As I promised, here’s my review of the trade I read during the Girls Reading Comics in Public event. I picked this up on a whim, purely because I felt like reading something new and saw that it was Conner on the art.
The trade has the Supergirl #12 single up first, which is basically Supergirl vs Terra, which was discussed on How I Got My Boyfriend to Read Comics. The plot is irrelevant, just a backdrop to a comparison of the two heroines and an excuse for punching. The contrast is very cool: despite the fact that it’s clear the girls don’t understand each other, you don’t see either demonised. This is pretty rare in comics, rarer even than genuine female friendship – two female heroes not getting along but neither being a painted as a complete bitch.
The miniseries follows a similar pattern. We see Terra running around the planet stopping natural disasters and villains, saving people, while refusing to slow down long enough to talk to anybody and causing confusion. Eventually we discover more about her origins, mostly through her actions (no flashbacks!), as she opens up enough to the other superheroes in time to have one help her kill the big boss and another teach her how to ‘live’. The themes here aren’t complicated or sophisticated – the environmental and ‘friendship is magic’ themes in particular are a too little heavy handed for my tastes. The happily-ever-after ending, with Terra making friends or gaining acceptance from Earth’s other superheroes is also pretty predictable.
Despite average plots and simplistic themes, Palmiotti and Gray manage to write a great story. The amusing dialogue, characters with personality rather than 2D sidekicks, and a talent for creating fun individual scenes makes for an addictive book. This, coupled with Conner’s legendary ability to draw facial expressions and body language on top of some wonderfully cheesecakey moments, means that you find yourself really caring about these people. Sure, Conner does seem to enjoy drawing naked ladies, and sometimes pushing the cheesecake a little too far for my tastes, but most of the time she manages to get sexy without resorting to porn star posing or proportions.
The characters are all refreshing as well. For example: Atlee’s lack of self-doubt. She is driven. She knows what she wants to do, she knows how to do it and why. She shown to be a bit lonely, but not a loner. She’s a little homesick for family, but it’s because she’s away from them, not because they will Never Understand Her Pain. In short, she’s independent and secure in all aspects of herself, which is a welcome change. The huge number of female characters throughout the series is also noticeably cool. We go from reporters, to Powergirl and Supergirl, through to Silver Banshee, to some of the underground alien whatsits. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but compared to other DC books? The only other one I can think of that successfully does this is Birds of Prey and even then, some of the authors didn’t really get it.
Terra is as refreshing in how it has little twists where you’d normally expect to see authors falling into cliche and trope. Terra taking Geo-force to her home to save his life and talking to her parents… you’re all set up for case of angst and rejection, but instead they understand and it’s dealt with. No boring-as-fuck drawn-out scenes here.
It’s not a flawless piece when it comes to avoiding cliche, though. There is the occasional fan-service, and the big bad especially falls prey to a large number of ‘my girlfriend is dead’ tropes, but this is not a book about the villian… I found when these hiccups do occur, they seem to be keeping the tone fun and self-aware, a deliberate choice, rather than the usual lazy unoriginality you normally see.
Weirdly I suspect this is the first time I’ve read an entire trade by the Palmiotti, Gray and Conner dream team I’ve heard so much about. If this is the level of quality I can expect, excuse me while I go and track down everything they’ve ever done. While it’s not the deepest GN I’ve ever read, it is witty and fun entertainment.