In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Joelle Jones
Inks: Sandu Florea
Colors: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letters: Saida Temofonte
Kyle Pinion: Just before I started writing this review today, I had a plan in mind. A little outline that I tend to follow anytime write up a piece of crit regardless of the type of media. This was before I went to lunch on this Tuesday, 12/27 (you’ll be reading this on Wednesday, tomorrow…hello future!). When I first gathered by thoughts regarding this Supergirl miniseries by award winning writer Mariko Tamaki and the incomparable artist Joelle Jones, Carrie Fisher was reported to be in stable condition. That review, as it sat in my head, had a specific shape. I was going to say how it’s a beautiful coming of age story, with some fairly reductive comparison to This One Summer, Tamaki’s phenomenal collaboration with her cousin Jillian – along with how it plays to some of the same chords as Max Landis’ Superman: American Alien – a chapter of which Jones provided art for, or Superman: Secret Identity.
It’s now 2:33 pm, and Carrie Fisher has passed away. And while I’m still thinking about this version of Kara, I’m also scrolling through twitter and reading tweet after tweet of those who are affected on varying levels by the loss of this iconic actress and writer. I’m especially struck by this outpouring of sorrow from young women who saw in Fisher, and her performance as Princess Leia (in THE blockbuster franchise) as a sort of vanguard of feminine heroism. Certainly, I’m saddened by her all too untimely loss – my own father is just now 60 this month, the same age that Fisher was. God, I hate using the past tense when someone passes away. But to the point, I can’t imagine how they must feel, particularly if you grew up watching this hero who was every bit as equal to the boys she fought alongside with. Perhaps in many measures, even greater than they.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. But the truth is, I don’t have a real point here. I just can’t currently separate this tragic loss, or more accurately, whom this towering figure inspired and the overall aims of this very comic. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to write that very thing on this overcast, grey Atlanta day. A day that matches my mood, and that of quite a few of my friends to be sure.
I guess in short, the easiest thing for me to say is that Tamaki and Jones’ work with Kara was a small little ray of sunshine that I needed. Tamaki and Jones pitch together a version of Supergirl that is set firmly in her high school years, and with not even the faintest understanding of where she comes from. She’s on the track team, she has two best friends who are very different in their interests, and she is trying to quietly come to terms with her changing body and abilities. It’s a pretty solid go-to take, as Landis proved earlier this year, but transmuted over to Supergirl in a more concentrated “slice of life” fashion centered around her sixteenth birthday. Up until the closing pages of the book, there’s no major moment, no life altering decisions being made. Sure, Kara gets a big zit that when popped goes a bit wild, but this is the story of a young girl coming to some level of self-understanding and just living a quiet life.
It’s a beautiful comic, and I’m always impressed by scribes who have a strong sense of natural dialogue delivery. Tamaki has got to be one of the best I’ve read in that fashion. Every character has a unique and identifiable voice, and reveal themselves fairly quickly and in relatable fashion. For example, from just a bit of conversation, you get a good sense of what makes Dolly and Jen tick and how rich and lived-in the friendship between those three is. And exposition is rolled out so subtly, it’s barely noticed. Long-time readers of this recurring article series know what a bane to my existence that is.
And Jones’ art is, no surprise, absolutely majestic. Each character has a believable and real body type, fitting for the type of story that it’s visually transcribing, and Jones’ sense of displaying personality through facial expressions and body movement is pretty wonderful to behold. I’m somewhat put into mind of Fiona Staples’ first few issues of Archie, in terms of how the art is approached with an eye towards a wide ranging and diverse audience. I’m a huge fan, particularly in how she evokes mood, with some panels standing out in an almost cinematic-type fashion. The full page shot of our three friends celebrating Kara’s birthday with fireworks looks like something right out of a really great teen drama.
The comics audience has been undergoing a fairly seismic shift over the past 4-5 years, maybe more really, with an incoming audience that exists beyond the interests that I saw cultivated in comic shops when I was growing up. I hope this is the kind of title a large number of readers will gravitate towards, especially those who may need a pick me up in a pretty tough holiday season. It’s a beautiful, exuberant blast of positivity in a comic, and it sure made me feel a tiny bit better. What about you, Alex?
Alex Lu: Kyle, Supergirl: Being Super #1 is exactly the kind of story I had hoped DC would put out when Rebirth began. The problem I tend to have with superhero comics is that, even at their best, the stories have a tendency to feel very insular. We learn a lot about Batman through his interactions with the Batfamily, but who is Bruce Wayne? He rarely ever talks to anyone other than Alfred Pennyworth. Superhero comics have a tendency to get wrapped up in themselves to the point where superheroes are only interacting with other heroes or super-powered villains. This makes these archetypical leads less and less relatable– more god than man. While we look up to characters like Superman and Wonder Woman for their great physical feats, we are truly inspired by their decency as fellow citizens treating their families and friends with kindness. That humanizing decency and classic coming of age storyline is what makes Supergirl: Being Super #1 a huge winner in my eyes.
There’s a theory that when their bibliographies are taken as a whole, most writers return to a singular theme time and time again. If forced to tie a bow on Mariko Tamaki’s work, I’d say that the unifying idea behind her stories is how outsiders come to find their place in the world. We see the idea come into play in Rose’s storyline in This One Summer and we see it here again in Kara Danver’s story. While it’s certainly not an uncommon theme, especially in YA media, what makes Tamaki’s thematic execution unique is her dedication to drawing the most emotion out of the smallest moments.
As you mentioned, Kyle, Kara’s burdens at the start of Supergirl: Being Super #1 are almost nonexistent. In the current Supergirl flagship comic, Kara is adapting to life as a high-school aged Kryptonian much as she is in this comic, but she’s also forced to deal with her lives as a Kat Co intern, DEO employee, and superhero. She’s juggling so many balls in that book that we don’t get to dwell on any individual aspect of her life. We see shorts instead of films. By comparison, in Being Super Tamaki and Joelle Jones solely focus on Kara’s life in high school and at home. In this timeline, Kara isn’t donning a costume and going off to fight crime in her spare time. Her biggest concerns in life are her track meets and a disturbingly violent zit.
While this might sound boring in conceit, in execution I think creating a sparser, more introspective Supergirl story is actually a great choice. Dropping the narrative baggage of a major action-packed plot allows us to get a stronger sense of who Kara is– what she loves, who she loves, and what worries her in life. We spend most of the issue heading towards Kara’s sixteenth birthday, but as she carefully points out, she “technically” doesn’t have a birthday. She has the day when her adoptive Earth parents found her in a pod in their field. She’s surrounded by people who love her and whom she loves in return, yet we also get the feeling that she’s somehow still lonely. Kara has a recurring dream, rendered beautifully in a spread of shattered glass shards by Jones, where she is sent off into space in flashes of darkness and light and, as she narrates, “I”m alone.” The dream is always set in an airport or a train station, grounding this version of Kara’s character to Earth while the more continuity-minded readers wrap their heads around the vague nods to Kara’s more traditional backstory. Eschewing Kara’s Kryptonian origins almost entirely is a bold but effective choice because it breaks from the character’s tradition in order to force Kara to very literally ask the question many young readers of this title will ask themselves: “Who am I?”
The beauty of Supergirl: Being Super #1 comes from the smallest things being turned grandiose. The love that emanates from a vibrant pair of pink running shoes Kara’s mom got her for her birthday. Kara’s best friend Dolly being a “badass dyke” with a thicker frame but still as much a track and field athlete as Kara or their fellow friend Jen. The wondrous moment where Kara leaps into the sky with her eyes closed, breathing in the twilight air and exhaling her worries. Through this book, Mariko Tamaki and Joelle Jones remind us that life is a gift and that the greatest moments in time can be as simple as lighting sparklers in a field surrounded by the people you love.
Final Verdict: Buy
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
Alex Lu: Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of Overwatch and League of Legends. Both of these games are violent and relentless. Their intent, in a lot of ways, is to keep your body stressed and your mind in a constant state of hyper-awareness. “What’s around me?” “How quickly can I combo off E-W-Q-R keyboard sequences?” Both of these games also have grandiose stories beneath their exteriors, but spread narrative tidbits widely and thinly across loading screen tips and small smatterings of dialogue between matches. In this way, through its engrossing hyper-violent tendencies and infuriating vague story, Mother Panic continues to read like a video game, for better or worse.
One of the major concerns I have about this series is Tommy Lee Edwards’ artwork. On the one hand, it is undeniably beautiful. His limited color palette of pastels, warm oranges, and sunset purples gives the book a distinctive noir feel that is further emphasized by his jagged linework and intense attention to detail when rendering architecture. Mother Panic’s Gotham certainly feels alive. It is imposing with its winding corridors, Gothic exteriors, and monolithic skyscrapers. It is beautiful.
However, creating believable space is only half the battle. Characters and their actions need to feel distinguished as well. This is where Edwards’ chaotic artistic style fails the book to some extent. In the previous issue, Mother Panic, aka Violet Paige, saved a young man from the clutches of his murderous boss and lover. In this issue, we see that man again wandering through the halls of Violet’s mansion. However, prior to that, we see Violet leave the party with another male reveler in toe who looks somewhat similar, but is actually someone completely different. Because Edwards’ colors in this book are so limited and his inks so dominant, a lot of the secondary and tertiary characters we don’t spend as much time with as Violet are hard to distinguish at a glance. While on the one hand, this does ask the reader to spend more time considering the beautiful image they are presented with, it also makes for a frustrating reading experience when paired with Jody Houser’s intentionally circuitous narration.
When it comes to the content of the narration itself, again I find myself torn. I don’t think there’s anything particularly offensive about the content of Mother Panic, but I feel like we’ve seen a lot of this book’s themes covered in other texts before. The most successful subplot of this series, which revolves around VIolet’s relationship to her parents, receives an interesting turn in this issue that I appreciate. However, Violet’s mother as a character feels like a noir Mad Hatter replete with tea party and overgrown garden. The sadism, hatred of the bourgeoisie, and undertones of sexual violence dampen the reader’s mood without adding much additional new content to the discussions of any of those themes. It might be more palatable if Violet’s angry outbursts or her mother’s ramblings were undercut by some humor or at least an unexpected reaction from another character, but as it stands, Mother Panic sinks deep into its brooding nature and pulls the reader in by their resistant feet.
On the whole, my opinion on this title remains relatively unchanged. It’s a little too gory for gore’s sake with the sneer of punk and minimal socially conscious messaging beneath that veneer. Observing their careers as a whole, Houser and Edwards are extremely impressive creators. Mother Panic has the thematic foundations and artistic sensibility for a huge hit. It just needs some additional nuance to get there.
Do you think I’m being too critical, Kyle?
Kyle Pinion: If I had to sum up my reaction to this title thus far, Alex, it would be: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I wish I could leave it right there, but that’s about all Mother Panic inspires out of me. That’s not to say I don’t think the idea is cool in of itself. I’m sure I said this very thing in the last review, I’m too lazy to check, but there’s a good deal of promise in an all-white, upper class Bat vigilante that plays in stark contrast to the Batfamily without ever running into them except in her own wake. This book just hasn’t lived up to it yet, it might eventually but my patience is running real thin.
Alex, you basically cover my major issues I was going to discuss regarding this book, so I won’t regurgitate too much, but the art, while very evocative and noir inflected, has issues with clarity. I just can’t quite make out what’s going on from panel to panel anytime Violet is in costume. And yes, the content feels a good deal more forced than the pop-art weirdness of Doom Patrol, the trippy sensibilities of Shade the Changing Girl, and the DC smorgasbord of Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye.
It’s a book that’s basically trying to be rebellious/edgy Batman/woman but it basically just reminds me of some of the less interesting Vertigo books that popped up in the mid to late 90’s in The Sandman’s wake. I won’t name names, but you know the ones. Where sexualized violence was used as short-hand for character development, and a flippant attitude was there to remind you that “comics aren’t for kids anymore”…sigh, I’m disappointed I went there too.
The idea of an original character within this line provides great promise, but I remain unconvinced this was the way to do it. Why have a Bat book in the Young Animal line at all? What does this book add? Even the mother, as you state, feels like a redundant spin on Batvillains that already exist between The Mad Hatter and Batwoman arch-nemesis Alice, who is also an immediate relative.
There’s a few bits I enjoyed, like how Violet sleeps with a man and then smears blood all over his bedroom to ensure he won’t call again, or her dalliance into a Gotham victim’s party and the sort of banal conversations she overhears as part of those revelries. Maybe once we get past whatever troubled childhood flashbacks Violet keeps having, this title will settle in and maybe find its niche within the stronger series that surround it. Hope springs eternal, I mean I’ve even come around on Green Lanterns a bit, so I won’t count these two creators out just because of a slow start. I just so very much want this to finally turn into the Blade Runner/neo-noir thing it seems to want to be, but just can’t quite gel into.
On the other hand, this back-up story….man, I love, love, love Phil Hester’s art, but I already am not looking forward to where that’s going. No sir, I don’t like it.
Final Verdict: Pass
- Other than the above Supergirl comic, Blue Beetle #4 is my other favorite comic of the week. I’ve generally felt pretty good regarding Keith Giffen’s return to this title, but it never really felt like a “top of the pile” read for me. That may be changing this week as he and Kolins’ spin on the character he co-created accelerates to a quality that echoes some of those great issues from that great initial run with John Rogers and Cully Hamner. We get a retelling of Jaime’s first exposure to the scarab, what he can remember anyway, along with some revelations around just what Ted’s motivations really are regarding his partnership with Jaime. Plus, we get an appearance from Dan Garrett, the role his legacy plays, and his sad fate…no pun intended. I think Scott Kolins is doing some of his best interior work in years here as well, bringing back some of that quality that made his and Geoff Johns’ Flash run such a must-read. But mostly, what this serves to remind me is just what an under-appreciated and consistently great comics creator Giffen is. He quietly continues to write solid to great comics under the DC banner and I hope it’s not too late before we all collectively realize, “hey, this guy’s career was pretty incredible.”
- I also sat down with both Titans-related comics this week, Teen Titans #3 was the better of the two, with the majority of the story taking place with the newly formed team in hiding and doing some soul searching in order to overcome their challenged initial meeting as plotted by Damian. Ben Percy continues to nail the distinct personalities of each member, and everyone gets enough of a spotlight that the story ends up being very well-rounded in its focus. Additionally Khoi Pham makes a sterling debut as the new regular artist, and the handoff between Jonboy Meyers and he ends up being very graceful. Frankly, it might have been a thing I’d only have noticed after the fact, particularly if I wasn’t more aware of the behind the scenes stuff, as their styles are pretty perfectly matched. Pham brings a vibrancy to Percy’s story that adds to this title’s appeal. I’m particularly in love with his approach to color. Titans #6 was less successful for me, but it still had its strong points as a spotlight on the first Wally West and his being lost in the speed force while being forced to let go of memories he holds from a life that no longer exists. There’s good pathos there, though I do find myself stunned that we somehow spent six issues on Abra Kadabra. I hope the book ratchets up the pace in its second arc, but I came away mostly enjoying it, way on the nose Watchmen references and all.
- As usual, I immediately dove into the Batman titles from this week. All-Star Batman wrapped up its first arc with the release of its fifth issue. Scott Snyder and John Romita Jr. crafted a fittingly grandiose conclusion to the bombastic storyline that featured Two-Face, Batman, and Duke Thomas Beunwillingly joined together on a treacherous roadtrip to find a cure for Two-Face’s mental illness. As it turns out, the cure is not a serum to remove the Two-Face persona from Harvey Dent’s psyche but rather a way to give the dominant personality total control over Harvey’s body forever– in other words, a way for Harvey to commit suicide and give his body over completely to Two-Face. Of course, Batman refuses to go along with this plan and instead injects Two-Face/Harvey with a booster that will allow the personality that exerts more willpower at a particular moment to take control. It’s a very humanizing solution to the Two-Face conundrum as it essentially makes him a “normal” human being again to some extent. Snyder and Romita Jr. put forth the idea that no person is completely good or evil– they’re all operating in shades of grey. That demonstrably goes for Alfred Pennyworth, Jim Gordon, and the people of Gotham at large. I have some minor problems with the subplot featuring Gordon, who descends with a team of police into the lair beneath Wayne Manor only to be met with a mancave rather than the Batcave. It’s a humorous undercut to what should be the inevitable reveal of the Batman’s identity, but it’s a hard for me to believe that the Gotham City Police Department would call off the investigation of the suspicious secret locale so quickly, especially given Alfred’s emotional outburst prior to their descent. On the whole though, the “My Worst Enemy” arc was a very entertaining and energetic Batman arc. It’s a more humorous and aesthetically brighter version of the action-packed stories Tom King, David Finch, and Mikel Janin have been telling in Batman. The two series complement each other quite nicely.
- Over in Detective Comics #947, James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez continue to outdo themselves. This week sees the end to the “Victim Syndicate” arc and bears witness to Stephanie Brown’s, aka Spoiler’s, change of heart regarding Batman’s ideology. It’s rare that we see the more negative aspects of Batman’s war on crime examined so acutely and even rarer that the philosophical arguments are handled so deftly. From the start, Stephanie was never quite the same as the rest of the team Batman and Batwoman assembled at the start of this run on Detective. She never wanted to be a hero– she was more or less forced into the role in order to stop her supervillain father, Cluemaster, because he was out for her blood. She was not inspired by Batman in the way so many other were, and given her boyfriend Tim Drake’s recent death, it’s easy to see why she can so clearly see the flaws in Batman’s logic and is so willing to examine them. In her eyes, Batman hurts more than he helps. Monsters are born and attack the city because Batman is there. He brings emotionally damaged individuals like Dick Greyson and Cassandra Cain into his war and seemingly ignores issues like Cassandra’s inability to speak complete sentences. As a result of all this, Spoiler tries to get Batman to stop his war on crime. Of course, this being a Batman series, he doesn’t. My biggest gripe with this book is the way that Stephanie’s arguments are dismissed with a broad statement about the better sides of Batman’s war. He promises to do better by the people who have been hurt as a result of his battles, which is a positive step, but I would have liked to see him or anyone else on the Bat-team express more doubt because Stephanie’s arguments are very persuasive. However, it’s nice to see that Spoiler is allowed to go free, a new lurking threat to Batman that is in the unique position of possibly more objectively being a hero than a villain.
- As a final note, I also read Teen Titans #3 this week. It was an entertaining read! Khoi Pham is more than up to the task of taking over for Jonboy Meyers, barring some minor issues I have with the way specific facial expressions are rendered. His art, as Kyle said, is bursting with energy and is a welcome complement to the action-packed story Ben Percy is penning.
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