Something Old, Something New:
Daredevil #89 & Supergirl #10
By Michael David Sims
04 October 2006 — Each Wednesday I aim to review two recently released comic books: one from a series I've been reading for a while, and one from a series I'm picking up for the first time (or the first time in a long time). Something old and something new, just as the title implies. At the end of each review I will then note whether or not I'm going to continue reading the series. However, as you will see over time, dear readers, the options go beyond a simple yes and no.
Please tell me you're reading Daredevil! Please tell me I can write "7h15 b00k 15 73h r0x0rz, dudz" and leave it at that. No? There are still foolish people who aren't reading Daredevil? Poor, poor, foolish people.
All joking and 1337-5p34k aside, Daredevil really is the best mainstream comic book on the market today. Brubaker's writing is fresh and crisp, his plots are filled with suspense and intrigue, the characters are living beings with hopes and dreams and conflicting emotions. Eight issues into his run, and I dare to say this is shaping up to be better than Brain Michael Bendis' epic storyline. When my DCBS order arrives, when I know DD is in there, it's the first book I read. Always. It doesn't matter what else is in the box. Daredevil comes first. And all thanks to Brubaker's writing.
As a matter of fact, I stopped reading Daredevil around issue 65. Nothing against the book or the former creative team, I simply fell behind and couldn't be bothered to play catch-up. When BMB left, I felt #82 would be the best jumping on point. Though I knew Brubaker was picking up exactly where Bendis left off, I also knew it was going to be a new beginning for Murdock — what with him going to jail and all. Seemed logical to me.
When Bendis officially took control of the title with issue 26, we instantly knew Daredevil operated in the real world. Costumed heroes were bouncing around and villains popped up, but their appearances were minimal. Murdock's primary antagonists were the FBI, Kingpin, the press and, as always, himself. Alex Maleev's stylized imagery helped bring a sense of real world grittiness and honesty to Daredevil's universe. Those two men — Bendis and Maleev — reshaped comic book storytelling and redefined how a comic book universe can operate.
Michael Lark's unmistakable artwork continues this tradition, and helps carry Daredevil to new heights. Many comic book artists can't draw realistic emotional responses. Oftentimes everyone is screaming or slack-jawed, generally grim or unmoved by their current situation. Lark's characters wear their worry, pain, sorrow, smugness and enjoyment comfortably; unless the scene calls for it, nothing is exaggerated. Subtlety is a lost art amongst many comic book artists; thankfully Lark is not one of them.
If you happened to miss the preceding seven issues, all you need to know is that Murdock was sent to jail, people inside the government want Matt dead, Foggy Nelson was murdered, a nude Kingpin showed up, Matt went on a rampage (not because of Fisk's nudity) and eventually escaped (thanks to an awesomely subdued guest appearance by Frank Castle), Bullseye had some fun and there was a major twist. All that in seven issues, and you're wrong if you think I spoiled anything (well, maybe Foggy's death).
Heading into the first part of Brubaker's second storyline, the question was simple: can he keep it up?
Only a fool would think otherwise.
The issue starts out slow. Brubaker allows Murdock to tell his story through the dreamscape, captions and actions. He isn't in Monaco to hobnob with the local millionaires and swindle people out of their cash — though he does both, if only to catch the eye of the local mob boss. He's there to find the man who may have ordered the hit on his best pal. Murdock's actions are slow, calculated and the story reflects that. He isn't impetuous; his Irish temper doesn't get the better of him.
When he does finally lose himself, when he forgets his mission, the story and Matt's surroundings shift into high gear. As Matt puts it, "Hell breaks loose." The shift is both sudden and subtle. It's genius. If you're reading the comic a little too fast, just skimming the surface, you, like Matt, have neglected to see the clues screaming, "Wrong way! You're looking the wrong way!" Keen-eyed readers will have caught those clues, and will appreciate Brubaker and Lark's efforts.
Not only did Matt's momentary lapse in concentration cost a man his life, it also clouded his judgment (or so it seems). Earlier in the issue Murdock outlined the ruse he undertook to escape the United States, so staying hidden is of utmost importance. But in that one crazy, confused moment, Murdock jumped into the fray — garbed as Daredevil. Why he wouldn't have created another superpersona is beyond me, and I'm hoping will be addressed by the author eventually — if not soon. Maybe Matt wants the FBI to track him. That's my hope. Otherwise it comes off as a lack of forethought on Brubaker's part, but everything thus far has been too perfect to make me believe that.
To further my point about Lark being a master craftsman, I'll add this final thought about his illustrations: before all hell breaks loose, part of the slow, subtle build towards the violent climax can be seen on the page where the matador battles the pair of lions. In those 10, seemingly forgettable panels Lark establishes the overall theme: Murdock is the calculating matador and his enemies are the ruthless lions, then the assassination takes place and Matt becomes the wild beast trying to stop the cunning conspirators. Basically, you're only in control as long as you allow yourself to stay in control — and then you're an animal ripe for the hunt. One page, 10 panels and everything is summed up masterfully.
At the outset of this review I noted that only a fool would not be reading this book. Although my tone was in jest, the sentiment was not. Daredevil is less a superhero comic book and more a thrilling, serial mystery. It's long been my opinion that we comic book readers should usher non-readers into the industry. Jonah Hex for lovers of Westerns, any Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures title for the little ones, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the literary sect, Watchmen for the "I grew out of superheroes" masses, Sin City for the hardboiled lovers of Mickey Spillane's works and now Daredevil for exciting, suspenseful narratives.
You know what? I can't do it. I was going to destroy this book — really, truly rant and rave until I was blue in the face... so to speak. Roughly 600 words were authored, which was approximately a third of my goal, but I can't. I simply don't care enough to get riled up. Last week I expressed my anger at Catwoman #59 and Blade #1, because previous issues of Catwoman had me invested in the characters and I want to see a Blade comic book finally succeed. When they let me down, I felt as if an old friend had slapped me right across the face. Supergirl, on the other hand, is a character I don't care about. So I'm going to do this matter-of-factly.
Point blank, Superman should be the only Kryptonian. Period. Every time another Kryptonian lands on Earth, a piece of what makes Superman unique is taken away. (Kon-El is an exception, if only because he was a clone and half Kryptonian. Unlike Superman, Supergirl, Power Girl and others, he wasn't spirited off the dying planet; he was created here on Earth by splicing Kal-El's and Lex Luthor's DNA together, and was unique because of it.) Supergirl is a generic Superman wannabe, a female equivalent to titillate male readers and dupe females into pulling the book off the shelf.
So then you must be pondering this, "If Mike feels that way, why did he buy Supergirl in the first place?"
Answer: Joe Kelly and Ian Churchill. As individual creators, I've followed their careers for a while now and have been mostly pleased with their body of work. In fact, Action Comics #775, written by Kelly, is easily the best Superman story of the modern age. In that anniversary issue, Kelly captured Superman's essence: who he is, why he'll always fight the good fight and, most importantly, why he doesn't kill. To this day I can tell you exactly where I was when I read it for the first time: on a flight from Chicago to Dublin. The cabin lights were dim, most everybody was sleeping, the engines were humming and I was restless. So I reached into my backpack, which was stuffed under my seat, and pulled out the little brown bag which contained roughly 12 brand new comic books. Action wasn't the first issue I read, nor the last, but it's the only one I remember. That was nearly six years ago, but the memory is still etched in my mind. So obviously Kelly is a capable writer.
Churchill I've been a fan of since his short, sporadic run on Cable. Having been born of Liefeld's pencil, Cable was the epitome of the 90s: big muscles, bigger guns, heavy padding, lots of useless pockets, etc. When Churchill came on the book, he brought a sleek style with him. Cable still had his big muscles, but the armor was (mostly) removed and other characters (such as Cyclops, Xavier and Gambit) actually looked their size. Breasts were kept (mostly) proportionate to the woman's frame, and the female characters were sexier for it.
So when I heard Kelly was teaming with Churchill, even though it was on Supergirl, I had to give it a try.
My intention was to grab the first issue of their collaboration, that being issue seven (co-written by Greg Rucka), but fate, good fortune, a lack of cash or my terrible memory (pick one) kept it from me. A week or two before the issue I'm here to write about hit the stands, I flipped through seven, eight and nine but didn't buy them because of one scene: Kara Zor-El kissing (what appeared to be) Kal-El, while he had his hand firmly planted on her ass. Now I'm not so prudish to think cousins can't interact as such (to each their own), but it was confusing. Even though the story took place in Kandor (therefore, the rules go out the window), I still couldn't wrap my head around the embrace. Therefore I refrained from buying the three issues.
When #10 hit the stands last week, the cover seemed to indicate that the Kandor storyline was over, making the book accessible to new readers — such as myself. I gleefully plucked the book from the rack and paid for it before wishing the shop owner a good afternoon. He returned the pleasantries, but little did he know what I had just gotten myself into.
Comic wise, there's nothing worse than the irredeemable Batman / Spawn: War Devil... but Supergirl #10 comes close. In fact, the only thing keeping this book from the absolute bottom of the barrel is Ian Churchill. Unlike Batman / Spawn, which was a mess of spastic brushstrokes, Churchill's linework is splendid. For the most part, the teenaged girls actually look like teenaged girls (except when they're in their underwear, then they look like college-aged call girls), his transitions are smooth and his facial expressions (especially Sarah's) carry much sorrow. My only major gripe with his art is how Kara's age appears to change depending on the scene: sometimes she looks like an older teen, then a sophomore and finally an adult pushing 30. It's distracting and confusing, but the overall work is still beautiful. (Other minor artistic gripes would be Wonder Girl's height and look: she's too tall and is the spitting image of Kara. Oh, and why did Kara go out to get food wearing only a T-shirt and panties?)
As I read the book, two big questions arose:
01. If Kara's living alone in an apartment, she's clearly an adult, so why is she going to high school and not college?
Some would suggest that's her way of acclimating with / studying youth culture. Okay, I buy it, but I have to ask again: why not college? She's old enough, and, frankly, most college students are no different than high school kids. (I work at a college and have direct interaction with these so-called adults, so I know what I'm talking about.) So don't fool yourself into thinking college is some enlightening experience with mature, able students willing to give it their all.
02. Why is Becky so crazy, and what compelled Sarah to follow her so blindly?
Allow me to explain: on her very first day, Kara befriended a fairly attractive girl by the name of Becky. Everything was swell at first. The two quickly become best friends; they confided in one another, laughed at stupid jokes, played games, had a sleepover and generally bonded in other girly ways.
Kara also met Becky's average, middle-of-the-road, undefined clique; they're not rich or goth or fat or stoners or jocks or cheerleaders or whatever, they're just white bread. Even the afro-sporting black girl and butch, Rachel Summers-wannabe are white bread in that "I don't know what hip is, but I'm going to pretend I do by writing in 'diverse' kids" kind of way. Since Becky is the only one to speak more than a line, as a whole they're defined by her hated for the rich kids and her disdain for some boy named Drew.
During the aforementioned sleepover, Kara invites the proverbial sad, lonely fat girl to join the party. It's clear no one else wants Sarah there, but it's Kara's call. As soon as Sarah arrives, Kara heads out for snacks — in a T-shirt and panties, mind you. Upon returning she finds all of the girls playing something called The Shame Game. The idea is to take lipstick and circle all of the body parts you're ashamed of. Most of the skinny, pretty white bread girls have circled two or three places on their bodies. But Sarah is covered in glossy, red circles of shame — all of which have been added by Becky and her adoring clique. Remember this: Kara had nothing to do with the game.
Times passes, most likely a day or two, and Kara tells Drew how much she hated that game. She's disgusted. He wraps his arm around her in an effort to console his new friend. Around the corner walks Becky, who just so happens to see this. From the lines radiating from her head we're supposed to assume she's jealous of Kara and Drew, but... well, more on this in a bit.
Becky contacts Sarah over IM and blames Kara for the Shame Game incident... even though she wasn't there and was clearly shocked by the whole ordeal. Regardless of these little facts, Sarah falls for Becky's ruse and the two concoct a plan to embarrass Kara: they lure their unsuspecting "friend" into a bathroom and drop a bucket of shit on her head.
I'll let the absurdity of that set in for a minute.
Okay, minute's up.
Becky then screams, "Stay away from my boyfriend, tramp."
Boyfriend? Really...? Drew? To quote Kitty Pryde, "Yeahbuhwhat?" Isn't this the same Drew Becky gave the cold shoulder to earlier in the book? Didn't Becky lamented the summer Drew followed her around like a puppy?
You know what I call that? You know what I call dropping shit on someone's head because they've befriended someone you openly hate but seem to think is your boyfriend? That's not envy or even territoriality; that's lunacy, appalling writing and a very poor understanding of women. Females are mostly passive in their aggression; they start rumors, talk behind backs, give cold shoulders, etc. They don't conspire to pour shit on another person while school is in session. Unless they're six years old, they don't think some random boy is their boyfriend. And unless they're complete lunatics, they don't act like this. It's disgusting to think this is how Joe Kelly wants to portray young women: as crazy bitches and senseless sheep.
Thanks to the nonsensicalness climax and resolution, the moral of the story is almost lost. That being: be yourself. Don't hide from anyone. If they don't like you for who you are, forget 'em. It's a great message to teach, especially to younger readers; it's just too bad it's mixed up in the second worst mainstream comic book I've ever read.
Even before Kelly joined on as writer, I had heard this book was a ridiculous mess. After he joined I continued to hear the same, but I was willing to give it a try because of the teaming of Kelly and Churchill. All I have to say is this: I have a tendency to buy full runs when I'm thinking about getting into titles. It's the collector in me; I have to have 'em all. Thankfully I resisted the urge this time! Not only has this piece of crap book taught me to not snatch up every issue in a series before reading a single word balloon, but it also illustrated that dream creative teams can produce nightmarish work. Stay far, far away from this one!