The Good: Artwork, Moments of character, Moments of plot
The Bad: Very fractured storytelling, Clearly not the entire story, Derivative, Odd/unsatisfying character choices.
The Basics: When sentiment in Metropolis turns against Kryptonians on Earth, Kara has to lie low as Supergirl, which becomes problematic as Silver Banshee and Insect Queen attack in Supergirl: Death & The Family!
I’ll be honest; it was only my local library’s inability to get me in more Flash books in a speedy manner that made me pick up Supergirl: Death & The Family. I’ve been wary of picking up any Supergirl books because, frankly, I’m not sure how old the protagonist is supposed to be. In The Brave And The Bold: Volume 1 (reviewed here!), Supergirl is clearly a minor and that makes her choice of costume ridiculously inappropriate. I mean, I get the whole idea that someone who is essentially invulnerable might have no issue with exposing their legs and belly (and, hey, it works for Wonder Woman, so it’s not like I’m a prude!), but the very short miniskirt, exposed midriff and accent to the bustline is not exactly age appropriate for the minor child. Regardless of that general sense of discomfort with her outfit, I did pick up Supergirl: Death & The Family to read.
And I’m pretty much regretting that choice. Supergirl: Death & The Family is part of a “New Krypton” story arc and the author of the graphic novel, Sterling Gates, makes very little effort to make sure readers understand what is going on in the larger arc. Supergirl: Death & The Family is very much a part of some larger story and character arc and is, on its own, a fairly unsatisfying book.
As near as I can tell, based on what is in Supergirl: Death & The Family, there is a new planet where (apparently) refugees and survivors from the doomed planet of Krypton have made a new colony. There is an implication in Supergirl: Death & The Family that Brainiac may have had a miniaturized Krypton city that was reconstituted. Apparently, General Zod, the Kryptonian, launched an invasion on Earth and by the time Supergirl: Death & The Family comes around, Kryptonians have been deported to New Krypton and Superman is off on that planet helping to establish its government. Some Kryptonians, most notably Kara, are still living on Earth trying to fly under the radar as anti-Kryptonian sentiment rises. To combat problems in Metropolis, Superman has been replaced by the Science Police.
As one who has pretty studiously avoided the Superman portion of the DC universe, divining all of that backstory just to make Supergirl: Death & The Family comprehensible is an annoying amount of work. That said, Supergirl: Death & The Family is not terrible, it just holds together poorly as a single book.
Kara is taking refuge with Lana Lang when a bank robbery in Metropolis turns into a hostage crisis. Unwilling to let such crimes go unpunished, Kara disguises herself and inserts herself into the bank. There, she ends the standoff by using her heat vision to melt the guns of the villains, an act which draws the attention of the Science Police. As the Science Police investigate the hostages to find the Kryptonian among them, Kara lives in fear of being exposed.
The whole point of the “Secret Identities” chapter seems to be to set Kara up for a future conflict. In the search for the Kryptonian, the Science Police haul out some Red Kryptonite, which mutates Kryptonians. This leads to a surprise for Kara and one that leaves her shocked and more alone than before. In trying to rescue the bank hostages, Kara comes to doubt the necessity of helping everyone all the time. The chapter leaves her with a new antagonist who might have a vendetta against the young woman.
The chapter that follows, “Second Born: The Secret Origin Of Superwoman” is an entirely divergent story within Supergirl: Death & The Family. A full chapter, “The Secret Origin Of Superwoman” details the whole story of the villain Superwoman. Raised as Lois Lane’s sister, Lucy Lane lives in her shadow and goes to work for General Lane, a powerful person in the military and not at all a supporter of Superman.
The big problem with “The Secret Origin Of Superwoman” is that it does not at all fit in Supergirl: Death & The Family. The entire Superwoman plotline is seeded throughout Supergirl: Death & The Family, but it does not materialize as a plot by the end of the book. This is entirely setting up some other story and “The Secret Origin Of Superwoman” only confuses the main plotline and detracts from any sort of character-story that focuses on Kara. That said, Superwoman is characterized in a way that is very easy to empathize with her as she lives in Lois Lane’s shadow the entire time. Having read the chapter twice, though, her story is either entirely derivative of Dawn’s insertion into the Buffy The Vampire Slayer mythos (check out the review of Season Five here, if you do not understand the reference!) or entirely improbable. Either Lucy Lane is retroactively added to the DC Universe or the reader has to believe she was never once given immunizations as a child. Either way, the editors are asking readers to take a pretty serious leap with the character.
“The Song Of The Silver Banshee” and the title chapter have Lana Lang telling Kara that she has been ill for about a year. Kara is shocked, but when Inspector Henderson requires her help, she leaves her friend and mentor to try to save Metropolis. The threat Henderson has for Kara is the Silver Banshee. A supernatural villain, the Silver Banshee uses magic and thus poses a threat to Kara. The Silver Banshee is kept in check by her personal quest to find several enchanted objects, the bringing together of which will end the Silver Banshee’s curse. Henderson has managed to find several and when he exposes that to Kara, it draws the attention of the Silver Banshee and puts Supergirl in harm’s way!
This is half of the meat of Supergirl: Death & The Family and it is not a bad story. The Silver Banshee plotline quickly turns into a possession story and it is a fairly engaging one, though it is resolved with such speed that the next plotline occupies almost half the chapter. While I generally like that type of continuity, it essentially robs Lana Lang of her blaze of glory and the overt possession in the Kara plotline implies far too much of what is coming for engaged readers. That type of foreshadowing dumbs down the story some. Even so, my real gripe with the chapter is how Kara’s character is not given any real time to reflect or illustrate a sense of trauma when Lana’s illness very quickly takes her.
The “Queen” section of Supergirl: Death & The Family finds Supergirl rescued from an alien insect hive that sprung up in Metropolis. Kara almost instantly (correctly) postulates that Lana Lang is not dead and she discovers Lana’s body is alive and being used by Insect Queen. Their battle is bookended by the complete resurrection of Superwoman and the revelation that she has full Kryptonian powers. Then the book abruptly ends (save a vignette on the value of Supergirl).
Supergirl: Death & The Family is very light on character development and has some problematically forced aspects that make it less than a thrilling read. While Kara’s character issues can be written off due to her youth (she decides to reject Lana as family because Lana withheld information from her), Lana’s are a much tougher set of issues to reconcile. But Supergirl: Death & The Family is mightily confused (and confusing) on the whole issue of Lana Lang.
As I understand it, Lana Lang grew up with Clark Kent. That would put her at about age, what, seventy? Eighty? While Superman may get reboots, his peers don’t (to the best of my knowledge) suddenly de-age. Throughout much of Supergirl: Death & The Family, Lana looks roughly the same age as Kara (who is seventeen, perhaps?). Kara refers to her as a “sister” and on most of the panels, they look like peers. Yet, Lana has a mentor role to Kara and there are a few panels where Lana actually looks haggard enough to be quite a bit older.
All of this would be a little, gripy, nitpick were it not for the whole Superwoman plotline interpolated throughout Supergirl: Death & The Family. Lana Lang grew up with Clark Kent, Lucy Lane grew up with Lois Lane. Lois Lane is – at the very least – in her thirties and Lucy has the body type of a woman in her mid-thirties (at least). And Lucy has been out of the picture for a whole year. My point here is that even assuming Clark, Lana, Lois and Lucy are all about the same age, Lana should not even appear like a teenager or (at best) in her very early twenties. Yet, that is how Supergirl: Death & The Family finds her and Sterling Gates, ultimately, does not make her seem like a viable adult.
Ultimately, Supergirl: Death & The Family seems to be a series of side stories for a character who is not clearly defined or developing within this graphic novel. In the end, that makes me more wary of recommending it than I would have thought.
For other strong female characters in the DC Universe, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Wonder Woman: Mission’s End
Birds Of Prey: Blood And Circuits
Justice League: Generation Lost Volume 1
For other graphic novel reviews, be sure to check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the graphic novel reviews I have written!
© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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