Apparently Relocated: "Supergirl Book Two" Review
Wow. What a slog. It was a tough read to get through this particular trade. Not because of the content, but simply because it is twice as long (actually even a skosh more) as the typical trade. Supergirl: Book Two collects Supergirl #10 - 20 and Supergirl Annual #2. Now when we throw those titles around, I should specify that this is Volume 3 Supergirl, written by Peter David. This iteration of the Woman of Steel is a merged being previously named Matrix, and Linda Danvers, who was on the verge of death before Matrix appeared to rescue her via the merge. There’s a lot of convoluted canon here, derived by the killing off of the original Supergirl in Crisis on Infinite Earths. In my opinion, this period of time (1997 - 1998) is not DC at its best. I had a really difficult time trying to get my arms around this character in a way that made her understandable, or that at least made me interested.
I, initially, did not find the art or the story appealing to me. The story begins the arc with a bunch of convoluted mumbo-jumbo in terms of trying to explain what Linda Danvers is, and it does not get any better as the first of the two arcs progress. Worse, there is a lot of religious iconography thrown in, which threw me for an even further loop. Not because I am bothered by the intermix of religion, and Christianity specifically, into comic book content, but because it just made the story even more complicated and the character even more murky.
Supergirl eventually sprouts wings of fire. So is she aligned with Heaven? Hell? Neither or both? As the story wraps up 12 issues later, it turns it does not really matter, at least not within the context of anything that happens in this trade. From the outset, Supergirl also has telekinetic blasts, or “TK” as she calls them. When the wings show up she also gets to shoot flames from her eyes. Like I said, murky.
There are two really good high points in the issues in this trade. One is the Silver Banshee storyline. It’s a nice bit of discovery as it paints some more background for the character that we saw envisioned on The CW’s Supergirl live-action show in the premier season. And it is just really well done. One of Supergirl’s friends who is grieving and desires revenge for the murder of a relative is also infected with the Silver Banshee persona, and Supergirl wrestling her to ground is a significant challenge.
The other high point is a one-shot team up with Powergirl. This version of Supergirl is not Kryptonian, and bears no relationship to Kal-El and Powergirl. But that does not take anything away from the excitement and sharp storytelling that teaming these two characters up brings. I would have preferred to read 11 issues of that than some of the other content. Where this trade really suffers and, by way of inheritance, the original issues, is that it is clear that during this time, DC just doesn’t know what they want to do with this character.
They don’t want to kill her off because there is at least some sales potential in her. But they don’t want her getting in the way of the bigger DC stories. So she is this weird, confusing, amalgamation of a lot of things that have nothing to do with the legacy of Kryptonian characters in the DCU, and erecting a hard wall preventing the existence of any survivors of Krypton other than Superman at this time, really makes things difficult for this creative team. DC editorial in the late 90’s want them to write a Supergirl comic without a Supergirl that in any way references tenets of her original existence in the DCU. It’s weird, janky, and quite a few times it’s just bad because of this effort to create fluff out of nothing with no connecting tissue. There is a large sub-arc about Linda Danvers' parents basically disowning her when they find out she’s been merged with Sueprgirl. Much melodrama ensues. And there are threads that are just entirely dropped, like God who is presenting himself as a ten-year old boy named Wally. Yeah, you read that right.
Art is about what you would expect of comics in the 90s. There is not a ton of definition. The biggest issue is that as artists come and go, and my guess editorial direction wavers, her appearance and sexuality fluctuate. She is sometimes androgynous, sometimes very muscular and sculpted, sometimes with no muscular definition like an old-time Archie character. Her skirt and how much skin she shows is the most noticeably jarring thing, as the length and how it and her legs are displayed is all over the place. I don’t need it to be any one way or the other, I would have just preferred a singular, identifiable character to associate with the story.
It is another clear indicator of the mass confusion that apparently existed in editorial at DC in the wake of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Which is crazy to me because I would say to a DC executive, you’ve solved the problem. Crisis on Infinite Earths did exactly what it was supposed to do, get rid of the multiverse and dozens of iterations of the same character, as well as eliminate the bloat of unnecessary or unused characters. It was one of the most gracefully executed unified strategies I’ve ever seen run in comic book history. And yet many is the time in DC history since then that it seems like DC has been almost obsessed with undoing that great thing and walking everything back to the miasma of cruft and crud that existed through the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s simply maddening.
That all being said, I really preferred the second arc to the first half of the book, and almost settled into a sense of some continuity of the character and storyline. One nod that I will give is that it seemed like David knew who Linda Danvers was and what he wanted to do with her. It’s Supergirl that seemed to give the creative team and whatever editorial was doing at the time the biggest trouble. The various issues also seemed to work best when they were 90% about one of the two halves of the being or the other. Intermixing the storylines seems to be what was most problematic. Overall, I spent most of my time in this trade just wanting to trudge through it and get it behind me. Having Spider-Man: Miles Morales Volume 2 sitting in the queue behind it did not help. I have a dislike for revisiting some of the eras of comics of the past, and the 90s is one of them. What was going on then in terms of trends and confusing strategies was one of the reasons I got out, and unfortunately many of the comics of that time reflect that discontinuity. This is one. While I have a mostly ho-hum take-away from this trade, I will say that the latter half makes getting through the first-half a bit more worthwhile, so all is not lost.
Supergirl Book Two was released on 04 April 2017, and is on sale at Amazon now for $20.39 in paperback form. If you are a fan of this character and this era, I will say that you get a lot of comic book for your money, and that is a net positive overall.