Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Action Comics #17 Back-Up Story

As much as I have enjoyed Grant Morrison's wild ride on Action Comics, I have equally loved the Sholly Fisch back-up stories. They really have been wonderful stories which have bolstered the main plotline by Morrison.

In Action Comics #17, the Fisch story continues that trend. One of the key moments in Vyndktvx multi-time attack is that Smallville Senior Prom night, the evening the Kents are killed in a car crash. We haven't seen much of the Kents in the main book but Fisch has done a great job filling in the back story of Jonathan and Martha. This story takes place on that fateful Prom night and includes a healthy dollop of Pa Kent wisdom. I will again say that one of the things ... maybe the main thing ... that separates Clark from Super-Doomsday is the loving upbringing of the Kents and their outlook on humanity.

Chris Sprouse does the art here and his style suits the content beautifully.

Since this is a 'multi-time' storyline, the first several pages show a left hand column of that fateful Smallville night and a right hand column showing events from the future. And Fisch does a good job linking the Smallville words with the 'current' action.

So here the 'pretty exciting' outside of Smallville is contrasted to the Super-Doomsday assault.

I like that despite his powers, Clark is still somewhat afraid of what life will be like away from the farm. And good old steady Pa is there to talk about the uncertainty of the future and how you need to be strong.

And that is so wonderfully juxtaposed with the bedside death scene, something which we know is just hours away.

The wonky timelines have somehow aligned such that suddenly the present Superman is there that night and granted one last moment with his father.

Okay, it is a bit of a stretch. But given that Pa's death is part of Vyndktvyx' isomorphic magic plot, I suppose this is some anchor of the 'attack on multiple timelines'. And if I am able to swallow a Kryptonian attacked by a 5th dimensional sorceror then I guess I can swallow that this moment can happen.

Fisch does such a great job here and Sprouse's art works so wonderfully. Look at how happy Clark is for having this new chance to talk to his dad.

But the Pa is all about business. He only wants to know two things. Is Clark happy and is he helping people. It is so perfect, such a fantastic essence of Clark's upbringing. And Clark is able to say yes to both questions.  Can he say that in the Lobdell book? I don't think so!

But those questions are quintessential Kent!

And Pa is even able to glean from Clark's reaction that he isn't alive in Clark's presence. Clark has to realize that he is hours away from death.

As I said, this is a brief story with just a big scoopful of Pa wisdom. So we get a tagline of sorts - 'because Kents aren't quitters.' Clark talks about how that has helped him throughout the years. Heck, that determination is probably helping Clark in that fight with Super-Doomsday.

Maybe this concentrated small town horse sense is too thick for some. It does have a sweetness like molasses. But I love these sorts of stories. It is the man that makes him super. And that comes from the Kents and their love.

And the timelines re-align, the brief reunion is forgotten when things right themselves, and we get that bittersweet moment with Ma talking about remembering this night.

Clark will remember this, but not from the joyous Prom memories. We know that the car crash will happen shortly.

I wonder if this story resonated with me because it reminded me of Action Comics #507, 'The Miraculous Version of Jonathan Kent', a 2 issue story from my youth where Pa (through a wish) comes back to life for a brief period of time. He is able to see the hero Clark has become and enjoy a reunion. But when the time of the wish expires, the clock resets and no one remembers the event (other than Pa in paradise).

So another wonderful Sholly Fisch story building up that foundation of Clark's past and helping readers understand why Superman is the fighter he is today. I will miss these back-up features when the new team takes over.

I wonder just how these stories will be collected in trade. Their own trade? Tacked on at the end of the trade?

Overall grade: A

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Catching Up On Old News

There has been a lot of recent news items which have sort of sneaked by me. I don't know if any of these necessarily need their own post, especially given how old these items are. But they deserve some coverage and so here they all are in rapid fire.

Greg Pak, mostly a Marvel writer, and Jae Lee are coming together for a new Batman/Superman book. This was announced over on USA Today here:

Interesting that this book is Batman/Superman and not Superman/Batman like the old version. And the first arc (at least, maybe more) is set in the past as discussed here:

Bruce Wayne is new to putting on a cape and cowl and patrolling the streets of Gotham City, while Superman — when not in civilian mode as budding journalist Clark Kent — is a recently realized hero to the working class clad in jeans, cape and a spiffy, S-logo T-shirt. 

I like Lee's art. The only thing I read by Pak is World War Hulk which was something of a mess for me. I hear he is a great writer and heard good stuff about his Hercules run. So I will be trying this out.

The end of Superman Family Adventures was discussed with creators Franco and Art Baltazar here:

One of the things I have felt about this book is that the creative team is trying to bring back some of the more classic elements of the Superman mythos. They had stories written through #40!

And here is an interesting quote:
So when we found out that #12 was going to be the last issue, I knew that I had three issues left to say what we wanted to say. It's everything that we wanted to happen in the Superman history."

I said it before. I will say it again. Lois and Clark will marry at the end of this issue!

CBR does a nice interview with Bryan Q. Miller who discusses his Smallville specials and expanding the Smallville universe to include more of the DCU. Here is the link:

This is more about the building of a community of heroes in "Season 11." We did our Batman arc, and we're in the middle of a Flash arc now. The next arc we have coming up will explore some stuff with Booster Gold who we met in Season 10, and we'll have a side story with Martian Manhunter and Batman. It's more about creating the entire world and fleshing that world as presented over the evolution of "Smallville" as a series than it is just being "Smallville: The Comic Book."

But there is more here including the 'evil' Chloe from Earth 2, some Legion hints, and more about the Martian Manhunter. I do like the Martian art above.

Another image from Supergirl from the upcoming Superman:Unbound movie has been released here:

I cannot wait for this movie!!

And ... in a rare example of good taste ... DC has decided to drop the inane WTF promotion! Here is that link:
I applaud this decision. But I am surprised that the original decision to actually name this promotion WTF Certified was made to begin with. There needs to be a 'common sense' person in the rooms at the top of DC.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Action Comics #17

A while back it was announced that Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics was going to run one more issue than planned. And at the time, I was elated. I have loved this run and it's wonderful mix of Golden Age, Silver Age, and more modern interpretations of the Man of Steel. Any extra pages were going to be appreciated.

I look at Action Comics #17, which came out last week, as the 'extra issue', a sort of bridge leading up to the finale of the Vyndktvx arc. Surprisingly, it was one of my least favorite issues of the run. Part of the joy of Morrison is that the stories are wild rides, living on the fringe of comprehensibility in some places. What could be more Morrison-like than a story happening simultaneously at multiple points of a time line. And like the best of Morrison stories, I have been able to just sit back and enjoy that wild ride, understanding enough of what was happening when to appreciate it.

This issue sort of tried to wipe some of that wonder away. Action Comics #17 has the most exposition I have seen in this title. And in some ways, that took away some of the joy of what was happening. In many ways, I prefer being shown what is happening rather than being told.

There are still some great moments in this book ... some really great moments. But the middle portion of the book when Vyndktvx basically goes into monologue mode sort of fell short.

The art on the book, done by Rags Morales and Brad Walker, is fine with some nice panel compositions when a more 5th dimension feel wiggles its way into the story.

As we have learned in prior issues, Ma and Pa Kent die in a Vyndktvx-planned car wreck on Clark's senior prom night. With Martha already gone, Pa asks Clark to remove him from the hospital to let him die in peace at home. Clark obliges.

It allows Morrison to channel one of the more famous scenes in Superman's origins, a dying bedside chat from Pa.

When is Clark upset that despite his powers he was unable to save his parents, Pa gives him some of that famous Kent wisdom and extracts a promise. Pa asks Clark to be a champion of the downtrodden, a force of good, and asks that he fights a never-ending battle to make the world a better place.

I am a sucker for home-spun Pa wisdom and I think this is wonderful. It shows the bedrock that Clark's ethics are built on.

I have seen different versions of this scene, like this one above. There is something different about a bedside promise and a bedside vow. I don't think Pa would need to have Clark vow to obey (as above). I think he would know Clark would do what was right.

Meanwhile, in the present, Super-Doomsday continues to pummel a seemingly defenseless Superman. Despite this drubbing, despite Super-Doomsday wondering why Superman hasn't simply died, Supeman refuses to give up. It is a brutal scene with Doomsday beating Superman with his memorial statue.

I love Gene Ha's design of Super-Doomsday. I posted about the S-shield on Doomsday here. Another element that caught my eye was this symbol on his back (and seen in smaller version in the upper left of the front s-shield. It looked like a sort of icon, a mix of an omega and a spit-curl symbol.

I asked Ha on Twitter if there was anything else to it. And, in a wonderful addition to this corporate creation, another aspect of the symbol is that it is a copyright symbol. Fantastic!

We see some of that exposition I was talking about when the issue switches to the Legion. Their mission has been shown/implied throughout the run. Now we have them saying exactly what they are doing.

They were inspired to form by the death of Superman. They need to go back in time to stop Superman from dying which will somehow stop Universo from taking over the United Planets. They need stop the K-engine from being stolen (seen in issues 5 and 6). They talk to Ms. Nyxly (implied in the earliest issues). We see them with Superman on his orbiting Fortress (again from issue 6).

I kind knew all of that from prior issues so I don't know if I needed to hear it and be shown it. I will say the reverse origin (inspired by Superman's death) is an interesting wrinkle.

And then Vyndktvx breaks the fourth wall and starts to tell us how his plan unfolded.

He conspired against Glenmorgan, creating a power vacuum that Luthor would fill in a worse way. It is funny, because that move from someone repugnant from a societal point of view to a power-hungry super-scientist is sort of the move from the Golden Age to the Silver Age.

But again, this is exposition.

And then we hear him say that some isomorphic magic connects Glenmorgan's tie, Pa Kent's hankerchief, and Superman's cape. Getting the cape will secure Vyndktvx's victory. But that is foiled by the boy from Action Comics #0. Realizing he needs some troops to cover the details, Vyndktvyx forms his anti-Superman league.

I suppose it is nice to tie the zero issue story into the larger plot. But the isomorphic magic bit seemed strained even for Morrison. And I don't need a reason for Vyndktvx to form his army. Why wouldn't he? So maybe too much exposition again.

And then we see Nimrod shoot the teleporting tesseract bullet into Superman's brain, the site of the Legion battle in Action Comics #6.

Again, I don't know if I needed to see this scene to flesh out the story.

So this middle section, while having a couple of nice moments, seemed superfluous. Were they added to pad the page count of this issue so that the major finale could have its own moment next month?

With the exposition behind us, we get back to this fight with Doomsday, the 'second time' Superman died.

One thing I have loved about Morrison's run is that Superman is truly a champion of the people. They trust him and love him and are inspired by him. We don't see that in Superman or Justice League. That's a shame.

Anyways, look at this scene where despite Super-Doomsday looming over them, the citizens of Metropolis risk their own lives to get the Kryptonite chains off him. This was my favorite moment of the book.

And we finally get to see the face of the Super-Doomsday. I guess there isn't a surprise ... it is Doomsday!

Is this what we want Superman to be ... a monster??

And there has to be some sort of back-handed jab at DC. That their 'corporate directive' is to annihilate the competition. That they will corrupt and pervert Superman into something he isn't as long as it sells better that Marvel.

Maybe I am reading to much into this ...

But the fight isn't over. In a classic Luthor move, he wants the glory of killing Superman. And so he shows up to stop Doomsday from finishing the fight. Nice ending.

So there are some very nice moments in this book: the Pa Kent speech, the citizens helping, the continued 'abyss looking back' nature of Super-Doomsday and how it comments on today's comics; they are all fantastic.

But somehow having things explained to me by Vyndktvx sort of dulled some of the Morrison magic here.

I still think that this will end up being one of my favorite long arcs for the character. And I do think the finale is going to be great.

Overall grade: B/B+

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Legion Of Super-Heroes #17

Legion of Super-Heroes #17 came out last week, the first of an apparently brief attempt to 'bring the band back together' by reuniting Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen on the book. It is hard to believe that is has been almost 30 years since their heyday on the book. And I guess it is no big surprise that there was a very kinetic feel to this issue, an energy which I think has been lacking on this title at times.
We have seen the Fatal Five plotline sort of simmering on the back burner for a while. But this opening chapter of the true arc starts ferociously and wildly.There is a palpable danger felt throughout the issue as the Legionnaires seem helpless. These aren't Braalian pirates or Dragonwind's sister the Legion is fighting. These are big time arch-villains and their power is felt immediately. I mean it when I say there has been some inertia on this book, issues that barely move me as a reader. This issue was the exact opposite.

The issue starts off in the middle of a disaster. A Legion cruiser manned by Phantom Girl, Sun Boy, Polar Boy, and Invisible Kid has had a catastrophic malfunction, crash landing on some unknown remote planet.

The characters are at a complete loss as to how it has happened and where they are. They cannot communicate with the natives of the world they have landed on. It is a nice technique. As readers we are dropped into the middle of action bringing us into the story immediately. More importantly, we are just as lost as the characters, making us empathize with them as well.

But the easy pace of last issue and the optimism of the election is over. Phantom Girl as Legion Leader is immediately thrust into a crisis.

And if this malfunction and crash isn't considered a real enough crisis, this cinches it. Sun Boy is dead!
He was a 'leaf on the wind', landing a powerless cruiser well enough to keep his teammates alive. But it cost him his own life. And there is little chance of coming back from this. His head is crushed. Rest in peace Dirk Morgna.
Maybe all those scenes of other Legionnaires walking through the hall of fallen heroes was some sort of foreshadowing I should have picked up on?

I suppose that this could be the easiest way to churn up publicity, killing of a Legionnaire. But to be honest, I can't remember the last one (Earth Man doesn't count). So I didn't think this was stunt.
Over on Rimbor, a similar technology collapse has crippled the planet. Ultra Boy, Cham, and Glorith are there to try to track down the Fatal Five and are caught in the backlash.
And the feeling of impending disaster, or danger, is even more palpable. Tharok hasn't had this sort of power before. As readers we know about both disasters making this even more incredible. One such attack, which is all each Legion team is aware of, is crazy enough. It makes Tharok a bigger threat and therefore the Fatal Five even more powerful, as insane as that sounds.

On the other side of the universe, the Phantom Girl led squad is basically marooned. Every piece of technology from their cruiser to their flight rings is off-line. They can't even communicate with the natives who seem to have eaten the corpse of Sun Boy. I guess Levitz and Giffen want it clear - he is not coming back.

In an added twist, this culture seems to have been built on a chunk of the Source Wall. Polar Boy realizes the city they are in is built on the arm of a Promethean giant.
The Fatal Five and The Fourth World? Sounds like an explosive combination.

Back on Rimbor, the fallen worker drones suddenly re-power and attack the Legionnaires. So it is more than just a de-powering technology attack; it is controlling technology, and it has Tharok's designs written all over it.
Glorith, my favorite impending super-villain, a :egionnaire with unknown levels of power, demolishes all the drones because she 'doesn't like to be touched'.
It is a scary moment for me. It has to be a matter of time before she loses it. If she has untapped power, we are (obviously) talking about a Time Trapper like villain. I think the sweet, naive, and innocent young woman is going to change when confronted with the dark realities of the universe. Maybe that happens in this story.

And the Promethean Giant? It comes to life.
Just how does this fit into the Fatal Five threat? Or does it? Maybe when the attack disabled the Legion Cruiser it also disabled whatever tech was holding this thing at bay?
This is an odd wrinkle for this story ... but a welcome one, adding another layer of mystery. And again, adding any excitement to the story and the book is fantastic.

At last we find out that Tharok was indeed behind the two attacks. He has a new power and a new power level. He almost seems like the Cyborg Superman now, able to leave his body to attack machines from afar. I can't tell if this is a device he is sitting in? Or creating himself out of? Either way, it gives a new look to the half man/half machine old idea of Tharok.
Here he is reuniting the Persuader and Validus to the cause. He wants to strike at the Legion like a surgeon, eliminating those who could harm him the most as well as laying waste to home worlds.
He seems vicious here and frightening. It has been a while since I have been worried about Tharok as a villain. So this was great.

And if all this action wasn't enough, the issue ends with the menace of Validus about to be unleashed. If the new Tharok is this powerful, what will Validus be capable of? Even that picture is impressive.

This was an incredible issue for this book, a burst of energy in a sometimes sleepy title. And there was progress here, pushing the Fatal Five arc into the spotlight.
Add the new powers of Tharok and how off guard the Legion was caught, the Five feel like a real threat. And a little Kirby cosmic is a nice spice to add.
But the biggest thing is the death of Sun Boy, a death which happens here in the opening chapter.There is no time to grieve here. This is war. There will be casualties.
Overall grade: A

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Michael Alan Nelson Interview On ComicVine

Supergirl has been horribly mistreated in the 'first' Super-family crossover in the New 52. It hasn't been easy to read. And then, just when I felt that Mike Johnson had a feel for the character and just might be the guy who could bring Kara back after H'El on Earth, we learned that Johnson was off the book and Michael Alan Nelson was on board. In fact, the DC higher-ups Bob Harras and Bobbie Chase cooed about how dark the book was going to get.

I really felt like all was lost.

And then I read this interview with Nelson over on Comic Vine. Here is the link:

I highly highly recommend reading this brief interview in its entirety. As with all these sort of publicity pieces, I am taking this one with a grain of salt. But Nelson said some things that made me optimistic ... something I didn't think I would be feeling for a while. Here are some blurbs that stuck out for me.

Comic Vine: Supergirl has spent the last few issues during this 'H'el On Earth' story arc falling in love with H'el for, what some might say, all the wrong reasons. Do you plan on building on that relationship following the end of this series?

Michael Alan Nelson: Kara is searching for a place to belong and the vast majority of people on Earth don't have powers. If she's going to fit in, she's going to need to relate to the mundane among us. It's not going to be easy for her and it might not even work out, but I think she should try. Plus, having a non-super around might help ground her and gain some perspective on the world around her. Not to mention that I think it could be fun watching Supergirl not only deal with her own insecurities, but deal with someone else's when they realize her last boyfriend was [a] super-powered bad boy who never needed to wear a shirt because his smoldering hotness kept him warm.

So immediately gone is the 'she has no affection for Earth' early tag-line for the book. She is searching for a place to belong and wants to fit in.

One of the problems with the earliest issues of this run was that Supergirl

CV: If we had to choose one word to describe Supergirl it would have to be that she is really stubborn. Lately, she's been doing nothing but butt heads with both Superman and Superboy.  What are your plans for Supergirl's role in the "Superman Family"? Will she continue to rebel again Kal-El, or will readers get to see their relationship change?

MAN: There's always going to some tension between Supergirl and Superman/Superboy. Much like realizing that you have to be nice to your annoying cousins when you see them during the holidays just so you can make it through dinner without throwing mashed potatoes at each other. It's only once a year so suck it up and it will soon all be over.

 But who she does get to choose are her friends. And it's those friends who eventually become your real family. It's just like real life. We develop relationships with friends that can become just as strong as any blood relationship. Even stronger. And once Kara starts to build that family, she'll start tolerating  Superman and Superboy a bit more.

Okay, this isn't 100% optimistic. I would want Supergirl to try to mend fences with her cousin. I would expect the same from him. I don't think they should be treated like the relatives you tolerate  at the holidays.

On the other hand, it says Kara is going to look for friends and then maybe warm up to Superman a bit more. I took 34 issues (Sterling Gates' first issue) for Superman and Supergirl to act like friends the last go around. Hopefully it won't take that long this time. In the meantime, a Supergirl seeking out friends on Earth is a good thing. Maybe we'll get a supporting cast!

CV: In the last 16 issues Supergirl hasn't really managed to adjust to Earth. Is that something that fans can expect to see in your take over of this series? Will we witness the character evolve? If so, in what way?

MAN: That's one of the things that I really want to focus on with Kara as a character. I'm not saying that she will be able to adjust to being on Earth right away, but I want to at least see her try. That would be a lot of fun to see. I look at it this way.

She had an unbelievably difficult tragedy to deal with. She lost EVERYONE and there's no one to help her work through that pain and confusion. She's been having to figure it out all on her own. Now she's coming to realize that Earth is her new home whether she likes it or not. Yes, it's unfair. Yes, it's a big bucket of suck. But that's the way it is. So the cloud of losing everything she ever knew will always hover overhead, but it's starting to dissipate enough to let some sun shine through. I think it's time she started asking the question, "Okay, what does this planet have to offer?" Supergirl is a good person and someone who I think wants to be happy. So I'd like to see her start trying to find some happiness.

So I think the foundation of tragedy has been built by Green and Johnson. And I think they were starting to have her warm up to the planet .. before the edicts of H'El that is.

But I love how Nelson ends this, saying that Supergirl is a good person who wants to be happy and that she will try to find it. That sounds like a Supergirl I want to read. The fact that he labels her a good person who wants happiness (as opposed to a 'Hell on wheels girl who will fight with her friends so don't piss her off) is a good start.

CV: What do you plan on bringing to Supergirl that we haven't seen yet?

MAN: I want to try to bring a sense of fun to the title. Like I said before, I think she wants to be happy. I'm not going to make it easy on Kara. But I want there to be no doubt that there is hope in her world. She CAN be happy and it's her struggle to find that happiness that I want to explore.

Hurray! Fun in this comic! Hope for Kara. An acknowledgment that she can, in fact, be happy.

The fact that we are this far along in the title and fun, hope, and happiness are considered 'new ideas' for the book seems like insanity. But I'll take it.

CV: What have been some of the challenges you have faced writing Supergirl?

MAN: For me, the biggest challenge has been honing in on the right tone of her character. Too far one way and she becomes silly and annoying, too far the other way she becomes overly-brooding. So the trick is finding that middle ground where the weight and seriousness of what she's experienced and what she must continue to deal with is tempered with a sense of fun, wonder, and adventure. Kara is a rich character with the full-spectrum of emotions swirling around inside of her. It's been challenging finding a way to see that internal chaos manifest itself in a way that makes us love her as a character and want to follow her story.

And I loved this answer too. It seems that there are people who picture Supergirl in her 50s adventure, a sugary pushover. And there are people who see her as an angst-riddled angry young woman.

And then there are her fans who see her as a young hero on a journey who falls between those extremes. And her best writers - Kupperberg, David, Gates, Peaty - have managed that spectrum well. Even Mike Johnson seemed like he was there, finding that inner core of what Supergirl is - a good person trying to help people, learning to be a hero. So to hear Nelson recognize that Kara is more than a one-note character, that she is a 'rich character', makes me happy.

Now to be sure this article wasn't all rainbows. Nelson notes he has a dark side and things won't be easy for Supergirl. The continued holding of Superman at arm's length bothers me. And in other areas of the interview, he states she has to deal with obsession and even a dark part of her own past.

But still, this was a far cry from other interviews and publicity pieces about the character. There was more to be hopeful for here.

I hope I won't be let down.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Supergirl #17

Supergirl #17 came out this week, the penultimate chapter of H'El on Earth, an arc I will be happy is coming to an end. From the beginning, the deck was stacked against Supergirl in this story. In the span of a couple of issues all the characterization that has been slowly building in her main book was demolished.

In Supergirl, Kara was on the journy, moving from a grieving character to one who was dealing with her tragedy and realizing she needed to move forward on our world. She was a character very reticent to let anyone in ... to trust anyone, but one with a solid core of being a good person. She wanted to help and would never harm anyone. yes, it was decompressed story-telling but this Supergirl was someone I was rooting for, someone I was hoping was going to work her way through her stages of grief and emerge a young hero.

In H'El on Earth, all of that went away. She immediately trusted H'El. She jumped in with both feet in believing his story. She immediately fell in love with him. And she began lashing out at everyone around her ... first calling Earth a ball of sweat and mud and then bludgeoning Superboy within an inch of his life.

This has not been a good story arc for Supergirl. And I find that in her own title, writer Mike Johnson is trying to do the best he can with this editorial edict of Supergirl being a patsy and a villain. He has her saying things that jibe better with his characterization of her. And so we have this issue where finally ... finally ... she realizes the truth, that H'El has been duping her. Of course, she has to be told it by Wonder Woman, never getting to that conclusion herself. It makes these earlier issues of H'El that much more preposterous. Why didn't someone tell her this a while ago?

I will once again pass some sympathy onto Mike Johnson who probably didn't want this to happen to Kara but was forced their by 'the powers that be' ... I am looking at you Dan Didio and Eddie Berganza ... people who have never seemed to understand the character of Supergirl and what should be done with her. And kudos to Johnson for at least trying to portray Kara in a sympathetic way here and in his other issues of H'El.

I have no complaints about the art though. Mahmud Asrar continues to amaze on this book and this issue, in particular, is fantastic. His fight sequences and his Wonder Woman are very easy on the eyes and make this issue a visual treat, one with lots of splash pages.

Enough preamble. On to the review.

The issue opens with Wonder Woman and Supergirl in a standoff. And, as usual, Supergirl is ready to fight and defend H'El's star chamber, a machine which is straining the time-space continuum of our solar system.

You can read Johnson's thought on Supergirl in Wonder Woman's words. She is a strong brave woman, someone fighting through tragedy. But this defense of H'El and his plans is idiotic. No more sympathy.

Funny, that is just how I have been feeling about this Supergirl up to know. The fact that she has maintained some sense of perspective, hasn't gone mad or wallowed in rage, despite the sadness around her has been remarkable. That has been one of the strengths of this book, that Kara has been something of a hero despite the recent events of her life.

But this being H'El on Earth, that stuff isn't happening. Maybe she and Diana could be allies but not in this story.

Even this panel is an interesting pattern because it is mirrored by one of H'El punching Superman in the same way. There is no doubt ... Supergirl is a villain here.

Despite all this, Superman still seems to have some faith and familial love and loyalty to Supergirl. He is angry that H'El is using her for his schemes and defends her.

I haven't always seen Superman be so demonstrative in his love for his cousin. In fact, in some places he has outright belittled her. But again, I wonder if Johnson is trying his best to patch things up in this book.

As I mentioned before, I think Asrar is phenomenal in this issue. The fight scenes show nice 'bullets and heat vision' action and his Diana is just spectacular.

And, despite her power, Supergirl isn't as prolific a warrior as Diana. I loved this part of the fight where Diana simply hog-ties Supergirl with the magic lasso. I love the expressions here ... one of surprise on Kara and of superiority on Wonder Woman. Great stuff.

Now I never have a super-solid understanding of the powers of the lasso. Here Wonder Woman says the truth of the situation, that H'El is going to blow up the sun, will be revealed by the lasso. Is that true? Does the lasso work that way?

Supergirl has one last trick up her sleeve, the corona wave sunburst, which blasts her free of the rope but drains her of her last energy.

While Wonder Woman is blasted away it is temporary. And the drained Kara can't escape.

Can I say that I have come to accept this power! I didn't think I would like it but if used in this way as a last ditch effort which drains Supergirl, I think it is a neat little maneuver. I didn't think I would like it at all. I guess even an old fan can accept new tricks.

And here is my favorite moment of the book.

With everything that has happened, it would be perfectly reasonable for Diana to just deck Kara. Instead, Wonder Woman takes the high road. Realizing that Supergirl is drained and not a threat, Diana asks her if she is okay and says the time for fighting is over. This is a teachable moment for Supergirl. Not conflict has to end with punches.

And in this brief moment of zen, Wonder Woman ... gasp ... tells Supergirl that the star chamber will destroy Earth and the solar system. And, Supergirl ... double gasp ... actually sees that she is telling the truth.

Hmmm ... maybe that info could have been relayed earlier?

The charade now revealed, Supergirl finally shuns H'El (now continuously sporting the backwards S which has been intermittent). No more 'Beloved', no more 'it was alllll yoooouuuu H'El' gushing, no more 'this is the only thing that has gone right' defiance. She is now angry and against him.

Well, I should be happy about this and I am ... I guess. Except, now Supergirl is a bit petulant, a bit too easily swayed, a bit too hot and cold. She is all in for H'El and then one minute later she is all against him. It just further ingrains an air of immaturity in her, a feeling that she doesn't have a strong core of her own.

I know, I can't have it both ways and I am thrilled she isn't a villain anymore.

But this turnabout does not correct the disservice done to the character in this arc.

We have one issue to wrap this up. Hopefully in those 20 pages we learn H'El's true origins, understand what it means that the Oracle is standing next to Earth, have H'El be defeated, and have the super-family come together a bit. Does anyone think that all those things can happen in a satisfactory way? Me either.

So in this issue, we have tremendous art. We have Supergirl seeing the errors of her ways. And we have subtle dialogue trying to salvage the characterization of Kara that has come before this. We have a coloring error by Dave McCaig who puts Superman's red shorts back on, on a splash page no less. (It is a rare miss for McCaig who otherwise is stellar with nuanced colors around things like the sunburst, etc.)

But in the end, it is an issue were a deluded Supergirl is trying to stop Wonder Woman from saving the world. And I have had enough of Supergirl being the duped villain.

Overall grade: C+

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Back Issue #62

Knowing I had this week off from work and looking for some extra stuff to read, I broke tradition and downloaded a digital copy of Back Issue #62, a book I was unfortunately unable to find in the print version. As an amateur comic historian, I love Back Issue in general but this issue focusing on Superman in the Bronze Age is just a treasure trove for any Superman fan.

But for me, this was just about the perfect issue. I am in my early forties and I consider my formative years on comics to be the late 70s and early 80s. That's when I started to pick out favorite characters, be excited about the ancillary stuff like sneak previews and back-up features, and when I really became a Supergirl and Superman fan. So this issue struck the perfect mix of nostalgia as well as being unbelievably informative.

I mean just look at this table of contents!

There is so much here which I remember reading when these things first came out! Superman Family, World of Krypton, the Supermobile issues, the Superman Back-Up stories, the Alan Moore 'Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow', and even the Atomic Skull.

In particular, Superman Family and the World of Krypton and the Supermobile story with Amazo all have powerful memories for me.

Now there isn't any specific Supergirl piece in the issue, the Girl of Steel is generously sprinkled throughout the issue. The most salient articles for Supergirl fans is the first one in which the editorial switchover from Mort Weisinger to Julius Schwartz is covered and the Superman Family article.

There is a lot of small little blurbs about Supergirl in those articles.

This one I found interesting and reminds me I should reread those earliest Superman Family issues. In those stories, Elliot S! Maggin has Supergirl deciding to try to leave the super-hero business to help people 'person to person' as the guidance counselor at the New Athens Experimental School.

Despite that overt statement, super-heroics continue to follow Kara around and (if I recall) by the third issue of new Supergirl stories (in this book which alternated new stuff with reprints) Linda isn't bemoaning her life as Supergirl and diving into action as normal.

This picture crops up now and again and I would have loved to see this book. Can you imagine what it would have been like in the early 80s to have an all-woman superhero team. This is Birds of Prey before BoP was a twinkling in DC's eyes.

Supergirl writer Jack C. Harris wanted to create this team of Supergirl, Batgirl, Enchantress, and Vixen. What an interesting mix of characters! Someone should bring this idea back for a mini-series.

Anyways, I covered those Enchantress stories on this blog here and here.

But there is more.

The Superman Family article goes in depth about all the characters in the book, including the married Earth 2 Superman and Lois Lane. It was in these books that I first learned about Susie Tompkins, the telepathic niece now tormenting Superman in Grant Morrison's Action Comics.

Just a couple of more blurbs which grabbed me ... although again I will say this whole issue is great.

There is an article about the Earth 2 Superman and it covers the arrival of Power Girl.

In the original All-Star Squad books, Power Girl was fiercely independent and didn't want to be mentored. Too bad Gerry Conway couldn't explore that more. And ironic how now the Earth 2 Supergirl and Superman have a much more conventional relationship of mentor/protege than the Earth 1 versions nowadays.

Lastly, there is a very nice and in-depth review of the last pre-Crisis Superman, the famous Alan Moore 'Whatever Happened to ...' two-issue wrap-up. As it is pointed out here, I am amazed that this story was only 2 issues! Today it would be at least a 6 issue mini-series ... at least. I usually am anti-decompression. But man, I would have loved this story to be just a bit longer to explore a lot of the zaniness that happens here.

I love this story, a wonderful capstone to the Schwartz era and sort of clearing the deck for John Byrne. I cover the Supergirl bit of this story briefly here.

I haven't even commented on the Supermobile story or the back-up features! Amazing issues!

So definitely worth getting if you are a Superman and Superman family fan. Head to the TwoMorrows website to get your own copy!