Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Best of Power Girl: All-Star Comics #64 Review

Title: All-Star Comics #64
Story: Yesterday Begins Today!
Characters: Power Girl (Kara Zor-L), Superman (Clark Kent), Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Hourman (Rex Tyler), Star-Spangled Kid (Sylvester Pemberton)
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), Wally Wood (artist)
Publication Date: February 1977
Available In: Print | Digital

Introduction: After Power Girl's smashing introduction in issues #58 and #59, it only made sense that we discuss the origin of her Power Girl identity, and specifically why she refused to wear a 'P' logo for a long time. One of the more regressive changes that was made to Power Girl in the New 52 was the initial decision to incorporate a 'P' logo to her costume in addition to wholly repurposing her Power Girl identity in a way that effectively removed its feminist origins. In contrast with the Power Girl of old who simply wanted to be acknowledged as an individual and not as an appendage to her cousin from the get-go, the New 52 Power Girl started out as Supergirl on Earth-2 and only became Power Girl when she got stranded on an alternate Earth alongside her best friend, Helena Wayne, at the end of the Apokolips War. As you will discover, many of the changes that were made to the Earth-2 Power Girl (including to her personality) in the New 52 have been fundamentally backwards for her character, and many of those changes have come from a place of internalised misogyny on behalf of the current DC leadership rather than a place of progress.

Summary: The issue begins with Power Girl and Star Spangled-Kid being officially admitted as members of the Justice Society after working on several missions alongside the superhero team. Kid impresses Superman, Hourman, and Power Girl with his complete mastery of Starman's cosmic rod, and Power Girl comments that she's happy about having another powered superhero as part of the team so that she doesn't have to do 'all the work.' Kid similarly wants to show his appreciation by giving Power Girl her own Superman-styled emblem for her costume, which she takes personal offence to since she considers this gesture a failure of acknowledging her as her own independent superhero. She subsequently crushes the emblem as a way of making her point.

Superman scolds his cousin for speaking her mind and asserting her position (which is admittedly very un-Superman-like), admitting to her that she already established who she is as a superhero during an earlier battle with Zanadu, leading him to give up his seat in the Justice Society to her. Just as Superman is about to leave, he is quickly met with the Flash and Green Lantern who just arrived from Egypt and brought with them a knight in armour.

During their quest to find a cure for Doctor Fate (who in an earlier chapter was put in a coma by a villain named Vulcan), they came across the knight who (from his perspective) travelled to the future in order to seek help against another villain who is rewriting history, beginning with the Roman invasion of Britain at least 357 years after it historically happened. (Which means the Romans--what was left of them anyway--would have definitely known of Britain's existence by the 5th-6th centuries). The knight states that he is from Camelot and arrived to the present timeline with the help of Merlin. He also states that if they don't stop the villain from altering history, they may all cease to exist.

After hearing the knight's story, the Justice Society agree to help out using the Flash's time vortex devise to get to the knight's respective time period. Green Lantern, however, departs in order to take care of a more personal matter, specifically the finances surrounding his company, the Gotham Broadcasting Company (GBC). Without wasting any more time, Hourman works the controls of the time vortex device and effectively sends the remaining Justice Society members and knight to Britain circa 5th-6th century.

On their way Camelot (on horseback) the disguised Justice Society are ambushed by the feared Dark Knight of Arkan. Superman challenges the Dark Knight, who is no match for Superman's strength and is easily defeated. The Dark Knight then accuses Superman of being a sorcerer and a full fledged battle between the Dark Knight's army and the Justice Society ensue. A knight attempts to rescue Power Girl and remove her from the fight, but the offended Power Girl instead lifts the knight above her head and throws into a nearby pond, telling him he 'may have the honour of being the first man in history to learn of women's liberation.'

In the present timeline, Hourman thinks about how useless he feels returning to the Justice Society when his teammates don't seem to find much use for him except to have him wait around for them. His rumination, however, is cut short with the arrival of Icicle who freezes him in order to use the time vortex device.

In Camelot, the remaining Justice Society members make it to King Arthur's Castle where they learn more about the threat they're dealing with. Inside the castle, Superman and Flash address to Arthur a major discrepancy in the timeline, namely the anachronistic arrival of the Romans to Britain nearly 360 years after they originally arrived and were never supposed to have returned following their initial invasion. Arthur acknowledges that this is true and expresses that he was equally surprised to see them back in Britain as a whole legion, which proved too much for his own knights to handle. He also acknowledged to the Justice Society that it was for this very reason that he summoned their help. The Justice Society again agrees to help, noting that any changes to Britain's history can also mean changes to America's history, and ultimately the Justice Society's.

As the Justice Society and Arthur's knights march into battle against the Romans, Merlin and Arthur are left on their own, and begin to have a private discussion on their next course of action now that their main plan has been set into motion. Merlin then reveals behind a curtain a computer system that shouldn't exist in Britain during the 5th-6th centuries, effectively casting doubt on the authenticity of Camelot, and ultimately the existence of the legendary King Arthur and Merlin themselves.

On the battle field, Superman tries to persuade the Roman soldiers to leave Britain and return to Rome on their own, but Power Girl notices there is something very off about these soldiers, and that is the fact that the soldiers are themselves made of metal. Realising that they have been fighting robots this whole time (another major discrepancy for the technology of the time period), Power Girl suggests that they return to Camelot and find out the truth about their actual mission. Since Merlin is the only person in Camelot with any real knowledge of time travel--enough to send messages across time and space--he is the Justice Society's prime suspect.

In the present timeline, we see Alan Scott returning to the offices of his company, GBC, to negotiate with the debt collectors threatening to foreclose his company if he fails to pay what he owes. He is given a very tight deadline and Scott is left feeling rather powerless at dealing with real life problems despite being a superhero who possesses a magical ring.

Back in Camelot, the Justice Society makes their way back to King Arthur's castle and both 'Arthur' and 'Merlin' keep watch of them through their monitor. They admit that they expected the heroes to discover their mission as an elaborate hoax, but are much more interested in finding out how much the robotic Romans have weakened them. A bright light beams from one of the castle's towers and flying crossbows go after the Justice Society like missiles. Through teamwork, the Justice Society are able to keep both 'Arthur' and 'Merlin' busy, buying Superman enough time to destroy the tower the light is beaming from. Power Girl then settles for going after the castle itself and busts her way through the walls to 'Arthur' and 'Merlin' themselves.

Both Superman and Power Girl are captured and contained in a magical bubble that proves difficult for them to break through. The remaining Justice Society members quickly attack 'Arthur' and 'Merlin,' but are easily stunned and quickly taken out of commission. They have a harder time capturing the Flash, but is eventually taken out as well once 'Arthur' accurately calculates where he'll next appear. 'Arthur' then claims that he has won at last, but both Superman and Power Girl tell him he hasn't won as they can still get out of their confinement since it can't contain them for very long. 'Arthur' admits that he doesn't need them contained forever and, in fact, needs them as part of his goal to regain his eternity.

Superman then demands to know 'Arthur's' true identity, the latter which reveals to be none other than Vandal Savage, a once immortal villain. Having lost his immortality as a consequence of the actions of both the Earth-2 and Earth-1 Flashes (Jay Garrick and Barry Allen respectively), Vandal created this elaborate hoax as a trap for the Justice Society members in order to use them as leverage to entice Superman and Power Girl into assisting him in regaining his immortality.

Review: Lots of wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey things happen in this first chapter of a three-part story arc that reads more like a Doctor Who series finale in comic book form. In fact, this story arc specifically reminded me of the Series 5 finale (the first series of Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor) with the presence of robotic Roman soldiers (who in Doctor Who canon turned out to be Autons created by the Nestene Consciousness), the Pandorica (a prison designed to contain a very dangerous and powerful prisoner), and villains uniting to create an elaborate trap for the Doctor and his companions at Stonehenge in 2nd Century Britain. Even River Song impersonated Queen Cleopatra centuries after the real Cleopatra's death, effectively creating an anachronism the Doctor simply couldn't miss. But all of that parallelism with the popular British television programme aside, this first chapter accomplishes something even greater: it establishes the origin of Power Girl's superhero identity.

Consistent with her first appearance in All-Star Comics #58 and #59, Power Girl insists that she be treated as heroine of her own standing and not as a 'carbon copy' of her cousin, Superman. It is also for this very reason that she chose a costume that in no way resembled her cousin's Superman costume and refused to wear a symbol that matched that of her cousin's but with a 'P' instead of an 'S.' You will also notice that throughout this first chapter, Power Girl isn't seen wearing the version of her costume containing the cleavage window that was present in her very first appearance. Whether or not that was intentional is a question for Paul Levitz (who penned this wonderful tale), but one thing was most definitely made clear with this chapter: Power Girl will not be defined by her relationships to the men in her life.

It is admittedly a very surreal experience to read Paul Levitz' earlier work on Power Girl (and these stories being written when he was barely 20 years old--think about that) and come to the realisation that both he and DC Comics have really lost their way when it comes to establishing the place of women in a modern DC Universe. One thing I absolutely loved about Paul Levitz' original interpretation of Power Girl is that he actually wrote her as character with agency, taking on an active role in the narrative instead of just tagging along waiting for someone to need her help, or actually tell her what to do. She just acted with respect to the current situation. This is something that didn't always happen with Levitz rebooting of her character in the New 52. Also in contrast with the way he chose to characterise Power Girl in the New 52, Levitz also wrote her as a woman of equal intelligence to those of her male comrades (most of which are entrepreneurs and even scientists) and always took initiative.

All of these developments were very important for establishing Power Girl's identity not just as a superhero but also as a character with a distinct personality that made her standout from the rest of the group. These developments were also staple to understanding why she chose the name of Power Girl and in particular what this name means to her. One thing that was very characteristic of the pre-Crisis Power Girl (as explored in these pages) is that she openly embraced feminist values and even identified strongly as a feminist. She was not ashamed to speak her mind and was not going to ask for permission to speak. She was similarly not going to subscribe to any patriarchal definitions of femininity, preferring to define for herself what it means for her to be a woman existing in an androcentric world and identify as feminine. The pre-Crisis Power Girl was a genuinely empowered heroine who very much lived up to her name of 'Power Girl' by always having complete over herself and letting others having power over her.

If there is one thing I would definitely love to see reinstated with the New 52 incarnation of the character, it is her pre-Crisis personality, and especially reinstating the 'power' back into her Power Girl identity. Specifically the re-acknowledging of her identity's feminist origins and shifting power back to the character in her decision to become Power Girl. Instead of having her become Power Girl as a consequence of no longer being able to operate as Supergirl in the same world as her doppelgänger, why not have her grow into this identity as part of her coming of age story? Why not have her decide for herself that she is so much more than a member of the Super family worthy of her own name and identity independent of that of her cousin? Why make her safe for men who are threatened by the presence of empowered women who are in control of their own lives and don't exist for them?

The Earth-2 Power Girl was never just 'an alternate version' of the mainstream Supergirl, but was simply the version of the character that received a very different development to her mainstream counterpart. She was the version of Kara that explored the idea of extending Superman's family without defining the character's existence through her relationship to Superman as was previously done--most notably--with the Earth-1 Supergirl. That is a very significant distinction to make, and an important topic that will be explored in our next discussion of Power Girl's history when we discuss her actual pre-Crisis origin. Stay tuned!

★★★★★

No comments:

Post a comment