This review contains spoilers as it discusses Power Girl’s origin and history. Skip To The Verdict? »
The DC property known as Power Girl has a complicated history, so allow me to start this review with some background musings.
Like many comics readers, I was introduced to the complicated nature of continuity early. Growing up, I realized that there were two large powerhouses in the industry. There was Marvel and there was DC. After a while I recognized who was from what company and, with the rare exception, these heroes and villains stayed in their respective universes, far from each other. Figuring out that divide was step 1.
I’m not sure what event pushed me to the next level of understanding. Was it Crisis on Multiple Earths #1 featuring the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America? Or, more likely, was it Crisis on Infinite Earths that featured…well, everyone?
I remember being thoroughly confused. How did two versions of the same character – and many more as I was soon to find out – exist in the same story? I had a strong grasp on time travel, but a “Multiverse”? This wasn’t just a comparison of a present and future Superman I was looking, it was actually two different men. After some time I learned to pick up the subtle differences between characters who shared the same name, but had slight deviations in their makeup.
Later down the road, things got even more confusing. I found out that there were two prominent versions of Supergirl, neither with a particularly clear origin story. One was from Earth-One, but died tragically in Crisis on Infinite Earths. At this point, The Earth-Two “Supergirl” was not branded as such. She was called Power Girl and really didn’t appear to be of the same makeup at all.
Different hair, different clothes, very obviously different… uh… proportions, but she still fought against evil along the side of her cousin, Superman of Earth-Two. She could be seen Pre-Crisis in the pages of the late 70s All Star and Adventure Comics (Collected in Justice Society Vol. 1 and Vol. 2).
Then I learned there were at least four or five different Supergirls. Kara Zor-El, Linda Danvers, Cir-El, Matrix, and Post-Crisis “Dead” Supergirl. What was going on here? At most, from what I could tell, the main difference between the two primary variations of Superman was a little gray hair.
A little “wiki-ing” later I saw that not only was Power Girl an actual “Supergirl” variation from Earth-Two (and the only one still in publication alongside our modern Supergirl) but there also happened to be a trade available documenting this journey and transformation from a bodacious nobody with a secret past to the buxom beauty we now know (with a very convoluted past). Which finally brings us to the book before us.
Power Girl was published by DC Comics in June 2006. Instead of collecting a single story arc, it is a compilation and presentation tackling the complex history of Ms. Kara Zor-L. This collects Showcase #97-#99, Secret Origins Vol 2 #11, JSA #32 and #39, and finally JSA Classified #1-#4. These issues were published from 1978 to 2005. A welcomed addition is an editorial description before each section, which helps ease the reader in by describing the current times in DC and the company’s reasoning for the tangled and ever-changing history of Power Girl.
The collection starts with an origin from Showcase #97 from February 1978, written by Paul Levitz with Joe Staton and Joe Orlando as the artists. It shows our Dynamic Double D Damsel swooping in to stop a robbery in progress. Andrew Vinson, a pesky yet daring reporter from the Daily Globe, then enters into Power Girl’s life. He demands she finally fess-up to the rest of the world and explain where she came from and what her purpose is.
Unfortunately for the reporter, she takes offense and immediately flees the city. Luckily for us, his questions get her thinking as she takes a little R&R to dream about life back on Krypton in her home town of Kandor (while Andrew is in hot pursuit to get his own answers.) We are introduced to the Symbioship which carried Power Girl all the way across the galaxy while she grew from a toddler to the young eighteen year old she is now.
According to the story, the ship helped her develop not only physically but mentally as well. Using various forms of electronic education and an “Artificial Reality,” it gave her “normal” experiences that any Kryptonian would have growing up. In a classic Bronze Age-style twist, the ship then becomes a threat, using Andrew to attack Power Girl – then the main villain of the story, Brain Wave, is introduced.
From here we get an action tale about Brain Wave trying to take down the JSA (with appearances by the original Flash and Green Lantern from Earth-Two), while also filling in the rest of her original origin story, and for the first time giving her the secret identity of Karen Starr. The art might seem a little dated, but it’s fitting for the era and in no way detracts from the story.
Flash forward to 1987 and we are left with a Power Girl who survived the Crisis of 1985, but somehow lost her origin story (to allow Superman to be the only surviving Kryptonian.) She bounces around from title to title and in Secret Origins Vol 2 #11 writer Paul Kupperbreg and artist Mary Wilshire tackle her reboot.
Paul takes his established character Arion, the “Lord of Atlantis,” and through a lot of dialogue, and I mean a lot, details Power Girl’s “true” origin. She’s shown once again feeling very alone on Earth, not only because she has no family, but because she’s actually aware that she survived the “Crisis” and should not exist in this universe.
She is shown talking to herself while sitting in her Symbioship, which apparently survived as well, and out comes the apparition of Arion to explain everything. This origin story won’t be discussed in detail for various reason. First of all, it’s pretty crazy. A little magic and some time travel are involved. Plus, it doesn’t matter now because, like her previous origin, this one was retconned as well.
Like the previous story, the art is very reflective of the decade it was drawn in. The details differ significantly, however, depending on the scene and shot. Up close, the pencil hash marks to display shadows can be overdone, but the more open and far away scenes are underwhelming with lack of detail. Some look as though they were initially drawn through carbon paper, with similar design sensibility to the 1980’s mature animated film Heavy Metal. Worse, the sequence lacks action and interesting dialogue, consisting almost entirely of stale exposition. At times I had difficulty staying awake and pushing through this relatively small sixteen page section.
The third and final entry into this trade is the latest, though unlikely last, retelling of how Power Girl came to be. Dan Didio, the Senior VP-Executive Editor of DC in 2005, decided that it was time to clean up and set some things right with our heroine. Geoff Johns took on the challenge.
She was added to the JSA roster, two issues of which included here, where a whole three pages was devoted to taking the magic-based power theory and throwing it right out the window. It’s stated very clearly that her powers (like Superman’s) are biologically inherited.
This new background even touches on why she happens to wear the most cleavage-centric outfit in the entire Multiverse, and somehow does it in a very respectful and telling way.
These issues are chock FULL of DC character cameos, including a very awkward (for her) scene between Superman, Supergirl, and Power Girl. Psycho Pirate plays the antagonist there is a great exchange between a confused Huntress and our desperately open heroine.
The contemporary art is incredibly fun (thanks to Peter Snejberg, Patrick Gleason, and Amanda Conner) and really utilizes the physical “attributes” that she has, showing a much more provocative image than the classic material.
As expected from Johns, the action and conversations are fun and well worth the time invested.
While the art is extremely varied in style and quality, it’s entertaining to see how much DC comics have changed over time. The middle story with Arion was really the worst part of this entire collection.
It was downright boring and felt extremely unnecessary. I would have hated to have suffered through this as a DC reader at that time, being stuck with such a terrible origin, but perhaps I’m spoiled as a modern comic reader.
I would still recommend this trade to any serious collector or those intrigued by the history of one of the most interesting characters on DC’s roster.
Ha, it depends on what section you’re referring to – the final issues from Geoff Johns and company are 100% in continuity now.
This trade is built to be an intro to the character so there is no previous reading required. It wouldn’t hurt to have read Crisis on Infinite Earths, the 70s Justice Society Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, or the more recent JSA issues (since Johns took over) to familiarize yourself with the supporting cast.