Today, Patrick and Mark are discussing Supergirl 4, originally released December 14. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: Hey, why do we hate midichlorians so much? Y’know, the quantifiable micro organisms that live in bodies of Star Wars characters that help them communicate with the force. Do we hate it because it’s an explanation of something that was cool precisely because it was mysterious? Or is it that we hate the answer because it is inherently dumb? The answer is kind of a mix of both – I’m totally fine with unanswered questions if the wonder those questions inspire is fun all on its own. That quality — let’s just call it “wonder” — is something that I look for in Superman comics. I want to grin stupidly to myself and say “whoa, neat.” But that wonder is so fragile, and can be ruined with some inelegant attempt to explain the mysteries I’m letting into my heart. Unfortunately, Supergirl 4 is all answers for middling mysteries, going out of its way to over-explain even the most uninteresting questions.
It also doesn’t help that Kara is sidelined for the majority of this issue. She’s trapped in the mechanical snare-vine of her robo-father’s design. Kara’s only hope (or so it seems) is to talk her faux-mother into helping her. That sounds like a rich set-up: pitting the psychology of two kryptonian orphans against each other to decide the fate of humanity. But Alura has no recognizable drive, and acts in emotionally perplexing ways. Think about it – if this cyborg-superwoman believes herself to be Kara’s mother, why would all of her dialogue be about what she thinks Kara wants? Previous issues of Supergirl have leaned on the father-daughter relationship to at least hint at the idyllic life Kara is giving up by rejecting the Cyborg Superman’s reconstruction of Argo City, but any of that emotional honesty is missing from this interaction. Instead, Alura acts as a nondescript henchmen. Kara eventually convinces Alura to help her by insisting that he only has his own interests at heart, instead of her own, but that information is both generic and not based in any behavior we see demonstrated in the issue (or in the series).
And I guess every complaint I have about this issue can be wrapped up in that same idea: there’s an awful lot of unnecessary, or even damaging, exposition. Let’s take some of the action beats that should be genuinely exciting in this issue and break down why they fall flat. Here’s a candidate for fun – Agent Chase bails from the seventh floor of a skyscraper, and slows her descent with a super-advanced gravity-rifle. Sounds rad, no? Here’s what it looks like.
Artist Brian Ching does such a great job of making the landing on that fourth panel look cool – the flowing hair and coat perfectly matched by the wafting smoke – that it’s frustrating that there’s no sense of downward motion in this sequence. I mean, check out the wasted opportunity that is three consecutive panels in the same row showing Chase’s descent. It’s not even like her relative position in the row goes down between those panels. But the problem’s also in Steve Orlando’s script which has not established the properties of this rifle until the VERY MOMENT they’re needed. I don’t totally understand what a “frictionless directional blast” is, or what its tactical value would be, but it sure would have been nice to see this weapon demonstrated before Chase uses it to save the day. It’s like James Bond busting out a gadget without us having M show it off in the first 20 minutes of the film.
I’m also just sort of boggled by both Agent Danvers and Cat identifying the symbol on the kryptonians’ chest as anything but Superman’s insignia. Cat goes right for the “Supergirl” reference, which seems like a bizarre reference for a former Daily Planet reporter to make. Cat’s all kinds of insane in this issue, rushing her employees into her panic room by telling them that she hates Workers Comp attorneys. That’s so many steps removed from how a normal human being would act – even a selfish, opportunistic one. There’s a lot of that in here: no one sounds real.
Who the fuck is that cop talking to? The dude right next to him? His “twelve” would be right in fucking front of him – HE’S ALREADY LOOKING THERE.
Ooof, Mark, I hate to be so negative, but this one was a real clunker for me. Did you find something to like about this story? Any idea why the issue starts by following Benjamin up to Cat’s office? Does that significantly raise the steaks of Cyborg Superman’s invasion, or is it more pointless set dressing? Finally (and I’ll accept this is a pedantic question), how can Kara hear heartbeats on Earth while she’s in Argo City orbiting the planet? Sound can’t travel through the vacuum of space – it’s not really a matter of superhearing at that point.
Mark: I too found this issue frustrating for all of the reasons you mention above, Patrick, but for a few pages in the middle of the issue all of those problems momentarily melted away as I found myself caught up in the rhythm of the issue. I don’t particularly want one form of media to resemble another— one of the least interesting trends in blockbuster video games is their ceaseless march towards becoming “cinematic,” whatever that means— but there was something about the cutting between the events of National and Argo City that made sense to me. It felt right as I was reading it.
Good film editing is mostly invisible. Unless we’re looking for it, the cuts between shots are only stand out when they’re done poorly. In a movie like Whiplash, the editing enhances the story with cuts very literally to the rhythm of the film’s score. Similarly, I got into a groove while reading Supergirl 4, the action beats and the cuts between moments flowing together in a way that made sense to me. Most of the time when reading an issue I find myself scanning the pages and individual panels trying to make sense of the action the artist is trying to convey. I momentarily lost myself in this comic book in a way I rarely do.
Credit to Brian Ching for pulling this issue together. I agree that the panels of Agent Chase falling down the side of the skyscraper do not convey a sense of momentum in isolation, but taken in sequence I found the entire page to have a great sense of timing:
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the pacing extends only to the middle 6 or so pages.
Because as far as the script goes, I agree with all of your points, Patrick, and will only venture to add my disappointment that we are seeing this general Superperson story yet again. I am begging for a moratorium on stories about the last remaining/mysteriously surviving/too good to be true Kryptonians coming to Earth in a mad attempt to restore Krypton/Argo City to its former glory, thus forcing Superman/girl to “choose” between their birth and adopted homes. In recent memory, a version of this story was done not too long ago in Geoff Johns’ run on Superman, in Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi’s current Superman run, and now here. I also would not be surprised if I am missing instances of this story beat cropping up in recent memory.
My issue is not so much that the same general tropes keep getting trotted out, but that nothing new comes of the repetition. I’ve made this comparison before so won’t belabor the point here, but Superman/girl making the Tough Choice® to save Earth from destruction is becoming the Super-storytelling equivalent of Batman’s parents being shot in front of him. How many times do we need to see it done, even if it’s done competently?
It feels rotten to be down on one of the books I found most promising coming out of Rebirth. I genuinely believe Orlando and Ching have some sort of unique take on Kara as a character, but what makes this Supergirl super? We’ll never find if we can’t get past these redundant storylines.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?