Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Super Reading: Supergirl #21 (2018)

The Killers of Krypton: Part One

Script:  Marc Andreyko
Pencils:  Kevin Maguire
Inks:  Sean Parsons
Colors:  FCO Plascencia
Letters:  Tom Napolitano
Cover:  Terry and Rachel Dodson
Editor:  Jessica Chen
Group Editor:  Brian Cunningham

Well, thank goodness.

I've followed Supergirl since the Rebirth relaunch, but really off and on since the "Earth Angel" stuff way, way back when Supergirl wasn't Kryptonian at all.  I've filled in some gaps on Silver Age Supergirl, and where I could on Bronze Age (I'm a fan of the Paul Kupperberg comics that I've read).

But if there's one constant to Supergirl, it's that the title - when it's a solo title - sits on a weird bubble as a lower tier seller  - and always has while I've been picking up monthly issues (except for maybe 3-4 months back in 2006 or so).  This has meant a lot of cancellations of Supergirl.   A lot of retooling and "fixing" of Supergirl.  What it has all too infrequently meant is that Supergirl gets assigned name talent or given a chance to really work.

The Rebirth launch wasn't exactly a relaunch - this is the same mess of a Supergirl we got in the New 52 in a series so clunky that I read the first two issues and bailed.  But with Rebirth they attempted to force that version of Supergirl into a continuity that somehow jived with the Supergirl TV show on CBS and then CW.  Mostly, the comic was serviceable and mostly forgettable.  If the writer had seen the show, I would have been surprised, and while no one will accuse the Supergirl TV show of high art, the take in the comic made little sense and it was clear writer Joe Orlando just wasn't interested in things like supporting characters or a status quo.

Eventually a second writer, Jody Houser, was added, and things smoothed out a bit/ lot.  The comic quit feeling like a jumble of events occurring and more like a conherent story with stakes and characters.

But, with Bendis coming onto Superman and Action and throwing everything into narrative disarray in ways that would very much impact Kara Zor-El, at least emotionally, it sure looked like Supergirl would be a casualty of the cancellations going on around the Super-books (we lost New Superman and Superwoman a few months ago, and I have a few words about that, but will save them for a rainy day).  Then, it was announced, after a brief publishing hiatus, Supergirl would be back.

Hats off to Superman Group Assistant Editor, Jessica Chen, who is listed here as Editor of Supergirl.  I'll assume it was Chen who saw the potential for a story for Kara given the events of Man of Steel and got this book together.  She didn't cancel the series.  She got Andreyko to script and Maguire to draw.  She made sure it had something to do with the story in the mainline Superman comics.  If we weren't going to do the TV show continuity, we don't need to stick to that scene (heck, the TV show doesn't seem to care about the original set up anymore).

Keep in mind - from Kara's POV - she escaped the destruction of Krypton, was launched into space, lost for decades, arrived on Earth to find that while she thought she'd arrive to find her cousin Baby Kal, decades  of time had passed and he was a fully functioning adult alien superhero with no memory of Krypton.  So on top of the time-based trauma, seeing her planet go (and everyone she lvoed die), there have been other Kryptonian emergencies on Earth including her own father returning as a Cyborg Superman (goddammit, New 52), and now she's trying to pass as human *sometimes*, but she's much more Kryptonian and frustrated than Baby Kal here on Earth.

Now, in Man of Steel, what little she had left of Krypton - from Kandor to The Fortress - has been demolished by alien jerk-face Rogol Zaar.  Although tiny, hundreds of thousands of Kandorians have perished.

Andreyko handles Kara's reaction brilliantly and beautifully.  It was she, after all, who banished Rogol Zaar to the Phantom Zone - any punishment she'd carry out with Kryptonian justice has been dealt.  But the ache of what has happened to her now, twice, is too much.  And she's reminded of how "human" Clark Kent really is in comparison.  It's a heartbreaking beginning to this new run, but it does make sense when she severs the Earthly ties she's formed to find out what the hell Rogol Zaar has been on about.

What's remarkable after the first 20 issues of this particular run, which mostly cosmetically dealt with character - this issue is *all* character.  How does Kara react?  And, thank goodness, we have one of the best comics artists in the business to put all of that on the page, conveying her experience without a thought or speech bubble.  It's all in the expressions and range of emotions from panel to panel.  Thank you, Kevin Maguire.

Stylistically, he's a million miles from either the cartoony art that the book started with (and which isn't my bag, but I can deal with it), and it's nothing like Ivan Reis' heavly detailed renderings - but Maguire's pages and panels work beautifully in part because he has a cartoonist's sense of what's necessary to convey the scene as per settings and props, but he understands the important bit is the character (as does Andreyko.  It's a hell of a pairing.).

Really, the last time Supergirl had this level of character work was in Sterling Gates' rehabilitating run pre-Flashpoint (and when Andreyko steps away, I am 1000% certain he'd do it again.  Go ask.).

There's a pretty good scene with Green Lantern trying to help Kara out by scanning Rogol Zaar's battle axe with his ring, which shows him the first "redacted" answer he's ever gotten back from Guardians Central.  And, of course, that triggers an alert with a mysterious alien light years away, who someone gets a warning that someone is looking into Rogol Zaar's story.

The great thing is that Bendis' Man of Steel was smart enough to know that Superman was not in his conflict alone so long as Supergirl existed in the DCU, and someone in editorial (I still think it was Chen) was smart enough to leverage the emotional weight and turn the story of the loneliest girl in the DCU into a quest, complete with... KRYPTO.  Yup, one of my favorite comics characters is riding shotgun with Kara as she takes to the stars.

Oh, and while Supergirl is back in a blue skirt (that's her original get-up) mostly I'm glad to see the stylized Supergirl "S" disappear.  It had long since outlived any usefulness.

It's fantastic to see Supergirl get some excellent treatment in her own title, and I think if you're picking up the Bendis Superman titles, this is the companion book to get along side them.  Should be a good read.

Hey!  I like feedback!  Please drop a message in the comments!  Hopefully something relevant.

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