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?
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 15, when 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:
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?