Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tease The Continuity: Supergirl: Many Happy Returns Disappoints!

The Good: A few clever lines, Fun artwork, Moments of plot
The Bad: Resolution, Plot meanders in the middle, Missing a lot of crossover material
The Basics: Peter David's tenure writing Supergirl ends on a downbeat when Linda Danvers encounters Kara Zor-El in an ultimately jumbled work.

As a result of the generally high-quality of the CW television incarnation of Supergirl, I have become more and more familiar with Supergirl and associated characters over the past two years. The truth is, when Supergirl started to actually get good, I felt compelled to look into the source material more. There have been a lot of incarnations of Supergirl in the different eras of DC Comics, but the first one I was familiar with was Kara Zor-El and only truly knew of her because of the heroic sacrifice she made in Crisis On Infinite Earths (reviewed here!). I knew that after Crisis On Infinite Earths, Supergirl was replaced with a shape-shifting alien who assumed the identity of Supergirl. I also knew that at some point, Peter David was writing Supergirl comics and I figured it was well past time for me to track down some of those works given that I grew up enjoying the writing of Peter David.

Ironically, my latest foray into Supergirl comics comes at the end of two eras: Supergirl: Many Happy Returns marked the end of Linda Danvers as Supergirl and Peter David's tenure writing the character. Supergirl: Many Happy Returns compiles issues 75 - 80 of Supergirl and failed to satisfactorily close the book on Linda Danvers, leaving a pretty huge loose end given the volume's ultimate transition for Linda Danvers.

Supergirl is attacked by a squad of assassins, but is able to repel their attack by utilizing her telekinetic powers preceding her physical attack. She learns the attackers were hired by someone named Johnny. Having just returned to Leesburg, Linda heads back home where she discovers her mother is pregnant. While talking with her family, Kara Zor-El arrives from Krypton. After a brief encounter in which Kara Zor-El disposes of Johnny Reb (who came to kill Supergirl for taking out his men), Kara flies off to try to find Superman. Reaching Metropolis just ahead of Supergirl and Superboy, Kara falls prey to Mr. Mxyzpltz, who is disrupting a parade with an attack by actual dinosaurs. When Superman arrives to save the day, he rejects Kara, believing her to be a fan. Supergirl and Superboy return Kara to S.T.A.R. Labs, where Kara begins to talk about her life on Argo City; the life she misses.

Taking Kara home with her, Linda Danvers takes a job teaching at Leesburg High in order to be near Kara. While Johnny Reb is augmented by Fatalist, a creature working for the Supergirl-slayer Lord Xenon, Kara and Linda try to settle in to life incognito in Leesburg. Fatalist has Rebel attack Leesburg High and Kara leaps to action to attempt to save the school. The Spectre visits during the attacks and Kara learns that Fatalist redirected her from her universe-saving fate, while Xenon seeks to slay every Supergirl. To attempt to right time and space and save the universe yet again, Linda takes Kara's pod to take her place. While Linda tries to make the grand sacrifice, The Spectre reveals that Kara remains in danger from Xenon and Linda must try a different way to save Kara and the universe!

Supergirl: Many Happy Returns has a lot going on with the introduction of three adversaries who are each, at one time or another in the narrative, the primary antagonist. Xenon, Rebel, and Fatalist each attack Supergirl and their relationships are unclear for much of the volume. Fatalist appears to be working both for and against Xenon's wishes and within the book, Fatalist seems to have virtually the same stature as The Spectre which is saying a lot for a character I had never heard of before picking up Supergirl: Many Happy Returns. Xenon, similarly, is characterized as both nearly invincible and trapped by Supergirl. How Lord Xenon went from being trapped at the beginning of time by Supergirl in a tower with the House Of El symbol on it to being able to cull Supergirls from all time and space to try wiping them out is not made at all clear within Supergirl: Many Happy Returns.

Linda Danvers has an interesting arc in Supergirl: Many Happy Returns, though. Guided by Kara Zor-El's naive curiosity about what makes a hero, Linda steps up to make the ultimate sacrifice by replacing Kara Zor-El. By attempting to take Kara's place, Linda prepares to live a life that is not her own knowing full well that she will be called upon to die in Kara's place to save the universe. Intriguingly, Peter David manages not to create an untenable (for the die-hard fans) retcon by having Linda replace Kara (with Kara's very different costume). Despite the way a significant chapter of Supergirl: Many Happy Returns becomes undone, the journey Linda goes on is fairly satisfying. Linda makes a good-faith effort to make the heroic sacrifice, even though in the process she develops a very distinct life and relationship, but the attempt to alter reality simply does not "take."

Following that, Danvers continues to develop and Supergirl: Many Happy Returns ends at a surprisingly dark place. Depending on one's perspective of the heroic ethos, Linda Danvers either makes a transition from idealist to pragmatist or a transition from hero to villain at the climax of Supergirl: Many Happy Returns. Either way, the volume concludes the story of Linda Danvers without a truly satisfying resolution.

Supergirl: Many Happy Returns lacks much of the wit and wittiness of Peter David. David writes a very tame script for the book, though it does illustrate his penchant for exploring how things fit together - David built his mainstream genre career on taking bottle episodes of Star Trek and making them fit into a more serialized sensibility for the Star Trek Universe - by having Danvers and Kara Zor-El meet. Danvers's attempt to save Kara and the universe is compelling and interesting, but most of the book lacks clever lines that David is known for.

The artwork in Supergirl: Many Happy Returns is fun, but intellectually disturbing. Drawn like softcore with a minor and a young adult who is impersonating a minor, the skimpy outfits in Supergirl: Many Happy Returns are presented in a strangely provocative way. That said, the artwork has a good sense of movement within and between panels and all of the characters are recognizable throughout. The colors are consistently vibrant and the characters all look good.

Ultimately, Supergirl: Many Happy Returns is an intriguing set-up that leads to a resolution that is both painfully predictable (for the Kara Zor-El plotline) and a tremendous letdown (Linda's plotline promises a huge new arc for the character that never materialized). Between that and the lack of genuine originality in the tone or narrative, Supergirl: Many Happy Returns is an unremarkable end to David's Super-creation!

For other graphic novels featuring Supergirl, check out my reviews of:
Superman/Batman, Volume 2: Supergirl
Supergirl: Death And The Family
The Brave And The Bold, Volume 1: The Lords Of Luck
The Last Daughter Of Krypton
Girl In The World
Out Of The Past
Red Daughter Of Krypton


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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