Ostensibly this issue of Supergirl (“Escape from the Phantom Zone” part 1) is the continuation of the story that began in the Supergirl and Batgirl annual that was released in late March? But don’t worry too much about that because not only could I not really remember much about March’s annual, there’s very little reference to it here. Maybe the connections will be stronger in the next installment, but for the moment you can start with this book and be just as caught up.
Which doesn’t mean you’d be any less confused. If you’ve never read a Supergirl comic, there’s not much here to give you context for her world. People crossing over from Batgirl (which I am guessing is the target audience here in addition to the Supergirl regular readers), aren’t given much to ease their way in. It a delicate balance between providing too much exposition and just tossing the reader into the pen and here I think we could have used one or two more touch points. Since Babs is likewise a fish out of Burnside in this story, it wouldn’t have taken much to make a few casual remarks about who is who and what’s going on.
Meanwhile, writer Steve Orlando makes endless references to the fact that Kara and Babs know each other even though they are pretending to not. Which gets really thick after about the third time. For superheroes, these two aren’t the least bit subtle. Might as well wink wink nudge nudge like Eric Idle all through the bloody thing.
Aren’t we glad to be on the inner circle of superhero secrets?
The story here once again doesn’t really justify why Supergirl and Batgirl would make a great team. There’s sort of the hint that something technological and mysterious is going on that requires Bab’s shrewd brain, but at the end of the day we’re dealing with overpowered interdimensional beings and forces that defy physics. Batgirl makes herself useful trying to protect and save the civilians while Supergirl deals with the big bad, but in the end she’s only ground control. And ultimately, she stupidly takes a dive to rescue someone, barely knowing what she’s getting herself into. It makes little sense and just just convenient plotting to push the characters into the Phantom Zone for the next issue.
I’m not a fan of the artwork at all in this book. Brian Ching’s style is loose–maybe too loose. I think I could get over the weird scrunched faces and the cutesy expressions, but a lot of the pages feel poorly paced to me: long stretches of talking without strong framing or angles to keep it interesting, and action that just feels flat. The “fight” sequences lack impact–they just seem busy without anything specific actually happening. Here’s a good example:
Forgiving for the moment the full page of dialogue that’s occurring in this one action panel, what’s really happening here? He’s making a random fist and swinging his spear awkwardly and she’s–dodging? Going to punch him? Seems like something’s happened, but I don’t really know what. Lots of motion lines and some Kirby-crackle to make it feel like something big is going on, but it’s pretty much the equivalent of the Sound and the Fury.
It could be a combination of the writing and artwork in some instances, the opening page of the book features a confusing and pointless mini-montage of Batgirl swinging into action to do–nothing, and later there’s a weird costume change for Supergirl in which she stands there opening her shirt while electricity shoots out of her…ears? The back of her neck?
And I’ll admit I just sort of threw up my hands when Supergirl decided to leave the scene of this bizarre supernatural event to dive into the Phantom Zone after Batgirl. In the Supergirl and Batgirl annual, I decried the two of them letting the villain parachute away so lackadaisically. This seems to support the notion that Supergirl is just in the habit of conveniently leaving villains to do whatever they want while she randomly pursues other objectives.
What sort of hero is that, exactly?
Not one I want to read about, that’s for sure.
- You like a “girl power”-style team up with a couple of (very) young heroes hanging out on the West Coast.
- You collect silly villains.
But for the appearance of Batgirl, I would not have picked up this book. The audience for this seems to be pre-teen girls and the storytelling seems to lack gravitas of any sort. There’s nothing wrong with a fun book that isn’t grappling with deep dark truths or pushing at the edges stakes-wise, but if it’s going to be on the fluffier end of the spectrum, I expect more visually to help bolster the simple plot. Here, the artwork actually seems to underscore the triviality of the danger, and the fact that the heroes turn their back on a villain to go chasing into the Phantom Zone after one another just makes me sigh. They may follow each other, but at this point I don’t feel especially compelled to follow them.