Sunday 16 November 2014

The Best of Power Girl: Showcase Presents Power Girl #97-99 Review

Title: Showcase Presents #97-99
Story: Power Girl
Characters: Power Girl (Kara Zor-L), Andrew Vinson, Zor-L, Allura In-Z, Brain Wave
Creators: Paul Levitz (writer), Joe Staton (artist)
Publication Date: February-April 1978
Available In: Print

Introduction: Continuing our discussion on the origins of Power Girl as a character, we now get to the most important story in her history: her actual origin story. As I mentioned in my last review, Power Girl has always been much more than just 'an alternate version' of Supergirl. She was--more accurately--a different interpretation of a previously established character complete with a similar but ultimately different origin, a completely different personality, and ultimately a different narrative. What if Kara Zor-El had left Krypton as an infant instead of as a teenager? What if Kara Zor-El had been raised by her cousin, Kal-El, alongside his superstar reporter and wife, Lois Lane? What if Kara Zor-El had taken on a different superhero identity that wasn't Supergirl? What if Kara Zor-El functioned as a software expert by day and protected Gotham City by night? These are all questions that are answered in these three issues of Showcase #97 through #99!

Summary: Showcase #97 opens up with a robbery taking place in an electronics factory in Gotham, which is subsequently averted by Power Girl's intervention. One of the robbers manages to get away and even attempts to dodge Power Girl in every possible way, but is ultimately unsuccessful and is eventually caught. When the police arrive to take the robber into their custody, Power Girl finds herself bombarded by news reporters wanting to know who she really is. Amongst them is a reporter named Andrew Vinson who explains to Power Girl that the people of the city really want to know her story and even candidly admits that he feels the people deserve that. Power Girl is offended by the man's lack of boundaries and tells him that he only needs to know two things about her: (1) that her name is Power Girl, and (2) that he needs to stay out of her way. With that Power Girl departs. While all of this is going on, an obscure man in a computer room takes notice of how Power Girl has consistently interfered with his plans, and decides he needs to do something about that.

Outside of Gotham, Power Girl thinks about how she can't deal with crowds and how she finds reporters particularly invasive. She wonders if this is the reason her cousin got into the business and if she's really alone on this 'alien planet.' Power Girl falls asleep and begins to dream about her past on Krypton. Amongst the things we learn from Power Girl's respective past is that the City of Kandor was destroyed along with Krypton (it was never shrunk and put into a bottle by Brainiac like in the Earth-1 universe). We also learn that Zor-L had originally planned for both his wife, Allura In-Z, and his infant daughter (whom he identifies as Kara), to escape Krypton's doom together. When Zor-L realised he didn't really have enough time to build a ship for the two to travel in, he settled for making a smaller ship to carry Kara alone since it would take less time to build. With that, Baby Kara was rocketed off to Earth along with the infant Kal-L, but her journey took longer than Kal's.

Power Girl wakes up from her slumber and hints that something of hers is buried on this side of Gotham. Andrew Vinson catches up to her, but she takes off before he has the chance to talk to her. On the hill where she was resting, however, he discovers something unusual but the reader isn't made aware of what. Back in the City of Gotham, another robbery similar to the one Power Girl foiled earlier is taking place in the Department of Public Safety, but with more men and more powerful weapons. Power Girl deduces that these men are after the weapons the police detained from the earlier arrest and deduces correctly when she finds the men looting the police vault. She initially struggles at first to take them down due to their more powerful weapons, but eventually manages to stop this batch as well. She once again leaves the men for the police to collect, but is once again bombarded with reporters.

Power Girl once again asserts herself that she has no interest in talking to the media and suggests that they use their profession more constructively to solve problems instead of crowding her. She stomps her foot to get her point across which the vibration from the ground is enough to knock down the reporters and their equipment. They take the hint and decide to leave Power Girl alone, but not before Andrew Vinson attacks her with a strange-looking space suit--presumably the strange object he found earlier on the hill.

Showcase #98 continues the narrative of issue #97 with Andrew Vinson in a space suit repeatedly attacking Power Girl. The Gotham police attempt to help her, but their firearms are useless against the hunk of metal encapsulating Andrew. Power Girl recognises the suit as her symbioship and advices the police against firing at it since it is solid Kryptonian metal capable of withstanding the fury of a starstorm. Power Girl manages to trap her symbioship and get Andrew out, which causes the ship itself to return to its original form. Andrew has a hard time believing that a spaceship could do that and demands to get answers from Power Girl. Power Girl again asserts that she won't give them and that her life--including who she is and where she comes from--are her business. She takes off with her symbioship, but Andrew latches onto her on the assumption that she won't drop him, much to her annoyance.

At the police station, an officer makes his way back to the police vault, stating to the other police officers already there that he was sent up to help get things back in order following the raid. One of the police officers state that they have things under control, but the officer insists on lending a hand now that he's there. He knocks the other police officers unconscious and reveals himself to be Brain Wave, who is also the mastermind behind the raids in Gotham. Back on the wooded hill where Power Girl and Andrew were earlier, Power Girl insists that he return to Gotham while she goes about her own business on her own. Andrew insists that after being attacked by her own symbioship, the least he could do was tell her who she was and where she came from. Acknowledging the circumstances as they are, Power Girl agrees to tell her life's story.

Power Girl begins by describing the familiar tale of the doomed planet of Krypton blowing up six decades ago and how her cousin Kal-L was rocketed off to Earth in order to save him. She makes a correction to the famous narrative by confirming that it was actually two ships that left Krypton for Earth, and states that the reason her ship arrived much later was because her ship was designed differently from Kal's. While's Kal's ship was designed for a swift journey to Earth, her's was designed to become one with its passenger--in this case her--and function as a life support system. During her six-decade sojourn from Krypton to Earth, Kara was placed in suspended animation and aged slowly as a consequence. She also states that the ship also provided her with a virtual reality--a dreamworld--for her to exist in that allowed her to develop intellectually as well as provide her with life-like experiences.

At the end of her journey, Kara's ship crash-landed in Gotham and was fortunate enough to have been found by her cousin first, who also helped her adjust to life on Earth. As she expresses confusion over how the symbioship could've been reactivated, the ship itself manages to get a hold of Kara and forces her back inside, effectively restoring their symbiotic relationship. As Kara struggles to fight against her father's space ship, the ship itself continues to fulfil her father's programming of providing Kara with a full range of experiences over an entire lifespan, including experiencing a romantic relationship, graduating from university, establishing a career in science research, even getting married and becoming a mother. Outside the ship, Andrew tries to break Kara free but is unsuccessful due to the Kryptonian origin of the spaceship.

After struggling against succumbing to the ideal life of her symbioship's virtual reality, Kara eventually breaks herself free, but continues to experience her virtual life outside of it. It turns out the ship is able to follow her wherever she goes, and manages to recapture her one last time. This time, however, Kara is able to break herself completely free of her spaceship, destroying it in the process. For the first time in her life, Kara acknowledges that she can't always solve problems by herself, and that it's perfectly okay to admit when she does need help. On the other side of Gotham, Brain Wave has successfully acquired the circuits he needed (from the first two raids) and begins to put his plans for destroying the Justice Society in motion, beginning with Alan Scott and Jay Garrick, the Green Lantern and Flash respectively.

In the concluding chapter of Showcase #99, it is implied that some time has passed between Power Girl's last intervention and the time that Brain Wave intends to execute his plans. Growing frustrated with his inability to locate Power Girl, he decides to draw her out into the open by trapping Keystone City in a different dimensional plane, effectively capturing both the Flash and Green Lantern.

In Gotham, Andrew Vinson has helped Kara acquire her Karen Starr identity and helped her get a job as a software specialist at UCC, a large computer corporation. Kara in her new guise goes with Andrew to tour her new work place and thinks about what it took to secure her new job. Specifically she acknowledged the use of Wonder Woman's memory machine from Paradise Island to help her learn the necessary skills as a software programmer.

During the tour, the UCC staff learn of Keystone City's sudden disappearance, which prompts Kara to cut her tour short and investigate the matter as Power Girl. When she arrives at the scene, she finds Brain Wave as the culprit behind the mysterious disappearance, which is something he counted on to set the rest of his plan into motion. He sends his men to attack her with more powerful weapons than before, but continue to not have any major effect on her physically. Brain Wave acknowledged earlier that the weapons themselves were not going to be enough to take Power Girl down, and instead settled for exhausting her as a way of forcing her to surrender.

In addition to tiring Power Girl, Brain Wave also offers the heroine an ultimatum. Having demonstrated to her what he is capable of, he offers Power Girl the chance to surrender herself to him in exchange for leaving the remaining cities where the other Justice Society members reside alone. Realising she doesn't have much choice in the matter, Power Girl agrees to surrender herself, but with the confidence that she'll be able to take down Brain Wave once she is closer to him.

Brain Wave proceeds with capturing her and attempts to encapsulate Power Girl in a bubble designed specifically to contain her, much in the same way he did with the Flash and Green Lantern. Power Girl, however, proves herself too strong to be contained and actually breaks herself free, much to Brain Wave's dismay. In a last ditch effort to contain Power Girl, Brain Wave releases a green-looking creature (who looks an awful lot like the New 52 Brainiac) to exhaust her physically, but once again, Power Girl subdues the creature and sends him back inside the capsule Brain Wave released him from.

Overpowered and outsmarted, Brain Wave is forced by Power Girl to release her two friends and restore Keystone City to its rightful location. Brain Wave agrees to let Green Lantern and Jay Garrick go, but will only restore Keystone City on the agreement that he'll be set free. The Justice Society members do not acquiesce his request and instead recapture him and take him into their custody. Power Girl herself restores Keystone City back to its rightful location using the knowledge of computers she acquired from Wonder Woman's memory machine, and once proves her value to the team.

Review: Throughout this series, a lot of references are made to the Golden Age Superman, most notably showing (and noting) that Power Girl is 'faster than a speeding bullet,' 'more powerful than a locomotive,' and 'capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound,' all as part of the buildup towards revealing Power Girl's true identity. While it was long established that she is the cousin of Superman and even hinted that she is the Earth-2 doppelgänger of Supergirl, it was never explicitly acknowledged on the page that Power Girl had always been Kara Zor-El until this series.

Despite being the Earth-2 counterpart of the Earth-1 Supergirl, there are notable differences between the two women not just in terms of personality and identity, but even to the established history, right down to difference in spelling of their names. Whereas the Earth-1 Kara's family name is spelled out as 'El,' the Earth-2 Kara (like the Earth-2 Kal) has her family name written as the letter 'L,' effectively establishing her as Kara Zor-L.

In addition to the difference in name spelling, The Earth-2 Kara is the same age as her cousin, Kal-L, whereas the Earth-1 Kara had always been established as older than her cousin and left Krypton (more specifically a small piece of it--Argo City) as a teenager instead of as an infant. As such, the Earth-1 Kara had the privilege of experiencing Kryptonian life prior to Argo City's destruction, whereas the Earth-2 Kara only experienced this life in a virtual reality created by her spaceship. The Earth-1 Kara also used the identity of Linda Lee Danvers as a civilian (complete with a brown wig), whereas the Earth-2 Kara used Karen Starr as her legal civilian name. The Earth-2 Kara was even established as operating primarily in Gotham whereas the Earth-1 Kara has primarily operated in various cities throughout the United States.

Another notable difference between the two versions of Kara is the fact that the Earth-2 Kara was given a Lois Lane of her own in the form of Andrew Vinson. Not only was Andrew a star reporter for Gotham's Daily Globe, but he also functioned as something of a love interest for Kara in both this narrative and a few other Earth-2 narratives, including one that she later shared with her future best friend, the Huntress, Helena Wayne.

Now I do admit I may be biased here, but I do feel that the only character who has ever succeeded at being Lois Lane is Lois Lane herself. While I do get that Paul Levitz was attempting to replicate the Superman/Lois Lane relationship with Power Girl and Andrew Vinson, it literally doesn't work out the same way in part due to the fact that Andrew has privilege in various aspects of his life, including sex, race, and class privilege.

One of the reasons Lois Lane has been a feminist icon for as long as she has is because she has been working--since 1938--as a female journalist in a male-dominated profession, and was one of the few women in fiction to be acknowledged as a star reporter during a time when women were expected to be wives, mothers, and homemakers. As such, her position as a career woman--for her time period--was not nearly as valued as a man working in the same profession, and had many more hurdles to overcome related to gender. That is not an experience Andrew himself shares with Lois.

The fact that oppression on the basis of her gender is a big part of Lois' everyday life experience is also the reason her relationship with Superman has resonated so strongly for decades. This is especially true when you consider that Superman himself is a member of another marginalised group, in this case, illegal immigrants. The fact that both individuals have to hide much of themselves in order to be accepted in the world they live in while simultaneously attempting to be their own authentic selves is a challenge both deal with on a daily basis. The fact that these two individuals see much of themselves in each other and even challenge each other's strengths and weaknesses is why Lois and Clark complement each other so well. The fact that these two individuals love and accept each other as they are is why their relationship has endured.

Going back to my original point, many of these same concepts cannot be successfully replicated with Kara and Andrew due to the difference in power dynamics both characters possess in their respective lives. Whereas Andrew is a white, heterosexual man with a career (and very much a citizen of the United States) existing in a world that is already tailored to his favour, Kara is by contrast a refugee from another planet and a woman who identifies strongly as a feminist in a world that devalues both of these groups. Another consequence of attempting to replicate the Lois/Clark romance with Kara/Andrew with this existing difference in power dynamics is that it places Andrew in a position of power to help Kara adjust to life on Earth, unwittingly reinforcing the patriarchal expectation of women being dependent on men.

The only way Kara's relationship with Andrew can be considered feminist the way Lois and Clark are is if Andrew himself loves and accepts Kara as she is without feeling his masculinity threatened by the fact that she is physically stronger and more powerful than he is. If anything, Kara's relationship with Andrew would more strongly parallel that of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor than with her own cousin and adopted mother, Lois Lane.

With all of these developments in place, it's pretty clear from the get-go that Power Girl is meant to be seen as a superhero of her own standing and not as an extension or a sidekick to the more iconic Superman. Her history acknowledges her status as Superman's cousin, but also allows her to build a mythos of her own by giving her a similar but distinct narrative from that of both her cousin and the Earth-1 Supergirl. She is similarly given a love interest of her own that attempts to replicate the Lois and Clark relationship, but in my opinion, this relationship is far less interesting than the one she would later have with the Huntress, who on Earth-2 is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman and will be the subject of discussion in the next review.


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