Review: Supergirl: Bizarrogirl trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Sterling Gates's Supergirl: Bizarrogirl is an effective tribute to Superman stories gone past. Though Bizarrogirl was not originally intended as the last Supergirl collection before the DC New 52 reboot, it works to bring this Supergirl's story to a close and tie up a number of loose ends and plot threads -- both Gates's, and some almost two to three decades old. As a long-time Superman fan, I was more than happy to see Gates re-treading old ground one last time before everything changes.

[Contains spoilers]

Gates tells three stories here: that of Supergirl on Bizarro World, Supergirl teaming up with the Legion of Super-Heroes, and Supergirl and Daily Planet columnist Cat Grant investigating the Toyman. Each of these are quite firmly steeped in past stories; the first plays off what Geoff Johns established in Superman: Escape from Bizarro World; the second mashes up the continuity of this Supergirl and the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths iteration; and the third takes up both early 1990s Toyman stories in the Superman "Triangle Titles" and also Johns's recent changes to the Toyman.

All in all, I felt it had the positive effect of making this Supergirl -- a relative newcomer to DC continuity and something of a mis-fit during her first few creative teams -- actually feel like a character who's been part of the modern Superman mythos all along instead of a recent drop-in.

Like Bryan Miller on Batgirl, Gates had a lot of work to do in the beginning, and we'll pause a moment to recognize that. Though I thought the edgy, hard-partying, flirts-with-Captain-Boomerang-Jr. Supergirl of Identity was interesting if only for the risk DC was taking, but truly by the time Gates took over the title, DC did not have a tenable, consistent Supergirl to show for themselves.

That artist Jamal Igle subtly demonstrated that no, Supergirl is not flying around with a thong under her skirt was notably but only a cosmetic change, really, laid atop what else Gates was doing -- preserving some of the volatility in this Supergirl as created by Jeph Loeb, but also making her more heroic, more responsible, and more, essentially, normal. That we first meet Gates's Supergirl fighting Silver Banshee is significant because, y'know, that's what superheroes do.

Gates followed Who is Superwoman with a handful of collections that weaved in and out of the "New Krypton" storyline, with plenty of mystery and betrayal, especially strong themes at one point of faith versus science, and some excellent continuity nods to boot. While Supergirl might've thrown a couple fits, we never found her grinding away in a Metropolis club, just regular ol' superhero action. That "regularity" might have been why Gates's Supergirl never got the recognition that Miller's revitalization of Stephanie Brown as Batgirl did, but I'd venture Gates faced no less of a challenge and was equally successful in making his character readable.

Bizarrogirl wraps up two aspects of Gates's Supergirl run, one short(er)-term and one long-term. The former is the aftermath of the destruction of New Krypton; Gates could have handled this with a greater amount of pathos, but addressing it against the backdrop of saving Bizarro society offers Supergirl self-actualization without bringing the story to a standstill for four issues. The latter partners Supergirl with Grant, who's been Supergirl's detractor since Gates's first issue; it's no surprise Gates would end with Grant, nor that Grant's story ought involve the Toyman, who killed her son -- but it's clear Gates knows the pins he's set up during his Supergirl run and what need to be knocked down (including ending the book as he began it, with "This is my life"), and the final book is a satisfactory close.

Gates has the benefit, too, of his last Supergirl stories not quite running up against the DC New 52 reboot, so Bizarrogirl doesn't feel as rushed as Batgirl: The Lesson, for instance.

Taking up Cat Grant and the Toyman is something of an ambitious endeavor for Gates, given that the story in which Toyman killed Cat's son Adam (or, when Toyman's robot killed Adam, after Geoff Johns's Final Crisis-era alteration to the story) was published in 1993. The brassy, overblown Grant of the Superman-family titles of late is a somewhat far cry from the same character in the 1980s-1990s Superman stories that actually dated Clark Kent (the present Grant is more in line with Tracy Scoggins portrayal of the character on Lois and Clark); I wouldn't have been surprised of Gates and Johns had jettisoned Grant's past entirely, much like how Lucy Lane, who appears here, never married or had a child with Daily Planet reporter Ron Troupe.

Instead, Gates has Lana Lang narrate a through-way for Grant from the former characterization to the latter, throwing a bone to "Triangle Title" Superman fans at the end. Lana's saying, "[Grant] was different woman back then. Heck, we all were," is a cute bit on Gates's part, given that Grant was not so ostentatious, Lang was not a businesswoman who might one day head LexCorp, and Supergirl was a protoplasmic shapeshifter also called Matrix (you all know Matrix, right?). Here at the soon-to-be-end of the DC Universe, some looking back is warranted, and it's comforting to intuit that Gates has as much a touchstone with those old days as the readers do.

Speaking of old days, the Supergirl Annual that appears in the center of this book pairs Supergirl with the Legion of Super-Heroes -- that is, the newest iteration of the Legion, which itself is based on the Legion that DC published from the 1960s to 1986's Crisis on Infinite Earths. The mixture of new and old runs throughout the annual; the current iteration of Supergirl is a relatively new one that had her own adventures with Mark Waid's "Threeboot" Legion, as it's called, but Gates essentially posits this Supergirl as the same who had pre-Crisis adventures with the Legion, up to and including dying an untimely death (in Crisis, though Gates stops just short of showing said scene).

In essence, at the near-end of her title, this Supergirl becomes the "once and future" Supergirl, both her own character and the character she was created to replace, which also seems fitting. All of this brought clear to me that in DC's New 52, we understand Crisis on Infinite Earths never happened, so this major moment of Supergirl's death will no longer be a plot point. So strong was Supergirl's death in Crisis that even though the event is out of continuity, here twenty-five years later Sterling Gates finds a way to make it relevant again. Maybe that's what they mean by the New 52 jettisoning too many years of baggage -- a new reader couldn't reasonably be expected to go back twenty-five years to understand the greater meaning in a recent Supergirl annual -- but the fact that no character will refer to "when Supergirl died" again brought me up short.

(Or maybe they will. Legion continuity remains the same, so maybe they can just insert the New 52 Supergirl into the same role as this Supergirl as far as the future's concerned. The good thing, I imagine, about Legion adventures taking place in the future.)

All of that said, done, and muddled, then, it remains that Supergirl: Bizarrogirl is enjoyable, and caps off a nice Supergirl run by Sterling Gates. It was almost twenty years after Crisis before DC decided to bring back the Kryptonian Supergirl, relatively late altogether, and then it took them a while to get her portrayal right. Gates accomplished that portrayal, and it's nice that he got it right just before we lost the character altogether.

UPDATE: This review received this very nice response:



[Includes original and variant covers. Printed on glossy paper. Apparently Sterling Gates wrote a foreword or afterword to this volume that DC never published; still hoping we see it online one of these days]

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6 comments:

  1. Excellent review as always - and also the just-previous Batgirl review.

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  2. I just finish re-reading your Supergirl Vol. 1: Power review and it’s obvious that this series had a difficult starting off point. I can attribute my lack of interest in the character to the gratuitous cheesecake art, a confusing origin for Kara Zor-El and the whole “I’m a bad girl” thing with the tattoo not really being a great female empowerment message for comic. That being said, I did pick up some of the Sterling Gates/New Krypton crossover trades and I found her story arc to be quite heart-breaking and emotional. I really liked what Sterling Gates did with Supergirl and it showed real growth from where the series started (the fact that this was the last Supergirl trade, is probably for the best). It’s ironic that Jamal Igle choosing to “cover up” Supergirl‘s backside could represent a more “mature” side of Supergirl that hopeful won’t be lost in the New DCU.

    On a side note, with the New 52 trades coming in a couple months I was wondering: “What be the first New 52 trade that you will review for the website?” I’m guessing that the “Justice League” w/Geoff Johns might be the ideal starting point.

    Great job as always!

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  3. Magic 8 Ball says Justice League, at least for the time being. Won't be long now! Glad you enjoyed the review.

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  4. "Once and future Supergirl"? Didn't Peter David already do that plot line back in 2003?

    That said, I'm eager to read this after reading your (as per usual) stellar review.

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  5. True, Peter David did something similar, but (just to steal an opportunity to keep expounding on something in this book that I really liked) whereas David introduced the pre- and post-Crisis Supergirls to one another, Gates actually makes the pre- and post-Crisis Supergirls the same person, at least as far as the Legion is concerned.

    This is all very miniscule and esoteric, but it means one can reasonably read, for instance, Legion: The Curse and, despite that it was pre-Crisis, the events there still happened for the Legion in post-(Final) Crisis continuity, and ostensibly the Superboy who appears there is the post-Crisis Superman and the Supergirl who appears there is the post-Crisis Supergirl. This is all valid for about a millisecond before Flashpoint wipes it away, but it's interesting nonetheless.

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  6. This was actually the first Supergirl book/trade I ever picked up, without knowing much the character besides her original appearance in Superman/Batman.
    It actually made me a fan of the character and left me wanting to pick up more books of her :P

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