Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Supergirl 14, originally released November 21, 2012. This issue is part of the H’el on Earth crossover event. Click here for complete H’el on Earth coverage.
Drew: For being a site run by DC fanboys (and girls), we’re not great about covering Superman’s corner of the DC universe. In fact, aside from a few annuals and zero month, we’ve barely covered any titles anchored by DC’s oldest superhero. There’s plenty to not like about the way DC has handled Supes in the New 52, but our two biggest problems hinge around the increasingly strained explanations to superpower villains and the often lazy assumption that Krypton is automatically interesting. With Supergirl 14, the H’el on Earth crossover seems poised to give us an emotionally satisfying exploration of both of those ideas, which could serve as an important turning point for the Superman family.
The issue picks up following the events of Superman 13, after Kal and Kara have hauled the Kryptonian dinosaur back to Dr. Veritas’ lab (in the CENTER OF THE EARTH). Kara is convinced the presence of the dinosaur means Krypton is still alive, but Kal is wary of false hope. She heads back to New York to confer with her pal Siobhan, who has some kind of mysterious power (likely related to her father, Black Banshee) she hasn’t told Supergirl about. Back at her sanctuary at the bottom of the Atlantic, Kara opts for a nap, remarking that this is the first time she’s felt sleepy since she arrived on Earth. She wakes up on the surface of the Sun, and H’el reveals that he brought her here to recharge. She’s a little shaken by the invasion of privacy, but she hears him out as he tells his story. In short, he was a kind of Noah, sent by Jor-El with a cargo of the entire accumulated science and culture of Krypton. He is on Earth to enlist Kal and Kara’s help in preventing Krypton from exploding…by GOING BACK IN TIME.
Kara mostly thinks this sounds nuts, which H’el takes as an opportunity to explain why staying on earth would be a mistake, because Humans are so terrible. Also, to prove he means business, he volunteers to kill Kon (captured in Superboy 14). This rightly comes off as too eager to volunteer evil information, and even Kara balks at killing Superboy in cold blood. H’el sends Kara to Kal to think it over, giving her the ability to speak and understand English. She then walks in on Clark in his civvies (and his skivy civvies at that) with some girl.
Most of H’el’s case is based on Krypton ruling and Earth drooling, which is an idea Superman obviously wouldn’t be entirely sympathetic to. His conflict over returning to his biological home vs his adopted one will be fun to watch as this crossover unfolds, but in the meantime, H’el’s decision to appeal to Kara first was incredibly strategic. Returning to Krypton is obviously going to be more enticing to the one who actually has memories of it. Moreover, Kara isn’t entirely enamored of Earth, expressing throughout the issue that she doesn’t exactly trust these humans. She probably agrees with H’el that Earth is nothing compared to Krypton, but even she is put off by what a dick he is about it.
That’s really the thing that bugs me about H’el as a villain here — his villainous tendencies are entirely unnecessary. Like, he’s selling something Kara would want to buy, but introducing himself by moving her unconscious body and volunteering to kill people for funsies actually makes his case less appealing. It’s an interesting case study in how a message might be muddled by a shitty messenger, but it makes the conflict here kind of hollow. Like, Kal would probably be conflicted no matter what, and Kara would probably want to go back no matter what, so H’el being a dick just gives everyone an excuse to punch eachother for a minute.
Take, for example, Kara’s attempt to deliver a flying, two-fisted punch to H’el.
Sure, this serves the functional purpose of demonstrating H’el’s power (which we’ve kind of already seen if we’ve read Superboy 14), but it’s established in just about the worst way possible. H’el later decries the brutality of humans, but Kara — a Kryptonian, born and raised — is pretty quick to attempt punching her way out of her problems. Between H’el, Kara, and the characterization of Krypton in Superboy 0, I’m getting the impression that Krypton is actually a brutal, selfish place full of total dickwads. I’m not sure that’s a characterization the writers are explicitly going for, but it’s pretty fascinating.
So what did you think, Patrick? Are you finding this portrait of Krypton compelling at all? Are you intrigued by all of H’el’s abilities? Can you believe this title has released 15 issues without Kara speaking English? Most importantly, do you think Dr. Veritas is talking about Superman’s wang in this scene?
I think H’el’s whole argument — which you so elegantly described by repurposing a quote from Homeward Bound — actually hinges on a slightly more ancient wisdom: “there’s no place like home.” We’ve seen a lot of corruption and and shady dealings from Kryptonian governmental bodies, and we know full well that they enslaved countless clones (and then were surprised when they revolted), so they’re not objectively better than Earthings. H’el knows the relative goodness of these two planets isn’t going make his point for him — not unless he talking to someone who agrees with already.
And, Drew, you point out that there’s no reason H’el would need to be a villain to convince her to go back in time to save Krypton. But, like, he should be able to appeal to Superman for help the same way. Why wouldn’t Superman agree to save his own homeworld from destruction? There is more to H’el’s motivation than we’ve been presented with, right? Otherwise, he’s just not a threat. Maybe he’s not the villain of this cross-over event after all. His evilest action so far has been toward Superboy, which more of a left-over from centuries of Kryptonian racism than it is outright evil. My guess is that he jumps right to punching, etc. because he’s got this insane new power thanks to that yellow sun. Plus, y’know, he makes the case on a couple of occasions that he’s actually on Kara’s side. We don’t trust him because he looks all fucking crazy (and we don’t trust aliens).
I love seeing Superboy in this issue — it’s such a stark contrast to how we see him in Superboy 14. Where he’s presented as a scared, misunderstood kid in his own series, he’s a bargaining chip here. The image of H’el cavalierly clutching Kon’s neck in his hand here is appropriately horrifying, but I wonder what the effect would be if I wasn’t reading Superboy.
That’s an impressive emotional distance between the issue last week and the issue this week. I suspect the event’s success is going to hinge largely on how well the different values of these four characters are developed. As discussed, no one seems to have any explicitly evil goals just yet. I look forward to seeing these four Kryptonians duke it out… philosophically first, then physically.
There’s a cool theme of authenticity that runs throughout this issue. Kara doesn’t have a lot of patience for Kal because he’s such a crummy Kryptonian that he doesn’t even speak their language properly. And she absolutely hates that Clark has a life built up here — seemingly unphased by the fact that their homeplanet was destroyed. She also claims that she doesn’t totally trust humans — that’s the excuse her voiceover gives for not allowing Dr. Veritas to study her. But it goes beyond distrust: Kara doesn’t even want to help humans. It’s just not something she values, and Clark’s unending drive to help humanity makes him kind of a Kryptonian poser.
Also, hey, I’m a sucker for time-travel narratives — Kal and Kon showing up in the zero issues were among the most exciting moments of those issues for me. Plus, I’ve been aching for a reason to care about Krypton, and there’s no medicine for that like injecting some characters I actually know and care about into that world’s final moments. Color me interested in Krypton for the first time ever.
Quick correction: that’s not just “some girl” Clark is hanging out with at the end of the issue. That’s Lois Lane. He complains about being friend-zoned by Lois. And we all know how those conversations end. Between this and his little explosion at the Daily Planet last month, it seems like Kal might be losing his connection to his adopted home. Or maybe it’s a sign that he’s becoming more assertive in his civilian identity. Either way, he’s moving into an interesting headspace that promises to make H’el on Earth something special. And here I was thinking it was going to be a slog!
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