With the current format of comics publishing, it makes sense at times to wait and and evaluate the work after it has been completed. When I was younger, the norm was that when a comic series was green lit and published, it was perceived to have no end date. The limited series or mini-series were the exceptions, but more recently, the never ending ongoing series has become the exception. The limited series tend to have an intentional story and are filled with overarching themes that are better explored as a whole rather than issue by issue.
My point here is that with a complete story, evaluating a series as a whole feels like something I should be doing more of, and I am going to start that with the recently completed Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. The eight-issue series was written by Tom King with lineart by Bilquis Evely and colors by Matheus Lopes. Clayton Cowles did the lettering, and Brittany Holzherr edited it.
It is important to note that comic creators are telling the stories that they want to tell more often without continuity constraints. The concept of shared universes and continuity really began to take shape in the sixties and came to a head in the eighties. At the very beginning, there were issues with it. Legend says that the Avengers were a thrown together group intended as a sort of a one-off, and not part of a grand concept of one great Marvel Universe. Stan Lee is said to have given the reason for the original Avengers leaving and being left with Cap’s Quirky Quartet because it was too difficult to keep stories straight between the Avengers and the individual heroes’ books. While a lot of deluge has flowed under the bridge of comic continuity, both Marvel and DC Comics have more recently provided readers with stories about their favorite characters that may or may not be in continuity.
Tom King while working mostly for DC has been a master of telling compelling comic stories that do not necessarily fit into current or historical continuity. His Mister Miracle, Strange Adventures, Omega Men, and even Vision for Marvel are all complete stories that can be read without any context of what is going on in the larger comic universes. I think that is a good thing. When the time is taken to tell an extended story, and the creative team executes that story without continuity interference, it makes for excellent comic book storytelling, and that brings us Supergirl.
Before I get too deep into to substance of the story, I want to establish that this book is absolutely gorgeous. Bilquis Evely’s art is a treat to behold. If you are not familiar with her work, she has a very distinctive style that is full of beautiful circular patterns. There is a quality to Evely’s drawing of Kara Zor-El that evokes her earliest appearances, but simultaneously establishes a unique and wholly appropriate take on the character. Colorist Mat Lopes has worked with Evely previously most notably on Sandman Universe: The Dreaming. They are a match made in heaven. This book is supremely excellent, but if there were no words printed on the page, the art alone tells a beautiful story.
The writing that Tom King delivered in this story had me hooked from the start. There is a special cadence and eloquence that the lead character Ruthye speaks with that captivates the reader. She is the one telling the story from the perspective of her experience and her interactions with Supergirl. Ruthye is truly the main character in this story as she is the narrator and the vessel that has the capability for change. Her quest for vengeance and delayed gratification of that is the thread that ties the whole story together.
This is the superhero comic I recommend to my literary friends who can’t believe that I’m telling them to read a superhero comic.
As is often the case with her younger cousin, Supergirl is a fully formed character, and her goals are as always Justice and Truth, but there is an edge to this version of Kara that sees the personality flaws in other beings and and deals with them differently than one might expect from Superman. Again, it comes back to the voice that King gives the character. It is a chore for her to suffer through the petty vengeance and attempts at escape that the characters she interacts with try. Don’t get me wrong. It is a chore she willingly complies with but there is an edge to her, and it is charming.
Each issue of the series works as a behavior lesson. The long form lesson that Supergirl teaches Ruthye is complex and nuanced. Themes of loss and powerlessness are explored in between glorious action sequences. It is some really quality writing and the collected edition comes out in July.
Tom King has made habit of taking lesser characters and using them as functional scenery in grand emotional stories. While that may seem like an over simplification, the point is that the themes and thought provoking character arcs in his books are grown-up and important. He is doing some similar things in the currently on brief hiatus Human Target, and we expect more of the same in the soon to come Danger Street.
In Danger Street, King, along with artist Jorge Fornes, may be taking on his most challenging cast of characters. The obscure to anyone born after 1985 short-live DC series 1st Issue Special will be explored in that book. While there are some truly special characters explored in the unconnected series of one-shots that filled the gap between the runs of Showcase, many of them were off-beat at best. Mixed in with some odd Jack Kirby stories and Joe Simon tale or two, was possibly the best Dr. Fate story ever, and the introduction of Travis Morgan, Warlord.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of the weird collection of what may have been “inventory stories” that was 1st Issue Special. I am interested in seeing how King is able to make a coherent story with these characters and what type of life lessons or thoughtful questions will be introduced in the pages of Danger Street.