Supergirl Vol. 3: Sanctuary, like Superboy Vol. 3: Lost, is a book transitioning from one creative team to the next, all the while in the throes of the "H'el on Earth" Super-title crossover, which only makes the transition that much bumpier. Comparatively, Supergirl performs better issue-by-issue than the Superboy title does, though "H'el on Earth" is rougher on the character; also the final issue by the new team is less auspicious than Superboy's, though I've still found reasons to check out the next volume.
[Review contains spoilers]
The most egregious problem in Sanctuary is that the "H'el on Earth" crossover sees Supergirl falling in love with H'el. Their relationship is fairly chaste, at least, but H'el is such a creepy guy and the evidence against him is so staggering that it requires Supergirl coming off unbelievably oblivious throughout the story.
"H'el on Earth" is a story that succeeds in beginning to integrate Superboy into the larger DC Universe, but it has the opposite effect for Supergirl; this is a "Supergirl vs." trade rather than a "Supergirl and" trade. And it's not simply that Supergirl sides with H'el instead of with Superman, which presented reasonably might have worked, but rather that she falls in love with him. One can't necessarily fault writer Mike Johnson for this (now sans Michael Green), but rather I'm guessing this was embedded in the "H'el on Earth" zeitgeist; however, the fact that it's Supergirl in love with H'el and not Superboy siding with H'el smacks of a "girls are so emotional" trope that detracts from "H'el on Earth" overall.
That said, though the "H'el on Earth" crossover doesn't distinguish itself as a whole, there's plenty to like in the Supergirl chapters. Series artist Mahmud Asrar draws them all, continuing the book's distinctively tidy, slightly animated style. It's in Supergirl that we get our best glimpse of H'el's (supposed) origin; also it's in Supergirl that the reader ventures for the first time into the bottle city of Kandor that Superman rescued in Action Comics, all well depicted by Asrar.
Sanctuary also pits Supergirl against the Flash and Wonder Woman in separate chapters, and also teams her with Power Girl. Though again Supergirl gets short shrift in "H'el" consigned to the villain role, there's plenty joy in watching these characters meet again for the first time. In the Flash issue, especially, Asrar's style is enough like Francis Manapul for this to feel like a genuine Flash story. And I appreciated that Johnson wrote against the norm by having Supergirl and Power Girl become immediate allies, instead of the usual misunderstanding and battle.
Indeed, Johnson's best issues outside "H'el on Earth" are his first and his last in this volume. The first, before "H'el" rears its head, has Supergirl fighting old enemy Simon Tycho in her new Fortress of Solitude (the titular "Sanctuary") and also cameos Silver Banshee Siobhan Smythe, the character that really made Supergirl Vol. 2: Girl in the World great. The last is that against-the-grain Power Girl chapter, in which the two Karas team up against government agents and also the machinations of Lex Luthor. In these interactions, Johnson presents Supergirl, Siobhan, and Power Girl as amusing and interesting, and it's that same spirit again that buffeted this book's second volume.
As an aside, most of the Lex Luthor material comes in a single issue by filmmaker Frank Hannah, who's been doing some work for DC in the Super-titles. Hannah has an especially good bit in revealing the incarcerated Luthor's solar-powered "mind palace," and it makes me curious to read more of Hannah's work. Mostly, however, the issue underscores just how little the reader knows about Luthor and his interactions with Superman, now a couple years into the New 52; I believe we're going to get more Luthor soon with Forever Evil, but I'd like to see someone address why Luthor is imprisoned, when he "went bad," how he got those scars on his head, and so on.
New series writer Michael Alan Nelson finishes the book, but the vibe I got from his issue left me wanting Johnson to come back. In Johnson's issue, through a series of events that I'm not sure doesn't conflict with Worlds Finest, Power Girl gets a "new" costume from Supergirl, which unfortunately turns out to be the classic "boob window" costume. Too bad, but the fact that Johnson has Power Girl get the costume from Supergirl and Supergirl's reverential "You look beautiful" help mitigate it a bit.
But in Nelson's issue, he starts an ongoing joke about how Supergirl thinks Power Girl looks "too old" for the costume, which both reverses what Johnson just established an issue ago, and also resurrects the tired "look at Power Girl's rack" meme in the New 52, when we might've hoped it died during Flashpoint. Nelson obviously goes for a comedic tone in an issue where Supergirl has to convince Sanctuary to stop attacking her, and while some moments are funny, it goes on long enough I began to get bored. Troubled at times as the Supergirl title has been in the New 52, I began to think Nelson's Supergirl maybe just wasn't for me.
What will bring me back for the next volume is that in looking at the solicitations for Supergirl Vol. 4: Out of the Past, I see it introduces one of my favorite Superman villains to the New 52. This is one I can't miss (and then after that, I'll probably go in again for Vol. 5 and the "Red Daughter of Krypton" storyline). I hope I'm pleasantly surprised, however, because at this point my expectations are tempered.
[Includes original covers, including "WTF" gatefold cover, and Mahmud Asrar layouts and sketches]
Coming up, Action Comics Vol. 4 to finish out the week.