Supergirl Saturday: “H’el on Earth” (Supergirl v6 #14-16, Superboy v5 #14-16 and Annual #1, Superman v3 #13-17)
|November 1, 2014||Posted by Jess under Comics, Supergirl Saturday|
It’s time to check in with the New 52 Kara again, in her very first multi-issue Supercrossover! It’s…it’s pretty awful. But before we get into the crossover itself, let’s take a quick look at Kara’s appearances in her cousins’ books up to this point.
(Jeez, look at the list of issues in that title. Boy that New 52 is so easy for new readers to follow, huh? *eyeroll*)
Oh, and these Superman issues are by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort, Supergirl by Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar, and Superboy by Tom DeFalco and R. B. Silva.
Our girl was first spotted in Superboy #6, where she and Superboy pretty much randomly run into each other while flying around, because “the sky” is such a small, crowded place, I guess.
Now, I didn’t read the reboot Superboy series because I am not here for Angsty Kon. Give me grandstanding huckster Kon circa 1993 any day! BUT. I love me some Supergirl-Superboy interaction. It is one of the Top 3 Fondest Comic Book Wishes of My Heart that the two of them become bestest buddies (the other two: rolling back the reboot, and Beetle/Booster smooches). And I’m pretty sure they’ve interacted more in the three years of the reboot than the seven years they were both in continuity post-Crisis, so I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining – especially since my beloved Superkids instantly feel a connection, despite not speaking the same language:
When they touch, however, Kara unlocks in Superboy’s mind a memory of Krypton destroyed, as well as the ability to speak Kryptonese. Alarmed, he shoves her away with his patented tactile telekinesis, and a fight breaks out. When he mentions he’s a clone, she calls him “Kon-El” – an abomination in the House of El – and tells him he’s doomed to become a killing machine. Adorably – and heartbreakingly – he actually adopts Kon as a name because, well, he doesn’t have anything else to call himself. I didn’t think anything could top the post-Crisis scene where Clark – extremely belatedly, since Kon’s been around for ages at this point – bequeaths him with his first real name, one that makes Kon an honorary member of Clark’s family, for sheer Oh You Sad Precious Baby-ness, but Kon defiantly taking on an insult as a name because it’s better than nothing managed it. (Either that or he’s 16 and he thinks calling himself “Abomination” is totally sick, brah.)
Kara immediately heads to Metropolis to confront Clark about having never mentioned a clone. Unfortunately, Clark’s been replaced by a nanotech Superman on a rampage, meaning this issue is basically just “Clark” and Kara punching each other around the skyscrapers of Metropolis (at least they’re not going through them – ahem, Man of Steel). Meh. At least it ends with the most civil conversation she and Clark (the real one) have had to date, so there’s that.
Okay. So “H’el on Earth.”
As is usually the case with a crossover across three different books with three different creative teams, the story’s pretty incoherent, so I’ll streamline the best that I can. H’el (H’El? It’s not clear, comics lettering being what it is.) is an immensely powerful being who claims to be both Kryptonian and Jor-El’s protege, hence his adoption of the El surname. He demolishes Kon, who he considers, well, an abomination, pretty handily, then convinces Kara that there’s a way to go back in time and save Krypton. (No explanation on the butt-cape or lack of nipples, though.)
To prove his dedication, he offers Kara a gift: Kon, who he will kill for her as soon as she gives the word. Kara can’t bring herself to let him do it, not when Kon remembers her name and looks so helpless, which is very touching…but on the other hand, THAT IS WEIRD, KARA. “To prove that I want to bring back Krypton, I will murder this person you hardly know.” “Aw, you shouldn’t have!” NOT NORMAL. It’s all part and parcel of Kara being portrayed as profoundly dumb and gullible throughout this arc. SIGH.
Clark, meanwhile, is not convinced by H’el (“No offense, but you’re like the third alien I’ve met who’s tried to play the Kryptonian card.”). But H’el, of course, never had any intention of working with Clark, who he dismisses as “going native” and using a “slave name,” both of which are PROFOUNDLY racist and appropriative terms to use casually removed from their historical context. He disguises himself as Clark and attacks Kara in order to convince her that Clark is the enemy, then takes off with her.
In the same battle, H’el attacks Kon’s DNA, ripping him apart on the atomic level, so Clark takes Kon to the Fortress of Solitude and hands over his Kryptonian armor, which temporarily stabilizes him. H’el then shows up and boots Clark and Kon out of the Fortress, so they go to see Lex in prison for advice, Hannibal Lecter-style. Lex somehow knows because whatever, lazy writing I guess, what H’el is up to: he wants to destroy our solar system in a “reverse big bang” and use the energy that produces to catapult himself and probably Kara back in time to Krypton, which he will then save from destruction…somehow.
Meanwhile, H’el takes Kara to the Fortress with some story about Clark abandoning it, and transports her to Kandor, then joins her as an astral projection – one of his normal, unscarred, handsome self. And can I just pause here to note that H’el’s powers are all over the place? Ripping people apart at the atomic level, observing people from other dimensions, miniaturizing and transporting people, projecting himself astrally, and casting illusions, plus more physical strength than two Supers combined. It’s frustratingly random. Anyway, he convinces Kara to take the quantum crystal that powers Kandor so that they can use it for their time travel device. She still has no idea how destructive the device will be, of course. Also, they kiss, because siiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.
The JLA shows up to help Clark and Kon fight their way back into the Fortress and there are a lot of skirmishes between the JLA + Kon versus Kara and H’el, plus a brief interdimensional jaunt to a prison planet for Clark and Kon because why not. Kara goes one on one with the Flash, Kon, and finally Wonder Woman, who lassos her and drags her outside to look at the sun. H’el’s star chamber – powered jointly by the quantum crystal and a shard of kryptonite – is making it go nova, and Kara can no longer deny what she always knew: that H’el’s plan will destroy the Earth.
Also, throughout this whole storyline there’s a creature called the Herald running around summoning its master, the Oracle, some kind of big gray space statue that is supposed to bear witness to the end of worlds, including Earth. It’s like a weird combo of Galactus and the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and makes very little sense.
Together, the Supers and Wonder Woman manage to temporarily disrupt the star chamber, but it’s not enough – H’el is still keeping the thing going psionically. So Kara picks up the kryptonite that was powering it and tells H’el she wants to go back with him – then stabs him with the kryptonite once she gets close enough. H’el collapses and disappeared – zapped, though our heroes don’t know it, back to Krypton’s past – and the Earth is saved. But Kara collapses too, with kryptonite poisoning.
So much for the plot. So what’s the verdict?
Well, let me put it this way: one of the purposes of a crossover like this is to convince the customer purchasing one of the books involved in it to buy the other ones. And I have no interest in picking up Superman or Superboy after this.
The Clark we see in these issues is a profoundly unpleasant, self-involved, unkind person. There are occasional glimmerings of a more likable, protective person, when he takes Kon under his wing or tries to keep Kara from hurting herself to take out H’el, but for the most part? He’s a nasty piece of work. The first thing we see is the semi-infamous scene where he trudges into the office in stubble and sweats, informs Lois and Perry, his much more experienced colleagues, that they’re hacks who don’t know what journalism is, uses his powers to read Lois’s private texts from her boyfriend, and quits in a fit of pique. Wotta hero.
Then, when Kara shows up, he exasperated tells her, “Kara, again – for maybe the dozenth time – there is no Krypton. It died nearly three decades ago.” Okay, dude, but she’s been here a few weeks, and it was her home, and she’s a child and your only living biological family, so maybe you could be a skootch more patient with her when she’s holding out hope that HER PARENTS AREN’T DEAD? He then goes on to call her stupid for not understanding the secret identity he’s never explained to her. He’s basically awful, is my point here.
Kon isn’t nearly as unpleasant, but oof, the writing in his book sure is clunky. He spends a lot of time complaining or loudly expositing his feelings and recent history, and he and Clark churn through the same repetitive, awkward dialogue over and over again. He’s also just not the character I loved from the post-Crisis universe; simply put, he’s a lot less fun. At one point he declares that Clark’s “got a real attitude – a little too arrogant and reckless for my tastes!” Not only am I not here for this particular character declaring that someone else is reckless and attitudinal – that’s Kon’s whole deal, or at least it was – it doesn’t make sense to me that the sidekick would be the stick in the mud while the mentor is portrayed as a flashy loose canon. On a purely archetypal level, it doesn’t work. (Oh, and the Teen Titans, when they appear, are mostly hateful little monsters. Bunker seems okay, under the mess of Latino and gay stereotypes, but Cassie and Bart…yikes.)
That said, there are occasional sparks of humor and fun character interactions, all revolving around Kon. I’ve already mentioned the connection between him and Kara; later, he asks Clark if everyone from Krypton is a colossal butt, and Clark, adorably, suggests they table all talk of butts for the moment. More of this, please!
And then there’s Kara.
This storyline does not do very well by Kara. She’s the one led astray by a patently obvious villain; she’s the one fighting the Justice League and almost destroying the Earth. Clark and Kon are stalwart and true; Kara is Eve under the thrall of the serpent. Clark and Kon are rational and right; Kara is emotional and wrong. Now, out of the three of them Kara is, of course, the one most invested in Krypton’s return, so having her be the one aligned with H’el makes the most sense. But there are so many stereotypes about women having weaker moral compasses or being led astray by their emotions that it would be really, really difficult to write this story without it coming off as problematic, and the writers of this crossover didn’t manage that.
She’s handled best in her own book, which I guess is a small blessing. In Superman she’s actively stupid and repeatedly falls for paper-thin explanations. For example, H’el tells her all about the glorious day when his ship took off in front of a cheering crowd, and when she asks why she doesn’t remember that, he tells her she probably has memory loss from her trip to Earth, which she swallows hook, line, and sinker; then he mentions Earth’s coming “sacrifice,” and when she points out, puzzled, that he said Earth wouldn’t even notice their departure, he goes, “Yes. That is what I said.” AND SHE LETS IT GO. KARA. WAKE UP. Lobdell repeatedly portrays her as clueless and hopelessly gullible. If I really wanted to stretch a point I’d say that it fits with how Clark thinks of her, but mostly I just think Lobdell doesn’t respect the character at all.
Meanwhile, in Superboy she’s portrayed as being motivated by love for H’el, which…is not much better, considering she’s known him for like six hours, and all she’s seen him do is beat up her relatives. Again, it’s in keeping with a book about a hotheaded teenager for whom every feeling, every relationship, is THE BIGGEST DEAL IN THE WORLD, but it’s still some pretty shallow characterization, and again, falls into a pattern of offensive stereotypes about teenage girls.
In Supergirl, however, Johnson takes the time to show us a scene of Kara on Krypton with her best friend Tali. Though I’m sorry to see that Kara’s post-Crisis BFF Thara Ak-Var has been replaced (completely unnecessarily so, since Thara also wound up in Kandor), I’m glad to see a non-white Kryptonian – and especially glad to see something of Kara’s social life before Krypton’s destruction. It makes Kara come alive as a character, and makes Krypton feel more real – all necessary if its restoration is going to be a believable motivation for her. Later, Kara spots Tali in stasis on Kandor, and vows to restore her friend, along with the rest of her people. In Johnson and Asrar’s hands, Kara is not a foolish girl in love or a lamb easily led to the slaughter, but a hero determined to save her home from destruction. I’m perfectly happy to keep that characterization and ignore the rest as hard as I can.
Oh, also, Supergirl reintroduces Krypto as a big weird-looking alien dog! Bonus points for that.
The musical chairs of creators on Supergirl has made it clear the the top brass at DC mostly sees the book as a placeholder for a) copyright purposes and b) crossovers like this. I’m not opposed to Kara teaming up with her cousins – in fact, I’m ridiculously stoked about Kon’s upcoming appearances in her book – but if she’s going to be stuck in crossovers, I’d like them to treat her a little better than this.