Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Supergirl of Tomorrow

Whenever DC or Marvel kill off a character it’s always played for high drama and many drachmas. Marvel seems to kill at will for little reason. The folks over at DC take a little more care and use death to foster future plans. Usually.

When Supergirl was killed back in the ‘80s in the legendary Crisis on Infinite Earths it was not just a dramatic moment. It was a signal to comics readers that the industry was indeed taking a dark turn. Of course, Marvel had killed off a number of characters up to that time, but readers expected a little edgier storytelling from Marvel. DC was another matter. They had been even, even into the 1980s, in the Julius Schwartz style of story telling. This is not a knock. Considering how dark and deadly comics have turned in the past 20 years, I really long for the Schwartz era. It was fun and fast moving, equivalent to a popcorn movie of today. Nothing too heady, deep, or culturally important. Of course, there were many excellent stories in those days, some that left you thinking, but mostly comics were just fun.

Supergirl’s death, along with Barry Allen’s (the Silver Age Flash) demise, showed us that DC meant to change the way they handled their mainstream titles.

Over the years, many writers have tried to bring Supergirl back. DC’s edict that she stay dead forced these writers to come up with odd tales to explain away the new Supergirl, who really wasn’t Supergirl. Frankly, it was uncomfortable and not at all satisfying.

Well, DC has changed their mind. They want Supergirl back and they gave the task to the Superman/Batman scribe Jeph Loeb. There is a division in the six-issue story arc. The first three issues are very interesting and cleverly use Superman’s origin and the classic Supergirl origin in an updated form to make a believable story. Batman is instantly suspicious of the girl. Krypto hates her but, as Superman explains, he hates everyone. Superman, desperate not to be alone in the universe, is instantly trusting. Wonder Woman jumps into the mix and kidnaps Kara Zor-El, taking her to Paradise Island to be trained by the Amazons.

Each character – in extreme, broad strokes – acts according to their mythos. This is done, it seems, to heighten the contrast between DC’s Big Three. These are three very different people who approach the world with exceedingly different points of view. Kara is caught in the middle, a teenager, a stranger, an orphan, and a being with incredible powers.

And then there’s the second half. Darkseid steps in for somewhat obscure reasons. He wants Kara to use her as an enforcer. Her powers will match Superman’s. In fact, there’s some hint that she’s even stronger than Superman (although there is no mention as to why this could be so). Nor is there much logic to Darkseid’s actions when he is clearly more powerful than Superman or any other hero in the DC Universe – at least as he is portrayed here. If, in fact, Darkseid were that powerful then he would have killed every hero by now, especially Superman.
There is, though, a very nice scene with Batman taking on Darkseid that is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Batman versus Superman scene in the original The Dark Knight Returns. Loeb shows, once again, that Batman is probably the most powerful hero in the DC Universe because he is ruthless. Darkseid even remarks on this with some appreciation.

But the story in the second half of the arc is obvious and telegraphed. That the heroes will win out is never in any doubt. Kara has been corrupted by Darkseid but once clear of his influence she regains her sweet demeanor. There is a question that bothers her – did Darkseid put the darkness into her or simply draw it out of her? It’s a question for another day and, truthfully, while Loeb may play with that concept, it’s clear that Supergirl is back to stay and will be on the side of the angels.

We have a moment when Supergirl is killed but we know it’s not true. The explanation is silly and shoe-horned into the story. The whole purpose of “hiding” her from Darkseid’s future attentions by faking her death is immediately negated when Kara decides to don the family uniform (albeit a sexier, skimpier version) and is introduced to a gathering of heroes.

The cover of the final issue of this run (#13) is worth the price of admission. Supergirl is indeed back, and welcome to her. Hints of future adventures are given and we know that she will return to Superman/Batman in issue #19. The first arc of this title was idiotic and childish, but this run makes you want to stick around for a while and see what comes next.


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