Saturday, June 29, 2013

Back Issue Box: Daring New Adventures Of Supergirl #12

Despite the busy reviewing and news schedule this month, I did want to wrap up my look at Supergirl in peril in the Fortress of Solitude with a particularly hard glance at the Kryptonian Atomic Cauldron Superman kept there.

Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #12 is aptly called 'Escape from the Death-Pit' on the cover and titled "Guess who is about to die!!" It has Supergirl once again nearly being incinerated in her home away from home. It also is one of the more bizarre issues with a particularly nutty plot point of Supergirl fighting half a dozen miniature clones of herself!

Despite the the silliness of the early '80s plot, one thing shines through as it did in all of the Daring run. Paul Kupperberg writes a very determined, very heroic, very strong Kara who uses her brain as well as her brawn to deal with the threats around her.

Moreover, I have come to appreciate the art on this book more and more with age. I'll start with the cover by comic legend Gil Kane. I am not much of a Kane fan but I like the perspective here. Supergirl is flying out of the pit on the floor, our point of view is literally looking down on her. And Supergirl surrounded by the purple flames is dramatic.

The internal art is by legends Carmine Infantino and Bob Oksner. I appreciate Infantino a lot more now than when this book first came out. I will say, his pencils look much better with Oksner's inks. But the real winner here is colorist Tom Ziuko who uses pinks and purples to great effect throughout.

Engaging in a long tussle with Reactron a couple of issues before, Supergirl is suffering from significant radiation poisoning. Weakened and possibly dying, she was then captured by The Council where an evil scientist was able to clone her 6 times, albeit each clone only 1/6th the normal size. After escaping the Council, she has rushed to the Fortress only to be overwhelmed by the fog of super-powered mini-Karas. They are now dragging her to the Atomic Cauldron to kill her.

It opens with this great splash page where Supergirl talks frankly about the death she has encountered in her life. It is easy to forget that this Supergirl never lived on Krypton. She was born on Argo City as it was flying through space. So she speaks about Krypton's exploding as a history lesson. But she also talks about Argo and how she saw death up close.

Call me sentimental, but I like this origin more than the needlessly complicated 'I was born on Krypton before Kal but landed decades later' wrinkle that was added this century.

I have to admit there is a completely surreal feel to this issue as we see these tiny evil Supergirls buzzing all around Kara. Here they carry her limp form to the Atomic Cauldron to end things.

One of the things I love about Supergirl is that she is still learning, that she isn't infallible like Superman, that she still can make mistakes.

So initially when she is tossed into the super-incinerator and feeling searing agony, she actually seems to accept her fate. But then she shakes off that nonsense and fights for her life. It is these small moments of learning, of growing, that make me love the character.

I also am pretty impressed with Infantino making a page that is only four page-length vertical panels. It adds to the feeling of the depth of the cauldron, particularly the first panel here (third on the page) where Kara is a small element.

And Ziuko shines here with a variety of pinks and reds.

Deep in the swirling radioactive elements, Supergirl struggles with the pain to claw her way out.

But then a miracle happens. The lethal radioactive elements in the Atomic pile somehow negate and counteract the lethal radiation by Reactron. In this two wrongs not only make a right ... they make a cure!!

Okay, it is an easy solution to the problem. But I like Supergirl's tenactity here, fighting for her life.

And again, the pinks, scarlets, and magentas here all paint a great scene.

I have to include more panels of Supergirl fighting tiny versions of herself. Moreover, these clones think like Supergirl, strategize like her.. As a result, it is tough for full-size Kara to outmaneuver and out-think them because they think like her!

Well ... maybe they don't think just like her.

Supergirl is able to lead the clones on a wild goose chase through the Fortress, tricking them into a room where Kara can expose them to Gold Kryptonite.

Even if this is something of an easy fix, I like that Supergirl used her brains to achieve this win. But what do you do with 6 miniature depowered clones? If you are Supergirl, you simply leave them where they are and fly off! (They do make an appearance of a sort later on in the series.)

Cured, Supergirl heads back to Chicago to go after The Council, the large super-crime syndicate operating in her town. And the 'Chairman' of The Council is none to happy that she is alive.

While Kara works her way through their headquarters, bashing skulls and ripping her way through the walls, The Chairman kills Professor Drake, the scientist who cloned Supergirl earlier. It obviously isn't good for your health to cross the head of a super-crime syndicate.

It does seem short-sighted. This guy successfully cloned a Kryptonian!

As I have said before, I love Kupperberg's characterization of Supergirl in this run. She really felt like she had made it and was close to being a complete hero.

Despite having shut down a major crime cartel ... or at least their biggest operating site ... the police, particularly Lieutenant Peters, isn't happy. In perhaps a foreshadow of much of the feel of the DCU now, he complains that Supergirl got involved. He wonders if she was responsible for Drake's death. And he doesn't like her strolling around the crime scene.

This is Supergirl we are talking about though ... not Superman. She doesn't try to explain things away or cooperate fully. She sits there irked, arms crossed. She has a bit more fire in her than her stodgy older cousin.

And then she basically tells him that he can shove his badge up his ... you know where. It is the sort of snap response I would expect from a younger hero, upset at not being recognized and appreciated.

It is that learning process that I love about the character. Immediately she realizes that antagonizing Peters isn't helping anyone. Who among us hasn't blown up at someone acting rude and inconsiderate only to regret it. Supergirl isn't perfect but is always striving to be better.

But she also has that passion inside her to do what is right.

Over the years, I have come to love this particular Supergirl series. This is really about the most established and most confidant Supergirl you will ever read.

And so concludes my brief review of Supergirl in peril in the Fortress and the Kryptonian Atomic Cauldron.

This issue is of low importance from a Supergirl history viewpoint and therefore isn't crucial for a Supergirl collection. That said, these issues are routinely available in dollar boxes and worth picking up.

Overall grade: B+ (maybe upgraded for nostalgia)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Review: Adventures Of Superman #2

I know I am always going to be hopelessly behind the times when it comes to reviewing digital first stories. I am an old-timer, waiting for the print versions, and therefore perpetually lagging.

Adventures of Superman #2 came out last week, putting the fourth, fifth, and sixth on-line chapters of this series into print form. I gushed about the first issue and it's classic sensibilities on the character. This issue continued that trend with the entire issue being deliciously entertaining and one chapter standing out as being simply fantastic.

But the format also is great, a throwback of sorts. These are brief stories which need to have a beginning, middle, and end in a handful of pages. It is unlinked from continuity. And there is a sense of wonder and fun in the chapters so far that is sorely missed in the main books. While the words might be considered 'toxic' by the marketing people and despite it's 'Teen' rating, so far this book has been an all-ages book. I can read these stories to the supergirls at home. And they can learn about the Superman I grew up with here.

DC also probably knows that there is an opportunity here to cash in on the buzz of the movie here. I am sure it isn't coincidence that the cover pose by Giuseppe Camuncoli mirrors Henry Cavill's 'first flight' scene in the movie. Also, I am not surprised that the 'Man of Steel' name is so prominent on the cover. Luckily, this book's tone is far away from the movie's. Ironically, there are parts of this issue which seem to comment on the movie's more controversial pieces.

The first story in the issue is 'The Bottle City of Metropolis' by writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli.

The story opens with a nice discussion of what it means to be Superman and it is broad strokes showing just what people love about the character. He talks of the "sheer joy of being able to make a difference", "to help people", "to do the right thing", to l"ive a life in service of the greater good."

In an amusing sort of resonance with the ending of Man of Steel, he says that dropping a building on a bad guy is not what being Superman is about. Fascinating!

But in all he does, Superman notices the same man everywhere, something which seems impossible. This guy even appears in the Fortress. And he talks of how Superman being around makes the average man seem worthless and weak. It is the antithesis of what Superman wants people to feel.

But then, in the midst of a disaster that Superman can't seem to deal with, the same man arrives.

And suddenly he has a new outlook on Superman. How Superman is an inspiration. That he is the example to make us all Superman.

The story ends with a sort of Philip K. Dick 'what is reality' sort of twist, a bit of Total Recall switcheroo.

I loved the overall theme in this story. It covers just what Superman should be.

It is the middle story in the book that stands out. 'Slow News Day' was written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and drawn by Joelle Jones. It is simply phenomenal, playing on the Lois/Clark rivalry/flirtatiousness. There is sort of throwback feel to this, right down to the sort of 1940's fashion the two sport.

On this slow news day, Perry offers his two top reporters the 'honor' of covering a dog show. It is the classic 'dog' news story thrown around in the 50s. Lois bets Clark that she will get a front page story out of it, a better story than he can produce. Clark accepts.

Unfortunately, Clark is called into duty as Superman, delaying him from getting to the show. We see snippets of his duties - putting out fires, stopping the Toyman and his giant robot duck, corraling escaping zoo animals ... it is all so Silver Age.

But I also liked that last panel, a clear homage to the Donner movies where Superman acts as a rail to save a train. Again, with Man of Steel on the minds of the world, I thought this interesting.

He even gets called to save the timeline by Kamandi and Rip Hunter.

And when he comes back, tired, and with a beard, Lois is there, sporting a jaunty hat, to grab his picture.

I loved Lois in this story. And the story has a nostalgia feel to it without overdoing it.

With moments left, Clark zips to the dog show and writes his human interest story, enough to get on the front page of the local news section.

Meanwhile, Lois gets the front page of the Late Edition (do newspapers still have late editions or is this another nudge at the timing of this). She covered Superman while Clark was 'at the dog show'.

I love how Lois declares them both winners and thinks they should celebrate together. Man, I miss the Lois/Clark dynamic! So glad to find it here!

And Joelle Jones' art just sizzles here. Wonderful stuff.

This story is an A+.

The last story 'Best Intent' is written and drawn by Michael Avon Oeming. I was looking forward to seeing Oeming's take on Superman.

The story is a somewhat confusing time travel story. A timeline guardian asks Superman to help him find and stop another saved Kryptonian from becoming a galactic despot.

I have to say that after decades of reading time travel stories, I thought I could understand all the intricacies. But I will admit that even I am confused by this one.

It seems like there are three timelines here. The original timeline. The one where Superman and this guardian save the baby. Here Superman asks if he can raise this Kryptonian child as his own. The guardian seems to imply that it is this timeline that leads the baby (who turns out the be the guardian himself) to become this villain. And so, repentant, the guardian goes back in time to take the baby from Superman and send him onto a third timeline, one where he hopefully becomes a hero.


If anyone has another idea about this, a better understanding, I would appreciate it!

Still, I love the art here. Blunt and beautiful at the same time.

If anyone is looking for a sort of primer on Superman, if anyone is looking for that elusive Superman book to offer tweens to read and introduce them to Superman, this seems to be that book. How interesting that this 'out of continuity' book and Smallville are my favorite Superman books right now.

Overall grade of book: A

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Greg Pak And Aaron Kuder On Action

With my review of Batman/Superman #1 right around the corner and needing to catch up on some old news,  I thought I would cover the announcement that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder are taking over Action Comics starting with Action Comics #25. That announcement was made on USA Today here:

After the Scott Lobdell monopoly on the character, I think Pak is going to be a welcome change. And I have gushed about Kuder's art on this blog before. So I am excited for this team to come on board, hopefully for a long run with some creative consistency.

As always, I recommend reading the entire article. But a couple of sections stuck out.

"Basically, I've fallen in love with this character all over again," Pak says. "In fact, the first comic book I ever drew as a kid was a Superman thing. I was doing Superman fan fiction when I was 6 years old.

"For young children, Superman is your first introduction to superheroes and you love him. But as I've gotten older, I realized how resonant the whole story of Superman is and how his struggles actually reverberate with people at every age."

So the first part here strikes me as so important. I love that Pak was a fan of Superman when he was a kid. It means there is some child-like wonder that is associated with the character.

But I also like how Pak talks about using Superman as a medium to tell human stories on a super-human level. How Superman's problems can be like our problems just writ huge.

One of the themes Pak wants to explore with Superman is that even with all the drama and heroism, he's just regular-dude Clark Kent at his core, a Kryptonian-born guy who grew up in Kansas with regular people, still trying to make sense of the power he has.

"It's not like he grew up among people like him from day one and all his power was just totally natural and supported by everyone around him and everything was cool," Pak says. "He grew up as a normal kid who discovered he had these powers and it was terrifying and it set him apart from everybody else and it gave him incredible responsibilities.

"In a weird way, that replicates everybody's experience. Just as regular people, as we grow up we learn that we actually have real power. The things that we do can hurt people terribly, can break hearts, can break stuff, or they can be a real help to people. And it's up to each of us to figure out what we're going to do with our own abilities."

Small decisions people make every day — determining whether to speak up when one sees a bully — are the same kind of huge decisions that Superman has to make, Pak figures.

"The character becomes the way for all of us to explore — in a safe way — these things we actually grapple with ourselves just by being human." 

One thing that I think has been missing in the Superman comics since the New 52 took over is Clark. Sure we get snippets of him here and there. But I am one of those folks who thinks Clark is the real identity and Superman is the mask. I am one of those fans who thinks that it is the man in Superman that makes him great. I believe that it is his early life, the lessons he learned and the values he was taught, that makes him such a great person. 

So I am glad that Pak is talking about bringing Clark back into the book, back in Superman as his core. And again, I like how Superman might be used as a metaphor for human struggles. I hope he remains an inspiring figure in this run. 

There is so much I think has been sort of pushed to the side in Superman in the New 52. So I hope we also get some more of the supporting cast, some Supergirl interactions that aren't contentious, and some big action with big plots.

After the Andy Diggle debacle, I hope Pak stays on the book, isn't bogged down by cross-overs, and isn't overly interfered with by editorial. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: Legion Of Super-Heroes #21

We are nearing the end aren't we.

Legion of Super-Heroes #21 came out last week and that means there are only two more issues left in this incarnation of the Legion, which is essentially a glomming on of an old incarnation of Legion. I have to say that after reading this issue now, I can't help but feel some resonance with all I feel about the Man of Steel movie.

The ending is marked by a lot of carnage, a lot of destruction, and a lot of death ... all in some mad dash to 'relevancy in the current comic market' ... all to make the comic 'modern'. If that is what we have come to with the Legion, maybe it is time to move on to Justice League 3000.

Now I am sure that this opening paragraph is going to lead to the usual comments about me as a reader. That I am stuck in the 50s, that I want sticky-sweet stories without conflict, that I want the heroes to be so pure as to be boring.

And frankly I am sick of that.

You know what I want? Good stories.

My favorite Legion era is the years around Great Darkness Saga into the Baxter years. Reread those stories. There isn't gore or carnage or heroes killing people. And they stand up to 3 decades of time.

My second favorite Legion era? The Five Years Later book, a dystopic look at a future bogged down by politics and isolationism. Different milieu for a Legion book to be sure. But the team was still heroic, trying to do what was right in a tougher time.

Heck, I even like big noisy brawls if they are part of the story not the purpose of the story.

I don't know if the last 5 years have brought good Legion stories. And I don't know if this loud Fatal Five story packed with killing and pandemonium leading into the demise of the book is any different. The concept of the Legion has suffered so much recently that Keith Giffen ... whose fame is built on the foundation of the Legion ... said the word Braal in an interview like it was a swear word, like it was the antithesis of a good comic. What a shame.

Paul Levitz seems to be speeding to the finish line, trying to put in some character flourishes that echo prior greatness, that utilize the wonder of the Legion. And Jeff Johnson is on art here, bringing a Scott Kolins feel to the book which feels consistent.

But the Legion is about to go away ... and it feels like it is going away for a while this time. And that depresses me.

With the galaxy crumbling around them, the Legion is surprised to find that their 'quark' technology is suddenly back on line.

One thing I love in this scene is the curious and bemused look on Brainy's face as he tries to figure out why that is happening. It would be hard to be curious and bemused in the middle of an apocalypse but if anyone would be it is Brainy. This is a man who has had questionable sanity in the past. Everything is a problem to be solved. It is that characterization that makes the Legion such a great book.

So why is it back on line? My guess is that Tharok is preoccupied. Controlling a Promethean Giant can't be easy.

Back on Earth, Cham and Ultra Boy battle the Persuader. The city is in rubble around them. Duo Damsel looks dead.

I love the shock on Jo's face when he hears that Phantom Girl is gone, probably for good. This is the love of his life. He had faith in her as Legion Leader. It is completely deflating to hear she is gone.

Again, solid characterization is more important here than the devastation that accompanies it.

Another thing I have enjoyed in this book is the slow change in Chemical Kid's personality. He started out as a snot-nosed entitled jerk who bought his powers and his way into the Legion. Some risky missions later and he suddenly has adopted the Legion way, thinking more of others than himself.

Here he uses his powers on the thrashed Mon-El, trying to control the chemical reactions in Lars' body to save him.

I hated this character when he was first introduced. I have to say watching him grow has been a great side story in this title.

Even more interesting has been Shadow Lass' struggle with her feelings about Mon-El. I love her dedication to him despite shutting him out of her life in the recent past. Why can't these two kids just admit they still love each other???

And I wonder if there is a meta-textual message in Dream Girl's visions. All is dark and funereal! That sounds about right for this book and for Legion fans.

But apparently there is more death around the corner. Invisible Kid and Polar Boy have been shunted into a 'near death' limbo. The ghosts of dead Legionnaires lead them to a way home but tell them one mistake and they will be back forever.

Foreshadowing? Probably. I can't imagine Jacques making it out alive.

As for the Fatal Five. Well they are more like the Fatal Three. Validus has been marooned in deep space. But Tharok, Persuader, and Emerald Empress are still around and bring the fight to the Legionnaires on Earth. They wipe out most of the cruiser team (and that is saying something since Element Lad and Lightning Lass ... two big guns ... were aboard).

I will say that Tharok's powers are so ill-defined that they are becoming almost comical. He somehow can teleport Emerald Empress out of an inertron cocoon as well as breach Brainy's force field to attack the belt it has sprung from. Will we ever hear how his powers expanded like this? Unlikely.

And where is the fifth member?? Isn't Glorith ready for her big close-up??

In a nice cliffhanger which has a 'book end' feel to it, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl arrive to join the fight. Cosmic Boy was on the cruiser. So it looks like things boil down to the original three Legionnaires wrapping up the fight. Hey, they were there at the beginning ... why not the end. Again, nice characterization, especially for long-time Legion fans who grasp it best.

So overall all this was a brawl filled issue with some nice nuggets of characterization scattered throughout. I suppose that might be an improvement the ennui the book was in before.

But are these characters so toxic that they need to be cast aside and forgotten? I don't think so.

Overall grade: C+

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Vibe #5

Vibe #5 came out last week and certainly had the title take something of a left hand turn onto a new path. It is interesting to see things change so quickly here rather than simmering slowly. I wonder just how much this quick pace and shift in story is being driven by the unfortunate poor sales numbers on this book.

In this issue, Vibe goes from being an agent of ARGUS to being a fugitive hunted down by the very agency he has served. We had seen in the early issues of the book that Vibe was starting to question whether or not he was truly working for the 'good guys'. Whether it be Kid Flash or this issue's Gypsy, Vibe can't just hang his hat that he is doing the right thing. And that questioning of their authority would have been a great thing to slowly heat up over time until it hit a full boil.

There would be an awful lot to explore there. Cisco's family would be endangered if he runs. He is being compensated/rewarded by Argus for his service. There are probably real threats that ARGUS is dealing with. There could be a lot of plot lines and hand wringing about turning on them.

No complaints about this issue as things move forward quickly and ends with a fantastic cliffhanger. I was hoping that this decision to run would be more drawn out.

Pete Woods is on art on the book with inks by Sean Parsons. Parsons brings a sort of Cully Hamner flourish to Woods excellent pencils which makes this book very visually appealing. Brett Booth pencils the cover with great design.

Last issue, Vibe decided to help Gypsy rather than bring her in. With the ARGUS troops closing in, Vibe makes that bold decision. He is going to quit his job dramatically, turning on the troops and helping Gypsy escape.

I think it is interesting that Cisco decides to completely trust Gypsy as quickly as he decides to turn against ARGUS. This shows just how new Vibe is to this game. She actually could be the vanguard to an invasion who has charmed him. I would have liked at least one panel where he weighs what he knows of both sides before changing his life so profoundly.

After all trusting Gypsy completely is no different than trusting ARGUS completely.

Dale Gunn has always appeared to be his own man, working for ARGUS but not necessarily blindly following orders. I like how he stands up to Amanda Waller, asking her for some leniency with Cisco. Vibe is just a kid only doing what he thinks is right.

Unfortunately, Waller isn't buying this. She sends in the Suicide Squad to clean up this mess.

I don't think Gunn's role in Cisco's life is over. My guess is he is going to be an ally in this mess.

On the run, Cisco goes off-line, destroying any tech that he could be tracked by. While running, Gypsy gives us a one panel origin story.

She comes from a dimension-hopping family who has been stranded here by her ... wait for it ... evil step-mother. As daughter of the caravan leader, she might even be a princess. This isn't lost on Cisco. He says she has walked out of a fairy tale.

Now Gypsy needs to find a dimensional rift to rejoin her caravan. This leads to the best pages in the book.

Cisco is still learning his powers and we get to see him figure things out. It leads to some wonderful images like this one.

Vibe decides to open up his eyes to all the dimensions to see if he can hone in on Gypsy's. We get this fantastic 2 page wide-screen panel showing the dimensions just behind the veil of our reality. It looks like a hole-riddled quilt. Some of these other dimensions look relatively 'normal'. But in others we have fairy appearing people, dinosaurs, and futuristic buildings.

I thought this was great, grabbing me as a reader visually and showing the potential for this book.

It is almost too much for Vibe to take in. So to help him concentrate, Gypsy kisses him.

As someone who grew up reading about teenage heroes struggling with their powers, feeling a little isolated, and often being socially awkward, this felt like a classic moment. Who wouldn't want to be kissed by an extra-dimensional princess? Again, this felt perfect for the book. With that contact, her particular dimension pattern becomes clearer.

Hmmm ... maybe physical contact with breachers somehow gives Paco information about where they came from? Maybe helps him open up specific portals? Hope this is explored soon.

The next pages are a decent fight sequence between Vibe and Gypsy against the Suicide Squad.

Vibe ends up skirmishing with a villain named Crowbar. During that battle, Vibe ends up using his power full throttle. After some buildup, the battle explodes with vibrational energy and when the dust clears, Crowbar is simply gone.

Again, we are seeing Vibe's powers as they manifest. I doubt Crowbar was vaporized. Instead, I bet he has been shunted to some other dimension. It is a brief reprieve as Vibe is knocked unconscious shortly thereafter by Deadshot.

While the two page dimension-viewing spread was my favorite moment of the book, this was an extremely close second.

Gypsy tries to hide in plain sight as King Shark but that is literally sniffed out by Harley Quinn. While we can't see all of it, I have to assume that Harley knocks out Gypsy with the giant wooden mallet she uses. That is equal parts ridiculous, brutal, and fabulous. Perfect for Harley!

And suddenly Gyspy and Cisco are imprisoned, bottled in the Circus. And when Vibe tries to escape, the tube ends up binding him even tighter.

Again, Dale Gunn comes out as the voice of reason and I presume an eventual ally to Vibe. He asks how many people Waller will imprison for 'safety'.

Given what I have read, the next two issues are going to be a crazy breakout from the circus which means we might get to see other extra-dimensional DC characters in the book.

So overall a rapid and very fun ride with dramatic character movement forward. I would have expected this sort of story more around issue twelve of this series, so to get it so early is interesting to me. How will this effect the JLA book? Will this remain a 'teen hero discovering his place' book? Or will the cruel reality of rebelling against a black ops system with family and friends being caught in the crossfire end up working into the book? Will trusting ARGUS then trusting Gypsy leave Cisco jaded and cautious? Or will he continue to try to help those he feels need it without reservation.

This book has been consistently entertaining. It has a classic 'struggling young hero' feel like early Spiderman, Firestorm, etc. But it also is moving at a breakneck pace which leaves you breathless as a reader, wanting to read more almost immediately. It is a shame that sales aren't healthy. People are missing out on a great little comic here.

Overall grade: B+

Monday, June 24, 2013

New Nelson Interviews - Multiversity And Newsarama

I have been pretty impressed with the first two issues of Supergirl by Michael Alan Nelson. While the initial interviews and publicity were touting the book as going to an extremely dark and horrific place, the issues themselves have been much more even and has shown a Supergirl who is still striving to be a hero, to help, despite all the hardships that have been thrown her way.

Nelson sat down for a couple of interviews recently and I thought I would post some of them here (with my comments). As usual, I am only putting in snippets of the whole interviews and recommend you head to the sites and read these things in their entirety.

The first is out of Multiversity Comics here:

Multiversity: What about the character of Supergirl do you find appealing? Where you a fan of the character before you took the gig?

Michael Alan Nelson: I’ve always been a fan of her as a character. I’ve always been drawn to strong female characters and she is one of the strongest. And not just physically, but I think emotionally as well. I know that if I woke up on an alien planet to discover that everyone I ever knew or loved died a terrifying, painful death and everyone else would shove me into oncoming traffic as soon as look at me, I’d be weeping in the fetal position and never come out from under the bed. But not Kara. Yes, she’s despaired as anyone would, but as much pain she’s had to endure, she doesn’t give up. That she can pull herself out of bed after all of that makes her such an interesting person to me. All the powers and crazy villains are nice, but the core attraction to her as a character is her boundless sense of spirit. Plus she’s looking for a place to belong, a place where she’ll feel loved and accepted. I think we can all relate to that. 

After a bunch of interviews, Nelson finally says (admits?) that he has always been a fan of Supergirl. I wonder just when he started to be a fan of hers ... The David run? The Loeb story? Is he going back and reading classic stuff?

I like that he does focus on her strength and resilience. "A boundless sense of spirit" is a nice way to put it. I would add that hope and tireless drive to help is a part of that.

Multi: As the Superman family of books grows closer together, how much of your writing is influenced by your fellow creators?

MAN: When you’re writing within the DCU, I think everyone is influenced at least in some small way by everyone else. All of these great characters are populating the same space so there’s bound to be some influencing happening across titles. But I really do try to isolate myself as much as I can for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I also really want to bring Supergirl into her own. Everyone knows that it’s Superman’s planet and Supergirl is just another satellite. But I’d like to see Kara really step outside of that supporting role and become a premiere character in her own right. It also works with her as a character since she feels some resentment towards Superman for a number of reasons. Part of her feels like she’s in his shadow and it would be fun to watch her step out from under it. 

I have to say that there is good and bad for me in this response.

Like many, I want Supergirl to be recognized as her own character and valued. I want people to think she is strong enough to stand on her own, in her own book. It is a double-edged sword to keep her out of big events in the DCU. Keeping her free from crossovers allows Nelson to tell her stories. That said, it seems like fans loooovveee big cross-overs and keeping her out of them might make it seem she doesn't matter in the big picture. I am not a big fan of endless huge cross-overs so I actually like the idea of keeping Kara separate unless the cross-over makes sense to have her in there.

I also don't know how she can feel any resentment towards Superman, let alone for "a number of reasons". He has basically kept away from her and has only tried to help.

Multi: What do you hope to bring to the ‘New 52′ characterization of Kara? As she learns more about the world, how will she grow and change?

MAN: Right now, Kara is almost ready to accept Earth as home. Almost. It’s a decision she’ll come to eventually, but she’s going to falter along the way. But accepting Earth as her new home is more than renting an apartment and saying, “Here I am!” It’s going to be a lengthy learning experience for her and that education is going to be hard won. That’s where we’re going to see her grow and change. How does she fit in an alien world with hundreds of alien cultures on top of all of the things she’s going to have to deal with because she’s Supergirl? Plus, she’s only sixteen. Becoming an adult is hard enough. Add everything else into the mix and it’s going to make for some great stories. 

Learning and growing is part of the charm of Supergirl. So I am glad to hear that is intact.

But I hope this acceptance of Earth as home isn't an extremely drawn out process. I can understand feeling comfortable on Earth will take some time. But I don't want a year of stories with her in deep space before turning around and heading to Earth. How can you build a rogue's gallery, a supporting cast, or reinforce her place in the DCU if she isn't on Earth?

Multi: We are constantly hearing in the media about the lack of “strong female characters” carrying their own books. Since “Supergirl” is one of the more iconic female characters in comics, do you feel a responsibility to portray her in a certain way? Similarly, how important is establishing a diverse book, both in terms of race/sexual orientation/gender and in terms of plot?

MAN: Wow, I could go on and on about this subject, so I’ll try to keep it brief. A few years ago I wrote a series call 28 Days Later based on the movie of the same name. The main character of the series was a black woman named Selena who journeyed home to London in the middle of a zombie apocalypse (and to all the fans out there, yes, I know they’re “infected” and not zombies, but roll with me here). To date, it’s been my most successful title and Selena is arguably the strongest female character I’ve ever written.

Bringing all that back to Supergirl, it’s the same approach. I don’t know what it’s like to be on an alien planet in an alien culture, have superpowers, or be a sixteen-year-old girl with a constant stream of super-baddies looking to kill me. But I do know what it’s like to feel alone, lost,to want to be happy when it seems like the world is against you, and sadly, I know what it feels like to lose a parent. And that’s what I try to focus on. Supergirl is a strong female character, but not because she can fly or throw buses over her shoulder. She’s strong because of her resilience, her perseverance. She isn’t perfect. No one is. But if I stay true to her character, she’ll hopefully be someone readers will positively respond to.

I didn't read 28 Days Later and would love to hear from anyone who did.

This is another nice response about Supergirl. I like hearing about her resilience and perseverance and strength. What I need to hear more is that she is hopeful and good and heroic.

The next interview was on Newsarama and concentrated more about the new Cyborg Superman but also included some Kara news. Here is that link:

Nrama: Were you a fan of Cyborg Superman? What was it about the character that appealed to you?
Nelson: I had a passing familiarity with who Cyborg Superman was pre-New 52, but the new direction we have for the character is something I find very exciting. I really dig the way we've made him intricately associated with Supergirl as opposed to just borrowing a Superman villain. But the most exciting thing for me as a writer is the emotionally volatile story I get to tell because of that association. I've been having a great time with it.

So he isn't Hank Henshaw anymore apparently. And "intricately associated" with Supergirl. Hmmm ... I initially thought he would be some Simon Tycho amalgam but seeing him in space makes that unlikely. Maybe he is the fifth World Killer? Maybe he worked with Zor-El?

But I like him being a Supergirl and Superman link. I really want the cousins to start acting like family. Having something in common, even a villain, can't hurt.

Nrama: This new version Cyborg Superman is obviously... well... a cyborg. But does he still have the mind of a human? Is that still the core of the character?
Nelson: Yes and no. Any human memories are lost to him and the basic empathy that most humans possess is completely gone. I see the core of his character as a desperate need to fill in the missing gaps, to feel complete no matter the cost.

Now this is an interesting answer, specifically since he is fighting Supergirl. She is on the run from her sad feelings, trying to forget the pain, become invulnerable to it. And he seems to be trying to run to any sort of feeling. That dichotomy has to add some zing to their story.

Nrama: So you said he's connected to Supergirl?
Nelson: Depending on how you look at it, yes. But it's playing with that connection and making it something profound that has been so much fun. We really wanted to make him a big part of Supergirl's world and playing with that connection has been one way of doing that.

Nrama: Why do you think this villain works with Supergirl?
Nelson: Because they both want to have their pasts back. Kara in the literal sense. She wants to be back on Krypton with her family and friends while Cyborg Superman simply wants to have his memories returned, to feel whole again. But Kara will never be able to have that. Cyborg Superman just might. But keep in mind, this arc's title "Be Careful What You Wish For..." doesn't just apply to Supergirl. And hopefully, when the Villain One-Shot hits and it comes back around to Supergirl, that will all make sense.

After reading Supergirl #21 we know how Kara can get a version of Krypton back. Given the Cyborg Superman sports the sigil of the House of El, he clearly must have some connection to Krypton itself. The fact that it isn't a direct connection to Supergirl (his connection 'depends on how you look at it), that would eliminate any friend or possible romantic character. Could this be some former scientist?

I wonder if he leeches memories or feelings somehow. Will Kara recreating and remembering Krypton strengthen him?

Nrama: How important is the September issue to what you've got coming up in Supergirl?
Nelson: Well, you won't have to read the September issue to understand what's happening in Supergirl. However, it will give a great deal of context and make the events of the following issue even more heartbreaking than if you hadn't read it. The issue isn't necessary, but it will add so much to the story that Supergirl fans shouldn't miss it.

Hmmm ...
Why not call it Supergirl 23.1 then?

It is a shame that Supergirl didn't get some of the lift of this monthly publicity stunt.

Nrama: But the Forever Evil events affect the whole DCU. So how do the events affect Kara?
Nelson: The events are going to be rather confusing for Kara. Right now, she's struggling to find her place in the universe, wondering if she even has a place at all. That becomes more difficult when the landscape keeps changing underneath her. The challenge and the fun for me is navigating these sea changes while still developing Kara as the center of her own little corner of the world and focusing on her own goals and desires for her own future.

 So it seems like Kara is sitting out this crossover. I guess since she has barely met the heroes of this world, distinguishing them from the villains might be tough.

I do think Supergirl's character isn't settled enough to be a pawn in one of the hero/villain wars. So I am glad she is getting a pass and being allowed to build her own title up.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Superman:The Legend Supergirl Card

I have talked about the Superman: The Legend cards before and as I feared they have become an impulse buy each week as I cash out at my comic store.

Finally, luck won out and I got a Supergirl card in this week's pack with art by Mahmud Asrar.

I suppose the use of the world Legend in the title allows DC to use some artistic license in the info on the cards. We see all sorts of versions of a variety of incarnations of the Superman characters rather than simply the New 52 information.

And that is seen pretty clearly here on the Supergirl card sporting the belly shirt costume from the last version of Kara. It also is a more angelic Supergirl, floating among the clouds, the birds flying with her. I don't know if the expression is bemused or pensive. But one thing it isn't ... it isn't angry.

And it isn't the New 52 costume either.

I asked Mahmud Asrar about the artistic choice and he said both the costume and concept were specified to him. Fascinating ...

And here are the words he was given.

Happy and carefree!

Not at all like the New 52 Kara.

Unfortunately, the text on the card is pretty sparse. We are given a couple of lines about how she is older but arrived later. I do love that she got the coveted #2 slot in the card deck, right after Superman himself.

But there is nothing about her powers.

Nothing about her personality.

Too bad. I would have loved some line which defined her personality in some way. Although, given the scattershot approach to continuity in this card set, I suppose the vaguer the text the better.

Anyways, I love the art here. And I am still hoping to get a Kara Kent, Silver Banshee, and World Killer card. I suppose I should bite the bullet and buy a complete set off EBay rather than hoping luck is waiting for me in a random pack.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Supergirl #21

Supergirl #21 came out a couple of days ago, the second issue in the Michael Alan Nelson era on the title. While last month's issue with Power Girl was a humorous romp, this issue is much more serious and probably is a better barometer for what Nelson's style is like ... at least in the context of what he has said in interviews.

That said, while not as 'laugh out loud' funny as Supergirl #20, this issue wasn't exactly a dark, dour morass either. The more I read interviews with Nelson (and I have a post coming up looking at a couple of new ones), the more I think he is starting this comic in a darker place based on the history of this character but while looking at some light on the horizon, a sort of goal for Kara to move on away from tragedy. You get the sense in this issue that she almost wants to move forward but is still being weighed down by the inertia of her grief.

The interior art is done by Diogenes Neves whose work I know mostly from Demon Knights. It is a scratchier sort of art than Mahmud Asrar's but it works well in this issue. Mahmud Asrar does provide the cover, a near-insane and angry Supergirl who we don't see at all in the story inside. This image (like the scrapped cover of her crushing the Earth) seems more aimed at the 'don't piss her off' 'no affection for humanity' Supergirl which the DC hierarchy seems determined to shove down our throats.

The issue starts with a great scene between Kara and her only Earth friend Siobhan, a scene in which Supergirl says goodbye. In one succinct panel, Nelson actually lays out all of the things that has happened to Supergirl in the year and a half she has been on Earth ... and that's not even considering the worrisome aspects of her origin on Krypton - her dad experimenting on her, her mother shooting her dad, etc. With all the terrible events on Earth, Supergirl decides the best thing to do is to move on. It is a bit defeatist but it shows just how terrible this comic has treated its hero ... precious little has gone right.

I love Siobhan's somewhat curt and then gruff retort. She basically tells Supergirl that the right thing to do isn't to run from her problems but face them. Heck, Siobhan lives in a dumpy apartment where human waste from the one above is dripping through her ceiling, her father killed her brother, and her father's demonic presence is housed in her body.

Life sometimes isn't easy.

Siobhan storms off. Kara flies off. And both regret the outburst. Siobhan realizes that playing the 'pull your self up by your bootstraps" (knee straps here?) wasn't helpful to a friend in need ... at least not at this point. And Supergirl regrets not telling her friend she is dying of K-poisoning, meaning this could be a last goodbye.

It is a very good scene which felt very real.

So Supergirl steals a space-cycle from Dr. Veritas and flies off. Somewhere in deep space she receives a distress signal and immediately heads to the planet to help. There is no internal discussion ... there is no moping ... there isn't ennui. She decides she needs to go and help in an instant. This is the essence of Supergirl ... helping people and trying to do the right thing. This isn't what someone who doesn't care or who has completely lost hope would do. Hurrah ...

She arrives on a sort of floating city (semi-reminiscent of Argo) during what appears to be an earthquake. I thought this panel of her struggling with the heft of a falling building showcased Neves style nicely. You can feel Kara struggling under this weight. And the angle gives it a nice claustrophobic feel, perfect for this shot underneath a building.

The disaster seems to be a trap of some sort as we see a 'behind the scenes' villain deciding what sort of predicament would lure Supergirl in the best. This isn't natural at all.

And when the earthquake doesn't seem to get the response needed, a 'crix' is sent to threaten the city.

I love the dialogue here. Supergirl tries to talk to this giant first saying she is trying to change her ways from a 'punch first' typical response. Again, this shows that Supergirl hasn't given up on life, hasn't just resigned herself to death, hasn't allowed her self to become base or coarse because of what is happening.(Frankly, I applaud this idea of Supergirl thinking first, acting second.)

So she is running from her problems physically but she must still feel that there is a horizon, a destination to reach. Otherwise, why bother with all this.

I hope that this corona wave power doesn't become something of a crutch. Last issue she used it to destroy Sanctuary.  Here she uses it to destroy the Crix.

Great panel and great use of near blinding color.

We again see the villains manipulating the events on the planet. Everything has been plotted and planned including this response from the populace, cheering Supergirl for saving them.

I find it ironic that the unseen villain with the red text words knows that this feeling of acceptance is rare for Supergirl and therefore an enticing way to manipulate her as well.

I will say that there were a couple of moments in Mike Johnson's run where she seemed to be embraced as a hero like this.

The lieutenant seen above morphs into a more 'acceptable' form to continue to try to control and dupe her. And so he becomes something of a charming and doddering older man who praises her for saving this world called I'Noxia.

While they are talking the ruined buildings rebuild themselves and he decides to come clean about the uniqueness of this 'planet'. It is made of malleable matter which morphs and bases itself on civilizations it has encountered. It describes it as the work of an older 'collector' which makes me wonder if there is some connection to Brainiac/Collector of Worlds from Action Comics. This cataloging and commemorating of civilizations sounds similar to bottling an actual city.

But this revelation also means the threats are self-imposed as well, something this emissary does some hand-waving about ... blaming it on faulty tech.

I like how Supergirl now knows that this all isn't real. Despite the moving parts, she calls it a 'model' and that seems right.

But things get more beguiling when he shows her that one of the civilizations they came across was Krypton. They have some artifacts but no details ... no memories. Maybe Supergirl can provide some.

In fact, she does remember the myth of Val-Ro and the Dramonicus.  And from that memory this ornate statue springs from the mass of the planet.

And suddenly, as a reader, you can see the trap being set. If it only takes thoughts to rebuild this world into something new ... well maybe a 'New Krypton' is possible. The 'model' becomes more seductive. 

And we hear even more. If enough information is given, the I'Noxia citizens can actually become the doppelgangers of real people.

If you are Supergirl, you can see just how attractive this could become. You can recreate home, live with your parents again, play with your friends again. If you think you are dying, why not die in a comfortable environment.

Nelson has done a great job so far in this issue showing the depth of character of Supergirl, helping people, trying to better herself. Is this false life going to be too tempting for her?

And then the grand manipulator finally shows himself. The Cyborg Superman has been molding the clay of I'Noxia. Will Supergirl work with him, recreating Krypton out of the matter of this world?

So overall I thought this was a very good issue. While we hear about the struggles Supergirl is dealing with, hear the sadness inside her, what we see is a young girl still striving to do what's right, still helping others. It would be easy to give up, wallow in misery, but she doesn't. And I loved that here.

My guess is that the Cyborg Superman is somehow linked to the Collector Of Worlds coming to Krypton way back when he shrank Kandor. His presence in space makes my initial guess of a Tycho/Eradicator construct highly unlikely.

And I think this is a great cliffhanger. It is a chance to see if Kara is willing to live in a 'virtual reality' to try to reclaim her past.

I can't help wondering if next issue will somehow echo Alan Moore's classic "My Blue Heaven" issue of Swamp Thing where Swampy recreates his town and controls all the citizens with his persona. After a while, his subconscious begins speaking to him through the constructs (specifically John Constantine) reminding him that a phony life, no matter how comfortable on the surface, is still phony.

I bet she gives in initially, a Krypton gets rebuilt, and then either 'Alura' or 'Zor-El' tells her she needs to move on, move away from the madness of that illusion.

We are two issues into the Nelson run and so far so good. I hope this wonderfully nuanced and layered characterization continues.

Overall grade: A