Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: Supergirl #41

Supergirl #41

Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciller: Fernando Dagnino
Inker: Raúl Fernandez
Released: May 20, 2009

Labeled as the finale of "Who Is Superwoman?", issue #41 gives us the final showdown between Supergirl and Superwoman, but also leaves many of the truly important questions unanswered and alludes to greater revelations to come beyond just the simple mystery of Superwoman's true identity, which was revealed last month. While the main thrust of this storyline was this question, giving it its title even, who Superwoman was never seemed like the big mystery to be solved here. In any crime story, the deeper issues of motive are always more interesting and those threads are left dangling here, tantalizingly frayed into even more split ends. 

Supergirl #41 follows a crime thriller finale blueprint, in which during their ultimate confrontation protagonist and antagonist deal in a verbal joust of Q & A so that the audience may have the schemes, plots, and motives explained to them, cross-examination style. Here, however, Supergirl's questions go unanswered as Superwoman stubbornly refuses to follow the formula, still holding onto the belief that she can complete her mission successfully, believing there are secrets best kept secrets. She reveals not her true motives for allowing the murder of Supergirl's father. It is left a riddle as to how she was reconciling being manipulated by her own father into acts against New Krypton with her belief that her actions ultimately were in service to the Kryptonian people. The true source of Superwoman's powers, her relation to the House of El, the very nature of her costume itself, are all left like scattered puzzle pieces missing their tenons. They look like they fit together until you actually try to join them. 

Frustration mounts in Supergirl and feeds into her spiraling rage, the battle between hero and villain escalates in brutality and desperation. She beats Superwoman repeatedly, slamming her through buildings headfirst, tearing at her costume, invoking the names of her victims, showing no mercy to a woman she clearly holds responsible for her father's murder, and who she sees as defiling the family crest of the House of El. Superwoman's pleas turn desperate, but they ring not as pleas for her life, but as warnings for Kara, cautions of things misunderstood, things shrouded in secrecy now careening out of control. These pleas go unheeded and Supergirl's wrath leads to Superwoman's death. Her death is agonizing and grotesque, harrowing and unstoppable. The shocking murder may be most unintentional, but in succumbing to her basest emotional response, an obvious need for vengeance, Supergirl bloodies her hands irrevocably and is left with ever more painful questions.

The complexities of the loose ends left point to the depth of the story at hand. Nothing here could be wrapped up with clean edges and neat folds. There are too many conflicting personal agendas and twisted emotional histories for that to be possible. Everyone involved is holding onto secrets, of identity, of politics, of motivation, and doing so out of a belief that these secrets are needed to serve a greater good or to protect those whose ignorance could prove to be salvation. This is the core dilemma for those who serve in capes and masks and deal in covert identities and multiple lives. This storyline shows, ultimately, it's those secrets kept that lead to tragic misunderstandings that lead to death and heartbreak; it's a demonstration that the frustration felt by unanswered questions is the perpetual pain of life.

Supergirl #41 is dramatic, visceral and emotionally wrenching tragedy, ending with bodies strewn about; two families, literally, torn apart; and our heroine, battered, in shock, in tears, on her knees lamenting her violent actions. The motivations of the characters may be ambiguous and misguided, but the consequences they suffer and inflict on each other are as vivid as the colors red and blue. The secrets they keep protect no one, only insuring pain is endured in lonely solitude. 

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