Supergirl #21-23 by Michael Alan Nelson (Comics Review)
Supergirl. Maid of Might. Girl of Steel. Superman’s cousin. She has been a mainstay of DC comics for a number of years and has featured in several different mediums over that time, right alongside big blue. Most recently, the character’s biggest break was as a recurring character on CW’s Smallville, a show that lasted ten full seasons and featured Supergirl in several key episodes during the later seasons. Played by Linda Vandervoort, this version of Kara Zor-El was an elder cousin who had managed to escape the destruction of Krypton but had become stuck in her pod’s stasis field during a crash on Earth. Other than the movie Supergirl where the character was played by Helen Slater, this was Supergirl’s biggest outing.
And then came the New 52 in September 2011 and rebooted her comics continuity, and even gave her a much bigger platform than before. Universe reboots tend to do that. I read all the first twelve issues and even the special Zero issue last year, but I struggled to connect with the character. I just couldn’t. Mike Johnson and Michael Green’s scripts had a lot of potential, but the execution often fell short for me. And I stuck with the title for that first year because I love the character.
With the advent of the announced creative change from issue #20, with Michael Alan Nelson being brought in (and new artist being brought in for #21, Diogenes Neves), I decided to get back to the title and suffer through the H’el on Earth issues so I could be caught up with everything that had happened since I had stopped at #0.
Note: Contains spoilers for the previous issues, especially the H’el on Earth event issues.
Note: I’m not reviewing #20 here since that will come later when I review the entire third volume, which will hopefully be soon.
Issue #21 starts off with Kara in space, heading off to parts unknown. Having just come off back-to-back depressing events like H’el’s treachery and meeting a doppelganger from another dimension, Kara’s life is a wreck and she wants to go away. It also doesn’t help that she’s slowly dying from Kryptonite poisoning, thanks to her efforts to stop H’el from destroying the entire solar system. In short, life has taken a dramatic down-turn for her and she just wants to get away from everything. She wants solitude.
Till now, we’ve actually seen very little of what kind of hero Kara is. She has been far too busy putting the pieces of her life back together rather than being an inspiration to people, something that they can look up to. That sort of a personality is an ill-fit for the New 52 version of the character, and completely fitting for her cousin. Its an interesting counterpoint, certainly, and so, with the new arc starting with this issue, we see that juxtaposition flipped on its head as Nelson focuses on her becoming a hero to a people she doesn’t know.
If there is one thing that defines this new Kara, its her relationships to the people around her. Particularly her flatmate Siobhan, who is also the Silver Banshee. While the issue starts off with a “current scene” Nelson takes the readers back in time a few hours to show how Kara cuts off her ties to the one person on Earth who has shown her unreserved kindness without any expectations of behaviour or attitude (yes, Superman has done this). The exchange between Kara and Siobhan is terrific in showing off both their personalities, and another reason why I loved it was because Siobhan gives Kara a stern talking-to, something that I wish I could! The inter-relational conflict this sets up is something I’m hoping is explored in future issues once this arc wraps up.
Soon, we are back to the “current” time and we see how Kara follows a distress signal to a planet under attack by a robotic menace and how she wins the day. But as has happened with her before, nothing is as it seems. In quick order, Kara is drawn into a snare by a mysterious villain who seems to have taken an interest in her. Throughout, we see a Kara who makes the effort to fit in, who reminisces about her lost world as an adventurer rather than someone moping about the loss. She is showing signs of growing out of her childish fantasies and obsession with bringing back Krypton, and this was handled really well.
Initially, I wasn’t so taken with this issue, but having read this no less than four times now, I’ve come around to liking it. Particularly because of the in-retrospect view I have, having already read the next two issues. Michael Alan Nelson is certainly becoming a very promising talent on this title.
The art is a bit iffy here, but no more and no less than what Mahmud Asrar, the previous series regular, was doing. Diogenes Neves has a completely different style than Asrar, and this is in stark effect here. Asrar favoured prominent and sharp straight lines in his artwork, something that actually grated on me. It made the artwork come across as more a “to-be-rendered” image rather than something realistic and vibrant as is the case with most of DC’s current crop of artists. Neves is one of these and I certainly liked his art better. The one problem I had however was that his art just isn’t so crisp, so well-defined as I want it to be, or as it was with Asrar. And he too sometimes falls into the sharp straight lines effect now and then. Some inconsistency there, but overall, I prefer his Supergirl to that of Asrar’s.
Richard Bonk’s inks and Dace McCaig’s colours as excellent however. Dave McCaig appears to be a colourist machine, given how many projects he is working on, so its quite surprising to see his high level of consistency in that regard.
Overall, quite a decent issue, and very promising as well.
This is the issue where Michael Alan Nelson begins to show how much he truly gets this rebooted version of Supergirl. Start to finish, this is a dense issue, packed with a lot of introspectiveness, lot of action, lot of mixed moments, and then some. What it feels like is that Michael is hitting his stride with the character after two issues of experimentation and he’s ready to get the ball rolling.
Last issue, we saw a big Superman villain show his face, in all his glory. This issue is about his interactions with Kara and how he wants her to do something for him. As someone who has read the Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War event, I’m fairy familiar with this villain, and it appears that in the New 52, he is a completely different character. The outward appearance is the same, apart from a refit, but this isn’t the same backstory we’ve seen before. In fact, the ending to the next issue actually reveals just who he is, and its a shocker.
Anyway, the previous issue defined Kara through her interactions with the people around her and her nostalgia for lost Krypton. Well, this issue represents Kara’s inner turmoil and her wish to see Krypton restored. This is an element of her new continuity that bears a strong resemblance to the utter debacle that was the H’el on Earth crossover, except that it handled much better. For one, this is about reminiscing, not an actual restoration. That’s the strength of this issue. It builds on Kara’s memories and her desires in a sort of detached and fantastical manner, rather than something that has real world and immediate consequences of the same dire nature as in the previous big arc.
Additionally, this issue is strengthened by the fact that Michael breaks Kara out of her despondency and shows how her let go of her naivete and recognise that what is in front of her is not the reality. Whether she wishes for that reality to become a truth is a different thing. This shows that Kara has learned from the mistakes she made with H’el and that she is beginning to outgrow that part of her personality and attitude.
We also get treated to a power behind the scenes as it were, since it appears that the villain’s strings are being pulled by someone else. It goes without saying that the villain is chafing at his metaphorical restraints and that he’s had enough of his invisible bondage to this unknown character. That’s a bit that really sold me on this issue. I liked the subterfuge of it all, and how this new character’s presence instantly sets off the main villain, and all the action-awesomeness that ensues.
Speaking of, we see some fantastic action in this issue. This is the kind of action that I love seeing in a “Super” book and neither Michael nor Diogenes nor the army of inkers and colourists disappoint at all when it comes to the final act of the script. That truly is a highlight, not that everything that hasn’t come before doesn’t compare. There are a lot of emotional beats that the script hits, and seeing them all play out was great.
Still, on the whole, while I love the diversity that Diogenes has brought to the title, I still have issues with the art. There are… inconsistencies in the pencilwork still, and this really bothered me. Some of the character-work in certain panels is indistinct as well, or over-exaggerated, and that often broke me out of the reading experience. Not something I enjoyed. There are a hell of a lot of inkers and colourists on this issue, for what reason, I don’t know, but I’ll say that by and large, they get the job done and don’t disappoint, outside of a few particular instances where the colours break out of the pencilwork. Distracting at best.
Apart from what I believe is one of the best cover artwork in the series to date, Michael Alan Nelson outdoes himself with this issue. For the first time across 24 issues of this new series, he has made me go: “hell yeah, I want to read this title every month because this is awesome”. I mentioned above that he appeared to be hitting his stride with #22 as far as Supergirl’s character was concerned. That applies here as well, but handled much, much better. And his portrayal of Cyborg-Superman, the main villain for this new arc, is excellent as well.
To keep up with my comment theme from the previous two issues, what defines this issue is that Kara is confronted with her memories in a tidal flood, one after the other without respite. She has to confront her mistakes and her fears. And she has to, understandably, grow beyond all of them and become a character with agency.
If anything, Michael proves here that Supergirl can have good if not great stories. Michael Green and Mike Johnson’s scripts kind of plodded along, and were uninteresting for the main part. They were still far better than the concurrent issues being put out for Superman, but that’s a different topic altogether. Still, it shows that even in dreariness, Supergirl was a far better title than Superman for the first year of the New 52. All the potential that was simmering under the surface for 22 issues is now brought to the fore by Michael Alan Nelson, and its a great feeling as a reader.
Because the thing is, with #23, he justifies my faith and my dogged determination with this title. The chance I took with getting started on his run, and suffering through the H’el on Earth issues, pays off finally.
The issue, first and foremost, has unrestrained action where Kara really lets loose. She has had enough of people trying to control her, to manipulate her, and she lashes out at everything that tries to bring her to heel. Coincidentally, a remark by Wonder Woman in Supergirl #17 comes to mind, when the elder superhero said that Kara fought like a child instead of a seasoned warrior. Here, in this instance, for the first act of this issue, Kara gives credence to that claim. She fights without control, expending a tremendous amount of her energy in the process. And I loved that lack of restraint. Seeing a “Super” character let loose is terrifying and awe-inspiring under the best of circumstances.
So is the case here, except that Kara’s villains here are her own memories given morbid and mocking life.
The second act deals all with Cyborg-Superman and his quest to regain his lost memories. We also see the devastating appearance of his mysterious benefactor, which had me really cheering on because it was high-time that such a high-profile villain made an entry into the current timeline of New 52 comics. About damn time.
The second act also does something else: it establishes Cyborg-Superman firmly as a Supergirl villain, something that this title desperately needed. Yes, we’ve seen the Worldkillers and Siobhan’s father already, and H’el even, but none of them had the kind of classic feel that Cyborg-Superman has, even given his new origins. And that’s what this issue ends, we see who really is the man underneath all that metal, all that robotic second life. And it is a downright shocker of a cliffhanger, the kind I had no idea I’d get to see in this comic.
And finally, I actually had no complaints with the art this time. Complaining about the angularity seems a bit petty to me now, given that the title has had that kind of a style to the pencilwork for a full 2 years now. Interesting is the fact that Chad Hardin is assisting Diogenes on the pencil work here. There is so much more expression-work this time around, and the consistency of the artwork is also a point in its favour. With Marc Deering and Wayne Fauscher on inks and Guy Major on the colours, this issue is hands down one of the best issues in the entire series to date. Spectacular is the word I’d use.
In short, Michael Alan Nelson has finally gotten me to actually care about Supergirl, and its an awesome, awesome feeling.
Posted on August 31, 2013, in 2013 Reading Challenge, 2013 Writing Challenge, Challenges, Comics Reviews, Review Central and tagged 2013 Reading Challenge, 2013 Writing Challenge, Chad Hardin, Challenges, Comics, Comics Reviews, Cyborg-Superman, Dave McCaig, DC Comics, Diogenes Neves, Guy Major, Kara Zor-El, Marc Deering, Michael Alan Nelson, New 52, Review, Review Central, Richard Bonk, Science Fiction, Space Opera, Supergirl, Wayne Fauscher. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.