Sunday 31 March 2013

The Best of Huntress and Power Girl: Justice Society of America #20 Review

Title: Justice Society of America #20
Story: Earth Bound
Characters: Power Girl, Huntress (Helena Wayne), Justice Society, Infinity Inc
Creators: Geoff Johns (writer), Jerry Ordway, Dale Eaglesham (artists)
Publication Date: November 2008
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: Having learnt that the Earth-2 she landed on and its subsequent inhabitants aren't the same ones she knew prior to the first Crisis many years ago, Power Girl seeks the only man she can think of who can help her get back home: the Earth-2 version of Michael Holt! (JSA #18)

On Earth-2, Michael Holt never became Mister Terrific like his mainstream counterpart and instead makes his living working as a physics professor at a university. His wife, Paula, is also still alive in this universe and pregnant with their first child. Power Girl tells Earth-2 Michael her life's story, namely that she was originally from Earth-2, then Crisis happened, got stranded on the main DCU Earth, and just when she thought she was finally back where she belongs, she was slapped with the reality that this Earth-2 wasn't her home and that she had been replaced. She thinks Michael doesn't believe her, but Michael tells her about his own miracle in the form of still having Paula in his life against all odds. He particularly talked about the terrible car accident Paula was in years ago that left her in a coma for three months, and feeling disillusioned by neurologists' inability to help. At one point he contemplated suicide until he caught another man about to do the same thing, and stopped him from completing the act. He took that man to a church and that man had prayed for him that night. The following day, Paul had woken up, and since then, Michael believed in anything. He therefore decides to help Power Girl. (JSA #19)

At the start of JSA #20, Power Girl is seen making her way back to the main DCU Earth via a portal, but she is not alone! The Earth-2 counterpart of the Justice Society also follows her there. The  mainstream JSA is happy to have Power Girl back and ask about where she's been. They also want to know who are the people who followed her back to the JSA headquarters. The JSA members are able to recognise some of the JSI members who have had counterparts on the main DCU Earth, namely Hector and Lyta Hall and the twins Todd Rice and Jennifer-Lynn Hayden (the latter who is deceased on the main DCU Earth). Alan Scott is shocked to discover that his daughter is alive somewhere and Earth-2 Jennie is similarly shocked to see her father is alive in this universe. Courtney wonders if these doppelgängers are time travellers, though Jay Garrick confirms that they can't be because he senses "abnormalities" with their internal vibrational frequencies. Power Girl also confirms this by stating that they are from the parallel world of Earth-2.

Earth-2 Power Girl begins with the question she was left with at the time of her arrival on her Earth: where is her cousin, Superman? At first she thinks the Earth-22 Superman is her cousin, Kal-L, but he confirms that his name is Kal-El and that he is not who she thinks he is because he is the last survivor of the Earth-22 universe (aka the Kingdom Come universe). This causes Earth-2 Power Girl to attack the Earth-22 Superman and a brawl ensues amongst the JSA and JSI members, causing Cyclone to ask what the hell is going on. Earth-22 Superman states that the Earth-2 JSI members are confused about their situation, hence the confrontation. He tries to stop the Earth-2 Power Girl from continuing her attack, but to no avail. Earth-2 Power Girl is convinced that the real Power Girl tried to take her place in the JSI and infiltrate her world. The real Power Girl tries to plead with the Earth-2 Helena Wayne, hoping that she can help diffuse the situation, but the Earth-2 Helena is still feeling angry at the fact that she revealed her most intimate thoughts to a "fake" (see JSA Annual #1) and instead subdues her with kryptonite, which facilitates her capture back to Earth-2. Jay tries to get Power Girl back, but Alan is unable to fight his own daughter and Starman lacks the strength to keep the portal open. They then just resort to following the JSI through the portal instead.

Once on the other side, fellow JSA members, Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, Mister Terrific, Starman, and Stargirl find themselves at the Earth-2 Michael Holt's office. The Earth-2 Michael Holt introduces himself and deduces that the people who followed through the portal onto his world are friends of "the other Power Girl." Mister Terrific is surprised to see his doppelgänger on this world, and even more surprised to learn that his wife Paula is still alive on this world as well. Alan Scott still thinks about what he did wrong on his world to lose his own daughter if she was still alive on this world, but the JSA members decide to stick to their main objective of getting their Power Girl back. Earth-2 Michael shows the mainstream JSA a device that he invented, the cosmic engine, that is essentially a miniature version of Jay Garrick's cosmic treadmill. He explains that it functions by amplifying a person's internal vibrations, which is what helped Power Girl return to her "source" Earth. He further explains that he was able to invent the device, thanks to the contact he has had with Starman's suit, which also has the power to traverse time/space as well given that it was invented by three Brainiac 5's.

At the Earth-2 Batcave below Wayne Manor, the JSI has the real Power Girl strapped down with Helena's kryptonite ring nearby to keep her subdued. Helena is clearly not okay with this. Earth-2 Power Girl continues to aggressively interrogate the real Power Girl on why her cousin is dead and why she was trying to take her place. The real Power Girl tells her doppelgänger that they are both "the same," which infuriates the Earth-2 Power Girl more. At this point, Helena is unable to withstand her Power Girl's torturous method of obtaining information and comes to the real Power Girl's aid by closing the box containing the kryptonite ring. Earth-2 Power Girl doesn't understand why she would do this and Helena asserts that she will not permit torturing this other Power Girl to the point of death. Robin agrees with her, but Earth-2 Power Girl is unwilling to listen to reason and continues to beat on the real Power Girl until she gives her the answers she wants, stating that she'll never quit fighting despite what she lost.

The real Power Girl is at this point tired of playing nice and decides to attack her doppelgänger, telling her she doesn't know shit about loss given that all this Power Girl had lost was her Krypton and subsequent cousin, whereas she herself has lost more than that: she lost her entire universe and her identity along with it. She also asserts that she is similarly tired of being the "punchline to a joke every time the universe splits open." She seals the box containing the kryptonite ring shut with her heat vision so that it doesn't occur to anyone to try and subdue her again. Just as she is about to assault Helena, she restrains herself unable to think of her as anyone else but the best friend she once had. She apologises to Helena, admitting to her "how hard it is to look at someone whom [she] thinks is [her] best friend and be told by them they're not." She also confirms that she in no way intended to invade her life, but that she merely wanted to be a part of it again.

By this point, Helena warms up considerably to the real Power Girl and takes her side, much to the annoyance of the Earth-2 Power Girl. Brainwave Jr. then attacks her with the intent of extracting information from her memories. Helena demands that they not hurt her which causes her Power Girl to ask why she is protecting an impostor? Helena responds by stating that it is clear by this point that this other Power Girl isn't trying to take her place and that she's been full of paranoia ever since she returned  to Earth-2. At this point, Robin confronts Helena about her own reasons for keeping her distance, especially from him. Helena responds that her reasons for why she's been keeping to herself have nothing to do with anything that's going on at the moment. Brainwave Jr. Confirms that Power Girl's memories are all the same as the Earth-2 version's, with the major differencing being that her memories diverge at one point in her timeline. Helena then demands that they release her and not do anymore harm to her.

The mainstream JSA find their way to the Batcave and take back their Power Girl, but Starman goes on to explain what his suit actually does, namely that it is a map to the multiverse itself. As such, he has the power to travel through time as well as through parallel worlds. He then explains the history of the multiverse, beginning with its original creation right up to the events and aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and its subsequent rebirth in Infinite Crisis, hence the reason a Power Girl already exists; the universe already provided it. The real Power Girl is then left with the question of what her place is in the new multiverse--what it has provided for her--if she can't even go home now? The other Power Girl asks about her cousin, a question Jay Garrick answers with "there's still a chance he's alive somewhere." Starman then opens up a portal to their universe and takes Power Girl back with them, prompting both Helena Wayne and Jennie Hayden to run after them--namely Power Girl and Alan Scott respectively--but the portal closes before they are able to reach it.

Back on the mainstream DC universe, both Alan Scott and Jay Garrick embrace Power Girl who is by now disillusioned with the fact that she'll forever remain the fluke of the new multiverse who will never get answers. Stargirl asks if Power Girl will ever be okay, and Starman confirms that he did get a glimpse of Power Girl's future and that she will be more than okay: she will make the most of her life both inside and outside the JSA and that the JSI will provide her with the closure she needs to move on.

The issue then ends with Alan Scott meeting up with Michael Holt proposing that if Gog is able to resurrect the dead, then perhaps they should consider asking him to bring back both his deceased daughter and wife?

Review: I honestly never know what to say after reading this issue other than how much I find myself aching for Power Girl who wants nothing more than to get back the friends, the family, and world she once had. While this is very much a story about Power Girl coming to terms with the fact that she has a new life on a different Earth, it's also a very sad story about loss and knowing that she can never get back any of the friends and family she loved.

It's definitely one of those stories that made me wish someone would think of resurrecting her Helena Wayne from the dead so that she could at least have something from her world back even if she can't get back anything else. Fortunately, the New 52 reboot provided her with exactly just that, but once again, she didn't get back the Helena Wayne she knew and loved on the pre-Crisis Earth-2, let alone her original memories from both Crisis eras.

When it comes to characterising Kara and Helena in this series, Geoff Johns once again demonstrates his complete understanding of this relationship, and how important it is to both women. While this Helena Wayne starts off initially angry at the thought of having revealed her most intimate thoughts to someone who wasn't her Power Girl, she did eventually let her better judgement come through and became her only ally in an otherwise crazy situation. While I feel this version of Helena Wayne is considerably darker than her pre-Crisis counterpart, I did feel that Johns succeeded in preserving the essence of her character, particularly the fact that she is someone who feels compassion for others and is very much committed to doing the right thing.  I felt her best moment in this issue was going against the wishes of her own Power Girl to protect this alternate version of her best friend from harm, which is very much what the original Helena Wayne would've done. I also felt that towards the end of this issue, a huge part of this Helena wanted to continue to be that "best friend" to Power Girl even if it wasn't her own.

Another major strength of this story is Johns' solid characterisation of the real Power Girl. Unfortunately I still felt he exaggerated the villainy of the Earth-2 Power Girl to make the real Power Girl easier to sympathise with, but I did like how he characterised the real Power Girl handling her situation. My favourite scene out of this entire issue is on page 15 (linked here on this post) where she tells the Earth-2 Helena Wayne how difficult it is for her to be in the presence of someone who looks like her best but isn't. At that point I just wanted to give Power Girl a hug, or at least wanted to see Helena give her a hug. It is such a powerful and emotional scene that it makes me want to reach for the tissue box each time. That's how teary-eyed I get when I reach this point of the narrative, which is damn good writing right there. You know a writer has succeeded in telling the story he wanted to tell when you find yourself feeling for Power Girl even long after you've read it.

While this issue ends on a bittersweet note and Power Girl is never fully given the closure she wants, it is still among the best Huntress and Power Girl stories ever told, filled with emotion and character growth, right up there with the JSA Annual #1, which I reviewed already. It's unfortunate that nothing more came out of this story other than Power Girl getting her own solo series just three years before the New 52 reboot, but if Geoff Johns was ever given the Earth-2 continuity to develop, I would have bought the hell out of this series. It does make me wish Geoff Johns had been the guy to reboot Earth-2 for the New 52 continuity instead of James Robinson since he at least understands what the original Earth-2 was about, and I really appreciated that he tried to preserve as much of its essence as possible while adding his own flavour to it. The fact that he specifically asked for the wonderfully talented Jerry Ordway (who already has a history with these characters) to join him on art duties, was an excellent choice since he had always been excellent at bringing these characters to life and making them look as realistic as possible. To this day I still wish I could draw as good as Ordway does!

All in all, definitely a must read!


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