In 2003 DC Comics launched Superman/Batman, a contemporary take on their old World’s Finest comic. Its first six issues solidified a trend towards a more Silver Agesque sensibility at DC, a repudiation of the changes made to the DC Universe after Crisis on Infinite Earths. The seventh issue presented a stand-alone story which principally concerned Robin and Superboy.
The next six issues brought back the one missing Silver Age element: the Supergirl from Krypton.
Artist: Michael Turner
Colorist: Peter Steigerwald
Superman remains in seclusion because of the Kryptonian meteors which showered the earth at the end of the first story arc. We learn that the kryptonite debris came surrounding a spaceship, which carries another survivor of Krypton; it seems not all of the Man of Steel’s people are gone. After landing and regaining consciousness, this other survivor walks about Gotham City, a confused, doe-eyed naked teen blonde babe.
It doesn’t take Batman (and some very regretful Gotham lowlifes) long to realize that this isn’t any ordinary doe-eyed naked teen blonde babe wandering the streets, and clearly, it’s a job for Superman. The Man of Steel is delighted to learn the girl’s true identity and, after Lois Lane has provided the teen with trendy clothing (leaving her somewhat less naked), he shows her about. The Dark Knight remains skeptical; her arrival seems too fortuitous, and he believes that Superman trusts her story too easily. Issue #9 provides a high point, as the heroes’ attitudes put them at plausible odds, without having them resort to physical conflict. And, as the evil Darkseid hovers about in the background, readers must wonder whether Supergirl has returned, or whether something more sinister is at work.
If you read on, that question will be answered.
Yes, Darkseid has a plot, and we’re offered the possibility that Supergirl might be re-introduced only to become an Apokolips-allied villain. That would have been original.
In issues #11-12, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Big Barda find themselves face to face with Darkseid, who has Supergirl in his thrall. Of course, she’s under the influence of his sinister sciences; we quickly realize that she’s the Kara Zor-El of comics past, who, in her right mind, would never do anything nasty or criminal. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Barda find themselves in a battle for their lives-- but none want to hurt the very being who poses the greatest threat to them.
In a typical comic-book twist, the super-beings don’t, in the end, save the day. That job gets reserved for the human among them, Batman. Proving himself impossibly clever, he somehow figures out the alien computer network and reprograms Darkseid’s arsenal to explode. Now these weapons hold unimaginable power, and their detonation would destroy the entire planet, Darkseid, and, possibly, the Kryptonians. Exactly how Bruce Wayne manages this in the time provided isn’t explained–- some things even Batman shouldn't be able to do–- but he alone knows the reprogrammed deactivation code. His hard-nosed gamble pays off; Darkseid promises to let them go, and to never bother Kara Zor-El again.
"And people call me Superman," Superman thinks, being not at all melodramatic.
The group returns to Earth; Supergirl heals on Paradise Island. Issue #13 ends with Superman bringing her to the Kents, who have some experience raising a super-kid. She even has some new clothing, a cross between the costume worn by the original character and the super-tart outfit that barely covered the (recently-vanished, non-Kryptonian) turn-of-the-millennium Supergirl.
Darkseid waits for them. He’s bound by no promise regarding Superman, and he lets fly with his Omega Beams. Supergirl jumps in front and take the blast; the issue ends with her death.
We would do well to recall that death rarely takes in comic books. Issue #13 gives away the ending by posting the live Maid of Might on the cover.
Superman beats up Darkseid, and teleports both of them to the Edge of the Universe, where he plants the demonic despot on the Source Wall, which figured so prominently in the JLA/Avengers crossover comic. Henceforth, Darkseid will never again menace the DC Universe.
We subsequently learn that Supergirl is, in fact, alive. It seems that Batman isn’t the only superhero capable of executing far-fetched plots. Supes arranged to have Wonder Woman teleport Supergirl to the JLA headquarters and replace her with ashes, in order to (1) convince Darkseid that his latest Sinister Device could actually kill Superman, (2) allow him to show a lack of remorse, thereby giving Superman the reason to take decisive action against him, and (3) set up the final cliffhanger. The story ends with Superman introducing his cousin to the assembled superheroes.
Still, the decision to reintroduce Supergirl seems puzzling, given her recent history. The last serious attempt at a Supergirl lost her title in 2003, but remains at large, though in hiding. Another attempt at the character, Cir-El, introduced almost immediately after that Supergirl ceased appearing, was laughed out of the DC Universe. Do we need yet another, the very one who was decisively eliminated in Crisis?
Of course, they’re making certain this incarnation gets noticed. Not only have they brought back the long-dead concept of a second Kryptonian-- a female relative of Superman’s, no less-- they gave her a highly collectable first appearance. Re-introducing the Maid of Might as a doe-eyed naked teen blonde babe in #8 is shamelessly exploitive. DC clearly panders here to a certain breed of fanboy, and it worked; I think this issue was reprinted twice within the year of its release. Turner draws Supergirl differently than he does the other characters. All manga eyes and elongated, anorexic body, the new Kara Zor-El makes a lasting impression-- but she seems distinctly out of place.
Nearly twenty years have passed since DC overhauled its universe with Crisis. In the last ten, many of the key changes have been reversed. A Kryptonian Supergirl ranks among the most noteworthy reversals of the post-Crisis DC Universe.
This raises, of course, a basic fear among comic-book fans: can Streaky the Super-cat and the Legion of Super Pets be far behind?
Portions of this review first appeared at www.bureau42.com