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Sunday Slugfest - Supergirl #1

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artists: Ian Churchill (p), Norm Rapmund (i)

Publisher: DC Comics





Average Rating:

Ariel Carmona Jr.:
Kelvin Green:
John Hays:
Shaun Manning:
Tommy Vergason:
Olivia Woodward:






Ariel Carmona Jr.

Plot: Supergirl retells her origin as told in the pages of Superman/Batman to Stargirl from the Justice Society of America while the rest of the team battles Solomon Grundy. Power Girl shows up to lend a hand, but her super strength is mysteriously beginning to wane. Stargirl wonders if Super Girl and Powergirl are sisters. When Grundy appears to be overpowering Power Girl, Supergirl punches out Grundy. This is followed by an unexpected tussle between Supergirl and Power Girl which is broken up by Green Lantern and Mr.Terrific. Terrific explains to the rest of the team why they have to be kept apart. Meanwhile, an interested observer has been monitoring the interaction between the two Kryptonian combatants. Supergirl goes in search of more answers when another member of Superman’s family seems ready to pick a fight.

Then: It was 1996 and one of my favorite writers, Peter David, had signed on to plot Supergirl’s new adventures for DC. David had revitalized The Incredible Hulk with imaginative storytelling and by probing into Bruce Banner’s psyche, and David now appeared ready to retool yet another iconic character. The problem was that Supergirl was never a character people particularly warmed up to. I remember a co-worker once saying “She’s the lamest character, she’s basically a carbon copy of Superman with a skirt, and who the hell wants to read about that?” This is what David was up against in trying to make the character stand out for a modern audience. David’s solution was to make the protagonist Linda Danvers merge with the powerful artificial shape-shifting being from an alternate universe which had been Supergirl and later in the series turning her into an earth-born angel, opening up all kinds of possibilities for metaphysically inspired stories. It also helped a great deal to give her an engaging supporting cast. David’s run ended with issue #80 as Linda gives up the mantle of Supergirl and leaves town and her superhero role behind. Rumors abounded regarding the whereabouts of Linda Danvers. While some surmised she had taken up the identity of “Lee” in DC’s Fallen Angel (also scripted by David) that possibility seems unlikely now that DC has passed on the book, and IDW will be taking over.

Now: For the re-launch, Jeph Loeb agreed with DC that the character of Supergirl should be reintroduced as Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, but first they had to do some house cleaning and emphasize (as the cover to issue #1 declares) that “there can be only one Supergirl” so this initial story line deals with Kara continuing to try to figure out who she is, and why things didn’t go as planned when her spaceship was set to follow her cousin’s prior to Krypton’s explosion. I really liked the Michael Turner cover, but there are very few Turner covers I haven’t liked, so I wasn’t surprised when I kept looking at it and marveling at the details. Churchill does a bang up job of rendering the new girl of steel and the individual members of the Justice Society. His artwork is definitely cut from the same cloth as Turner’s Superman/Batman, and that’s not a bad template to work from. This fact alone merits the high bullet count in this review. The problem with this issue lies with the story, but it’s not a fatal flaw. I thought the premise given why the two powerful characters had to be kept apart was kind of lame, but at least Loeb is willing to explore the DC universe through Kara’s youthful perspective and her reasons for seeking out Power Girl made sense. Yet, at the conclusion of the first issue in David’s run, he had established Linda Danvers’ troubling relationship with her father, had introduced her hometown of Leesburg and her long time nemesis, the demon Buzz, and completed Linda’s transformation into Supergirl. Conversely, at the end of this issue the reader is left with an ominous warning by Powergirl and the feeling that Kara will be slugging it out with more of DC’s regulars for a few more issues. Loeb’s initial issue is a little thin, but what it lacks in exposition it makes up in the slugfest/action department. Whether Loeb and company can spin an intricate saga which will keep fans coming back for more remains to be seen. We also have no clue if Linda will make an appearance in this current series, or how Lex Luthor’s previous relationship with Supergirl will unfold. I’m hoping some of these questions will be addressed in upcoming installments of this series.




Kelvin Green

I’m not sure what the fuss is about Jeph Loeb. The Long Halloween was pretty good I’ll admit, but apart from that, his work has generally been of average quality, with a couple of slides here and there into the realms of the not very good at all; and yet, he’s treated like he’s some American version of Alan Moore. Baffling. Supergirl, perhaps unsurprisingly, is from the shoddier end of Loeb’s oeuvre. For a start, for a standalone title this is far too mired in DC’s current Incontinent Crisis-based continuity; Power Girl’s troubles are barely explained, because they’re being examined in another title, Supergirl’s being watched by the villains of yet another title, and so on. This is really not the best way to start a new series; you want a bold and definitive start, and this just feels incomplete and bitty.

Exacerbating this half-finished feel is the way the story fails to achieve what it sets out to do; the stated objective of the story is to have Supergirl traveling the DCU, meeting significant figures in each issue, and learning a valuable lesson from them about her place in this world of wonders. What we actually get this issue are two big fight scenes and the introduction to next issue’s big fight scene. The comic fails to deliver on what it promises as Supergirl does not learn any lesson or grow and develop in any way; by the end of the issue, we’ve established that Supergirl and Power Girl can’t touch, or PG goes mental. Now call me Loony Jock McLoon, but if that could be called character development at all, it would surely be Power Girl character development, not Supergirl character development. Either that’s a further sign of DC’s crossover mania turning all of their titles into one indistinct homogenous mass (“The Flash faces the Riddler, only in next week’s issue of Adam Strange!”), or Loeb misread the name on the cover. What we’re left with is an issue of Supergirl which isn’t really about Supergirl. To be fair, it’s not really about anything, but that’s hardly a defence.

Churchill’s art has never been a favourite of mine, and there’s much to dislike here; the girls are all impossibly thin, with limbs so spindly that they look like they might snap at any moment, especially under the stress of your average superhero fistfight. Power Girl suffers the most as her already comically large boobs contrast in a most ridiculous manner with her waifish frame. Poses are stiff and unnatural and Churchill seems to be able to do only two facial expressions; gritted teeth and slack-jawed gasping. There’s also a strange disconnected feel as none of the characters properly focus on each other as they interact; instead they’re looking off at odd angles with blank eyes (there’s a great panel where it appears as if Power Girl is having a good look up Supergirl’s skirt, the saucy minx), and it makes the whole thing a little weird to look at. Given that at least part of the point of this comic is its use as a masturbatory aid, you’d think a less unattractive style would have been a wiser choice, unless this is specifically aimed at the dazed-anorexic-teenager fetishist crowd. That said, I did like Michael Turner’s alternate cover, although I was disappointed to discover that Kira from The Dark Crystal does not actually appear in the issue.

To my eyes, this is a big failure; nothing in this issue does anything to justify the existence of a distinct Supergirl title, and the general impression given is that DC simply decided there should be a Supergirl comic, without having any good ideas of how to make it worthwhile. I’ve never really been a DC fan, and I really couldn’t care less about Supergirl, but I did read a handful of issues from Peter David’s run on the previous version of the character, and they were a lot more interesting than this utterly pointless garbage.




John Hays

There can only be one…at a time at least. What are we up to now, Supergirl 12? They really should just start adding numbers to the names. Considering her former Silver Age relationship to Brainiac 5, it wouldn’t be such a stretch. Great cover, though. Turner really has his moments sometimes.

Inside, Kara recaps her origin, or recaps Superman/Batman (tell me again why there’s a Supergirl #0 if this issue covers the origin?), to Stargirl while the JSA beats on Solomon Grundy. Courtney (Stargirl) provides the voice of the reader as she asks Kara a barrage of the usual teenage girl questions, something that would be nice to see on a regular basis to humanize the title. Power Girl then shows up to help, and only causes more chaos when her powers start going haywire again. THIS time, however, there seems to be a reason. Watch for late appearances by other Superman regulars, each with their own reactions to Kara…and their own agendas.

Loeb does a good job of just giving a slight nod to Kara’s training with Diana in Superman/Batman when he has Courtney assume that Kara would defer to Superman on all matters since most people on Earth think of him as the best there is, yet Kara quickly clears that up by telling Courtney that she goes to Wonder Woman, NOT Superman, for advice. Kara is going to be a unique character in that there aren’t many in the DC Universe that DON’T look upon Superman with at least some awe. Loeb also does an excellent job in making Kara very intelligent while in a battle situation. Instead of reacting purely on emotion, as Power Girl usually does, she instantly starts going down the laundry list of what might be wrong with P.G. to cause this sudden fight. Loeb didn’t seem to play that up in Kara’s Superman/Batman appearances. Hopefully, that quick thinking will continue through this series, since she’ll really need it once Lex comes to call.

Speaking of Lex, anyone else get that icky feeling from his words that he’s missing his old Super bedmate from years past? Plus, when did Lex go gray (look at the eyebrows)? Other than that one item, Churchill’s art is a great match for Supergirl. He really plays with her cape, in more of a Spawn-ish way than most of Superman’s artists have ever done. In one panel it almost seemed like Kara purposely enveloped Power Girl in the cape to isolate her from the others. Another great thing about Churchill’s art is that the women all look like individuals. Courtney, Kara, and Power Girl all have their own unique appearances in both body style as well as hair style. They aren’t just the same pinup girl with different costumes.

Am I on for the duration? I don’t know yet, too early to tell. Give me a chance to get through the initial string of guest appearances helping Kara “find her place,” and then I’ll see where they decide to go from there. Plus, with Loeb signing an exclusive to Marvel, we know that he’s only going to be on for so long, but, unless I’m mistaken, we don’t know who is going to replace him yet. In a time with most readers collecting too many titles as it is with all the Infinite Crisis tie-ins going on, is that the kind of start that inspires confidence for long term commitment? Only time, sales, and DC upper management can tell.




Shaun Manning

Kara Zor-el struggles to adjust to life on Earth as Supergirl, but nothing is as simple as she had hoped. Her baby cousin Kal has not only aged to adulthood but become “the greatest hero in the universe.” Several “Supergirls” have come and gone in the time it’s taken her rocket to reach Earth. And, as it happens, she may not be Superman’s next of kin. Paying a visit to the JSA, Supergirl seeks advice from a woman who may have some perspective on her situation: Power Girl, Superman’s Other Cousin from Krypton. Even that goes poorly, however, as a strange force compels the older hero to attack her would-be apprentice. Can’t a girl get a break?

There is a perception (rightly earned) that superhero comics are all about action. Yet the best scenes in Supergirl #1 involve Kara and Stargirl simply having a chat, hovering about the JSA’s melee with Solomon Grundy. The fight between Power Girl and Supergirl is interesting mainly for what is implied about the connection between the two characters, which, given Power Girl’s muddled history, could be just about anything. (But Geoff Johns is getting that sorted in JSA: Classified, right?)

Right? Thing is, as of Supergirl #1, there has been no indication in the “now playing” origin of Power Girl that PG is, in fact Superman’s cousin. This was a Silver Age idea (which, it must be said, probably means it’s due for a comeback), but the end of JSA: Classified #1 leaves the impression that Power Girl is from the thirty-first century. Granted, that could turn out a false lead, but there is nevertheless some degree of spoiler in PG’s mystery turning up in Supergirl before it’s resolved. Based on writer Jeph Loeb’s comments in his Silver Bullet interview, it’s hard to believe he and Geoff Johns couldn’t have coordinated things a bit more smoothly. That said, if the right hand does in fact know what the left is doing, the revelations at the end of this issue may deepen the mystery and make the final resolution more wildly exciting.

The Power Girl quandary, however distracting for those “in the know,” does not ultimately devalue the story contained in the issue itself. The conflicts, as established, are poignant and play to a theme of belonging and alienation, adding a fair amount of twists and turns to the standard “outsider” trope. What’s important isn’t whether or not Power Girl is Superman’s cousin, but rather that the reader wants PG and Supergirl to get along, and there are very concrete barriers to them ever doing so. That’s the conflict, and it’s beautiful.

Another origin story touched on in this issue does leave a bit of a sour taste: Supergirl’s own, as established by Loeb and Michael Turner in Superman/Batman #8-13. It does not take a prude to express some discomfort that the story of the current Supergirl begins with an extended episode of full nudity. Supergirl, who by her own admission is “around fifteen or sixteen years old here on Earth,” scampers about in public completely naked for several pages before Superman reins her in. For the premiere issue of her own series, young Kara is in the buff for only one panel in flashback, but that panel recalls all the glossy streaking glory of her introduction. And it’s weird, both from a creative and a narrative standpoint. Why did the creators feel the need to have her land on Earth without so much as a bathrobe? Certainly, this premise is as believable as the reverse, but doing the story this way brings up the narrative weakness. For denizens of the DC Universe, it’s going to be mighty difficult to take a new heroine seriously when she’s been seen rampaging naked through a major metropolitan area. There are likely photographs of this episode all over the internet, to boot. Come on.

For all its flaws, though, Supergirl #1 remains a fun read and reestablishes one of DC’s premiere female characters. Although Linda Danvers, star of the previous Supergirl series, had her share of fans, the blue-skirted Girl of Steel is the iconic image and most likely to appeal to a wider audience. Now, though, the challenge will be appealing to that audience. Ultimately, new readers aren’t going to care about Power Girl’s drama, or how many voyeurs spied the nubile Supergirl in the buff; they’re going to want a good, self-contained story every month. With Loeb’s fondness for continuity and history, it’s unlikely that he will be able to reach the underrepresented audience most likely to pick up a Supergirl comic—namely, girls. Right now, this series serves fans of the DC pantheon, and serves them well. But they’ve got enough comics to read. Since Jeph Loeb has just signed an exclusive contract with Marvel that will shortly take him off this title, perhaps his successor will recognize the possibilities. Perhaps she will turn Supergirl into more than just a fun fanboy romp, and make it instead a truly independent and innovative title.




Tommy Vergason

Plot: From the pages of Loeb’s Superman/Batman comes the new adventures of a new Supergirl. Discovered by Batman in Gotham Harbor, instantly accepted and embraced by Superman, and currently residing with the Amazons on Themyscira, Kara Zor-el is attempting to find her way in a new world that doesn’t quite know what to make of her yet, as well as uncover any truths she can about her murky and largely forgotten past. One thing she’s pretty dang sure of is that she is Superman’s cousin from Krypton, rocketed to Earth in assumedly the same manner that he was as her planet blew to smithereens. Why then did she arrive on Earth so long after he did, and how is she physically younger than him now? She decides to seek out and question someone who might have some answers: another woman known as “Superman’s
Cousin”---Power Girl.

Comments: I’ll start off by stating that I had some strong reservations about this title. Not only was I concerned (and a bit alarmed) that we were being subjected to yet another version of Supergirl that was somehow to fit into established continuity, I had also been left somewhat cold by her initial introduction and story arc in Superman/Batman. I felt that the character was being thrust upon us with little to no explanation, and then thrown into the greater mix at story’s end with tons of dangling questions still unanswered. I saw her as a gimmick - I didn’t feel like this new Supergirl really fit into the DC Universe at large and was only meant to serve that particular story (or worse, to serve the boosted sales of an already hot book). I should have had more faith.

Several months ago, DC’s Executive Editor Dan Didio promised readers that this year would see a major initiative to bring a sense of cohesion to DC’s titles by cementing the idea of a “shared universe” amongst its various comic book properties. The looming Infinite Crisis mega-event is the obvious platform for such a wrangling, as has been evidenced in the handful of official miniseries leading up to it. Tie-ins to virtually all of DC’s regular titles have furthered this idea, and I really have been getting a sense of everything and everyone being connected, or at the very least, affected by what is unfolding in the grand scheme of things. Supergirl, despite my expectation of it being throw-away fluff, is no exception; it actually turns out to be a rather interesting piece of the overarching puzzle being meticulously presented by DC.

Supergirl #1 is packed with references to characters and storylines both past and present, and even drops some potential hints about the future as well. The scope of the story is surprisingly far-reaching (at least it seems to be), and the interaction Kara has with the heroes of the JSA really brings her into the DC Universe proper in a way not quite seen in her few previous appearances.

As the cover of the issue implies, Power Girl is an important part of this story. What I didn’t expect upon reading, though, is how much a role Supergirl would play in Power Girl’s own story currently playing out in JSA and JSA:Classified. If you are at all invested in Power Girl’s journey and mysterious origin, then this issue is a must-read. The potential revelations hinted at here are sure to lead to some major developments for Power Girl in the coming months.

Power Girl aside, there are other tasty morsels for a DC fan to snack on here, from Lex Luthor’s developing schemes to Stargirl’s nuanced reaction when Kara speaks of Wonder Woman as her role model (For the sweet love of God, please read Wonder Woman #219 if you haven't done so already).

As for the writing itself, I found the use of first-person narration to be a great choice for this book. By utilizing thought boxes throughout, Mr. Loeb invites the reader to see things from Kara’s point of view - a new pair of eyes looking in on established conventions. This not only served the development of Supergirl the character, it also added a dash of perspective to the other heroes surrounding her, whether she’s musing on Stargirl’s confidence and respect for legacy, or describing the first human encounter she had with “a man in an underwater bat-suit with headlights.”

The art by Churchill and Rapmond is top-notch, with beautiful renderings of each and every character. Although Churchill tends to focus on pin-up type static poses, they are gorgeous, and the action sequences have enough kinetic energy to make them urgent and exciting. I also like the look and style in general, in that the visual elements are consistent with what Michael Turner previously established in Supergirl’s appearances in Superman/Batman. Props should also go out to the colorist, who really makes the panels pop off of the page.

Final Word: This is not only a great first issue of what looks to be a promising new series, it also serves as a sort of bridge between past and future developments in the DC Universe as a whole. If you like what DC is doing these days, you will undoubtedly enjoy this book.




Olivia Woodward

Synopsis:

Who is Supergirl? The most recent holder of the title is Kara Zor-el, Superman’s cousin from Krypton. However, this is not a unique distinction. Power Girl’s confused origin includes a Kryptonian heritage as a possibility as well. As Stargirl says to Kara, “She’s kind of like you, only with a different bra size.”

To clear up the situation, Supergirl pays a visit to her buxom doppelganger. But it doesn’t turn out to be a friendly rendezvous. A super catfight ensues for the flimsiest of reasons; there can be only one! So if you’re a fan of mindless slugfests, predictable plots, lazy pacing, and shallow characterization, this is a book for you!

Critique:

"I like how you went with the bare midriff. Keeps the other guy’s eyes off your fists."

As a first issue, it is imperative that the author establishes the title’s premise. Loeb establishes it in the first line, “Who am I?” So, we’re looking at an exploration of character. Who is Supergirl? What is she about? This choice of premise puts great importance on character writing. Unfortunately, Loeb isn’t a talented “character” writer.

Dialogue and coherent behavior are the key elements in establishing character. Loeb gives a lackluster performance with the dialogue. Kara uses banal colloquialisms. Her pace of inner narration never changes, regardless of her external circumstances. She’s unflappable, which creates a false sense of ennui. Whether she’s engaged in fisticuffs with Power Girl or just hanging out with Stargirl, Kara’s inner dialogue indicates that she’s bored. Therefore, the reader experiences her actions as tedious, boring, and dull.

Her behavior isn’t much more exciting, but a lot less coherent and consistent. She’s willing to stand by nonchalantly waiting for the JSA to handle a threat at one moment, but be impulsively aggressive the next. She has no reason to take the offensive in her problem with Power Girl, but she does so anyways. It borders on the absurd. While she’s saying “I don't want to fight. Help me help you,” Kara’s landing a right hook on PG’s jaw, and readying a left! Yeah, that’ll help her just fine.

Well, a horrible failure to meet premise can be forgiven if it’s a fun issue to read. If the plot is compelling, then poor characterization can be overlooked and forgiven. Unfortunately, the plot is pedestrian and incoherent. The whole Solomon Grundy scene is gratuitous, adding nothing to the story but mindless mayhem. Yet, although there are two combat scenes in this issue, the pacing is off. Sometimes, the scene drags, while nothing happens. Other times the activity feels rushed. The problem lies in the skimpy panel density. The average page contains around three and a half panels, for an issue total of seventy-six. That’s not enough, especially when most of these panels are wasted in scenes of pointless conversations, like discussing kryptonite navel piercing or offering such lame lines as “She’s got issues, Kara. You can’t take it personally.”

Alright, so the writing falls short of competent. What about the art? It’s mixed. Churchill doesn’t create dynamic action scenes. There is a persnickety attention to extraneous detail that confuses both the sense of space and action. His page compositions are prosaic, serviceable but uninspired. The figures are unattractively stylized, with extended torsos and insect-like thinness to the limbs, especially around the wrists and ankles. However, he occasionally creates compelling facial expressions. Rapmund’s inks are good. Oftentimes, he takes a panel with confusing detail and uses line weight to create clear perspective and spatial coherence. Overall, the inks are the only consistently good element to this issue.

The coloring by David Moran and Beth Sotelo is skillful. The craftsmanship is superb, with a subtlety of execution. However, in spite of the technical excellence, it doesn’t enhance the narrative. Colors are instrumental in establishing mood. Moran and Sotelo don’t rise to the challenge, especially as regards clarity. The entire story feels murky and obscure; it needs more accentuation and illumination. In short, the colors are pretty but fail to evoke any deeper emotions.

Appraisal:

“Everything about me. Who I am, what I’m doing here is all…confused.”

I’m a long-time fan of Supergirl, both the pre-crisis Kara and Peter David’s cancelled eighty issue title featuring Linda Danvers. I want to like this title. I feel that Supergirl is an iconic character that encompasses a vast and unique thematic portfolio within the superhero genre. She represents innocence, optimism, and exuberance; she also represents inexperience, fallibility, and raw, puerile immaturity. There’s a rich conflict underpinning this character. It amazes me how writers consistently overlook the potential of the character. Loeb continues this shameful neglect.

As written by Loeb, Kara Zor-el is a bland and vacuous character. She is an empty vessel that plays upon fannish hopes and nostalgia. It is as if the reader is meant to like her just because she’s a new edition of the “real Supergirl.” This is a crass commercial ploy that offends me. I want to like this title, but I’m not going to let my fond memories blind me to the inadequacies of the narrative. This issue is bad, as was the whole introductory storyline in Batman/Superman. Poor Kara is victim of lousy storytelling-by-the-numbers, yet again. I don’t recommend this issue.



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