Monday, May 4, 2009

Missing In Action: The Super Books! Part III - SUPERGIRL!

To demonstrate the greatness of something by omitting it and hoping people see what they are missing is a strategy best employed by petty lovers and comic book editors. Show readers a "World Without (insert hero here!)" and watch as they gasp and thrill as everything falls apart and new heroes step up to fill a void that cannot be filled. Yeah, that'll show 'em! Alas, like in love, what generally happens is the spurned party tends to just feel manipulated and, growing weary of this petulant behavior, end the relationship. Lovers and readers leave and in the end, no one is happy. 

A much more novel approach, one that requires far more thought, care, ambition, intelligence, creativity, and guile, would be to demonstrate greatness by providing a proper showcase for said greatness. Craft a story that pits our hero against seemingly insurmountable odds, that tests the very boundaries of their abilities, that pushes them to be a better hero, and you do what you are supposed to do, tell a superhero story in the wonderfully colorful pages of the great American comic book. Case in point, the monthly adventures of that lovable teenager rocketed from Krypton, Kara Zor-El, SUPERGIRL.

According to the DC solicitations Supergirl #23 marked a "brand-new direction" for "The Teen of Steel". Apparently this new direction was a wrong turn because 11 issues later the DC solicitations would declare issue #34 as "Beginning a new direction for SUPERGIRL." This is nothing new in the confusing world of superhero comics where books and characters are relaunched, rebooted, and rebirthed at a rate faster than a speeding bullet. Certain heroes seem to invite this as their very nature proves difficult for writers and editors to get a handle on. Poor Kara Zor-El seemed destined to be a muddled mess, nothing more than teen-girl jailbait with heat vision.

Ah, Supergirl! The short skirt! The bare midriff! The long silky hair flowing like blonde smoke in the Pantone blue Metropolis sky! It's enough to make a boy over-use exclamation marks. Of course, this could all be troubling, too, if not for the fact that the character behind all this pen and ink eye-candy has slowly and very assuredly become one of robust mettle. Since issue #34, Supergirl has grown from a confused jumble of conflicting personality traits into a multi-dimensional hero whose faults now point towards a depth, not dearth, of fortitude. The physical strength was always apparent, and now she has begun to display a mental toughness and a resiliency that balances out the youthful impetuousness. 

What was the difference this time around? Credit lay with the new creative team of writer Sterling Gates and artists Jamal Igle and Keith Champagne. Taking over with issue #34, Gates and company have brought a freshness, humor, grace, and most importantly, a solidity to the eponymous hero whose book could have rightly been stamped as a new #1. This was the real relaunch and everything prior was simply the forgettable prologue.

Mr. Gates understands that superheroes need obstacles thrown at them so that readers may see the true measure of their prowess as heroes, and in just seven issues to date, he has given Supergirl real and worthy obstacles, both emotional and physical. She has gone from the soaring exhilarating heights of reuniting with her long-lost parents to the harrowing plunge of vicious heartbreak at witnessing the murder of her father. Like any child who has dealt with
abandonment, she struggles to rationalize her widowed mothers abusive treatment and reconcile it with her own juvenile need for parental approval. She fights skillfully with her powers and when faced with the loss of her powers, has fought bravely and with guile, demonstrating an intelligent resourcefulness that would make Batman proud, may he rest in peace. She faces the banning of all Kryptonians from Earth, the emergence of another Kryptonian Superwoman intent on protecting her father's murderer, all while enduring the harsh critical lashing of the big-city media. While she may succumb to fleeting moments of self-doubt, she conquers them with valiant recklessness that bear witness to her unflagging sense of truth and justice. Supergirl is a hero, all right. The girl can't help herself.

Completing this remarkable characterization is artist Jamal Igle, who understands the girl in Supergirl. Where other artists have drawn her as a nymphet fit for the dreams of Humbert Humbert, Mr. Igle draws her as a solid figure of heroic femininity blazing through the sky in a steely band of red and blue. She never appears as if she is striking a pose meant solely to elicit a
puerile sexual response. Her postures and gestures are all honestly earned and her expansive facial expressions are sincere renderings of uninhibited childlike emotion. In Mr. Igle's virtuosic hands, Kara Zor-El is most definitely very real.

The DCU is a confusing place but Mr. Gates and Mr. Igle have made a little corner of it far more simple for you, the reader. They have made a whole chunk of its history practically irrelevent. Supergirl is seven issues old. One need not worry themselves with anything that came before because what is happening right now is the truth. This is seven issues of superhero storytelling worthy of the medium's glorious tradition. Seven issues. Seven issues at 22 pages each. 154 pages of comic book splendor dressed in a mini-skirt, midriff top and cape. But of all the bits of costume Supergirl wears, the part that is most exciting is the shield on her chest. The family crest of the House of El never looked so good.

Next in Part IV: WoNK!

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