Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: Supergirl #42

Supergirl #42

Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciller: Jamal Igle
Inker: Jon Sibal
Released: June 17, 2009

Comics is a static medium in which movement is portrayed through various visual tricks. Motion lines are used to convey everything from swinging fists to emotional agitation, and more and more the use of computer effects such as blurs are being used to create a more dynamic sense of motion and give a greater sense of depth to the flat page. Still, the artist has to decide on what will fill each panel, they must choose an exact moment of time to freeze on, the moment that will provide both the storytelling elements needed to convey the story, as well as provide the maximum amount of dramatic power. Ideally, there should be no wasted panels as each one should be serving these needs or it serves nothing. Small moments, frozen in time, that add together to form a story.

There are no major fight scenes in Supergirl #42, no real fisticuffs at all. There are no explosions, nor crumbling buildings, nor overturned vehicles, and while there are verbal confrontations, none of them reach the level of needing to be expressed by red-encircled word balloons or oversize jagged fonts. The strongest moments here are often silent, intimate, and pregnant with tension, and with nary a motion line.

The close-up of Lois, face in knitted shock as she has just learned that her estranged sister, Lucy, may not only have just been killed by her husband's cousin, but may have been a murderer herself. Lana Lang's distraught expression as she turns back to face Lois while silently leaving Lois's apartment with Kara. The next panel shows Lana's shoulder and arm through a slivered opening as we get the sense that she is slowly and gently closing the door behind her.

There is the pile of mail that has accumulated underneath the front door mail slot of Lucy Lane's home, the near-empty refrigerator, and the thick casting of dust on her bedroom vanity, all of which speaks of a home and a civilian life long abandoned, and that point Lois towards a horrifying and heartbreaking realization.

There is the vase of sunflowers left next to Inspector Henderson as he lay unconscious in hospital that is the sad token of a bond briefly forged between super and human heroes, both sharing a need for truth and justice.

All of these small moments are perfectly chosen for their emotional power, but they also subtly convey characterization, as well. In the panel where Lana is closing the door to Lois's apartment, I was struck by how many deadbolt locks are on her door, three, practically on top of each other. I couldn't help but wonder if this speaks of the subtle paranoia felt by a high-profile big-city reporter whose superhero husband happens to be away off-planet at the moment. Supergirl's choice of get-well bouquet, too, seemed interesting as sunflowers feel child-like and innocent, the type of flower that is outgrown as one's taste matures to roses or orchids.

This issue is strong because writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle not only understand the power of these moments, but because the power of these moments show the complete understanding these creators have of who these characters are, so their emotions and their responses feel genuine. Lois's reaction to this most unbelievable revelation from Supergirl is, in fact, to not immediately believe it. She is a journalist, after all, and her instincts are to investigate and to corroborate. She is undoubtedly angry and terrified, but she keeps these feelings as controlled as possible, trying with all her might to remain the objective reporter.

Supergirl is a book dominated by strong women (not to mention the letter "L"). The dynamic between Kara, Lana, Lois, and Lucy is central to what makes this issue powerful and Mr. Gates's strong grasp of this dynamic is what makes an issue that could have easily been a trite and generic epilogue recap, instead so real, honest, and relevant. There is no exploitation nor manipulation present here, only the little moments of these character's lives presented simply, elegantly, and with quiet eloquence.

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