Steve Orlando brings “Escape from the Phantom Zone” to its inevitable finale. What do you think, folks? Do Supergirl and Batgirl and random Ben character make it out safely? Do they defeat the evil Xa-Du? Does the giant pink dragon open up a can of whup on the scene?
I think we know all the answers and that’s kind of the problem with this story.
There’s nothing wrong with a simple story so long as it’s well-told. I feel like most people will even forgive the most predictable tale if they are deeply enough invested in the characters and we get a little thrill of danger.
Unfortunately this story just plays it all too safe. Despite the vague hint of the possibility of people-boiling, Xa-Du’s scratch gloves, and Psi’s angry pink power-animal, everything is so by the numbers you practically don’t even need to read the words to know what’s going on. Except when you need to read the words because the art is convoluted and you can’t tell what’s going on even at the visual level.
Problems I complained about in my last Supergirl review about the art from Brian Ching still hold true here throughout: lots of vague action and sequentials that don’t feel much in sequence.
Batgirl flies around willy-nilly, maybe trying to distract her foe, but mostly it just looks like she’s sproinging around while he poses menacingly. And when she does get in a few hits, it’s awkward to look at:
How is there even any power behind that?
Then Xa-Du grabs Babs by the neck to choke her and Ben comes running up screaming only to be likewise grabbed in the next panel. Did Ben run all the way up with his eyes closed? Does Xa-Du have an extending/retractable arm? How do you run up and not notice someone reach for your shirt? And it’s not even like Ben got a hit in. It looks like he literally ran up and into Xa-Du’s waiting hand.
Orlando tries to give everyone something to do, but the story winds up hinging on something completely out of their control: Xa-Du screws the pooch by letting slip his evil plan in front of his many minions.
First of all, Xa-Du is an idiot.
Secondly, it’s not like Batgirl or Supergirl did anything clever to make him do it.
It just sort of happens (oopsie!) and now Xa-Du and his magical scratch glove is outnumbered and rendered completely irrelevant. Yay?
You’ve done it now,
One could argue that’s not the real story here. The real story is between Supergirl and Psi (remember the pink dragon?). Fair enough: let’s see what happens there. Supergirl jumps into the maw of the dragon. Ben expresses his concern that no one could survive that! Batgirl says with confidence: she can! She was supposed to be weak in her powers because of the scratch guy, but that didn’t really last. And anyway, it’s just a fantasy pink dragon that serves as a psychic armor for Psi herself, who stews inside and spouts dramatic arguments for distrusting Supergirl’s intentions and her own desire to see Xa-Du and everything he lords over destroyed.
Do you think Supergirl is able to reason with Psi and talk her down from this ledge?
It’s hard to care about anything in the Phantom Zone, frankly. Because we know our team is just going to escape it and the responsibility vanishes. It almost doesn’t matter what choice they make because nothing in the story has compelled us to care about the fate of any of them. This story needed some ambiguity–a more complex moral question or an outcome that wasn’t so simplistic. Instead, the bad guy is defeated by his own mouth and Psi does the “right” thing and conveniently will clean up the mess, while returning our heroes to their own zone.
- You want more big pink dragons!
- You like simple, predictable, dot-to-dot comics.
Everything turns out exactly how you would expect it to and Batgirl’s presence in this story is never really warranted or justified. Maybe with some actual stakes this could have been a fun team-up adventure, but between some less-than-cohesive art and a story that lays on the plate like a cold hamburger patty with no buns and no condiments and no, well, anything, this just doesn’t have much to offer.