Review: Power Girl: Aliens and Apes trade paperback (DC Comics)

Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmoitti, and Amanda Conner's take on Power Girl remains an achievement; they've taken what's been at times a one-note character and demonstrated that not only can she lead a team, but helm her own viable series as well. But while I liked Power Girl: Aliens and Apes better than the first volume, possibly this is just not the series for me; I appreciate the cheery superheroics, but find the book lacks the depth to make those heroics matter. I, for one, am glad to see this book continuing into the next volume with a new creative team.

[Contains spoilers]

The previous volume, Power Girl: A New Beginning, felt light to me perhaps in part because it was mostly set up for what was to come in this book. Here, we learn the identity of Power Girl's stalker, and all the heroes and villains from the past twelve issues converge -- Terra, Satanna, the Ultra-Humanite, the trio of alien women, and more. This puts Aliens and Apes ahead of its predecessor -- at least the stories don't feel as much like disconnected one-off issues -- though I still didn't feel the stakes were very high for our hero.

Perhaps the highlight of the entire Power Girl series so far is the first two issues, where Power Girl has to fend off both the advances of the alien Vartox and fight the monster Vartox inadvertently lets loose. Power Girl's combination of humor and action works perfectly here; Vartox is a clown, but the reader feels the romantic connection between the characters. What's at stake is not whether Power Girl can defeat the monster -- we know she can -- but whether she'll agree to help "fertilize" Vartox's planet (and what that means ...). The story is funny, but it has importance as well.

This is contrasted, however, with the revelation of Fisher, Power Girl's stalked, just a kid that wants to blackmail Power Girl to help make him more popular. This is cute -- if perhaps playing too much to the same comic book fan stereotypes that a book like Power Girl otherwise helps to break down -- but it's also anti-climactic. This is hardly a Power Girl-level threat, and I know Power Girl's going to be able to handle the kid, so there's not really suspense to keep me interested in the story. Bryan Miller's Batgirl is funny, but that humor comes from the characters' interactions and not the situations, as is also the case in Power Girl's Vartox issues; when Power Girl deals with Fisher, or fights Satanna's Rhino Men, however, things get a bit absurd.

Also, the fact that Gray and Palmiotti have to end their run at twelve issues, seemingly a little unexpectedly, doesn't do the book any favors. They wrap up the Ultra-Humanite storyline nicely, but the subplot regarding Starrware employee Donna and her megalomaniac ex-husband falls by the wayside; neither does Power Girl ever really make anything of the Starrware company. Most unfortunate is the fate of Satanna, who appears here after her role in Gray and Palmiotti's Hawkman series: as Satanna takes her revenge for Power Girl's treatment of the Ultra-Humanite, Power Girl blasts off her arm; later Satannta sleeps with Dr. Sivana supposedly in exchange for more power, but he has her thrown out a window. When given some thought, Gray and Palmiotti probably don't mean the dismemberment and prostitution of a villain as startling as it comes off, and likely with a few more issues Satanna would have had her comeuppance instead of being tossed to the ground.

I recognize that the intention is for the Power Girl series to be sweet, and in that the authors succeed. As in the last book, Power Girl routinely redeems, rather than incarcerates, her enemies; Ultra-Humanite seemingly gets a second chance at life, and Power Girl of course befriends Fisher (it's only poor Satanna who gets a raw deal in the end). The last issue deals as much with Power Girl and her friend Terra just hanging out as it does with the villains or Vartox's one last hurrah; undoubtedly the friendships is what Power Girl is meant to be about (special mention of Dr. Mid-Nite's appearance, drawn as only Amanda Conner draws him; am I the only one who saw him as a romantic interest for Power Girl?).

Ultimately I think this kind of "sitcom" comic book just isn't for me; I much prefer darker fare like Manhunter, where Kate Spencer's son nearly blows himself up with her untended weapon, than I do Power Girl and Terra lying around on an underground beach. To each their own, though -- Gray and Palmiotti's Power Girl is a respectful take that this character has long deserved, and I'll be sticking around to see what one of my favorite writers, Judd Winick, will do on the series next.

[Contains original covers]

A whole bunch of Batman-y goodness coming up next week, and maybe some words about recent DC Comics news ... see you then!


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