Review: Power Girl: A New Beginning trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

There's no doubt Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner's Power Girl: A New Beginning is a beautifully rendered and fun comic book. If that's all you're looking for, you won't be disappointed. But aside from being a rather ingenious send-up of the comic book cheesecake genre, Power Girl is a lot of flash and not a whole lot of substance. Plotlines abound that might give the next volume more weight, but all the parts of this one didn't coalesce for me.

As I mentioned in my review of the Power Girl lead-in Terra, a lot of the joy of Power Girl is in the background. The writers, with a lot of credit to artist Conner, pepper the background with details, whether the hilarious face of Power Girl Kara Zor-El's cat getting an unwitting bath, or the prevalence of bystanders with cell phone cameras building up Power Girl's New York as its own character. It's in her interactions outside the fisticuffs that this book shines -- when Kara shops with Terra, for instance, or when she shares credit for saving the city with the police and firefighters.

Conner's art overemphasizes Power Girl's already-overemphasized bust line, and the book spares no other opportunity for modest nudity, as when Terra fights crime in her underwear or half-naked aliens emerge from a hot tub. The brilliance of Power Girl is that the book acknowledges Kara's bust from the first pages; whereas other heroines have impossible figures as a matter of course, Power Girl's figure is an in-story fact -- the creative team isn't asking the reader to suspend disbelief. Power Girl seems entirely comfortable with her body, and as such what could be portrayed as awkward or sexualized emerges merely as cute, as when a well-meaning firefighter ends up eye-level with her breasts while trying to support her.

Over-sexualized images in comics, especially when presented as a matter of course and without relation to the specific story, only continue to obstruct the comics medium's quest to reach out to new audiences. What Power Girl does is take some of that over-sexualization and just rolls its eyes at it, makes it not that big of a deal. Part of what I think perpetuates silly sexual poses, inordinate graphic violence, and such in comics is the shock value of it all; what I like about Power Girl is how it addresses that shock value head on, deflates it, and then gets on with telling its story.

Unfortunately, I never felt that the story itself was all that strong, nor that Power Girl really fit into the story being told. The first three issues alone mostly involve Power Girl fighting with the Ultra-Humanite, with more pages given to the Humanite's origin than Power Girl's. The fourth issue is mostly scene-setting, with Power Girl and Terra fighting a minor one-off villain; the final two issues, too, involve a misunderstanding between aliens, with no real threat. There's a large part of this book where nothing feels at stake for Power Girl; maybe that goes to the lighter tone of the book, but I found it hard to feel invested in the book beyond enjoying the scenery.

Palmiotti and Gray seem to want to do for Power Girl what Greg Rucka did for Wonder Woman -- to give her a job, a supporting cast, and a meaning beyond just her superheroics. But while Wonder Woman's work as a diplomat directly affected her costumed life and vice versa, Power Girl's Starr Laboratories bears not at all on the problems nor the solutions in this volume (though the story suggests there might be more of that next time). Despite writer James Robinson's great scene in Justice League: Dark Things where Dr. Mid-Nite draws on Kara's scientific knowledge, the writers here state a number of times that Kara has no understanding of what her scientists are doing. It would seem as though Kara has no place in a lab that really doesn't need her to run; Kara is the "hole in things" in this story, a piece that doesn't fit and emerges basically interchangeable from any other superhero that could be substituted into this story instead.

There's a tone to Power Girl: A New Beginning that I like a lot, not in the least the "new beginning" that Power Girl gives to two of the book's "villains," offering redemption instead of jail; this is a book that does things differently. Yet Power Girl's choices never quite add up to an intention or some kind of mission statement -- nor does the writers' frequent mention of September 11 come together as more than a reinforcement that New York Cityappreciates heroes, factual if not original -- so beyond the attractive trappings, the Power Girl series emerges unremarkable. As it seems more of the challenges Power Girl faces become personal in the second volume, rather than just external, I'm hoping I enjoy the next book a little more.

[Contains original and variant covers]

A new "Uncollected Editions" column, and our review of Power Girl: Aliens and Apes, coming up next.
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4 comments:

  1. Wow, I'm amazed this isn't your new BFF comic. The twelve issues by Palmiotti, Gray and Connor are as close to a perfect run as I've seen. This has become THE characterization for Kara that I want to see whenever she appears. Anger and moping is out. Super-confidence is IN!

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  2. I really enjoyed this book as a contrast to all the dark and dingy things going on in Blackest Night, which was hitting shelves around the same time as this book.

    Not overly deep or anything, just good clean fun.

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  3. I agree with most of your thoughts about the book. It's fun, it's light, it's enjoyable, and some of the art details are brilliant, but once you get past the surface, there really isn't much there. Truthfully, I didn't think that the second volume improved on that much--it's basically more of the same.

    With that said, once Judd Winick and Sam Basri came on, the book rather unexpectedly became one of my favorites, and I hope you continue with it to their run, tying into Generation Lost.

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  4. Winick, you might know, is one of my favorite writers after his run on Outsiders, so I'm excited for him to start here. I liked Aliens and Apes better than the first volume, if perhaps because there was more resolution and less set up, but overall Gray and Palmiotti's Power Girl didn't move me like I understand it did others. Still think they took a great approach to it, though.

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