MINI-SERIES REVIEWS...

cover #1Superman/Supergirl: Maelstrom

(2009 - five issues, DC Comics)

Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray. Art: Phil Noto.

This has been collected as a TPB -- but right now I'm too lazy to move it from my mini-series reviews section to my TPB/GN section.

I suppose if you come upon a Superman mini-series that was published just a couple of months ago but you'd never heard of it and it's being offered as a bagged set at almost a third of the cover price...you should take that as a warning. But, hey -- it could've been a gem that just dropped through the cracks between crossover epics!

A villainess from Apokolips, Maelstrom, arrives on earth, looking to kill Superman as a way of woo-ing Apokolips' evil lord, Darkseid. But she meets Supergirl instead (who is, once more, Superman's cousin). Although Superman arrives belatedly to kick Maelstrom back to Apokolips, Supergirl faired poorly, and hundreds were killed and injured in the battle, leaving the girl of steel feeling depressed and helpless. So Superman takes her on a "camping trip" to a planet with a red sun -- where the two heroes have no super powers -- to teach her self reliance. On Apokolips meanwhile, after first being punished for her insubordination, Maelstrom is then sent back to earth to finish the job.

And this neither warrants nor justifies five issues!

It's slow, it's repetitious. It wants to be a character piece more than an action story (even as the body count seems gratuitous), but the motivation is inconsistent. Superman feels Supergirl needs real training...so he takes her camping? How does learning to pick berries on an alien world give you an advantage battling a super being? He also insists he thought the planet was safe. Um, but if he thought it would be safe, why would that teach her survival skills? And sometimes it's about how Supergirl feels guilty about being unable to always save people...and sometimes it's about how she feels disdainful of humans; sometimes she's supposed to be a snarky teenager, missing her favourite reality shows...other times (in shades borrowed from the original Power Girl) it's suggested that she has trouble acting normal because she was raised by a machine. I'm not even commenting on the Maelstrom scenes which are even thinner and more repetitious.

The art by Phil Noto has an almost European vibe to it, to my mind. There's a nice realism in the faces and sometimes the figures...but the figures can also be kind of rough and sketchily drawn, with the backgrounds a little Spartan. He's not ideally suited to evoking the milieu of Apokolips, but there is an attractiveness, particularly with the seeming water colour paint he uses for colour. But his talky scenes are stronger than his action scenes.

There are some decent conversations, some cute quips. This is a relatively self-contained story (well, other than expecting you to know Superman, Darkseid, etc.) as opposed to being interconnected to a zillion concurrent events. Which is good and why I pick up a mini-series! Else, they might as well publish it as part of the regular series.

I don't know if this reflects modern continuity, or just Palmiotti and Gray's take on it, but it's funny how much the Superman mytho has changed since the mid-1980s revamp. That revamp was all about stripping away much of the alieness of Superman, making him essentially an all-American hero, and just so we didn't miss the point, Krypton itself was reimagined as a sterile, soulless civilization. Two decades later, Superman and Supergirl are clearly being presented as aliens on earth, Krypton is once more referenced as though a Utopia ideal, and Supes can easily fly through the cosmos from world to world. In other words, the older, pre-revamp Superman is back...and it's nice to see! Though the writers go too far with his powers...not explaining how he could hear cries for help in the vacuum of space.

This might have made an okay special, but at five issues the plotting is minimal at best (the sojourn on the alien planet is just a bunch of incidents, nothing that gels into a narrative) and even the long conversations between the two cousins just seem repetitive or contradictory. And, admittedly, if this petulant, frequently obnoxious teen is the modern take on Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)...I don't suppose I'll be checking out her own comic anytime soon.

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