Review: Supergirl Vol. 1: Last Daughter of Krypton trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, January 07, 2013

Having the star of the New 52 collection Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton be Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin from Krypton, seems a foregone conclusion, but it was less than ten years ago when Jeph Loeb and the late Michael Turner re-introduced this character in the pages of Superman/Batman. Prior to that, since the death of the original Supergirl in Crisis on Infinite Earths, the DC Universe's Supergirl had been a variety of popular artificial lifeforms and other beings, but never the original article.

This is not to say Supergirl reemerged without some difficulty. Loeb and Turner offered a Supergirl with some edge, who refused the mentorship of both her cousin and Batman, accepting instead warrior's training from Wonder Woman and, momentarily, servitude to Darkseid. As other writers took over the new Supergirl title, she became a stand-in for the bad girl celebrities of the time, as often fighting crime as she was hanging out in clubs. It was not until Sterling Gates became the series writer roundabouts the "New Krypton" storyline that the Supergirl title evened out, offering a heroic and relatable Supergirl, though still with an impulsive teenager's temper.

Michael Green and Mike Johnson's New 52 Supergirl preserves the spirit of Gates's definitive run, with Kara heroic and impulsive, far from the bubbly do-gooder of her earliest incarnations but neither the bad girl anyone would be embarrassed to read. Artist Mahmud Asrar similarly follows Gates's penciller Jamal Igle with a Supergirl drawn tastefully and not gratuitously, despite her even-skimpier new costume. The announcement of the New 52 Supergirl suggested an angrier or more violent take on the character, but ultimately Supergirl fans shouldn't find much to be concerned about in Last Daughter of Krypton.

Unfortunately, despite that Green and Johnson handle the Supergirl character respectfully, it doesn't necessarily mean they can find something interesting to do with her.

[Review contains spoilers]

Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton is a book too constrained by the conventions of the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe. In issue one, Supergirl crash-lands on Earth, remembering having been on Krypton just moments ago with her baby cousin Kal-El. Issue two, Supergirl and Superman meet, and fight; issue three, Supergirl finally comes to understand about the destruction of Krypton. Though nicely illustrated by Asrar and team with a sketchy, watercolor effect, this is the same process Kara went through in Loeb and Turner's title, quicker and with Batman brooding on the sidelines.

Green and Johnson certainly know their stuff, having written the epic, moving Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite among other stories. In Supergirl, however, at least one difficulty is that they don't seem to be able to line up the action sequences with the forward action. Superman and Supergirl spend much of the second issue fighting . . . only to eventually stop fighting so Superman can explain about Krypton. Similarly, Supergirl fights the alien Reign in the ruins of Supergirl's home of Argo City, all the while Reign spouts exposition; Reign wins, a few beats pass, and then Supergirl and Reign start fighting again on Earth.

There is not enough new here, nor are the villains so compelling, as to distinguish the New 52 Supergirl title. The New 52 gets yet another rogue mad scientist (as almost every other New 52 title seems to have) in the form of Simon Tycho, who pits Supergirl against some nondescript monsters and mainly serves to furnish her with the sunstone information crystal that sends her off to Argo. There, Reign fights Supergirl for an issue, before they move the fight to Earth and Supergirl battle's Reign's three beasties, equally generic animal-aliens that fail to make any impression on the reader.

Kara's arc in the book also seems too simplistic. Inevitably, this Supergirl will come to fight on the side of good, team with the Teen Titans, and so on, but given that inevitability, it's interesting to read for the moment about a Supergirl not so tame. Green and Johnson get points, for instance, for the fact that Supergirl can't speak English and doesn't do so for the entirety of the book. But after a ghostly apparition by her parents, Supergirl suddenly decides to embrace Earth as her adopted home and to protect the people there; not only is the apparition hackneyed (hopefully there's an explanation besides Kara seeing ghosts), but Kara's shift in attitude comes too quickly. Better is the Supergirl in Superboy: Incubation, who turns away her young "cousin" as a monster; this makes for a more interesting Supergirl, different than her pre-New 52 incarnation.

The writers tease a number of mysteries that suggest good stories to come, including the murder of Kara's father, the origin of Argo's advanced technology, a pre-New 52 Superman rogue lurking in the background, and the fifth of Reign's Warkiller aliens (it would be great if this turned out to be Kara, but that's unlikely). Unfortunately, what Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton delivers so far is no more, and really less, than what readers have seen before. Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Mahmud Asrar should be commended for a respectful take on Supergirl -- that they achieved this quickly is no small feat, and that they achieved it right at the beginning of the New 52 is important; maybe with the next volume their story will be equal to the character they've created for it.

[Includes original covers, sketches by Asrar and Jim Lee]

Later this week, a guest review of Huntress: Crossbow at the Crossroads. Thanks!

By the way ..., as you may know former Supergirl writer Peter David (also of Young Justice and Star Trek fame, among others) is recovering from a stroke. Peter is a much beloved member of the comics community -- you can help Peter's family with the hospital bills by purchasing one of Peter's new ebooks, many for just $0.99. Please see this post on Peter David's website for more details.
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3 comments:

  1. This first collection is really just a half story. Raises many questions, but the answers and the payoff are mostly in issues #0 and #13. So I think we can't really judge the plot before we can read the first and second collection together.

    This is one of my favorite New52 stories, mainly because I love what they did with the title character. The melancholic mystery plot is just a bonus. Hope the tone remains intact in future issues, even after she accepts her fate.

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  2. I tried out Supergirl simply because Green & Johnson did those fabulous Superman/Batman trades. They make a good Kara, but not a fresh Kara for the New 52. It's good, but it is not my cup of tea.

    And thankfully Peter David is doing okay. The man created what is probably the best Hulk arc ever made (why isn't it an omnibus yet?) and redefined Aquaman which took 10-15 years to finally get some respect! (thanks in part to Geoff Johns current run on said character).

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  3. I was glad to hear some unexpected support for this series over on the Facebook page. Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle did a lot of hard work reinvigorating Supergirl's image, and it was good to see that Green and Johnson (whose Superman/Batman I liked as well) got the spirit if not necessarily the story. However, a lot of readers chimed in on Facebook that the story gets better, so I'm looking forward to the second collection.

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