Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Power Girl #7

Power Girl #7

Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Amanda Connor
Colors: Paul Mounts
Released: December 16, 2009

Vartox the Hyper-Man was introduced into Superman comics mythology in 1974, in Superman #281, created by writer Cary Bates and artist Curt Swan. The cover of that issue by artist Nick Cardy, in which Vartox lords over a bereaved Superman as he cradles a deceased Lois Lane in his arms, has now become oddly iconic. Vartox would make minor appearances throughout the next ten years fulfilling the role of Superman "frenemy" long before the tabloid coining of that term. Since no one really dies in the DCU and the potential for a good yarn lay in the crumbled up balls of bristol board found at the bottom of any waste basket, Power Girl #7 sees the return of the Hyper-Man in all his mid-1970's glory.

Oh, and what glory it be. Vartox's leather vest and brief combo paired with thigh-high boots screams disco-funk chic, and the plethora of unfettered body hair speaks of a time before metro-sexuality and man-scaping took the man out of manhood. He is walking ego and sex, but let it be known, he, too, has a heart. He cares deeply for the people of his planet, Valeron, of whom he is charged with protecting. He  is their Superman. Vartox gives us a vision of who and what Superman could be if Kal-El of Krypton let his inner-God shine forth more and he dropped the Clark Kent shackles. Throw away those fake NHS specs, ditch the facade of clumsy farm boy oaf, slide your package into some painted-on bell-bottom slacks, grow a juicy moustache, and get down with your buddy from Valeron, Supes. Brother, now they would be "two wild and crazy guys!"

And there, right there, is what makes Power Girl such an impressive and joyous book to behold. In just seven issues, it has managed to be the comic book that reminds readers what the medium and the genre can accomplish when allowed to be absurdly whimsical, and it has completely shown up all four books in the Superman-universe. This issue, #7, leaves those books in its wake. How? What? Why? Because of freedom, my friends. Power Girl demonstrates the real beauty of having a book in which things of this nature can happen; in which a super-powered Lothario from another planet can invade Earth riding an interstellar headship on a mission of love because his home planet has suffered mass sterility at the hands of Yeti pirates who set off a contraceptive bomb in a major city. Oh no!? Oh Yes! And in order to save his people from extinction, Vartox, by a stroke of luck being the last man standing with active sperm, needs to get it on and knock boots with our mighty heroine Power Girl. (Whew!)

Can you even imagine this story taking place in Supergirl or Action Comics? Not a chance. Not while those books are mired in Manchurian Candidate-style cloak-and-dagger politics and espionage. Not while the Super-verse is consumed by convoluted continuity and a cast of characters larger than the Manhattan yellow pages. The Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, why, he isn't even wearing the tights anymore. The whimsy is missing over there, so obsessed the editors and creators seem to be in grounding the world of Superman in a reality of politics and military strategy. Commander El? General Lane? General Zod? Snooze. Give me Chancellor Groovicus Mellow!

The issue has a propulsive quality that escalates the mayhem and hilarity with each page. The back-and-forth banter between PG and Vartox beats with a true comedic heart, and pounds out like the staccato rhythm of the best moments of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Even as they do battle with a deadly and indestructible creature, their distinct personalities are not lost nor buried under a quagmire of fight scene panels. It's refreshingly spry and agile, the issue feeling as though the pages are turning themselves. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti channel the best of the Bronze Age, plying a fine layer of retro wistfulness without plodding it down with nostalgic schmaltz. They are having fun WITH these characters and these old ideas, not ridiculing them. In short, they are reveling in their own satire but without a shred of arrogance or elitism.

And how much more praise may be heaped on the shoulders of artist Amanda Connor? A paragraph summarizing her artistic powers would not be enough, and would yet, prove to verge on the ridiculously exaggerated. Rest assured, it would not be over-heated hyperbole. Her ability to express the inner workings of her characters, their thoughts and emotions, their frustration and passion, in a few wrinkled brow lines or the slight curl of a lip is astonishing. She is a director culling fine performances from her actors, who are not "Acting" on the page, but instead, behaving. They are who they are, and they listen to each other, react to what the other is saying. Connor breathes full-bloodied life into the conversations of her characters because the dialogue is happening in their faces, not just in the word balloons above their heads.

Power Girl has quietly carved out a singular and spectacular corner for itself, one seemingly undisturbed by the misguided intrusions of editors-at-large. So far, Karan Starr has been allowed to do her own thing, be her own woman, and have her own life. Will this continue? I have little faith it will. Undoubtably, soon the book will be party-crashed by Magog or Blackest Night or some such other unnecessary ancillary interlopers, and the whole thing will come tumbling down in shards of disappointment. For now, however, this is a book to cherish. The Amazing World of Power Girl, still only 20¢.

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