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Nubia: Real One

Nubia is lamenting what’s shaping up to be a boring summer with her best friends, LaQuisha and Jason. LaQuisha is going on a family road trip, Jason is heading off to soccer camp, and Nubia’s moms want her to work. Plans change when Nubia stops a robbery at the local EZ Shoppe… by throwing an ATM at the would-be culprits. Though she’s supposed to keep her powers a secret, one person definitely saw her: Oscar, the boy Nubia has a crush on. Though Nubia is detained by a police officer, he gives her description as someone who helped. Though Nubia is let go, Mamas Amera and Danielle ground Nubia and forbid her from going to the last party of the school year. Well, Nubia sneaks out anyway. She has to talk to Oscar and find out why he’s keeping quiet about her display of super-strength. No one would bother Wonder Woman or Supergirl if they had to save the day. How can Nubia use her powers for good if people automatically assume the worst about her, simply due to the color of her skin?

The most important part about this book is the diversity! Through Nubia, her moms, and her friends, we get a look at what it’s like to be Black in the United States. Through exposition and dialogue, we see Nubia’s fear at being stopped by a cop, her moms talking to her about what to do next time, how different characters react to microaggressions and being called racial slurs, and how a peaceful protest turned violent. It’s an uncomfortable read at times, but an important one. It may be easier for readers to digest as it’s shown through the lens of a fictional yet familiar character.

Expressive and colorful art makes this graphic novel a little easier to digest. The figures are long and lanky. I found it fun that Nubia towered over her peers, and the long, loose lines suggested she hadn’t quite figured out what to do with her limbs (or, more likely, powers!) yet. Many other iterations of a teenaged Wonder Woman use the same trope. Royal purples and deep pinks dominate the color palette; though many other colors are used, most are deep, saturated, and evoke a sunrise or sunset.

Nubia is a different kind of Wonder Woman, one that young women of all walks of life will be inspired by. I was moved to tears at more than one point in the story, and you will be, too. I’m excited to seek out more Nubia comics.

❤ Kathleen

MnKinney, L. L., and Robyn Smith. Nubia: Real One. 2021.

House of El (Book 1): The Shadow Threat

Zahn is an elite citizen of the planet Krypton. He has joined the resistance movement Midnight to expose the truth about Krypton’s decay. For example. the planet is experiencing earthquakes which have worsened over time. The Tribune is dismissing or minimizing these claims. Sera is a soldier who has gone on increasingly failing terraforming missions for the Tribune. She gets asked to participate in a mysterious experiment by Jor-El and Lara – Zahn’s cousin and the future mother of Superman. It turns out that Jor-El and Lara want to reverse her genetic code. They want to make her into a more well-rounded Kryptonian in order to make a difference in the planet’s future. If she goes through with it, will Sera be the same? Will she like who she becomes?

What’s very clear here is that all characters love their planet. They all show it in different ways and thus have different viewpoints and ideas on how to save it. Which one is the right one? This parallels the call for action about our own planet.

The art style overall was a sort of futuristic Art Deco. Straight, rigid lines dominate and recall Krypton’s societal structure. Yet at the same time there is a greater emphasis placed on expression rather than accuracy. This contradiction made the art not work for me as much as it should have.

I’m not sure if pandemic brain struck again, but this didn’t hit as well with me as I wanted it to. Superman fans will appreciate this graphic novel, the start of a trilogy about Krypton’s demise, for the context and moral conundrums it gives. Hopefully I appreciate the next volume more.

– Kathleen

Gray, Claudia, and Eric Zawadzki. House of El (Book 1): The Shadow Threat. 2020.

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

Guess who’s back, back again?! #FFF is back, tell a friend! This time, I’m kicking off our annual series about your favorite fictional ladies of the fearless variety 😉 Joining Nancy and I are Michael of My Comic Relief, Jesse of the newly revived Green Onion, Kalie of Just Dread-full, and Jeff of The Imperial Talker. Please give them a follow to catch their posts (all have great content outside of #FFF), or look out for them here, throughout the month.

I’ve gotta be honest. I was torn on the fictional lady I wanted to write about. Eventually I settled on Kara Zor-El, better known as Supergirl. My past #FictionsFearlessFemales posts have been Wonder Woman and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle). I couldn’t NOT follow DC’s “Big Three” format! If I hadn’t, it would have bothered me forevermore! Kept me up at night! No, dear readers, I couldn’t have that. Not to worry, for the other heroine I wanted to write about is already planned for next year’s post 😉

For simplicity’s sake, this post will focus solely on Kara. Supergirl’s character had many iterations before and after Kara was introduced in DC’s canon. Kara is the most well-known, and her likeness is the most used: if you think “Supergirl,” the blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenager in the short skirt that immediately comes to mind is indeed Kara. Even within Kara’s characterization, she has had many different origins, retcons, and even deaths throughout her lifetime, just like her cousin Clark Kent, AKA Kal-El of Krypton, AKA Superman. But, also like her cousin Clark, Kara as Supergirl endures as a symbol of hope.

Just as Clark is often billed as “The Last Son of Krypton,” so too is Kara billed “The Last Daughter of Krypton.” After multiple iterations of Supergirl were published as character tests to gauge fan reaction to a female Superman, Kara’s character first appeared in Action Comics #252 in May 1959. She leaps out of a ship, dressed in a costume very similar to Superman’s. When questioned, she says she is the daughter of Alura and Zor-El, Superman’s uncle, making them cousins. Her parents were residents of Argo City, which survived Krypton’s destruction by breaking off the planet whole. As the city drifted towards Earth’s solar system, it was hit by a meteor shower, which forced Alura and Zor-El to place the 15-year-old Kara in a rocket and point her to Earth to be reunited with her cousin (Source).

Later iterations of Kara deviate a little from this original story. For instance, the Superman/Batman run in 2004 (issue #8 published in May of that year kicked off this storyline, and the animated DC movie Superman/Batman: Apocalypse adapted this story), Kara crashes to earth as a teenager from Krypton. She was in suspended animation while her ship got lost on the way to Earth. More on this story is below.

The 2016 Arrowverse Supergirl show likely took inspiration from this comic: it sees Kara being placed in a rocket on Krypton, not Argo City, with the intention of protecting and raising her baby cousin on Earth. Her ship was knocked off course and navigated the Phantom Zone for 24 years before finding its way to Earth, wherein Clark had all grown up and become Superman. Some stories have Kara raised by Superman, some by Jonathan and Martha Kent, most by the Danvers family (their first names have changed over the years).

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In any case, many elements of Kara’s story remain the same. She is also a survivor of Krypton’s demise. She is Superman’s cousin. She is adopted by a human family and given an Earth childhood (well, teenager-hood in her case). She is Kryptonian like Clark, so Earth’s yellow sun interacts with her DNA in the same way, giving her all the same powers as Superman (Source). Some would argue that Kara is stronger than Clark – more on this later. Her origin is very similar to Clark’s in that she is a true American alien, an immigrant from another planet, a last daughter.

There is one difference that, in my mind, has the potential to make Supergirl more of an interesting character.

Kara is a teenager in nearly all iterations of her origin story. She is actually OLDER than Clark, at least she was and ought to be. Most stories use her birth on Argo City or her ship getting lost in the Phantom Zone to make her get stuck in time, so she is younger than Clark when she arrives on Earth. The fact remains that she REMEMBERS Krypton. She grew up there in nearly every iteration of her story. What Clark knows about Krypton, he learned from the data his parents left him. This is all well and good, but he can never truly remember the experience of living and growing up there, as Kara does. This means that their grief is different. Clark grieves the Krypton he never knew, and will never know: the idea of Krypton. Kara grieves the Krypton she did know, and all the people and places in it: the tangible things about Krypton that she will never experience again.

To put it another way: Clark learned about Krypton from books. Kara learned about Krypton by living there. Thus they have different experiences about their home planet, different ideals they took away, and different ways they are grieving its’ loss.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen DC using the age difference between Kara and Clark to great effect (then again, I am admittedly not as well-read on Supergirl as I should be). There is great potential for creators to explore Kara’s experiences of Krypton, her childhood there, and any survivor’s guilt or other such mental hurts she might be suffering from such a trauma. I believe more creators have addressed this in recent years, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.

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When Crisis was published in 1985, DC executives wanted Superman to truly be the last survivor of Krypton. That meant Kara had to go. Supergirl was killed during Crisis, in which she sacrificed herself to save Superman’s life. They took it one step further, however: when the universes were restored, no one remembered who Kara was (Source). Ouch. Talk about being fridged. Though different iterations of Supergirl (who were not Kryptonian) were introduced in the years between Crisis and Superman/Batman #8, the popularity of Kara’s character was such that DC relaxed their “Superman is Krypton’s sole survivor” rule (Source). Superman/Batman #8 brought Kara back as Clark’s Kryptonian cousin, and the teenaged last daughter of Krypton, for good (Source).

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In last year’s FFF post about Barbara Gordon, I talked about Batgirl being derivative of her male counterpart Batman. Supergirl is, if you hadn’t guessed by this point, derivative of Superman. I would argue there are more similarities between Clark and Kara than there are Barbara and Bruce Wayne. Barbara puts on a cape and cowl, sure, but her methods of solving mysteries and fighting crime differ significantly enough from Batman to where her abilities don’t feel like a total copy and paste. As mentioned above, Kara has all of Clark’s powers. In order to differentiate them a bit, some argue that she is the stronger of the two. This has been attributed in-canon to Clark growing up needing to suppress his powers in order to seem normal, whereas Kara has no such inhibition (Source).

Kara might or might not be more powerful than Clark, but she is definitely more impulsive, moody, and stubborn. What else would you expect from a teenage girl? =P For all that, Kara has a kind heart. She genuinely wants to help people and is unsure if she is worthy of the Super-mantle after all her cousin has accomplished. To combat this, season 1 of the Arrowverse show didn’t even have Superman in it – he was mentioned from time to time, but didn’t make an appearance until season 2. The show wanted and needed her to stand as a hero in her own right, and she succeeded by stopping Myriad all on her own. It also had flashbacks to her life on Krypton, and addressed the sadness and anger she felt at being left behind. In the few episodes Kara appears in in the DCAU (Superman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series), she either stops crime all on her own or teams up with Batgirl. No one can say Kara can’t hold her own.

Outside of being Supergirl, Kara is just a teenager or young adult trying to do the right thing. She struggles with trying to be a normal human being even though she is decidedly not. In the Arrowverse show, she struggles to kick off her career and juggle a demanding boss, her family, her friends, and her love life, on top of saving the world. In that way, she is relatable, especially for teen and young adult readers. Every teenager feels like an alien. Kara IS LITERALLY an alien, and yet handles her adolescence, and all it’s ups and downs, with good cheer and an open mind. She is arguably more relatable than her big blue cousin for this reason. Most iterations of Clark are of his childhood or adulthood – not that messy, melodramatic in-between time (with the exception of the 2001 Smallville TV show). Kara fills that gap.

Kara also shows the importance of female friendship. She has historically been best friends with JSA member Stargirl. The DC Bombshells comics introduce them as adoptive sisters, originally from Russia, before being recruited into the American Bombshells. The Superman/Batman: Apocalypse movie (mentioned/linked above) shows Kara’s close relationship with Harbinger. And, of course, the Superman and Batman animated series (also linked above) also show Supergirl and Batgirl teaming up to fight crime. Both are teenagers in this iteration, who genuinely like and respect each other’s methods even if they are very different. It’s refreshing to see a teenage girl character form genuine relationships with other teenage girls, when a lot of the market is inundated with the catty and toxic “frenemies” trope. Impressionable girls need to see these kinds of friendships!

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Kara Zor-El is not the only Supergirl DC’s tried to write, but she is by far the most recognizable and the most popular – for good reason. Not only does she make her cousin Superman more relatable, she is arguably more of a relatable character. She’s a real teenage alien who just wants to fit in and do the right thing, in spite of the very obvious thing that makes her not a normal teenage human. Historically, DC has tried to change and retcon her story many times, but Kara’s indomitable spirit and cheerfulness has never wavered throughout her history. Though I would love to see more done with her character due to her Kryptonian upbringing, Kara in my eyes is more than worthy of the S on her chest.

After all, it means hope, and that’s what she brings to everyone she meets.

Kathleen

Victor & Nora: A Gotham Love Story

Victor and Nora meet in a cemetery. Victor’s older brother, Otto, is buried there. He died in a horrible fire, which Victor blames himself for. Though Victor is only 17, he is an intern at Boyle Labs working on a cryogenic project called Accela-Freeze. If he can figure out the formula, it will successfully freeze a subject without destroying its’ DNA, and could have healing potential. Nora’s mother, who died when she was 10, is buried in the same cemetery. Nora has a rare disease called Chrysalis, which will eventually take her mobility, then her memories, before she dies. She intends to kill herself before that happens, though she has told no one, and wants to live her life to the fullest before she does. The two teens can’t help but be drawn to each other: the fire to the ice. When they get too tangled up in each other, how can they possibly let go?

Mr. Freeze is my favorite villain, so I was delighted to learn of this graphic novel about Victor Fries – by Lauren Myracle, no less! I really enjoyed her last DC YA graphic novel, Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale, so had high hopes for this one. It did not disappoint, and I loved it even more than Under the Moon.

Both characters are obsessed with death in different ways. Victor thinks he can cheat death, and wants to delay the inevitable. Nora accepts her fate, and wants to make the most of the life she has. The most compelling dialogue between these two is their conversations about their respective viewpoints. This truly was a whirlwind romance: you, as well as the characters, are propelled forward by your morbid curiosity to the conclusion you know is coming, and yet it still punches you in the gut.

The color palette alternated between cold blues (Victor), and warm pink/oranges (Nora). The more the story goes on, the more they blend to create lovely purples, which is a neat visual cue as to how close the characters are getting to each other. While most of the book was in a whimsical, yet realistic style, some parts are stylized differently during conversations or monologues – such as in a Tim Burton-esque style, or that of a romance novel cover. Of course, there were fun visual Easter eggs for Batman fans sprinkled here and there.

This is already on my Best Reads 2021 list. Victor & Nora is a love story with provacative themes about life and death, written and illustrated beautifully. Though it takes DC as its’ source material, it really could stand on its’ own as a story unrelated to the Batman mythos. Highly recommended.

– Kathleen

Myracle, Lauren, and Isaac Goodhart. Victor & Nora: A Gotham Love Story. 2020.

Harleen

The adage, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is proved in this excellent origin story of Harley Quinn, formally Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, who meant to reform Joker and instead became his lover.

We are introduced to Harleen as a new psychologist who has the theory that sociopathic behavior could be modified if scientists could understand the stages of losing one’s empathy in this downward spiral. She believes by studying the stages of deteriorating empathy, one could then identify sociopaths in the making. Her lecture leads to her funding by Bruce Wayne, so she heads to Arkham Aslyum to begin interviewing the prisoners there for her research. But before she begins, she is witnesses a battle in the Gotham streets between Joker and Batman. At one point the Joker holds up a gun to her, but he chooses not to shoot her. The incident shakes her and she begins to fixate on him, losing her impartiality. 

Harleen is shown as a woman with few friends and no family. She had some missteps in college when she had an affair with a professor, and it is held against her years later by her peers. But she truly does have the right intentions, and wants to redeem her reputation, but gets sucked into the Joker’s orbit. While she does interview other inmates and shows compassion to Poison Ivy, her mind returns to the Joker and he begins to manipulate her. Her lapses of judgment are jaw-dropping (compounded with sleep deprivation and too much alcohol), and eventually, she succumbs to his toxic charms. A plot of corruption within the police department ties in at the end with how Harleen turns a corner with her morality and joins the Joker in his escape. 

While you know the entire time that this story is set in Gotham, Batman’s cameos are almost surprising, because you are so immersed in Harleen and Joker’s universe. Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of the brooding Batman, and in some small way, you might even start to root for Harley and Joker, as you want the familiar trope of a good woman who saves a bad man with her love to actually work. The ending is a bit ambiguous because we all know in the DC universe Harley isn’t all evil and will at times help Batman. 

Stjepan Šejić is both the author and illustrator and he does an amazing job with crafting the story and illustrating it. In fact, I am shocked this is the first book I have read by him. His art is detailed and precise and is a treat after recently reading a few too many graphic novels with minimalist art. He is truly talented and I loved how realistic the people looked and then the details he would add into the panels, such as the bank building’s interior (see picture below). His splash pages were fantastic and there was a nice variety of panel placements. His coloring was subdued but had pops of red with Harleen’s clothing that would foreshadow her Harlequin costume. The only tiny misstep was too many panels of Harleen biting her lip and looking sideways- I get it, she’s conflicted! 

Harleen is an outstanding self-contained story about her downfall, and fans of this anti-hero will love it.

-Nancy

The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel

Dick Grayson is a teenager working with his family as the main act of Haly’s Travelling Circus: The Flying Graysons. However, Dick wants more out of life. It’s been two weeks into the summer and already he’s chafing at the long months of performing for thin crowds before he goes back to school. He sneaks his best friend and magician Willow out for a party. In breaking up a fight, a girl who banished dark creature with a mysterious power vanishes before Dick can talk to her. He wanders to the carnival that’s set down across the road from the circus in order to find her. Luciana warns Dick not to get too close to her, because she isn’t all she seems, but the two can’t help but see and grow fond of one another. Amid tensions between the carnival and the circus, and Willow suddenly falling very ill, Dick must solve the mystery of the Lost Carnival – and Luciana – in order to save his best friend.

I fell in love with the cover of this graphic novel, and hoped that the whole book would use the black and gold Art Deco elements. Unfortunately, they were reserved only for the cover pages and chapter breaks =( The rest of the book is deftly rendered in white and cerulean when we are with the circus, and red and yellow when we enter the Lost Carnival. The color palettes are mixed for great effect at crucial moments in the story. There is somehow an old quality about the book in the thick, shaky linework and gentle shading.

The main theme of the book is time. Time that has been lost, and appreciation for the time that we have, especially with loved ones. Most readers will know that Dick Grayson eventually loses his parents, is taken in by Bruce Wayne, and becomes the first Robin and eventually Nightwing. There is also a point made about a child’s path not needing to be the same as their parents’, and that’s okay! I wish the book had spent a little less time on the romance and a little more time with Mr. and Mrs. Grayson to highlight these points further – though I understand that Dick is a teen and this is a YA graphic novel, which is likely why this wasn’t the case =P

I VERY much enjoyed the Dark Tower reference on page 37… if you get it, you get it 😉

This story is set before Dick Grayson becomes Robin, so it doesn’t require too much background knowledge. The limited color palette is used to great effect. Though too much time was devoted to the romance for me, the themes of time and carving your own path independent from your parents are adequately handled. The target audience and Dick Grayson fans will enjoy it.

– Kathleen

Moreci, Michael, and Sas Milledge. The Lost Carnival: A Dick Grayson Graphic Novel. 2020.

Wonder Woman: Come Back to Me

In this serial, Steve Trevor sets out to pilot an experimental plane from Washington, D.C., to Puerto Rico. However, he disappears along his route. Wonder Woman finds out upon returning home from putting out a wildfire in Montana. She and Etta Candy immediately take off for his last known location: the Bermuda Triangle. They get sucked into a giant storm and crash land on an uncharted island full of giant, deadly creatures. In their quest to rescue Steve and his crew, Diana experiences the loss of some of her powers, and they meet friends, foes, and acquaintances they do not expect. Can they untangle the mystery of the island and go home together?

When I got this trade paperback and saw the cover, I was reminded of the art from Gail Simone’s run, and I knew it was going to be good. I was correct! There is something old fashioned about this serial that I really enjoyed. First, the exposition panels that were so frequent in Golden and Silver Age comics make an appearance here. Second, this is just a good, ol’ fashioned adventure story. No big questions of good and evil, no moral ambiguity, just good, clean fun. Good beach read!

I liked that it showcased Diana talking to animals, a power of hers that is often glossed over. Like I said, the art reminded me of Bernard Chang’s work in Gail Simone’s run, and I’m a sucker for that style. It got a little long-winded near the end for me, so I skimmed to finish. It wasn’t bad, I just didn’t have the attention span at time of reading (pandemic brain strikes again). I’m considering purchasing this book for my collection, and to finish it properly some day.

If you’re looking for a light, fun, WW read that’s loosely canon, look no further!

– Kathleen

Connor, Amanda, and Jimmy Palmiotti. Wonder Woman: Come Back to Me. 2020.

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Multiplicity

A group calling themselves “The Gatherers” is rounding up Supermen across the multiverse. Superman knows this because he witnessed the abduction of such Supermen himself. The Gatherers are not interested in him, for some reason. The Justice League Incarnate (that which monitors multiverse threats such as these) is on the case, and Superman joins them to save his counterparts, hopefully grabbing them before The Gatherers can. Eventually they find out that they are being held by a being named Prophecy. Superman allows himself to get captured in order for the Justice League Incarnate to track him to his lair. Can they do it, and free the Supermen in time?

This volume also featured fun short stories with Swamp Thing, and Jon helping a neighbor in need.

Man, I can’t get enough of this run. It’s just so much fun and it doesn’t require a lot of brainpower, which I really appreciate right now =P

The most interesting part for me was seeing all the different Supermen. There was a good array of representation that I wish was more present in the main series. In any event, it’s very encouraging to see so many different Supermen who all stand for the same thing: truth and justice! Because it’s a multiverse story, there is a Flashpoint-esque moment, because of course there was, but it didn’t bother me enough to put it down.

The art style was pretty standard for a comic book. Something I did appreciate was the art style changed from Earth to Earth, which was pretty cool.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Ivan Reis, Ryan Sook, Tony S. Daniel, and Sebastián Fiumara. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 3): Multiplicity. 2017.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising

The Terrible Trio stumbles upon an abandoned piece of AI calling itself Oracle. Upon rebooting, Oracle questions why she was abandoned by her creator: Barbara Gordon. Now, she’s out for answers and revenge, in no particular order. Babs has been pulling double duty with Congresswoman Alejo’s campaign, and Killer Moth’s latest reign of terror. He mentioned some kind of deal that was made with Lex Luthor, to give him weapons and technology that are normally outside his scope. But before she can investigate that, Oracle descends. How can Batgirl beat an enemy that she created to know her inside out?

Honestly? I couldn’t get into this one and found it boring. Probably the first time I’ve said that about a Batgirl comic =P It was too busy for me, story-wise. There was too much going on without much explanation. I found the art equally messy and busy.

I might give this one another try when pandemic brain isn’t too strong.

– Kathleen

Castellucci, Cecil, Carmine Di Giandomenico, and Jordie Bellaire. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 7): Oracle Rising. 2020.

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