Continuing the series started with my thoughts on Year One of the New 52 Supergirl (vol 6, Issues #0-13), here I am going to discuss where the promise shown in the first year’s worth of issues does – and does not – pay off in Year Two.
Overall, my impression of Year Two is that it’s kind of a mess. Firstly, this next year’s worth of issues suffered from rather serious crossover-itis, since the middle issues were part of the larger H’el on Earth storyline that was told through multiple DC titles. The good news is that our heroine plays a central role in this storyline. The bad news is that it makes for some rather disjointed reading, as most crossover events do.
The other problem is creative inconsistency: year two sees the departure of writer Michael Green and the eventual replacement of his co-writer Mike Johnson. The resulting tonal change of the book is very noticeable, which will be covered more in-depth below.
These issues also see the departure of series artist Mahmud Asrar, which as least as much impact as the change in the writing team. Mr. Asrar’s art was one of the great draws to this title for me, and looking back it feels like he left just as he was hitting his stride. This isn’t to say that the other artists on the book aren’t solid, just that his absence is definitely missed.
Much like Year One, however, Year Two does have a collection of great moments, even if the overall whole is less-than-satisfying.
Things to note about my review: it’s chock full of spoilers like the last one, so if you read comics to be surprised by plot-twists than be prepared to have them ruined here.
Also, the review is only covering the issues from the actual Supergirl title itself. So if it happened outside the series proper then I probably didn’t read it, and it’s outside the scope of this article regardless.
Issue #13 continues the story set up in Issue #12, with Kara’s discovery of a Kryptonian Sanctuary on the ocean floor, currently occupied by a horrifically transformed Simon Tycho.
If you read my Year One review, then you already know my thoughts on Supergirl’s arch-nemesis Simon Tycho: he’s a Lex Luthor-lite and tremendously boring to me. So I really was not looking forward to this issue at all.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the resolution to this issue: after an (inevitable) super-powered battle, Supergirl takes out Simon like a punk by ordering the AI of her Sanctuary to encase Simon in the same impenetrable crystal that makes up it’s walls. Simon is thus removed as a threat – and a storyline – until she and/or the writers decide to free him.
Now working solo, series writer Mike Johnson really touches on the themes that have been the standards of the series so far: Kara’s relative ruthlessness towards anyone who crosses her (Kal would agonize about punishing an opponent in this way: Kara relishes in it), her connection to her father Zor-El (the Sanctuary structure itself is a gift from him).
He also touches on her connection to her only Earthly friend so far, Siobhan Smythe aka. Silver Banshee (her first act after subduing Simon is to call her gal-pal in New York and tell her about her new digs).
I also like how Supergirl’s Fortress of Solitude is appropriate for her character: while Kal’s fortress is accessible to anyone that wants to brave the cold, Kara’s is in the deepest ocean and can only be reached by someone as superhuman as she is. This reinforces her isolation: as she tells Siobhan she can come visit her there “As soon as I can figure out how to get you down there safely.”
Also, where Superman’s fortress is part zoo, part museum, part trophy-room and armory, Kara’s is a cold palace of crystal, filled with nothing but of the memories of her lost world. If the Fortress of Solitude celebrates the life of Krypton, then the Sanctuary is it’s mausoleum.
In short, this start gave me some hope for the ongoing series. But there were some warning signs of what was to come already in play: although the issue is ably pencilled by Sam Basri, giving a break for Mahmud Asrar, this change breaks the artistic consistency that the tile has overall enjoyed this far. And the issue ends leading into an event that will be portrayed in the pages of Superman, starting a trend of crossover stories that will dominate the book for the next few months.
The next few issues (#14-17) leads into and then moves into the heart of the crossover ‘event’, ‘H’el on Earth’. Mahmud Asrar’s art makes a triumphant return, we see more backstory of Kara’s time on Krypton, and some epic superhero-on-superhero battles.
I have no doubt that these big comic crossover events facilitate comic-book sales: that is why the big publishers do them. What do not often see demonstrated is that they facilitate good stories.
Seeing the full crossover through the lens of just the Supergirl title alone is more than a bit weird: with cliffhangers with no visible payoff, and important dramatic events for the character explained in flashback the following issue. Since the exercise here is to examine the title of its own merits, I can only relay my experience with the storyline as told within this single book. And the experience is more than a little janky, to be sure.
After a wrap-up scene with Superman, his ally Doctor Veritas and the corpse of a recently-felled Kryptonian dragon, Supergirl flies to the New York to visit with her friend Siobhan. There she learns that Siobhan’s brother – and Kara’s potential love interest – Tom has gone back to Ireland, which presumably removes him from the storyline for the moment.
Her two-page reunion finished, Supergirl returns to her Sanctuary to take a nap…only to wake up hovering above the surface of the Sun! (I hate it when that happens, myself…)
There she finds that she was rescued from her torpor by the strange Kryptonian interoper H’el, who apparently bodily abducted her from her strangely permeable Sanctuary and set her into the Sun’s corona to give her a quick recharge. This sudden turn of events serves to confuse our young heroine: and as we know from previous issues, when Kara gets flustered she also gets punchy.
H’el, however, proves to be fully indestructible – even by Supergirl standards – and very patient, especially when dealing with attractive blonde Kryptonian teenaged girls with anger-management issues.
After a monologue explaining his backstory – he is a friend of her uncle Jor-El, and was traveling the cosmos getting all creepy-sexy when Krypton was destroyed – he uses one of his many seemingly infinite number of powers to teleport Kara back to Earth..and directly into the middle of a warzone.
H’el uses this opportunity to monologue about the evils of humanity vs the enlightenment of Krypton, and to demonstrate yet another power – and that he’s totally a good guy, not some, ya’know, evil megalomaniac – by saving a human child from certain death by protecting him with a forcefield.
As an aside, I do have to admit that H’el has a bit of a point about us humans. Looking at the big picture, we certainly do come across as utter bastards. On the other hand, Krypton creates things called World Killers and Eradicators, so…not sure about the whole enlightenment thing, myself. If anything, we just lack ambition in comparison.
Over the course issues 14-15, H’el manages to convince Kara that he has a plan to restore Krypton that only he fully understands, and that he is really a good guy with the best intentions for everyone: even though the fact that she has to talk him out of killing Superboy with his bare hands for the crime of being a dirty clone might have been a bit of a clue otherwise.
He also uses his plot-device level powers to magically teach her perfect English, conveniently removing this long-standing story point from the series.
After breaking into the Fortress of Solitude (issue 15), he uses yet another of his omni-powers to shrink her to microscopic size to explore the shrunken city of Kandor, where she finds the inhabitants of the city- including her Kryptonian BFF Tali – held in permanent stasis. There they liberate a ‘quantum crystal’s used to power the city for H’el’s super-device that will (supposedly) restore Krypton.
Convinced that she has found her soulmate and Krypton’s savior in the scarred and corpse-like pallor of H’el, he gains both her trust and her love…and they share a kiss (Kara’s second-ever, based upon a previous flashback).
I recently watched an interview where George Perez discussed the ’80s reboot of Teen Titans. One of the things he noted about the series was: “…these were stories about teenagers, and the problems of teenagers. But being a super-hero story, these problems are on a cosmic-scale.”
The H’el story arc is best understood in this context. He is the really bad first boyfriend. He’s older (by about 30 years, based on Superman’s chronology..), he has a luxurious head of hair, he’s moody and has big, impossible dreams, he likes going shirtless -and can get away with it – and has his own style. And all the adults in your life hate him, but you think he’s just misunderstood.
But rather than leaving you with a broken heart, misplaced friends and some make up classes to do at summer-school, instead you get a broken heart, Kryptonite poisoning, and the ire of the Justice League.
As the story of Kara’s first love with a megalomaniacal super-villain follows it’s inevitable arc, we are treated to some fun super-powered fights with The Flash (Issue 16) and Wonder Woman (Issue 17). I’m not gonna lie to ya; this sort of thing 100% appeals to my geek gene, and these issues certainly did not disappoint.
The issue-long battle between Flash and Supergirl is a thing of beauty. Mike Johnson knows how to write a fight in an interesting way, and Mahmud Asrar sure as hell knows how to illustrate it in all it’s frenetic glory.
Just as importantly, we never lose sight of the characters and their motivations throughout: the Flash trying desperately to keep himself from being killed or crippled by his superhuman foe while not harming her in the process. And for her part, Supergirl going all-out to succeed at any cost against someone even faster than she is.
Another fun story point is the reunion of El-family pet Krypto the Super-Dog and Kara, which temporarily halts the battle. It’s good to see the writer not afraid to break up the tension with a little fun, and the scene is kind of adorable.
At any rate the fight is ended by the 11th hour appearance of H’el, who simply teleports Flash back to the Justice League Watchtower to remove him from the equation. The issue closes with an image of an impossibly massive statue flying through the void of space, presaging…well, something. See the next exciting issue for the reveal!
…Or not. Honestly, since I never read the entire story arc some of what happens is still a mystery to me, including the impossibly large stone fella who shows up in the background of issues 16 & 17. In context
he seems like the DC manifestation of Galactus, based on the principle of ‘walks like duck, quacks like duck = duck‘.
The important thing here isn’t the apparently impending end-of-the-world, or the resolution of Kara and H’el’s relationship anyhow: according to the issue preview, the cover, and the title page issue #17 is all about Girl vs. Goddess. Supergirl and Wonder Woman fight! For real stakes, too! Let’s get ready to rumble…
I don’t know if the fact the truly scary fighters of the New 52 DCU are female (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Lady Shiva, Batwoman) is a refutation or affirmation of the misogyny of DC writers in general: and in this particular case, I really don’t care. I like my media to have badass warrior princesses, as long as they receive respectful characterization.
Like the Flash v Supergirl battle of the previous issue, this is a fun supers battle between two iconic characters where both combatants are treated seriously, while the flow of the fight really underscores who the characters are at heart.
As usual, Supergirl is the aggressive scrapper with more power than she knows how to control, whereas Wonder Woman is the experienced fighter who knows how to control the flow of battle.
Following classic comic-book tradition, this fight is also a dialogue between the two characters – in this case, a kind of mentorship where Diana points out the weak points in Kara’s approach in the process of besting her.
She also demonstrates that her boyfriend H’el’s plan to go back in time to save Krypton requires sacrificing Earth’s sun in the process – a technical point that Kara was not aware of, and turns out to be a serious sticking point that finally turns her against him.
What ensues turns out to be worst break-up ever: leaving Kara with potentially fatal kryptonite poisoning, and H’el blasted back in time alone – gone from view until he inevitably returns in the Next Big Crossover Event.
Issues 18-20 sets up the meeting between Supergirl and her cross-dimensional counterpart/other-self, Power Girl. Like the series overall, this segment has some great moments, but is weakened by a lack of cohesive creative vision: each of the three issues features a different writer, and issue #18 features pencils by Robson Rocha, with Mahmud Asrar finishing up on issues 19 and 20.
Issue 18 is the setup issue, and easily the weakest of the bunch: possibly the weakest issue of the series so far. Although Robson Rocha’s art is certainly very competent, I cannot say that I like his style as much as Mahmud Asrar’; his work here reminds me of the innumerable Jim Lee imitators that popped up in the mid-nineties.
I am also as unexcited by Frank Hannah’s scripting in this issue; most of the actions taken by the characters in this issue really feel like they are done due to plot-demand rather than being motivated by personality.
I understand that this a fill-in creative team, so it’s understandable that the end result might be a tad clunky…but it’s a tad clunky. I would have rather seen a filler issue with Kara spending the day with Siobhan or something rather than a new team set up a storyline that none would be involved with beyond the one issue.
After a refreshing bath in the fires of Earth’s sun, Kara is feeling fit as a fiddle…despite Doctor Veritas’s prognosis that she is anything but. Ignoring the good doctor’s orders, after a quick trip via teleportation back to Earth she decides to fly off on her own – presumably back to her undersea Sanctuary.
On the way she is interrupted first by the effects of her lingering Kryptonite poisoning, then by an unnamed villain-of-the-week with a serious dislike for Kryptonians and heat-control/protection powers. Again, hilarity ensues.
With Kara unable to bring the pain like she normally does due to her weakened state, ‘Lava Girl’s easily beats Supergirl, leaving her unconscious and turned to an unhealthy shade a green in a crater of her own making.
Fortunately for Supergirl and her avid fans, Lava Girl feels sorry for Kara in her pitiable state and decides not to kill her: just as the military appears right on cue ready to stick her in a pod and whisk her away to undisclosed location.
Issues #19-20 are pencilled by Mahmud Asrar, and are the last two issues that his work is featured in the comic (apart from some covers). This is a bittersweet parting; his work here is easily the best in the whole series, and really sells the story as told by Mike Johnson & Michael Alan Nelson.
Kara’s activities during the H’el on Earth storyline was followed by quite a few parties in the DCU, and fortunately for her one of these is her Earth Two counterpart, Power Girl. After a daring rescue followed by a meet-cute mind-meld, Kara and other Kara team-up to do what they both do best: kick some ass.
As revealed in Issue #18, unfortunately one of the parties she has gai
ned the attention of is from a less welcome source – the villainous mastermind and number-one Superman foe, Lex Luthor. He decides to test the limits of the Kryptonian twins via a hulking bruiser in his employ, named Appex.
A summary of this battle is best demonstrated via the two panels below. It starts like this:
And pretty much resolves like this:
Whatever it’s other merits, Supergirl #19 will forever be known for the triumphant return of the “boob-window” costume for Power Girl in the New 52. There have been multiple attempts give her more modest or sensible costumes over the years…but she always winds up back in the boob-window outfit.
I’m sure I should say something pithy here, or talk about sexism in comics..but I really don’t want to. Amanda Conner clearly had lots of fun drawing boob-window Power Girl, and Gail Simone is writing Red Sonja now for godsakes.
Sexuality has always been part of comics, as Doctor Wertham ably pointed out many years ago. If given the choice between boob-window Power Girl and a modestly-dressed character that never passes the Bechdel Test, I’m guessing that Power Girl remains the healthier choice.
Michael Alan Nelson picks up the writing duties in Issue 20, and the subsequent change in tone is instantly notable: he adds a strong comedic element, with snappy dialogue that flows well while underlining the differences between characters.
Although the shift between his writing style in Issue 20 is rather jarring following on the heels of Mike Johnson’s more workmanly approach seen previously in the series, backed up my Mahmud Asrar’s expressive art the overall effort is very satisfying. This issue is probably the most fun of the series thus far.
Presented with two versions of Kara Zor-El, the AI that powers Kara’s Sanctuary declares that only one of them can be the real Kara, and that the duplicate must be sorted out and subsequently destroyed. After a brief analysis it concludes that Supergirl must be the copy – and the bulk of the issue is taken up with Supergirl fighting a being ostensibly created to protect her.
As noted above, I found this issue a really fun read, and there are a lot of great elements to the story: from the relationship between Power Girl and Supergirl developing into a younger/older sister dynamic, to Kara using some Mr. Wizard science to beat the now-murderously motivated Sanctuary.
This issue ends on a quiet note, with the two Karas flying high above the Earth and watching the sun rise. This moment gives our long-suffering heroine a respite from her troubles, and hope to this reader for more fun super-heroic goodness to her stories going forward.
The following story arc (Issues #21-24) attempts to deliver on this promise, but I am sorry to say that it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Opening in media res, we find Supergirl traveling through the stars riding a stolen space-motorcycle (oh, comics!..such whimsy!).
Following a distress signal, she stumbles upon an alien world seemingly under threat from an attacking Evangellion-esque giant monster. Her attempts to parlay with it having failed, she does what she does best and obliterates it in a brief three-page long battle. The rescued populace of the alien world then greets her as a hero, showing her in welcome adulation.
She is then greeted – first in Kryptonian, then in English – by an apparent representative of the aliens named Delacore. He notes that the alien species she rescued are known as I’noxia, and that they are shapeshifters, able to take the seeming of any possible form, even imaginary ones. Even the technology of their world shares this ability as well: in truth, all that makes up their world is composed of the same self-transmogrifying substance.
She is informed that the I’noxia were created to “seek out dying worlds so that we could recreate them for posterity”. This ability is demonstrated by recreating facsimiles of Kara’s lost Krypton, based upon her own memories.
She also meets up with the Cyborg Superman, who tells her that he is hoping for her aid in remembering who he is via Kara’s memories and the modeling powers of the I’noxia.
But, as intimated earlier in issue #21, all here is not what it seems: the attack on the I’noxia and subsequent distress call were simply staged to lure Supergirl to this world.
And the Cyborg Superman isn’t being honest either: his actually plan is the use the material of Kara’s own body to restore his own organic form and lost memories, transforming Kara into a disembodied consciousness living in a virtual Krypton in the process – an act he considers a kindness in his twisted logic.
Once she becomes aware of the actual plan, Kara of course fights back: but although evenly matched against the Cyborg Superman she isn’t strong enough to fight both him and the entire sentient world that are the I’noxia. Thus defeated, her body is dissolved and her consciousness is uploaded into the I’noxia network.
Cyborg Superman, however – infused with Supergirl’s Kryptonian essence – is now transformed back to his original form….that of Zor-El, Kara’s father!
I’ll let that sink in for a moment while you think on it.
…..Ready now? Good. Now let’s talk about it.
This is it then: as mentioned in my Supergirl Year One review, Zor El – even in his absence – is a major character in the New 52 Supergirl saga. He is the Prime Mover of her story, the very reason she came to Earth rather than perishing in the atomic fires of the destruction of Krypton.
Whether it’s her relationship with other authority figures in the series, or her perception of herself and her place in the universe, or the special gear she is given to cope with life on her new home, ever and always Zor El is behind it all. Whatever she makes of her destiny going forward, there is no denying her father’s hand in the process.
And now he is awakened, only to find himself his daughter’s executioner: the instrument of destruction of the one person he cares about most in all of existence. This is a powerful dramatic moment in the series. A culmination of the themes set up in two years worth of stories.
And….it’s totally ridiculous. As much as I enjoy the Twilight Zone-esque feel that this whole story employs, this is the most maudlin and absurd setup I recall seeing in modern comics since the Green Lantern found his girlfriend stuffed in her refrigerator.
It’s just too much, and and it totally took me out of the moment. I am confident that everyone involved in the process of creating this story thought that this stunning reveal would shock the readership with it’s Shyamalan-level twist… and I am sure it had exactly that impact on some.
For my part, this plot twist just made me lose interest in all that followed, disappointed that I had read the series so far for such suspension-of-disbelief breaking reveal.
The remainder of the story is an excellently paced and plotted three-way conflict: with Kara trying to break free of the illusionary dream-world in which her mind is now trapped, Zor-El desperately trying to reverse the process that gave him new life to restore his daughter, and Brainiac (yay, Brainiac! My favorite Superman villain…) attempting to claim Kara’s consciousness, as promised by Cyborg Superman before he truly knew who he was.
My experience reading the resolution of this story is akin to watching the last act of the film Prometheus: yes, I want to see what happens. Yes, I am paying attention. But at some point the story has already broken my trust, so I am no longer invested in it. It’s all just spectacle beyond this point.
Let me make quick note here about Diogenes Neves art during this story arc: it’s excellent. Although Mahmud Asrar’s bold lines are still greatly missed, Neves knows how to lay out a panel, how to tell a story with pictures. If we are watching a movie where the story disappoints (and it certainly did for me in this case) we can at least hope for great visuals. And we certainly are provided that here, and that much is appreciated.
Cutting to the end of the story: Brainiac fails, and Zor El manages to restore Kara’s body at the expense of how own: he is now ‘reset’s back to being Cyborg Superman, unaware of his own past again. The I’noxia escape Brainiac’s wrath by containing their collective consciousness into a single silver sphere, departing into space to live anew.
For her part, Supergirl uncharacteristically concludes that discretion is the better part of valor, and leaves on her space-bike to let Brainiac and Cyborg Superman duke it out: this isn’t her fight, and it really never was. At best, she was but a pawn of these two entities, and now she is free.
Year Two concludes with a vision of things to come: in the form of the entity shown in the earlier H’el on Earth storyline, setting up the the next Big Crossover Event.
What will happen next? What triumphs and tragedies are to follow? Well…that’s Year Three, my friends..and outside the scope of this review.
One thing that writing a review gives you that simply reading a work often does not: it really forces you to think about what you have read.
The process of putting words into black and white inspires a degree of clarity: the emotional colors and impressions that were a moment ago vague in your mind now must be defined: they must be given language. Your experience now demands a narrative.
Sadly, the overall narrative the unfolds to my eyes is one of missed opportunities. There is a lot to like here, but on the whole the experience of reading through these issues is one of disappointment. This is a good series, and well-crafted, but it’s not the Supergirl title I wanted, and fails to hit all the marks that the first year seemed to promise me.
As touched on in my Year One review, the New 52 launch is the most exciting thing thing to happen to DC Comics since Crisis on Infinite Earths relaunched the whole of the DCU in 1986.
Going farther back, one could argue that it’s the largest event since Showcase #4 launched the Silver Age of comics, or since Action Comics #1 introduced the world to the superhero genre via the character of Superman.
By rebooting every title in the DCU at
issue #1, the writers, artists and editors were given an opportunity to reinvent the DC Universe from scratch. To provide us with a new Golden Age, informed by – yet unfettered by – the efforts of past creators.
I think that my experience reading Supergirl serves as a microcosm of the both the triumphs and the failures of the experiment so far: the promise has yet to pay-off in truly great stories. Freeing yourself from the weight of the past doesn’t free you from the even heavier burden of presenting compelling and innovative work.
So…am I still reading Supergirl?
Well, yes – I’m still reading. I love this new take on character: full of beautiful flaws not seen in her classic representation. I want to see her grow up a little, and take up her rightful place among the great heroes of the DCU. And I am hoping that writers and editors take her there as well.
Michael Lindsey lives in Seattle, where he engages in a good deal of geekery. He is the (mostly) benevolent dictator of the (mostly) gaming blog Station53 .