Supergirl 17

supergirl 17 Hel

Today, Patrick and guest writer Zach are discussing Supergirl 17, originally released February 20th, 2013. This issue is part of the H’el on Earth crossover event. Click here for complete H’el on Earth coverage.

Patrick: I likes me a good anti-hero. There’s nothing quite like cheering for a character’s success and failure at the same time. Let’s take Walter White as a perfect example of this in modern fiction. He is a terrible husband and father, and an even worse friend, who makes dangerous decisions in the name of greed, power and desperation. And yet, I cheer every single one of his personal victories, no matter how immoral they might be. So much of Breaking Bad is about that character finding a way to feel powerful in the face of illness and poverty, and about how that need to feel powerful never goes away. The ride is exhilarating because there’s nothing more satisfying than a character with agency. Say what you will about Walter White — he has goals and he takes the steps necessary to achieve those goals. Supergirl has no such agency. She spends the majority of issue 17, fighting Wonder Woman just because, and then stops fighting her for equally arbitrary reasons. Neither a hero, nor an anti-hero, Supergirl ends up the clueless victim of her own series. 

As the Oracle draws closer to Earth (like, closer than the moon… I wonder how that effects the tides…), Supergirl does battle with Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman does her damnedest to convince Kara that H’el is up to no good, and after spending a few minutes ensnared in the golden lasso — forcing her to be honest with herself — Kara figures it out. H’el, who we last saw Tiger-Uppercuting Superman into space, arrives and tells Kara to calm the hell down. But he also demands that she choose between Earth and Krypton.

What does H’el believe is going to happen here? Over the course of the last two pages, he presents two conflicting ideas, one of which actually makes him sound pretty reasonable. If H’el and Kara travel back in time and prevent Krypton’s destruction, then H’el would never have to destroy Earth to travel back in time. I mean, right? That is what he’s saying here, correct?

H'el has some interesting ideas about time travel

It might be a little late in the crossover to be scrutinizing the cause-and-effect of this kind of time travel, but, well, H’el started it. Actually, now that I think about it, H’el makes this same argument in Supergirl 15when he has Kara take the quantum crystal from the bottled city of Kandor. Effectively, it dooms the city but that’s totally cool because when they go back in time it won’t matter anymore. This is the same argument, but on a larger scale — and while we could spend all day teasing out what that would mean (multiple time lines? an Earth without Superman? a paradox?), it’s interesting to me that Mike Johnson is the only writer involved in this series that seems to want to broach these questions at all. But the idea is left weirdly out in the cold as H’el contradicts himself seconds later by telling Kara to chose between Earth and Krypton.

There’s another example of this sort of thing early in the issue, as Wonder Woman says that the energy the Star Chamber is taking in disrupts the space time continuum. When I read that, I was like “Wait, what? It is?” I’m not sure how Wonder Woman knows this… Anyway, we see Lois and Jimmy experience it in a weird, isolated little sequence:

Lois and Jimmy experience time hiccups

Never mind that we don’t have any context for why this would be the case: it’s an interesting concept. Unfortunately, it’s one that never gets explored elsewhere in the issue. If Johnson wanted to make this issue about Kara choosing between Earth and Krypton, it could have been awesome to see her make the wrong choice and have time skip back so she could make the right choice. Or something – anything. As it is, this neat sci-fi idea is just kinda orphaned at the beginning of the issue.

I don’t want to give Johnson too much credit for thoughtfulness: the last two issues have basically just been Supergirl vs. Flash and Supergirl vs. Wonder Woman. One of the most effective ways to make me check out of a comic book is to turn it into a Boss Fight. It’s a little bit hard to say which of these two women is the hero in this bout, so maybe the better video game analogy (and yes, I must use a video game analogy here) is that they’re essentially just Street Fightering here. Round Two: Fight – that sort of thing. Maybe this is Johnson just making up for the fact that Kara’s not going to be in Injustice: Gods Among Us. Regardless, the encounter has all the boring obligation that comes with comic book Boss Fights.

One last thing, and then I’ll pass it off to Zach. Drew and I were chatting the comments of… one of these H’el on Earth articles about how Superman and Superboy were (until recently) wearing the wrong costumes to appear as they do in the zero issues. Drew brought up that the artist teams can’t seem to decide whether or not H’el has the backwards S on his chest. Intriguingly, Kara notices the symbol for the first time here. What do you make of that Zach? Why’s that thing there? Why was he hiding it from Kara?
Zach: The newly reappearing S shield on H’el is probably the only takeaway I had with this issue, Patrick. It has been bugging me for months as to why it comes and goes, let alone the fact certain characters haven’t even seen it. FINALLY we get a foot in that door… eleven issues into the crossover.

The question of “Why?” just rattles around in my head now, trying to grasp at straws for reasons H’el would hide his House of El beauty mark. One would assume having it on his person would mean loyalty to the Krytonian family, or it could be a branding of the house crest on his person hiding a much darker reasoning. These tether together plausibility with plausibility to build up a character who most likely is none of these guesses. I want to say it’s because he views himself as a monster, because he scarred himself in a dark moment of isolation. He was never welcomed into the El crest, that was the fabrication he created to gain Supergirl’s trust.

That’s just yet another guess though. Quite frankly, I don’t think the Superman family of writers knows what H’el is, because he hasn’t been handled all that well in his execution. He spins out of an interesting idea: “What if we build a tragic villain figure who is linked back to the latter days of Kryton and can reverse its demise, but in order to get home he’s gotta sacrifice Earth in the process. He’s built on both self-manipulation and the exploitation of others.”

To me, that sounds pretty compelling! But quite frankly Patrick, I have to agree with you, these issues just are turning into Beat ‘Em Ups with little substance and no character development. H’el is being moved to the side in his own introductory story for a greater force of being with the Oracle. Right now, both feel like plot devices, and only one of them should if this is to be a successful villain.

Damn it, there’s the cop out too. Villain. Outside of smacking around Clark once and tweaking Superboy’s insides, our pasty antagonist hasn’t earned the right to be the bad guy here. He’s normally a fairly understanding guy. But then BAM, H’el is all the sudden the super-villain going to destroy the sun, once we hit page 20. Forcing Kara to pick a side (yet again). There wasn’t even a glimmer of an arc for him becoming that role! We simply trade exposition (yet again) that Superman had ascertained from Luther months ago in Superman #15 and continues to cycle through each subsequent title.

It’s tiresome. I’ve really tired to give H’el a fair shot and by all means I think the idea of him is great. But come on. We don’t know the extent of his seemingly endless abilities, we don’t know his actual origin (I assume), and we’ve yet to be given a reason to feel sympathy for him OR a reason to see him as the bad guy, which now he suddenly has become. The tease of the true reason behind his Superboy Prime-like symbol is intriguing, but effectively too little too late.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

13 comments on “Supergirl 17

  1. Y’know, I hadn’t connected H’el’s chest emblem to Prime’s. Did he carve that into his own body when the guardians had him in space-prison around a red sun? Or did he get it some other way? I remember thinking that he did it to himself, which makes it a neat statement about fans and cosplay and the destructive nature of obsession. And I guess there’s still room for that if H’el was like “look, I love the house of El so much, I carved this shit INTO MY CHEST!”

    It’s absurd that we’re one issue away from the end and basically have no idea what that’s about.

    • I still like my guess that H’el might actually be a Phantom Zone prisoner (or perhaps otherwise exiled from Krypton by Jor El), and has developed either a Helsinki-syndrome type obsession with Jor El, or is just straight-up obsessed because he hates him. I’m not entirely sure how this fits, but I want to remind everyone about that Kryptonian dinosaur from the start of the crossover. That thing a) was extinct on Krypton at the time of its destruction, and b) had decaying genetic material. Somehow, this is going to fit with H’el’s actual origin.

    • Does he have shapeshifting powers, or does his pseudo-telekinesis block the symbol from the mind’s eye of every person around him? I know he pulled that weird “evil Superman” trope back in the earlier stages of the crossover to originally get Kara on his side… but what all can he do?

      Side bit of information: Has anyone realized how much time we spend running in and around the Fortress of Solitude throughout these books? It’s like they reversed the writer’s notion of “get in late and get out early” to provide dramatic scenes. We follow the League/Super family all the way to their destination and then the issue ends. Next issue is a fight, then ends. Rinse and repeat.
      That feels odd to me.

      • It’s interesting that you say that, because I’ve often felt that certain issues were adhering too much to certain comic-writing tropes. Namely: start with action, end with action. It’s not a bad axiom, but when it starts to feel forced, I can’t help but wonder why we didn’t just abandon it for something more practical — especially when it’s quite commonplace in modern comics.

  2. Hey does anyone else think that little time-hiccup was weird? It’s so tossed off – Diana just says that there’s so much energy flying around that time is just… being weird? Not, like, a problem or anything, just a little strange.

    • Totally with you on that one. It’s weird: usually a cross-over ends up being soured by the shitty titles that are involved (like our so-so experiences with Death of the Family and the Night of the Owls), but this one has just been a chore throughout. At best, I sorta like Superman (but there have been some TOTAL stinkers from that series too), but Superboy has been a non-stop shitshow, and Supergirl might as well not even be a character in her own series.

      One issue left man. And because DC loves to tease out an event longer than necessary (or announced: see also Before Watchmen), Superman 17 comes out next week and will end this thing once and for all.

      • Yes, sweet mercy. I’m interested to know when, a couple months from now, we have Scott Snyder, Scotty Lobdell, and Andy Diggle all writing the character then which of those books/creators will be driving the image and overall editorial planning of the Superman character. I’d venture to assume the Snyder/Lee will be the Superman team that sets the tone for the rest of his publication line, but they’re on a new, non-flagship Superman book. It’s all very weird

        • How is AD’s Action Comics? At the conclusion of H’el on Earth, we might take a break from all Super-family comics (because, come on) until Snyder’s book comes out (whenever that’s going to be). But if there’s a reason we should have been reading Action Comics, maybe that can be added to the docket.

        • Morrison is still on until 18. His run has easily been the best of any of the Super books. The stuff with his parents (and especially his dad in the last back up) has been wonderfully heartbreaking, though some of that was written by Sholly Fisch (that I pray to the comic book gods we’ll be seeing more of in the DCU.)

          5th Dimensional Imps, time travel, mad science. This is Superman!

        • Dude, Action 17 made me want to cry :*( You’re right though, it’s been nothing short of incredible. It somehow perfectly encompasses the essence of the different ages of Superman while also elaborating the mythis into modern, mindbending narratives. I can’t say enough good things about it, but I KNEW I would love this based on All-Star Superman alone. He’ll be missed by this superfan

        • The first few issues were rocky because I wasn’t quite sure where Morrison was going with it, then again it was the beginning of the New 52 so I felt that way about EVERY title. However, knowing Morrison I knew I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have not regretted my decision! 🙂

        • Yeah, I lost any doubt I had at issue #4 (which was my favorite New 52 issue to date when I first read it), which lead into the origin revamp in 5 & 6, then the Braniac/Kandor action in 7/8, the Superman of Earth-23 Mutiversity teaser in #9, and on and on… he just started to blow me away once he gained steam. Classic Superman run

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