Friday, May 12, 2017

Review: Supergirl #9

Supergirl #9 came out this week and opened up the next story arc with the new World's Finest trapped in the Phantom Zone and battling The Phantom King. I am a big fan of Supergirl and Batgirl being pals and between this and the Batgirl Annual, we have the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

But this comic really is about world building by writer Steve Orlando. There is the opening of the Phantom Zone arc. But there are two new villains. There is a potentially a third. And we get some character progression between Kara and the supporting cast. This book is probably setting the stage for the next year of this book. It really takes a nice giant step away from the opening arc and gets moving.

That isn't to say that the main plot is lacking. How Supergirl ends up in the Zone, the villain that attacks her right before, the twisted acts of Xa-Du in the Zone are all very intriguing plot threads. I am pretty invested here. And, as usual Orlando sprinkles in enough DC history to make and old-timer like me very happy.

Brian Ching is on art and I find myself getting more comfortable with his style. But more and more I am wondering if he has the right look for this book. The action, the layout, the expressive work is all solid. But maybe Ching would mesh more with a street level book or something more gritty.

On to the book.

The book opens with a plot point from earlier coming to fruition. The Tycho Corporation is showcasing it's Phantom Drive clean energy system. And they have invited Supergirl to be there to represent the device's Kryptonian origins. But an announcement like this brings in the media and scientists including Ben from CatCo and Babs Gordon.

The DEO isn't going to be there in force because they are welcoming Sirkian ambassadors. I can't imagine this is a throwaway scene. These aliens are probably part of an upcoming story.

Kara heads to the unveiling but before heading to the dais, stops to chat with Babs and Ben (who just happen to have run into each other). It is clear that Kara recognizes Babs as Batgirl from their earlier adventure. Kara drops hints that she knows. But the art makes it seem like she is annoyed. Maybe I am misreading it? Maybe Kara is just letting Babs know she is on the secret?

Long time New 52 readers will remember that Simon Tycho was a major villain in the early Supergirl book. A narcissistic, megalomaniacal, mad scientist, Tycho was willing to let his body be destroyed in his quest for power and robbing Supergirl of hers. So seeing the Tycho Corporation back in the book is welcomed. Supergirl needs her own rogues.

Now the new CEO Katarina Bissell sounds contrite enough about her company's history. She acknowledges their mistakes and wants to move forward. She even trained under the Contessa, a diabolical but successful woman who worked with the Luthors.

I can't help but think, especially after reading the whole issue, that this is all a ruse. That Tycho as a company is still pretty nefarious. But Supergirl seems blissfully unaware.

Bissell reveals the Tycho Eidolon, a Phantom Energy generator which will bring clean, renewable energy to the masses. Still, the DEO and Cameron Chase are listening in and remind Kara that Tycho shouldn't have Phantom Energy Tech. They must have stolen it from somewhere.

For readers like me, this looks more like a Phantom Zone projector rather than a generator. Maybe even a Phantom Zone cannon.

Again, the very fact that Tycho has this technology means that they aren't 100% above board.

The proceedings are interrupted when super-villain Magog shows up. With his energy spear he activates the Eidolon which, not surprisingly, begins sucking all loose matter into the Zone. Batgirl joins the fray to try and limit the damage.

The fight between Magog and Supergirl is brief but very interesting. For one, I don't exactly know where Magog stands in the current DCU. Wasn't he a hero in the JSA in the pre-New 52 days? What are his current origins?

He, of course, charges in and attacks. But Supergirl, being true to the ethos that Orlando said he wanted to give her, immediately says that the two don't need to fight. That was appreciated.

But Magog wants to fight. And he talks about how Supergirl and her motto of 'Hope, Help, and Compassion for All' will kill his family in the future. This plays heavily into the Emerald Empress storyline. Someone who has knowledge of the future is sending these people after Kara now. Another seed for the future.

As an aside, how great is it that 'Hope, Help, and Compassion for All' has now become Supergirl's official motto, originally appearing in Adventures of Supergirl by Sterling Gates but now seen here and even on the television show!

I also like that Orlando, at times, pulls out a sort of Silver Age level of power for Kara. Earlier in this run, we saw her whistle to destroy and prison. Here she does the 'sonic boom' snapping of the fingers, stunning Magog and dropping him quickly. As a guy who grew up with a pre-Crisis Superman, this brought back memories.

The art works well here. The action lines and lack of color around the snap give it a feeling of potency. Magog's spear flying out of the panel adds some oomph. And the slightly angled panel gives it even more of an unsteady, kinetic feel, adding energy to Magog's falling down

Unfortunately, Ben gets sucked into the Zone and Babs goes in to rescue him.

With the Eidolon portal closing, Supergirl has to make a choice. She can dive in to help her friends or leave them to their own devices.

Cameron Chase and the DEO has arrived to help and tell Supergirl not to go into the zone but a hero's choice is clear.

Chase's flat 'fantastic' is a nice end to the scene. I like that there will be some friction between these two as Supergirl grows into her role.

As for Magog, he isn't easily captured. A green portal appears and he teleports away.

But he drops a Fatal Five reference before he blips out. Obviously he has a link to the Empress. But is Magog part of a new Fatal Five? Has the Empress created a present day version with Magog the Persuader analogue? Maybe Mr. Bones as Mano?

Or is the 'real' Five currently in the present?

Either way, I am talking about the Legion in reference to a book that just hit the shelves. I am ecstatic.

The three youths regroup in the Zone and Kara explains how it is a cold unfeeling place reserved for the worst criminals of Krypton. It is a barren wasteland.

It does seem to have a physicality to it. These three aren't wraiths. It looks like the can walk, talk, feel. So this Zone is a little bit different than the one I am used to. Even in the pre-New 52days, I thought it was only Fort Rozz where a phantom would manifest a true body.

I am trying to remember the Phantom Zone stories from Batman/Superman and the Morrison Action run to recall if it has always been portrayed this way in the New 52.

The book ends on a nice cliffhanger. Professor Xa-Du, the Phantom King, seems to have taken over the Zone (maybe like a criminal in prison running a cell block?). He has been slaughtering other inmates, draining them of their residual power in hopes of using it to break free himself. And now he has a energy-filled Kara in his midst. He'll want to add her energy to his.

There is something very 'Wicked Witch of the West' in this image of Xa-Du watching our heroes. I like it.

But even better than that is how the word Aethyr is thrown around in Xa-Du's description of the Zone. This references the Phantom Zone mini-series from the early 80s where the Zone was thought to be a sentient force called Aethyr, another callback that makes me very happy.

So overall, this was a good opening chapter to this arc and the upcoming year. It felt like a first chapter but it had it's own mini-story in the battle at Tycho. It made me excited for the future of this book.

Unfortunately, the rough art pulled me out of the story now and then, especially in the Tycho fight were people in the background were drawn with the famous Ching shorthand style.

Overall grade: B/B+


Anonymous said...

Good issue. It even got good grades in Superman Homepage!

But I agree I don't really like Ching's art, even if this issue was an improvement.

I laughed when Supergirl found Babs and hinted she knows.

"But the art makes it seem like she is annoyed. Maybe I am misreading it? Maybe Kara is just letting Babs know she is on the secret?"

I never thought she was annoyed. I thought she was studying Babs -maybe listening to her heartbeat- and getting a "Aha!" moment. I thought Babs looked a tad disconcerted when Kara started dropping hints.

It reminds me when Post-Crisis Superman let Batman know he knew.

Intriguingly, no one seems to know what happened to Simon Tycho. Maybe Kara told Chase the story? "He died when my super-secret undersea base blew up several months ago. Given he had tried to use me and kill me several times I didn't care much in the time".

I don't think Supergirl is unaware of Tycho Tech's true nature. They were her first enemies and she knows they stole Kryptonian technology. I guess she is playing along for now.

Yes, that "Eidolon" looks a giant Phantom Zone Projector.

I was shocked when Magog turned up. Out of all possible villains... Why does he hate Supergirl?

DC Database has an article about his current incarnation:

"As an aside, how great is it that 'Hope, Help, and Compassion for All' has now become Supergirl's official motto, originally appearing in Adventures of Supergirl by Sterling Gates but now seen here and even on the television show!"

How great is it? Very great.

I like seeing Kryptonians using some of her craziest powers.

I was a kid when DC killed their old universe, but I was a grownup when I started reading Superman issues. And I started off with the Byrne's reboot. However I could never get into Byrne/Wolfman's Superman. It always felt like the universe was missing something, and was a duller, sadder and less interesting place for it. When I read Pre-Crisis and Post-Nineties issues I knew what was missing.

The Fatal Five mystery is interesting. Who are the Fatal Five and why they hate Supergirl?

Did you notice one of the servants of the Phantom King is called Shyla? May she be a new Shyla Kor-Onn?

The first story arc was a bit of a miss, but the book is getting better. Steve Orlando has proved he is a good writer, gets Supergirl and knows the history of the DC universe.

Anonymous said...

Yeah we are off to the races on this one, nice set up "Supergirl & Batgirl's Summer Vacation Adventures in the Phantom Zone"....This version of the Zone (we could catalogue several distinct variants at this point) seems more akin to the depiction in the 1984 feature film, ergo a windy cold muddy physical wasteland. And Shyla's reappearance wasn't lost on me either...I will give Ching this, he isn't necessarily my first choice to a big operatic sci fi type setting but not since Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger has Supergirl had such an endearing range of facial expressions. She rolls her eyes like a teenager when being publicly lauded, she has a "concerned/empathetic" expression...even an enigmatic wry little smile...all subtle stuff in the grand style...


Anj said...

I should have put a link about Shyla in the review but it slipped my mind.

You can go here!

Anonymous said...

"Good issue. It even got good grades in Superman Homepage!"

On story it got a 5! Reviewer James Lantz said

"The writing has improved greatly since the first story arc. It took this series a while to find its legs, but in the end, it’s off and running with some good storytelling, especially in this and the last issue. While I don’t want to get my hopes up too soon for next month’s comic, Steve Orlando’s first chapter in this serial is a good start to what could be an overall exciting reading experience."

Art it got a 3 and Cover art a 2

Now you know me and my transformation kick. I liked the scene you put where Kara was changing to Supergirl. After removing her glasses and opening her shirt. some kind of aura goes about her hair changing it from a sort of light brunette to blonde...sort of reminiscient of the 1980's where Linda Danvers used a comb to convert her brunette wig to blonde hair. I wonder what is the origin of that?

I also notice a bit of a sexy smirk on Kara as the "S" is being shown.

Anonymous said...

The transformation scene goes back to an issue where (the Silver-Age) Supergirl put color-changing molecules on a Kryptonian comb. When she was Supergirl she would run it through her hair to turn it brown. When she was Linda she would run it through her hair to turn it blond. It replaced the simpler method of wearing a brown wig.

Martin Gray said...

Really great issue. I could well do without Babs in it, though, she seems to be everywhere; I'd love to see Kara with someone more obscure, such as Dumb Bunny or Lori Lemaris... random, but why not?

I got all the refs bar Shyla, that gal I'd forgotten. Xa-Du's armour is chilling.

I've still not warmed to Ben, so if anyone needs to stay lost in the Zone... hmm, wonder if Mon is around, now Superman's history is back.

Loved that 'I do not only show up for explosions' line.

Mammoth City may be Orlando's deepest cut yet - Plastic Man's city, yes?

Batgirl didn't need a splash entrance, we'd already seen Babs costumed, and had already hadn't precious space grabbed by the big shot of Magog.

I love the notion of Lar-On as a DEO agent.

Tra-Gob? Palindromic gag?

Wands' final page lettering really makes this feel like an event