Review: Supergirl Vol. 3: Infectious trade paperback (DC Comics)


DC Comics' latest Supergirl title struggled in its end. If that wasn’t apparent from its ignominious conclusion that saw the final two issues go digital-only, it certainly becomes apparent reading Supergirl Vol. 3: Infectious itself. And I would even actually say this book fares better than expected; though simplistic and repetitive, it doesn’t actually besmirch Kara Zor-El as much as other troubled stories have before. As well, if you like this sort of thing, Infectious runs the gamut of DC Comics events over the past year, from Event Leviathan all the way through the various incarnations of “Year of the Villain.”

None of that is enough to save what most seasoned readers will find an unimpressive comic — lack of suspense, sparse art, a string of action sequences over a number of issues as stand-in for any kind of plot development. The answer to why DC can’t get Supergirl right can’t be found here — this rushed book is a consequence of that trouble, not the cause of the trouble itself.

[Review contains spoilers]

Infectious has two main writers, Marc Andreyko and Jody Houser, with Robert Venditti stepping in for an annual in the middle. Of these, mainly as relates to my own interests, Andryeko’s is the better; I thought Andreyko’s last two “Supergirl in space” volumes in parallel to Brian Michael Bendis' Superman were a good use for this title, and I’m interested here to see Supergirl set within the events of Event Leviathan. My complaint, likely not Andreyko’s fault, is that he gets to finish little of what he starts — Kara’s adopted Earth-parents are tied up in Leviathan, but she never learns the truth, and also there’s a conflict with Brainiac that meets a speedy end when the book runs smack into Year of the Villain: The Infected.

To be fair, Houser is handed a real lump of coal here, a story where Supergirl is “infected” by the evil of the Batman Who Laughs and “goes bad.” We’re then subjected to four issues of an “extreme”-looking Supergirl fighting first Superman and Batman and then Wonder Woman, all of whom try to convince Supergirl that she’s not herself while she snarls and makes specious arguments about how she knows what she’s doing and she’s trying to save everyone, so on and so forth.

Obviously the audience knows the Supergirl Who Laughs is out of her own mind and obviously the audience knows she’ll eventually be cured and no harm will come to the other heroes; Houser is never able to make the transformed Supergirl palatable nor evoke any real drama in the story. Houser has Supergirl knock Wonder Woman about (and some government robots) for the better part of three issues, and there’s nothing here that couldn’t have been accomplished in just one issue. Wonder Woman employs no strategies nor changes her approach other than to try to beat Supergirl into submission while Krypto whines on the sidelines.

Artist Rachel Stott’s work is particularly rough in these issues, though one wonders exactly how much time was allotted for these in the switch from Andreyko to Houser and the cancellation. By and large the panels lack backgrounds, except for one lone farmhouse meant to typify Smallville and what eventually looks like a desert-scape. Toward the end of these issues, Stott employs just a generic arrangement of four or five horizontal panels for each page; anatomy is also distorted at times, with too long arms or legs.

The final two issues, originally released digitally, jump forward in time, so that from the cliffhanger of issue #40 to issues #41 and #42, we never actually see Supergirl escape the titular infection. Maybe here there’s a directive to Year of the Villain: The Infected that was not included in the trade, but this seems another bit of sloppiness, a way the book just doesn’t read well. Those last two issues see Supergirl rescuing people from a hurricane while hallucinating images of old enemies; that’s well and good (though no more consequential), though an editor lets through the Cyborg Superman-as-Supergirl’s-father, which is no longer actually the case.

In the center of this is Robert Venditti’s Supergirl annual, “The Best Day of Her Life.” This is an interesting one, as it has elements of “Infected” — the Batman Who Laughs appears, Kara has nightmarish hallucinations about the destruction of Krypton — but it’s mostly the telling of a perfectly normal day on Krypton where Kara is supposed to babysit her infant cousin Karl and has her boyfriend sneak over. I know Venditti mainly from Green Lantern — a writer not overly bombastic, but also not one whom I’ve seen do a slice of life story like this before. Though I don’t particularly think Venditti’s would be the right approach for an ongoing Supergirl book either, as both Andreyko and Houser navigate their various events, Venditti’s annual is a nice change of pace in the middle.

Something draws DC to present these Supergirl-gone-bad stories over and over — the original Superman/Batman debut of this Kara Zor-El who had some sort of dark twin, the later Joe Kelly bad girl iteration, Kara’s stint as a Red Lantern, and I’m probably forgetting some. It is not then perhaps Jody Houser’s fault that the latter half Supergirl Vol. 3: Infectious feels like a lot else we’ve read, but then again neither do Houser and Rachel Stott manage to make anything out of what they’ve been given.

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DC hasn’t seemed to know what to do with Supergirl for a while; though the Rebirth iteration originally hewed to the Supergirl TV show, that faded, and the book meandered a bit until Andreyko took over, but there just in the service of the Superman books. With the CW’s Supergirl ending after this coming season, it seems an opportunity for DC to let this title lie fallow for a bit and then resurrect it with no external pressures. Whether something readable can be built from that remains to be seen.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs, script-to-color progression]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I realized after the fact that this book doesn't include the Infected Supergirl bit from the Superman: Villains special, which really ought be in there between two of the issues.

    1. That's why I have this book and Year of the Villain:Hell Arisen book with Infected/cured Kara. 😁


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