Friday, February 20, 2015

An Intriguing Start: Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton

The Good: Most of the artwork, Moments of character, Moments of plot, Concept of the villains
The Bad: Villains are way too expository, Assumes a lot of knowledge of the franchise (not entirely accessible to new readers), Somewhat simplistic
The Basics: The New 52 reboot of Supergirl starts in Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton when the Kryptonian girl comes to Earth.

I was, perhaps, the most skeptical fan in the world of the DC Comics reboot of its stories a few years back. “The New 52” was a terrible idea and the execution of the idea has borne out my trepidation to the concept. And yet, every major superhero that DC Comics wanted to continue to invest in was reworked and reimagined and their stories were (for the most part) rebooted (with a number of problematic exceptions!). One of the characters whose story was entirely restarted was Supergirl. Her story has a pretty straightforward beginning in Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton.

Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton is one of those quick reads that is simultaneously very good at what it sets out to do and increasingly frustrating the more one considers it. The trade paperback anthology collects the New 52 Supergirl issues 1 – 7 and it does tell a fairly solid story, albeit a clear beginning with the promise of much more to come. And there are many elements to like about it, but it is by no means a great story or exceptional writing. It is, also, clearly geared toward fans of the Superman franchise as it makes passing reference to things like Kara Zor-El studying on Krypton for her trials which will make her a woman without any explicit reference to her age. The result is an instant sense of alienation within the narrative because exactly what stage of cognitive development Kara Zor-El is supposed to be at is unclear.

A space station orbiting Earth monitors objects from space that hurtle through the Earth creating a hole from near-Kansas to Siberia. They send a team of humans in mechanized suits to recover the object and its potential occupants from Russia, per international agreements the station’s owner has with the various governments of Earth. The mechs encounter Kara Zor-El, a young woman who is confused and thinks she might be dreaming. As the mechs attempt to restrain and capture her, Kara begins to experience dramatic physiological changes – she finds she is ridiculously strong, can see through things, can burn her targets with her eyes and can more or less fly. She encounters a man who claims to be Kal-El, her baby cousin, whom she saw only three days prior on Krypton. After a fight with Kal-El, Kara separates from the other Kryptonian when he rushes off to save the lives of some of the humans nearby.

That gives Simon Tycho the chance to engage Kara Zor-El. He lures her up to his space station with the information that he has the pod in which she arrived. When she gets there, though, Tycho tries to incapacitate her, using his artificial life form, The Brain. In subduing Kara Zor-El, Tycho learns about her outfit and in the ensuing battle, loses the memory crystal he recovered from her pod (and most of his space station and staff) to her. Kara flies off to a portal that takes her to the remnants of Argo City, where she was raised. There she learns the truth of the destruction of Krypton and she is discovered by Reign, a Worldkiller engineered by the people of Krypton (despite being outlawed). Reign wants to find out the truth of her origins – and the origins of the other worldkillers – and she and Kara bring their fight from the remnants of Argo City to New York City!

Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton is instantly problematic because of the language barrier. Kara Zor-El does not understand any Earth languages; her internal monologue establishes that. But the men in mech suits talk to her, Simon Tycho talks to her, and civilians talk to her and while she is not supposed to understand their languages, she behaves as if she comprehends them entirely. I get the instinct of knowing that mechs that start shooting at you are inherently bad, but Tycho tries to get involved with somewhat sophisticated ideas with Kara Zor-El and she more or less goes with it, not nearly as confused as someone blocked by a language barrier ought to be!

At the other end of the spectrum is Reign. Reign is established as a pretty cool, if obvious, adversary (it seems like it is supposed to be a big revelation that Reign is a Worldkiller and that Worldkillers are entities, not engineered objects of destruction). The problem with Reign is that she’s not terribly smart (she tells Kara how to defeat her and her posse) and she does not talk like an adversary at all. Reign is searching for her origins and she ends up delivering more useful exposition to Kara than a Bond villain! She details what she knows of herself, the destruction of Krypton, her plans, her (and the other Worldkiller’s) abilities, and that makes very little sense. In fact, after Kara encounters the Worldkillers at Argo City, their trip to Earth makes no logical sense. Reign is convinced that Earth is the refuge for the Kryptonian survivors and thus it must mean something to her own search. There is no logical correlation between those two ideas (in fact, if the Kryptonians were fleeing the Worldkillers, logic suggests that they would want to make their sanctuary the place farthest from anything useful to Worldkillers!). So, Reign seems to be phoning in her heart-felt quest to understand her own origins and find her home.

The final real problem with Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton is in the context of the larger DC Universe. I know I mention this whenever I read a book or see a show/movie set in the DC Universe, but I have to ask: Where the hell is the Green Lantern Corps?! The whole purpose of the Green Lantern Corps is to maintain peace and order in the galaxy. Somehow, a suspended animation pod travelling for decades away from the last remnant city of Krypton eluded them?! The Worldkillers managed to slip by them, unnoticed?! Kara Zor-El falls to Earth, leaves Earth and returns to Earth entirely without setting off any alarms within the Green Lantern Corps in Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton. Wow, the Oans suck!

Ironically, Simon Tycho is an instantly intriguing villain. His motives seem to be simple greed, but he’s using his fabulous assets for a surprisingly realistic purpose. Tycho notes that the major governments of Earth have given up on space exploration, so he – as a business enterprise – has decided to pick up the slack. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good argument for private sector development like Simon Tycho, but there he is. He’s doing what governments bullied by low-tax right-wingers won’t; investing in research and development. What he does to Kara Zor-El is terrible, but at least he makes sense.

The artwork in Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton is generally good. Kara Zor-El is clearly recognizable throughout the book and the panels have a decent sense of movement and color to them. This is a good-looking book.

And there is just enough in Supergirl: Volume 1 – Last Daughter Of Krypton to make one want to come back to it. Technical problems aside, Kara Zor-El starts as an intriguing-enough young woman and at the beginning of her story there is a lot of potential to make her an interesting character quite different from Superman.

For other New 52 titles, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection By Gail Simone
The Flash: Move Along By Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Green Lantern: Sinestro By Geoff Johns
Green Lantern New Guardians: The Ring Bearer
Justice League: Origins By Geoff Johns
Red Lantern Corps: Blood And Rage By Peter Milligan
Wonder Woman: Blood By Brian Azzarello


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!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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