows herself to be a true hero, an inspirational hero. And how great is it to see her with Batgirl? That’s one relationship I would love to see return to the DCU. Those two have so much in common that they should be the best of friends again.
And speaking of wonderful moments featuring female characters, we meet the new Dr. Light, a character whose name is totally fine in 1985, before DC decided to publish the worst series in the history of comics and turn a two-bit villain into a monster, tarnishing the name “Dr. Light” beyond repair while they were at it.
Still, what a great introduction. It’s hard to not like a character who makes her costumed debut yelling at DC’s most prestigious superheroes.
Daniel Gehen: Prior to reading Crisis #4, I had zero interest in reading this version of Supergirl. It’s safe to say that I still don’t. As Jason said, she was a redundant character that had a very small fanbase and even smaller readership. I’ve only recently gained any interest in her, but even then I’m looking at the post-Crisis “Matrix” version and eventual reintroduction of Kara Zor-El – and that has nothing to do with a certain upcoming television show (*wink*). That said, Wolfman makes her such an inspirational character in these opening pages. Superman may be an inspirational symbol, but Kara seems to be able to inspire on an interpersonal level, which I think is a fantastic way to differentiate the two.
Zack Davisson: Agreement across the board, although I would probably add Batgirl to that mix as well–and maybe every character that shows up in this series. DC was definitely “uncool,” although you are right that Supergirl suffered more than others with perennial painful attempts to update her for modern fashion. That headband … sheesh.
But Wolfman and Perez bring us past the silly costumes to give these characters heroism and dignity. That little scene with Batgirl and Supergirl actually reminds me of one of my favorites scenes ever written in comics. In Fantastic Four #244, the Avengers and the FF and slugging it out with Galactus, and there is a quiet little scene of Daredevil and Spider-Man sitting on a rooftop, watching from a distance. They acknowledge that the battle is far too large for them, and they can only sit there helpless and hope.
Which is the point of the scene. Even with all her powers, Supergirl is helpless, but not without hope. She lights the proverbial single candle instead of cursing the darkness. It’s a powerful scene for the series, all the more so that it is a quiet one.
Another odd bit with this issue is John Constantine. I forgot that this was my first introduction to the character, and I must say that as much as Wolfman and Perez “get” Supergirl, they entirely fail to “get” Constantine. This is the most un-Constantine version of Constantine I think I have ever read.
Garret: I thought it was someone else named “John” at first, that’s how out of character he is. In Wolfman’s defense, Constantine had literally made his first full appearance a month earlier in Swamp Thing, so at this point he was still roughly defined.
It does speak to DC both a) wanting to incorporate ALL of their titles into this event (even Swamp Thing) and b) them wanting to take advantage of anything Moore created. I mean, does Constantine really NEED a scene here? Probably not. But he was meant to be the new face of magic in the DCU, so establishing him in this series would at least introduce people to him post-Crisis. Magic would be cool in the DCU!
Sacks: Pfft, Kyle, magic would be cool anywhere. And sure, Constantine had to be here. They had a Crisis crossover issue of Swamp Thing, after all, so Johnny was a must-have.
Garret: One thing I feel the need to point out is the fact that Earth’s Green Lantern in this giant, universe changing event is John Stewart. We constantly see creators bringing in “classic” or “iconic” characters whenever they want to tell a big story, yet here is perhaps the biggest story in DC’s history and Wolfman and Perez didn’t find some hamfisted way to make Hal Jordan GL again. You would never see something like that by, say, Geoff Johns. He would want the cast of characters from his childhood, current continuity be damned.
The fact that Stewart regularly gets hidden beneath Jordan’s shadow is ridiculous because, again, he’s Earth’s Green Lantern DURING CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. The series that was ostensibly meant to reset the DC for a new generation of fans did not feature Hal Jordan.
Sorry, I think my “anti-Hal Jordan/John Stewart is awesome put him in the movie you stupid idiots” bias is showing…
Oh, and not to rain on your parade, Zack, but Spider-Man not getting involved in a fight against Galactus is pretty stupid. Daredevil, I understand, but Spider-man has plenty to offer.
*raises fist in the air*Byyyyyyyrrrrnnnne!*
Davisson: Yeah … I’m gonna disagree there. I love Spider-Man, but he’s not a power player. At least he wasn’t at that time. And I like that he is allowed to know his own limits and sit this one out. Both it and the Batgirl/Supergirl bit add nice humanization amongst the madness. And also the idea that you can be scared, but still a hero.
That’s a good, interesting point about Moore. If I think about it, I didn’t even know who he was at the time. I didn’t become aware of Moore later, until The Killing Joke and Watchmen. I had never read Swamp Thing other than a few issues here and there from the 7-11 spinner rack.
Issue 4 has several of those “touch base” scenes, like the moment on Paradise Island. Most of them work very well, the Constantine moment aside. Although as a set-up to Moore’s American Gothic it provides a nice window. But I only know that in retrospect.
Garret: Pfft. Byrne was just too lazy to find another non-powered character to talk to Daredevil.
Davisson: Meh to your Pfft. That was a thing in comics at the time. Same during the big battle royale of Avengers Annual #7, when Spidey admitted he wasn’t up to tackling the heavy hitters, and stuck with clearing out the foot soldiers. So there.
Sacks: Guys, is it more heroic to fight in vain or to sit on the sidelines because you know you can’t win a battle? Turn your essays in by Monday 10 am please. Your answer will be 1/3 of your grade in Superhero Philosophy 101.
Garret: Wow, you know, you could make a reasonable case that this was one of the big differences between Marvel and DC. Yes, it was perhaps more realistic for Spider-man not to fight a battle he knew he would lose, but that wouldn’t stop Supergirl.
Anyway, I completely glossed over something when I mentioned Dr. Light, but it’s come back to me as I was thinking about the other character introduced in this issue: Lady Quark. It also plays in nicely with the fact that John Stewart is THE Green Lantern in this series: Wolfman was trying to diversify the DCU in preparation for it’s bold, new universe. Where have we heard that before?
But it’s true, and we’ll see more of it in future issues. Don’t get me wrong, the core of the DCU was still super white, super straight, and super male, but using the biggest stage DC had at the time to introduce new characters who weren’t dudes and who often weren’t white (which we’ll see more of in later issues).
They are, admittedly, introduced in a roughshod manner. Why does Pariah save Lady Quark and not anyone else after all this time? Why is Dr. Light wearing Dr. Light’s costume, setting herself up to a) be called Dr. Light and b) have everyone think she’s a bad guy (I just answered my own question, didn’t I?)? It’s not going to get any more organic going forward, either. But, come one, this was 1985, the fact that this was even happening was surprising.
Davisson: Totally. Both Lady Quark and Dr. Light were new heroes, and their intro was just wedged into these issues. I hated them at the time. Re-reading it, I hate them still. With all the elegant, human story Wolfman and Perez pulled off, this is just clumsy plot points forced in without regards to the tale being told.
In a way though, they are both prescient of the future, of 90s comics and What Would Come. They’re aren’t “heroes,” just super-powerd jerks that would have felt at home being mocked in Kingdom Come. (And strangely enough they are both science-based, which I only just realized. Not sure if that means anything … except for Lady Quark representing the boogie man of the ’80s, Nuclear War.)
Sacks: Let the record state that longtime Seattle resident Zack called the series Kingdome Come till I fixed it. (I call it by the same nickname!)
Zack, if I remember correctly, we have plenty of more awkward character introductions to come, not to mention the one really excellent intro (Wally West, though you can make a case that’s just a re-into or recalibration or whatever you want to call it). That’s part of the template of crossovers, right? New characters and teams always spin out of these giant galaxy-spanning messes. Most of the time they’re terrible but every once in a while we get a Starman or Justice League International.
Kyle, I appreciated Wolfman’s attempts to diversify the DCU, but goddamn if all these supposed diversifications aren’t terrible. Did you notice in Crisis #2 how both Cyborg and John speak in “street vernacular” while the rest of the heroes speak articulately? And how this horrible Dr. Light sounds like every stereotype of overachieving ’80s female, with Asian stereotypes on top of that? That said, I’ve always loved how the new Dr. Light is an absolute bitch because I think she’s just plain funny. Too bad she’s about the only Asian heroine at DC at that time (was Katana of the Outsiders a bitch too?
Anyway, gentlemen, if you thought Crisis was wild and ridiculous so far, just wait till it hits a higher gear with issue #5…