28 August 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #11: Superman Batman: Supergirl

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2004)

Borrowed from a friend
Read August 2009
Superman Batman: Supergirl

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Michael Turner
Colorist: Peter Steigerwald
Letterer: Richard Starkings

DC Universe Timeline: Two Years Ago
Real World Timeline: Late 2003?

(This story picks up immediately after the events of Public Enemies, with Superman confined to the Watchtower until the bits of the kryptonite asteroid from that storyline are cleaned up.)

Well, it's time for another rollicking team-up of the World's Finest. Jeph Loeb is back on writing duties for this second volume of the Superman Batman series, with Michael Turner taking over the art. This story explains some of the background behind what has happening in Public Enemies (no explanation for the abortive the-guy-who-killed-Batman's-parents-is-still-out-there plotline, though), telling us that the kryptonite asteroid had a Kryptonian space capsule with Supergirl in it at its heart, and the reason it came straight for Earth was because the capsule was following the one little Kal-El was sent to Earth in. I think the reason Lex Luthor knew this was Darkseid, but how Luthor was going to go public with that explanation and maintain his credibility, I have no idea.

The plot of this story is astoundingly simple. It opens up with Batman discovering a space capsule with a Kryptonian in it while taking part in cleanup operations-- a Kryptonian who turns out to be Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin. The problem with this series is that it wants to show you the conflict that comes from Superman and Batman's very different worldviews-- something's that been done well in other stories-- but Jeph Loeb seems capable of doing this only by making the two characters act like total jerks. Superman wants to raise Kara and take care of her-- she is, after all, the only member of his race he's ever encountered-- but Batman doesn't trust her for some reason. Of course, it's because he's Batman, but we're never sufficiently sold on the notion that she might be in some way untrustworthy, so he just comes across like a snarling jerk. Especially when he, in a move I cannot understand, convinces Wonder Woman to help him kidnap Kara and take her to Paradise Island. No one even asks Superman if he would like this idea, and I have a hard time believing that any of these people would actually ever think it was necessary. Superman doesn't come out good here, either, though, refusing to explain anything to his friends, and making fun of Batman for losing the second Robin, Jason Todd, an act so out of character that Superman spends the rest of the book thinking to himself, I can't believe I made that crack about Jason Todd.

Loeb's inability to get the characters right is not limited to the Big Three, however. Harbinger, of Crisis on Infinite Earths fame, makes an appearance... an appearance where instead of being the scion of one of the most powerful beings in the multiverse, she giggles like a schoolgirl as she swaps teenage gossip with Kara. Harbinger would never shout "Go Kara! Kick her butt!" Her power was speaking in overly portentous prose! And then she gets killed off-- what a load of nonsense. The book's real crime in this regard is, however, Darkseid. Loeb's Darkseid is a brute and an idiot, not the cunning demigod created by Jack Kirby. There is no way that Batman could have brought Kirby's Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips to their knees within minutes given the centuries of battling the New Gods have put in. And the plan Superman and Kara (now operating as Supergirl) use to trick Darkseid makes no sense. Supergirl throws herself in front of Darkseid's omega beams to protect Superman, but actually teleports out at the last second, and some ash is teleported in to make it look like she's been vaporized. But if she wasn't actually there when the omega beams hit, surely they would have gone right through and killed Superman? Notwithstanding the fact that the power of the omega beams is that they always hit their target! They bend and twist to avoid any obstacle, to catch any runner. If Supergirl was in the way, they'd just go around her! But the worst part of this is that Superman beats up Darkseid and throws him into the Source Wall! What the crap? The entire might of New Genesis can't bring down Darkseid; there's no way that Superman can-- he might be the strongest man on Earth, but Darkseid is a New God! This is justified by Batman at one point, who says that Superman "knew Darkseid would get overconfident if he believed his Omega Effect killed Kara. And it certainly put Superman in the mindset he needed to go into battle." Um, what? Sure, Darkseid may have momentarily dropped his guard after he thought Supergirl was dead, but this isn't an RPG; someone getting the drop on you isn't a deleterious effect on the entire battle. Surely after Superman jumped on Darkseid and threw him into the sun, Darkseid would put his guard back up and stop gasping "I... am... Darkseid" like he's some ineffectual powerless goon. This isn't Mongul we're dealing with here.

Possibly the worst bit of characterization in the whole thing is the titular character, Supergirl herself. Or rather, her total lack of characterization. This is a girl who lost her home planet as a young adult (not as an infant like Superman)... but she doesn't really seem fussed about it at all, content to take baths with Harbinger. Really, the only thing we learn about her is that she loves shopping. Of course she does, she's a teenage girl, right? Hahaha, oh that joke is so great Jeph Loeb, and it never gets old. Girls like to shop! Of course! What else would they do after waking up on an alien planet, newly orphaned? Why does Kara decide to become Supergirl? Who the heck knows! She spends most of the book either amnesiac or under Darkseid's mental control; this book isn't about her in any way, shape, or form, it's about a bunch of people talking about her. She's agency-less in her own story.

In my Public Enemies review, I said the story was saved by some excellent artwork. Can I say the same here? You would think so, going by Loeb's introduction to the collection. He says of Michael Turner: "he drew the darndest sexiest women in comics. What made them sexy wasn't the typical pinup shot of adolescent male fantasies. Mike imbues all his female characters with a strength, both externally and internally..." I think Loeb was confusing the sparkly anime eyes every female character has for inner strength, because there's so such thing going on here. How is Supergirl stalking naked through the streets of Gotham not an adolescent male fantasy? Our first full picture of her is in the nude with a strategically placed sheet and cape magically held in place!

I would criticize Turner for drawing Kara with an improbably long torso and improbably large boobs yet thin body, but I don't think it's a fault with his drawing of Kara so much as his drawing of women, because everyone in this comic has the same body type. Even Wonder Woman. Even Big Barda, who's supposed to a be a colossus; in Turner's hands, she looks like just another teenage girl. She also wears improbably sexy outfits, of course. We're told Lois bought her clothes, but would Lois really buy her a shirt that does this?

What is that shirt even doing? How can it just tuck in in the front like that? Later we get her in a shirt that stops just below her breasts and a g-string that rises up above her jeans. What the heck? Who actually dresses like that? I guess that maybe maybe some girls do, but I find it improbable in the extreme that Lois Lane bought clothes like this for a girl she'd never even met! And she's supposed to be a teenage girl; this just makes me feel dirty. And DC wonders why no girls actually read their Supergirl comic. I also can't believe that Ma Kent would ever devise a Supergirl costume that looked like this:

Conservative, Kansan, sixty-year-old Ma Kent designs Supergirl an outfit that shows her entire improbably long midriff and has a miniskirt!? Right. And we won't even get started on the costume Darkseid puts her in. The art is not noteworthy otherwise: a little too rough from time to time, which shows up in how similar Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne look out of costume.
So, with Supergirl, the Superman Batman series has gone from bad to worse. These books are written so unsubtly they should come with a two-by-four; every narration box hits you over the head with, "They're different... but also the same! And because they're the same... but different they're strong together! Like a team of people who are different... but also the same! Makeout time!" And the only reason they're even different is because Jeph Loeb writes them like total jerks. And Batman doesn't even do anything in this book; why was he even here? Good Lord, what a bunch of crap and nonsense.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.

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