Monday, January 21, 2013

New 52 Supergirl... Year 1

Having gotten back into collecting and reading comics only recently (just under 2 months ago), I am still playing catch-up with the latest incarnation of the +DC Comics universe, "The New 52." When I decided to start reading comic-books again, it went without saying that I would have to check out the latest series devoted to my all-time favorite superhero -- Supergirl.  This young lady has had at least four different incarnations over the years, each slightly different in powers and personality (more than that if you count Power Girl, who is basically Supergirl from an alternate dimension, and has had three or four of her own versions).

I'll talk about the different faces of Supergirl in a future post. Today, I'm going to concentrate on just the current "New 52" series Supergirl, in its first year (or slightly more than that) of existence.  My comments will cover issues #1-13 as well as #0 (which was not published first, as you might expect, but was published in between #12 and #13).  I currently have all the individual issues except for #7, but I also have the TPB covering issues #1-7 as well (I bought that first, then decided I wanted physical copies of every single issue), so I have read all 14 stories.
The first 14 months worth of Supergirl
In her present version, Supergirl's chronicles are written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson, and drawn (except for issue #8) by Mahmud Asrar.  I have to say, that I was concerned about this series from the beginning, because the hype on DC's website and other pre-launch materials I had read indicated that the authors had a vision of Supergirl behaving like what can only be described as a "bratty teenager."  Now, I realize Supergirl is a young lady and as such, she can and probably should often display the brashness of youth. But there's no reason to turn her into an obnoxious brat, and I was afraid they might do that, based on what the authors said in press releases and blog posts.

However, the way the story unfolds doesn't really give you the impression that Supergirl is a brat.  She wakes up having crashed to earth, with no memory of how she got here, and it takes her the entire first story arc (Supergirl issues #1-7, collected in the TPB "Last Daughter of Krypton") to even begin to get a handle on what is going on.  Confused and disoriented, unable to speak the language, and last having seen her cousin Kal-El when he was a baby, Supergirl does lash out (at Superman, among others), but she doesn't do so in a nasty way.  She's confused; she's scared; she has no idea how powerful she is, or how her powers even work.  Most of the time, because she can't understand the language, she is just trying to defend herself. And it doesn't help that one of the very first humans she encounters, wealthy Lex-Luthor-esque villain Simon Tycho, captures her and tries to use her as an experiment.

Over the first year-plus of the comic, Supergirl slowly starts to figure things out.  In issue #0, we see her origin, fully told for the first time, and the pieces start to fit together.  And in issue #13, Supergirl finds a "Sanctuary" created by a part of her spacecraft -- her own version of a "Fortress of Solitude" hidden at the bottom of the ocean.  The computer there helps her finally recover most of her memories (so that what we read in #0, she finally remembers in #13, which came out the very next month).  She's even called "Supergirl" for the first time (by Tycho, who says that is what the press has named her).

The individual stories in each issue of Supergirl have been very good so far.  The writing is first-rate, and the two Mikes have done a good job with character, dialogue, using Kara's narration like a "voice-over," and with the villains she has faced.  However, up until #13, I felt like I was, in an odd way, reading the story of Kara Zor-El but not Supergirl.  This Kara was nice and all, and she looked and had powers like the old Supergirl, but she didn't act anything like the original.

But that all changed in #13.  Perhaps because the Sanctuary reminded her of home, because it brought back her memories, or because it somehow "grounded" her, the Supergirl we see in #13 reminded me very much of my original favorite character, especially the way she tricked and outsmarted her enemy in that issue, rather than just beating him silly.  In fact when I got to that scene, I smiled and said, "Now that's my Supergirl."  I could easily have pictured the "old" Kara, right from the pages of The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl, written by Paul Kupperberg, beating her enemy in exactly the same way, and even saying the same words this new one said.  My immediate reaction after I closed #13 was "More please." Not just in the sense that I want to read more issues of the Supergirl title, but more issues like that -- more issues where Kara acts like that, like the old, original Supergirl I remember and love so much as a character.

Therefore, in terms of story and character, I have to say that as a dyed-in-the-wool, and extremely traditionalist, "original-Kara-Zor-El" fan, and an ornery one at that, I have been pleasantly surprised by the New 52 Supergirl series, and I declare myself (so far) to be satisfied with how they are treating this character.

I still think they have made some mistakes with Kara, such as making her take so long to learn even a word of English (I don't care how realistic it is, having her constantly misunderstand what people around her are doing is getting old).  And I think she should have spent more time with Superman earlier on (though she did meet up with him in Superman #6 and again in Supergirl #12).  And I think they have to be very careful about how much she pines for Krypton or they're going to make her seem like a whiner.  And that is not the Kara I know and love -- the original Kara was not a whiner. She was made of sterner stuff than that (indeed, I would argue she was made of sterner stuff than Superman ever was).  However, these mistakes are not insurmountable, and they seem to have a good foundation with the character up to issue #13.

All of the above is about character, and story, and primarily falls on the shoulders of the two Mikes (Green and Johnson).  Now I would like to say a word about the art.

I have mixed feelings about the art, because the art is a mixed bag.  The overall look of the comic's art is very angular and rough. I absolutely detest the way Asrar does cloth, such as Supergirl's cape, which he insists on having float about her in ways that defy the laws of physics and gravity (Supergirl may defy those laws with her powers, but her cape shouldn't).  Indeed, in many panels, the cape looks like it's made out of wood rather than cloth, giving the impression that the thing is just hanging there in a fixed position rather than billowing behind Supergirl in the breeze.

Asrar frequently seems to have trouble with her hair as well, making it appear that her hair is of different lengths from one page to the next.  Everything about the way Asrar draws seems to be all hard planes and angles, including the "S" shield on her chest, which is too angular and does not look enough like the traditional "S" symbol of the House of El. In many panels the art looks, well... sloppy. And I'm not a fan of that style.

On the other hand, Asrar frequently does a fantastic job with Kara's face, especially on close-ups.  With a few lines he can convey a wide range of expressions on Kara, which has the effect of humanizing her.  The close-ups of her face not only make her look beautiful (pretty much a requirement for drawing Supergirl over the years), but convey a certain level of sweet innocence in the character.

Asrar gives Kara an expressive face, and when he draws her close-up, he really does something special with the features, especially the eyes, that I rarely see from other comic-book artists (George Perez being a notable exception).

Asrar's drawings also seem to look a good deal better when he inks his own work (which is unusual for me to say when I don't like an artist's basic style, because a good inker can often correct that). In the few issues where someone else has inked Asrar, I think the result has been decidedly worse. So as long as he continues working on Supergirl, I guess I'd like to see him do both the pencils and the inks.

Therefore, I have mixed feelings about Asrar's art.  The "distant" shots, where the frame of view is zoomed out, frequently look sloppy, and the full-body shots of most characters are too angular and straight-edged, making them look too "flat" for my taste.  But his close-ups of Kara's face are excellent, and I would probably miss those if someone else took over the art.  Thus, I'm not sure what to think about Asrar. A part of me wants to see +DC Comics  put a new artist onto the book, but a part worries that if they do, I'll lose all those great shots of Kara's face.

And so, the New 52 Supergirl title is a bit of a mixed bag, although generally pretty good.  The stories have been excellent, and the characters have been interesting, although I think the authors are going to need to be careful not to make this new Supergirl seem like a bratty teenager, because a few times they've been walking the line with that.  They seem to have started to slowly transition her to the Kara I remember from years ago, so I encourage them to continue that, and hopefully they will slowly move her more and more in that direction.  I have mixed feelings about the art (except for #8, which was drawn by my favorite artist, George Perez, and left me wanting more like that). It's decent, I suppose, and it certainly could be worse, but it's nothing to write home about.  Overall, the total package is not bad, and Supergirl is currently behind Batgirl on my list of favorite series, weighing in at my second favorite.

Now, a series getting to the second-highest spot on my list sounds very strong, but remember... Supergirl is my favorite character in comics, ever.  That means any comic-book starring Supergirl starts with a couple of "free points" -- basically, the Mikes and Asrar are graded on a curve, and a pretty large one at that.  If this were any other character, it would probably drop a few notches just from that.  Of course, having a series about my favorite character is a bit of a double-edged sword.  The creators can also, perhaps more easily than with almost any other character, lose my loyalty, by having her do things that are too far out of character for Supergirl as I remember her (i.e., doing things the original Kara would never have done).

In the end, though, this series, up to #13, has been pretty good, and I can recommend it to both people who have been reading comics for a while (as a very good, complete reboot of a famous character) and to people who have never read any comics (it will confuse you at first, but it's supposed to, and by #7 you will start to figure things out). It's worth a read, at least.

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