23 February 2010

Daily Breakdowns 064 - Chick Fight

Supergirl #50
Writer - Sterling Gates, Helen Slater & Jake Black
Penciler - Jamal Igle, Cliff Chiang
Inkers - Jon Sibal & Mark McKenna, Cliff Chiang
Publisher - DC Comics. $4.99 USD

There are a number of things I find disturbing about this comic. Let's start with the cover. It's easy to pick on Michael Turner, but I think he can occasionally be effective. Here, though, while it's not the worst sort of static, representative anniversary cover shot, it looks like Supergirl's right breast doesn't really line up correctly, and he seems to have forgotten a ribcage. It's not his fault for the long-sleeve/bare-midriff costume, but why emphasize the saggy cuffs?

Getting to the contents themselves, Jamal Igle makes a pretty competent George Perez imitator. The faces are more on the grotesque side, but then, everyone seems pissed off in this issue. Which brings us to the story. Aside from a couple issues at the end of the Peter David run a few years back, I've never read any Supergirl. I don't know if I'm being unfair, but with seeing any indication on the cover that this issue was the finale of some story arc, I kind of figured the 50th issue would be a bit more accessible, would take a moment or two to introduce new readers to the characters and status quo.

That doesn't really happen here, but comprehension is the least of Gates' problems here. As his name is new to me, I can only assume he hasn't been on the book since #1, so he may be inheriting some of the problems. I guess Lucy Lane, Lois' sister, somehow has Supergirl-type powers, and she's an Army major, and her dad is a very hawkish, anti-superhero general. There's a scene where he finds her in the woods, injured, and is suitably fatherly, but then grows instantly cold when she accidentally kills a soldier with her heat vision. That works well enough, but it's a small scene in the book, which is padded with the doings of minor Superman supporting characters like Gangbuster. It's a tradition with spinoff books that they use characters from the main character's world, to make them seem like their book is essential, part of a rich legacy, whatever. But Gangbuster is really a reach.

The rest of the story involves the real Supergirl, Kara, and Gangbuster infiltrating a hive formed by giant bugs and facing the Insect Queen, who's a hybrid of insect and Superman's high school sweetheart, Lana Lang, who has apparently been like a sister to Kara the past year. After the Queen is defeated and Lana is recovering, Kara tells her she can't be in her life anymore for lying about her illness. Lana sensibly defends herself, saying she didn't know what her illness was and that sometimes you lie to protect people you care about, but alien Kara doesn't understand and flies off. Maybe having seen their relationship develop in previous issues would have made this scene more dramatic for me. As it is, I had some difficult reconciling the innocent, obtuse alien girl with the one who swears a lot in Kryptonian in other scenes. Also, giant bugs are a pretty lame menace for an anniversary issue. Worse than this, though, is the all-too-common way longtime supporting characters are treated, particularly females. Supergirl aside, it seems like any woman who has a connection to Superman has to get some superpowers just so writers have something to do with them. Lana Lang can't just have a full, rich life doing charity work or politics. She has to turn into a cockroach, and even once cured, she's haggard and lined, no longer any kind of rival for Superman's affection. Lucy Lang can't just be Jimmy Olsen's ex or be a source of support or frustration for sister Lois--she has to become an evil Supergirl.

The cover promises "A Tale by Helen Slater," whom a handful of readers will recall was the star of the unsuccessful Supergirl movie. She's actually the cowriter, with someone named Jake Black, of a short backup story where reporter Cat Grant (also now aged and cougary) debates the merits of Supergirl on a contrived, "Meet the Press" type show. Cat rips Supergirl, then the host presents a long speech in her honor, with man-on-the-street clips of Supergirl supporters. It would be pretty wretched but for the Cliff Chiang art.

Power Girl #1-9
Writers - Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist - Amanda Conner
Publisher - DC Comics. $2.99 ea. USD

Gray and Palmiotti have an easier time with Power Girl, as she's less obviously associated with the world of Superman. Her costume's unique, simple and unashamedly revealing, which is fine as, unlike Supergirl, she's an adult. They also inherit her after what I vaguely recall was some effort on Geoff Johns' part to settle her angst over being stuck in the regular DCU Earth instead of the alternate one in which she grew up, fought alongside the Justice Society, etc. So they have a fairly clean slate.

They get to work right away, having her start a tech firm in her civilian guise of Karen Starr and start interviewing hiring a supporting cast. One arrogant scientist who didn't make the cut will obviously bedevil her in later issues. The supporting cast, which also includes a new girl to go by the name of Terra, doesn't make much of an impression yet, but they're all so nice.

In fact, this book is nice almost to a fault. If so much of the rest of DC's output wasn't so grim and endlessly convoluted and interwoven, this series would be cloying, but it's kind of refreshing at the moment. Power Girl is smart, kind, resourceful and has a decent sense of humor. She's kind of like Spider-Man if he made self-deprecating jokes about his junk bulging in his blue tights.

The stories are cute but maybe a little too light to justify the length they get. Ultra-Humanite wanting to put his "perfect" brain in Power Girl's perfect bod is a fun idea but three issues' worth? And three issues for a story with three reckless but mostly harmless humanoid alien girls who just want to party? Both of these should have wrapped up in two issues each, tops, which was the perfect length for the return of the kitschy, very '60s/'70s alien lothario, Vartox of Valeron, who wants to mate with Power Girl because his race has been sterilized by enemies. That was pretty funny stuff, and with a healthy sexuality to it, playful rather than lurid.

The real star of the book is Amanda Conner, taking her place alongside Adam Huges and the Dodsons as one of the best current "good girl" artists around. She draws Power Girl's ample bosom and barely-concealed butt every chance she gets, but there's something almost wholesome about it. This is a character who must be proud of her body or else why wear such a costume, so Conner approaches the art with the same lack of shame. It's not gratuitous--there's no jiggling or nipple outlines--it just sort of winks at the reader, and indeed, the way she draws the fabric makes it seem thicker and more realistic than the way most male superheroes are drawn. Conner also gets the most out of PG's hair, which is in that great kind of bob that's sexy but no-nonsense, and always falling adorably between her eyes. The hair helps, because it does have to be said that Conner seems to draw pretty much the same face for many of her women--check the full page in #9 with PG, Terra and Satanna.

Aside from some minor, and welcome, JSA cameos, the book is in its own world and unaffected by Blackest Night or anything else going on in the DCU, and it's all the better for it. Aside from the slightly-too-decompressed pace, my only other minor complaint is that it doesn't make a lot of sense for this alternate Earth woman to use so many of our pop culture references. Wouldn't it be more interesting to sprinkle in ones that reference some of our own celebrities in weird ways, as if things developed differently on that Earth? Enjoyable book, though. If it wasn't for the occasional use of "bitch," I'd let my daughter read it.

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