Review: Power Girl Special #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writers: Leah Williams and Joanne Starer
Art: Marguerite Sauvage and Natacha Bustos
Colors: Marguerite Sauvage & Marissa Louise and Tamra Bonvillain
Letters: Becca Carey and Ariana Maher
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
It’s the showdown between Power Girl and Johnny Sorrow, as PG learns about herself. Plus, Fire and Ice get up to some trouble in Baltimore with Guy Gardner and a visit from Superman!
This wrap up story of Power Girl vs. Johnny Sorrow that ran in Action Comics #1051-1053 wisely focuses on Power Girl’s character. Power Girl since her first appearance back in All-Star Comics #58 (February 1976) has been a unique character with a unique personality that has made her a fan favorite. The conclusion to “Head Like A Whole” allows Power Girl to move past a block in her mind/emotions as she finds her new place in the Super-family. This only works on a macro level as the detail will be pointed out in the “Negatives” section below.
Marguerite Sauvage has a unique style that adds an ethereal quality to the look of the story. This often works, especially in the scenes that are supposed to be in the mindscape. The action is pretty good as PG and Omen overcome Johnny Sorrow. Sorrow’s plan is interesting as it connects directly to Power Girl specifically.
It’s nice to see friendship in comics and that’s the basis of Fire and Ice in this issue. Readers will instantly recognize their rapport from their Justice League International days. The art style of Natacha Bustos is a nice change of pace as it suggests this may be more character focused and less of an action series. There are a number of variant covers that feature a classic style Power Girl that are really nice. Amanda Conner provides one that echoes her run on the character from the aughts.
While focusing on Power Girl’s character is a great approach for a story, it’s unfortunate that it appears that DC Comics hasn’t decided who Power Girl currently is. Or, if they know, they haven’t told Leah Williams and Geoff Johns. This isn’t the only current appearance of Power Girl in the DC Universe, she’s also appearing in Justice Society of America written by Geoff Johns, and what we’ve seen in that series as well as The New Golden Age #1 seems to indicate that Power Girl doesn’t have the same history that the one we see in Power Girl Special #1 does. The only thing that seems to match up is her new costume showing up in last week’s Justice Society of America #4. This lack of congruence in troubling and also distracting because it takes away from the impact Williams attempts to bring to the character. Not knowing makes it hard to understand exactly what PG is going through.
Giving Power Girl these identity insecurities and an inability to fit don’t really work if one understands what the character has already been through. Not only has Power Girl already dealt with this sort of thing before (JSA: Classified #1-4), she’s always been characterized as a brash, confident and not looking approval from anyone- certainly not the main Earth Super-family. To get this wrong in PG’s portrayal demonstrates a real lack of understanding of what makes the character unique as well as a fan-favorite.
It’s important to get the character right. Kara’s (not calling her Paige) lack of familiarity with common idioms as seen in Lazarus Planet: Assault on Krypton #1 demonstrates that Williams doesn’t really know the character’s history. It doesn’t make sense. She also called Omen her best friend…um, that’s Helena Wayne…in every version of the character! This history mystery bleeds over into this issue when Johnny Sorrow tells her the two of them are the last survivors of their world. But, Kara is one of two survivors from Earth-Two- we already saw the Psycho-Pirate referenced in Lazarus Planet: Assault on Krypton #1. So is this supposed to be the Earth-2 iteration of Power Girl? Overall, the lack of consistency in PG’s history and characterization makes it difficult to enjoy the issue or trust anything that Williams tries to tell the reader about the character.
While Sauvage has an interesting and unique style that works well for Omen and the mindscape setting, her depiction of Superman is, well, kind of creepy. Really creepy actually. The older version which Power Girl sees in her mind’s eye is aged as one would expect, but he also appears emaciated. When PG runs into main-continuity Clark, it’s not much better. It’s an unsettling depiction of the Man of Steel. Additionally, Sauvage’s style is too delicate for Power Girl. This is part of the problem with the way Superman looks as well. There should definitely be a weightier quality to PG and Supes.
The Fire and Ice story doesn’t have as many notable problems as the lead story in Power Girl Special #1, but there are a few things that should be mentioned. Firstly, this story could have taken place at any point in the run of Justice League International. Nothing distinguishes it as being new except for the note that it takes place before Green Lantern #1. (That’s the #1 by Jeremy Adams and Xermanico that JUST came out, not the one from 1960 by John Broome and Gil Kane or the one in 1990 by Gerard Jones and Pat Broderick). There’s no new concept here, everything feels like it’s always felt with these characters, including the Ice and Guy Gardner relationship. Robert Venditti did a great job of rounding out Guy Gardner in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. Venditti was able to make Guy feel more rounded and complete. Guy in this issue is just the same old annoying, bad boyfriend, conceited male chauvinist.
The lack of depth in this story is disappointing. The last appearance of Fire, Ice and Guy was in Tom King’s wildly out of continuity Human Target. I’m not advocating for a series set in that continuity, but seeing a Fire and Ice who were a little more fleshed out and with some nuance would’ve been nice. This is not much more than a teaser, and I’m not quite sure what’s being teased- a series in which Bea has to protect Tora from Guy and it annoys Tora, or a Thelma and Louise style road trip revolving around their friendship?
DC is trying to hard to reinvent Power Girl. Power Girl Special #1 tries to get the reader to connect with the character, but that’s the problem, it tries too hard. Inconsistencies are a huge cause of concern. The underlying feeling that we aren’t really sure who this Power Girl is supposed to be makes it difficult to grasp who DC wants her to be because there is no explanation, there is no continuity. Furthermore, there is no established history for any version of the character since 2016 that one can reference. Unfortunately, it seems like once again DC hasn’t bothered to lock down continuity for a character. Maybe they think it hinders new readers? What it actually does is disenfranchise longtime readers who know the continuities and are trying to make sense of new and sometimes multiple versions of characters. I get that things are going to change, but at least make it clear what’s happened and what hasn’t. For Power Girl, this reads as if Williams took the basics of the character and cherry picked certain events from her Wikipedia page without any knowledge of continuity or that Geoff Johns was crafting his own version of the character in Justice Society of America, a version that relies heavily on Power Girl’s pre-New 52 history. Power Girl’s basics aren’t basic. She’s more complex. She’s had a lot of development and it’s not easy to boil her down to essentials like one can with Batman or Superman. If you’re going to rebrand Power Girl with psychic powers and call her Paige, just create a new character, because that’s essentially what’s happening here. I wouldn’t recommend this issue or the announced series for fans of Power Girl. Power Girl fans should turn to Justice Society of America.
Fire and Ice is so short and unfocused it’s really hard to gauge what’s coming next for the duo. Based on this tease, I’m not sure what readers could be looking forward to in a series. However, there’s a chance that the forthcoming Fire and Ice series could be good, since there’s not a lot to go on in Power Girl Special #1. Both stories have something going for them in the art department, but it doesn’t always work.