SUPERMAN/BATMAN is my favorite Superman title and my favorite Batman title. Writer Jeph Loeb gets the title characters closer to how I've always seen them than any of their other current writers. His Superman is an inspiration, a noble man defined by his Kansas upbringing and the values exemplified by his adoptive parents. His Batman isn't insane, too tightly wound, perhaps, but still far from the misanthropic creep of BATMAN: WAR GAMES. Even the DC Universe, as explored by Loeb in this title, is more filled with wonder than woe. Unlike too many other DCU titles, I don't shudder with dread when I pick up an issue.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN #8-13 [DC Comics, $2.95 each] brought us "The Supergirl From Krypton," a six-issue serial reintroducing Kara Zor-El to the DCU. Yes, it's true writer Otto Binder only took eight pages to do the job back in ACTION COMICS #252 [May, 1959], but comics are more complicated these days. Since the original Kara died in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTH, there have been two or three other heroines using that name and, despite the best efforts of my fellow fans, I still haven't sorted all of them out.
This Supergirl arrives within a kryptonite meteor shower that has Superman confined to his Fortress of Solitude while his super-hero allies do the clean-up. She isn't nearly as prepared for her debut as her original namesake. She doesn't speak English or any other earthly language. She doesn't gradually develop her super-powers as did the current version of Superman; she has them as soon as she exits her spaceship and must learn how to use them quickly. Initially, she believes that she is as alone as her cousin Kal-El (Superman) has always been and reacts badly to a world she can only assume is hostile.
Until she meets her cousin and he meets her.
Artist Michael Turner has never been a favorite of mine, but his work on these issues has made me a fan. He captures perfectly the moment when the cousins realize and accept that they are truly family. It's a good finish to the first issue.
Every issue of the arc ends on a "Wow!" note like that. I'll get to them all as we proceed.
I love how Loeb paced these issues. Without dragging in DCU continuity from other Superman and Batman titles, he leaves enough room between the first through third issues for the heroes to have their ever-so-much-less-satisfying adventures elsewhere. There is another weeks-long gap in the final issue of the arc. Even shared universe titles should stand on their own and SUPERMAN/BATMAN does that very well.
Batman is suspicious of the new super-powered teenager who has come into his friend's life and that's perfect for a hero with so little joy in his own life. He doesn't back down easily from those suspicions and, even better, Kara doesn't conceal her resentment of them. She's got spunk and, unlike Lou Grant, I really like that in people. Even teenagers.
An element that didn't work for me was Batman conspiring with Wonder Woman to remove Kara from Superman's care and bring her to Paradise Island for training. It's disrespectful to Superman, who is not only the world's greatest super-hero, but also their closest friend. Bad form.
There were other elements I didn't like, but Loeb and Turner usually countered them with elements I did. It's not their fault, but I am so bored with Darkseid and Doomsday that I could scream. Honest to God, I never need to see either again.
Darkseid is really evil and manipulative. I get it already. He's like Karl Rove, except that he doesn't go on and on about so-called "values" and just goes straight for the evil. I don't care anymore. Leave him entombed in the Source Wall until someone has a new idea for him. A really new idea.
Doomsday is used for cheap shock value here. An entire army of Doomsday animates attack Paradise Island to seize Kara and bring her to Darkseid. Making them unliving "animates" instead of living clones makes it okay for Superman to incinerate them and get to the end of the third issue that much faster at the cost of diminishing Doomsday's stature.
Digression. Doomsday bores me, but even I'll admit that there could be future story value in Superman facing off against a being that killed him. Loeb picks up on that to some degree when he has Superman telling Kara that he now gets a little scared every time he puts on his cape. That's a good bit and, with the right writer, it could form the basis of a good story, a story which won't be as effective as it should be if they keep dragging Doomsday out on an annual schedule. End digression.
Harbinger - a character who survived CRISIS to not quite fit in anywhere in the DCU - meets her demise trying to save Kara from being kidnapped by Darkseid's Female Furies. It's a decent end for the character, though I wish she'd gotten some more "screen time" before the discovery of her ultimate sacrifice.
Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman go to Big Barda for their transportation to Apokolips. She insists on joining them and that makes perfect sense given she trained Kara's kidnappers before she escaped from Apokolips with husband Mister Miracle. What doesn't make sense is that neither she nor the other heroes can reach said hubby for assistance. "He's on tour doing his escape artist thing" doesn't work when you consider the power and technology available to Superman and other Justice League members. Still, it was good to see Barda in action again.
Not so good was the old chestnut of Darkseid controlling Kara to turn her into his fetish-clad warrior-girl.
For all his suspicions, it's Batman who wins the day by being as ruthless as Darkseid. That was a disturbing scene, but it sort of worked for me. Of course, I may have read more into it than the typical DC Comics reader.
I saw Batman's actions as indicative of an unflattering aspect of the mind-set of too many of my fellow Americans. We grieve for and mourn the deaths of our 9/11 victims and our American soldiers. We rarely grieve for the thousands of other innocent civilians who have died as a result of our own justified or unjustified actions. I won't debate which is the case...because I think each action has to be considered individually...but my point is that there exists a certain disconnect when it comes to considering those other lost lives. It's not an exclusively American disconnect, but to deny it is to ignore the plank in our national eye.
Batman is prepared to kill a great many citizens of Apokolips to achieve the release of Kara from Darkseid's control. It's not a card I think I could or would play, but I can understand Batman playing it. My biggest regret is that Loeb could have made so much more out of this scene.
The last two issues of "The Supergirl From Krypton" are superb page-turners. In #12, we get a breathtakingly beautiful double-page shot of Kara in her Supergirl costume and in flight with her cousin, followed almost immediately by Darkseid popping up to turn his lethal "omega beams" on Superman. Kara jumps in front of the blast and is seemingly reduced to ashes.
I didn't think Supergirl was really dead. There was a whole issue to go in the arc. However, I was pleased by the how and why of her survival...as well as the poetic justice of Darkseid being manipulated by the heroes. There was even a hint that such deceit came uneasily to Superman. Very well played.
The best scene, the scene that ties it all together and then brings it home, comes in the form of three glorious pages in which Superman introduces Supergirl to the super-hero community. It's a scene of hope for tomorrow and a scene which establishes yet again why Superman is the DCU's greatest super-hero. No other hero could have made it believable.
My fondness for the original Supergirl notwithstanding, it's also the moment when I can dare to believe that DC has its worthy replacement for the original.
Loeb and Turner have created a very special heroine in their Kara Zor-El and I hope other DC writers and artists handle her with the care and respect she deserves.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN #8-13 will doubtless be collected sooner rather than later. When that happens, I recommend it to Superman fans of almost all ages. It's probably just a tad intense for the youngest readers.
With fine writing by Loeb, terrific art by Turner, evocative coloring by Peter Steigerwald, and top-notch lettering by Richard Starkings, "The Supergirl From Krypton" overcomes occasional flaws to pick up four out of five possible Tonys.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back on Monday with the first installment of my MID-OHIO-CON 2004 report. It was too much fun for just one column.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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