Review: Supergirl Vol. 6: Crucible trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 02, 2015

Where any number of New 52 titles petered out with final volumes not nearly as auspicious as their beginnings, Supergirl Vol. 6: Crucible is a rare series that ended on an upswing, with a glimpse at the book's still-untapped potential. Perennial Supergirl writer Mike Johnson and author K. Perkins's story matches exactly to Emanuela Lupacchino's art for a perfect package, and even despite that they set a new course, Crucible feels legitimately borne from the Supergirl series so far. And even as I wasn't enthusiastic about Tony Bedard's Red Daughter of Krypton stories previously (though I liked that crossover overall), even Bedard's stories here are smart, tonally right, and fit precisely with Perkins and Johnson's. I'd be as happy to see Perkins, Johnson, and Lupacchino on something else together as I would the three just create more Supergirl.

[Review contains spoilers]

Comparisons to Harry Potter and Gotham Academy will no doubt abound, but Perkins and Johnson have a winning strategy in sending Supergirl Kara Zor-El to the Crucible school of the title, and in that way populating the book with a ready-made supporting cast. It's not just any supporting cast either, but one that includes a new version of the Triangle Titles favorite Maxima, the newest (Captain) Comet from Grant Morrison's Action Comics run (astounding no one ever used a version of this character as Supergirl's "Comet" before), and Kara's love interest Michael from the end of Bedard's issues.

The New 52 "stranger in a strange land" Supergirl series has been at its best when the writers give Kara someone to play off of (namely Siobhan "Silver Banshee" Smythe) and at its worst when she does not (her for-no-reason jaunt to space and encounter with the Cyborg Superman); the Crucible characters give Kara nuance and depth besides her often "woe is me" outlook. It doesn't hurt that these characters are familiar to the audience and come with built-in interest of their own -- including Superboy Kon-El later in the book -- so that it doesn't feel as if Kara is against a flat backdrop (like, again, with the Cyborg's I'noxian alien companions in Supergirl Vol. 4: Out of the Past).

Much credit goes to Lupacchino, whose depictions have just the right amount of animation without being cartoony. Hi-Fi equally brings attractive color and shading to Lupacchino's work, especially for instance when Supergirl and her cosmic friends crash an Italian comic book convention late in the story. The book is filled with quirky touches -- as big as Supergirl's Crucible techno-armor and as small as the fact that Kara's fingernails are painted blue -- that don't specifically drive the story but give the whole thing a cool vibe that would, I think, have kept readers coming back for more.

Crucible starts with one of the better Superman: Doomed crossover issues as Supergirl crash-lands on Earth, is saved by Michael, and then does what she can to help the police despite their mistrust, as written by Bedard. To some extent the issue is just a recap of what's happened elsewhere in "Doomed," but Bedard manages to wrap it in a believable teen love story, surely tough to do in such a small space (Karl Moline's detailed, unassuming art helps here, too). Bedard's Supergirl Vol. 5: Red Daughter of Krypton, nitpicks aside, resulted in a newly superheroic Kara who cares about Earth, and Bedard shows that in practice here and sets the tone for the rest of the book. The Red Hood team-up that follows, with art by Jonboy Meyers, is fun too and picks up well from the Batman/Superman annual where the characters first met.

It would seem DC Comics had some plan for Supergirl, Superboy, and Gen 13 as suggested by the end of Tony Bedard's Red Daughter, though nothing seems to have come of that. It further appears there's been a change (maybe prompted by the advent of the Supergirl TV show) given Superboy's presence in this volume, hunted by a different group than he previously seemed to be hunted by in Red Daughter. That said, I liked very much that Perkins and Johnson picked up on the threads of Scott Lobdell and Michael Alan Nelson's Krypton Returns in which Supergirl let go of her prejudice against the Kryptonian clone (around Supergirl's twenty-fifth issue, a real "full circle" moment for the series), and now we see her actually team-up with and befriend Kon-El. All of these niceties do take us ever-closer to a pre-New 52 state where all the heroes like each other and get along (something I find a tad boring), but at least there's still awkward tension between Supergirl and the newly-bearded Clark Kent.

Bedard also closes out the book with a Futures End tie-in issue that actually seems to take place within the Futures End/"Earthwar" continuity, which is a nice difference as compared to a dozen other wholly disconnected Futures End tie-in issues. And even better, the issue is a fine coda to Perkins and Johnson's "Crucible" (even Nelson's Out of the Past) that moves all these characters forward and offers Supergirl a happy ending. We can quibble that Kara ends up with Comet instead of Michael (or that the end of this Supergirl series should turn on Kara's relationship status), but it's sweet and uplifting without being sappy in a way this title should be and hasn't always been.

With Supergirl Vol. 6: Crucible, all involved offer a fun, visually interesting, and mostly self-contained comic, accessible I think both to new Supergirl fans and those who've followed this title since the beginning of its recent iteration. I imagine DC has cancelled Supergirl and paused before restarting it maybe to see how CBS's Supergirl series is received, or perhaps in planning some new kind of comic to run parallel to a show besides a loosely-connected DC Universe title and a weekly digital series. To me it's not hard to see how DC could have a DCU title with Kara working under Scott Lobdell's Cat Grant at whatever Cat's former blog site with Clark Kent becomes, and continuing from there in as close a match to the TV series as possible. I'd always be happy to see Sterling Gates back on a Supergirl title (the TV show is half Gates's run anyway), but equally K. Perkins, Mike Johnson, and Emanuela Lupacchino did a fine job  and I wouldn't mind them back on Supergirl either.

[Includes original covers, variant cover gallery]
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