Review: Power Girl: Old Friends trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

It's happy news after the disappointing end of the Justice Society title in Monument Point that Power Girl: Old Friends, the final collection of Judd Winick's run on that series before the DC New 52, is so good.

Those who question Winick's morality and upbringing after his Catwoman: The Game will have to also take into account his Power Girl work; leaving aside the baseline objectification inherit in a superheroine with a keyhole in her costume, Winick's Power Girl stories are energetic and respectful, and end on a strong note for the character. If one might argue that Winick's Catwoman work is disrespectful, it would be hard to say that such is endemic for the writer.

Like many of the final trades leading up to the DC New 52, it's obvious that at times Winick truncates or abandons plotlines in order to bring the book to a close; also writer Matt Sturges steps in for two self-contained stories in the end. Despite the brevity, however, Winick achieves a satisfying ending, and Power Girl fans ought not be disappointed with this book.

[Review contains spoilers]

Judd Winick's previous Power Girl trade, Bomb Squad, tied in to the first volume of his Brightest Day tie-in Justice League: Generation Lost, and Old Friends ties in to the second. Old Friends's value is a little greater, if you're a sucker for tertiary event tie-ins; Power Girl describes in Generation Lost Vol. 1 enough of what happens in Bomb Squad that you could probably skip it, but Power Girl's circumstances change considerably before she appears in Generation Lost Vol. 2, and for that you need Old Friends.

This is not to say you must read Old Friends to understand the second volume of Generation Lost -- you don't have to, you're smart enough to figure out the gap in the plot on your own -- but there is a gap, and true completists will want Old Friends in order to get the absolute whole picture. (It helps, perhaps, that Winick writes both Power Girl and Generation Lost, whereas the Keith Giffen-penned Booster Gold "tie-in" to Generation Lost turned out to be separate from Winick's story altogether.)

Old Friends's first three issues deal with Generation Lost, and they are remarkably moving issues for the often slap-happy comic. Alongside a scene of weird, rampaging super-monsters, Winick spends considerable time on Power Girl Kara and villain Max Lord's former friendship. Whether such friendship actually existed in the pages of Justice League International or Winick creates it whole cloth, it's a convincing meditation on old friends and how relationships change over the years -- the reader believes Kara and Max used to be friends, even if I'm not sure they actually were.

Winick also does well throughout the trade in depicting Batmen Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, Superman, Zatanna, and others -- often even on their own without Power Girl. In the Generation Lost sequence, there's an especially effective couple of pages where Bruce tries to job Dick's tampered memory about Max Lord by performing an autopsy of the late Blue Beetle Ted Kord, killed by Max. Though the story becomes at that point more about the Batmen than Power Girl, it's wonderfully chilling and at the same time reflects the best of the Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson partnership.

In Winick's final four issues, he pairs Power Girl with Superman for two of them and Batman for the other two. In the Superman issues, Superman and Kara fight rampaging dinosaurs and later, a magician who's kidnapped Zatanna; it's light and funny -- maybe a little too silly, in the moments Superman and Kara begin repeating one another -- and would be almost forgettable, except Winick takes a nice turn at the end to give Kara, finally, a real secret identity.

I have decried before how the Power Girl title constantly touts Kara's brains and scientific acumen, but rarely actually demonstrates it. Winick finally addresses this (at least better than before) in giving Kara a secret identity by which she can truly lead her company Starrware as Karen Starr. Winick follows this with the two Batman issues, in which Karen and Bruce team as CEOs, not superheroes, and this offers a good general picture of Power Girl (were the DC Universe as it was at the time not ending): she's a hero with the power of Superman and the secret identity/professional life of Bruce Wayne.

The Batman issues are really the stars of the book, where Batman and Power Girl battle a Muslim metahuman erroneously jailed by the US government. The heroes make a significant gaffe at the beginning -- larger, perhaps, than many might credit to Batman -- but Winick demonstrates well both prejudice and the fear that such prejudice strikes in those being discriminated against; it is a well-told tale even if the heroes don't come off especially well.

Winick's final scene in which Kara gives thanks for Bruce Wayne's recent resurrection again seems an exercise in creative nostalgia (I'm not sure Power Girl and Batman were ever that good of friends in the Justice League International, either), but it is sweet nonetheless.

Matt Sturges finishes off Old Friends with two funny Power Girl stories, one of Kara at a Comic Con-type event and one told in sixty seconds. These evoke the tone of the early Jimmy Palmiotti/Justin Gray stories on this title, and they're amusing if not necessarily, in the grand scheme of the title, "important."

In all, then, Power Girl: Old Friends is a book that won't disappoint fans of this series; it has no real bearing if you're ready to jump straight to the DC New 52, but neither do I actively recommend skipping it like Justice Society: Monument Point. It bears mentioning though that Warren Louw's Power Girl image for this collection's cover is ridiculously disproportioned -- cheesecake, but of the laughable variety; in the DC New 52, I will miss Power Girl as we knew her, but I won't miss that keyhole costume.

[Contains original covers]

Thanks for joining me on Last Days of the Justice Society week. Next week, we follow Power Girl and the Justice Society into the DC New 52, of sorts, with the Collected Editions review of the first new Mr. Terrific trade. See you then!
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3 comments:

  1. It's been a long time since I've read them, but from what I remember, Power Girl was a member of Justice League Europe, and as such didn't deal that much with Max (or Batman, for that matter).

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  2. I was so sad to see this book go... In the end it kept its quality all the way through.

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  3. As Mark says, I tend to think Winick was creating some of Power Girl's friendships whole cloth. This is part-and-parcel of an overall narrative shift circa Infinite Crisis (or maybe Identity Crisis a little earlier) where the JLI era began to be treated with nostalgia -- a nostalgia nonexistent, for instance, a few years earlier roundabouts Grant Morrison's JLA. I don't think these characters liked each other on the page quite as much as Generation Lost would have us believe -- still, a rosy remembrance is kind of the point of nostalgia, and it's nice irrespective to see Power Girl palling around with Batman and the rest here at the end of the "old" DCU.

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