In Superman #13, Supergirl was furious to find Kal-El putting down a Kryptonian dragon. Sure, it had been attacking Earth, but so far as Kara’s concerned, anything Kryptonian is sacrosanct. This issue, the start of the H’El on Earth crossover between Supergirl, Superboy and Superman, begins with the Super-Cousins watching a post mortem on the dead beast. It’s being taken apart by Superman’s scientist friend Dr Veritas as she bids to increase Earth’s body of xenobiology knowledge.
To this end, she’d also like to put Supergirl under the microscope. Nothing as drastic as an autopsy, just tests similar to those she’s already performed on Superman. Kara, though, having recently learned that father Zor-El experimented on her prior to blasting her away from Kryptonian soil, really isn’t in the mood.
She returns to Metropolis and the flat of her friend Siobhan, who tells her that brother Tom – who’s rather taken a shine to Kara – has returned to Ireland for awhile. Kara might be more disappointed, but she’s focused on the mysteries of her past. She zooms off to her secret Sanctuary under the sea, where the AI installed by her father confirms what she knew, but didn’t wish to believe – that Superman is indeed her cousin. Her feelings are mixed; here is someone she should be close to, another survivor of Kypton and actual family, but every time she sees him she’s saddened by the reminder of everything she’s lost. A need for sleep overtakes the dichotomy.
Having barely slept since arriving on Earth due to one conflict after another, Kara welcomes some shut-eye. But her rest is shortlived, as she finds herself on the surface of the sun, teleported there by a darkly charismatic figure, H’El. She attacks him but H’El’s immoveable, super-hard body leaves her reeling. He has Kara’s attention. Claiming to have been an assistant of Jor-El, sent into space on a mission of exploration, he says he’s brought Kara there because her powers need a boost, and indeed, she relishes the feeling of renewal. His years of wandering have brought him to a point of power beyond even Supergirl and Superman and while not family, he feels allegiance to the House of El and wishes the heroes to join him on a mission – to travel into the past and save Krypton from destruction.
H’el tries to allay Kara’s suspicions by two means – first, he shows her the ‘insanity’ of life on Earth, taking her to a warzone, where he saves a child from death. Why would she stay on a world so brutal?
Then he zaps them back to Sanctuary, where Superboy, the Kryptonian clone whose very existence appalled Kara, awaits – psionically bound and unconscious. H’El has brought him there and will kill him if Supergirl just says the word. But with a helpless, threatened and stirring Superboy before her, she sees him as a person for the first time. ‘No. Don’t do it. Not yet,’ she says.
H’El puts Superboy out again, and Kara asks to let her try to persuade Superman to take up his – and apparently her – cause. Her super-hearing guides her to Kal-El, speaking to someone – and she realises that she understands English. H’El has given her a gift, the ability to communicate with the natives of Earth (or at least, the English speakers). Equally surprising, Kal-El is dressed not in his Kryptonian armour, but Earth clothing, including spectacles. And he’s in a rather compromising position.
Good Lord, I’ve spoiled a lot there, but it’s a packed issue and I got carried away. While the idea of another storyline focusing on Krypton has me less than thrilled, H’el is intriguing. I never expected the extra powers, so far including teleportation and mind-jiggery which, combined with his stony appearance, put me in mind of Anne Rice’s elder vampires. I love that he’s ‘taught’ Kara at least one Earth language – it’s logical to assume she has more – as being able to speak with people could go a long way towards easing misunderstandings on both sides. Plus, there’s the business of H’El making Kara see Superboy as a person, not a monster – the opposite of his intent. I’d read that ‘Not yet!’ as ‘not ever’ – she has qualms about Superboy, knowing Kryptonian clones to be notoriously unstable, but he’s a living being, and her instincts won’t condone cold-blooded killing.
What’s more, He’l has shown Kara that there are a lot of people on her new world whom she could aid with her powers. In time, she’ll realise that helping them is better than pursuing a dream that can’t come true.
The non-H’El step forward this issue is Kara’s being forced to admit that Superman is indeed her baby cousin Kal, all grown up. The knowledge is going to bring them closer together, if only because she now has less reason to keep pushing him away. Writer Mike Johnson’s script gives us a Supergirl who’s a strong character – nonsense detector always set to max – but one softening at the edges, becoming more rounded. She’s not naive enough to just get onside with H’El – his freaky vibe and willingness to snuff out a life he sees as lesser must have raised alarm bells – and I’m sure her leaving his side to seek out Superman is a ploy to give her room to think, and someone to talk things over with.
At the close of the issue she may have blown Superman’s Clark cover to Lois – serves him right for not being straight with her about the concept of a secret identity – meaning I can’t miss the continuation in Superman #14. Heck, I need to know what Lois and Clark are doing in an intimate position.
And I’ll keep coming back here to follow Kara’s journey, as she continues to grow. And to find out what happens with Siobhan, whom we see is struggling to contain the Silver Banshee side of her. Good on Johnson for giving us an actual subplot, a rare thing in DC’s New 52 line. It’s unlikely we’ll see any movement on Siobhan’s story while this crossover is running (it seems to be ending in February), but it’s something to look forward to.
Mahmud Asrar continues to define Supergirl, from the powerful cover through the final page; she looks typically feisty here, as well as intelligent and graceful. H’El burns with brooding power, the abused Superboy looks properly pathetic, the various settings convince … his only weak point is Superman, who looks awkward. Standout scenes include the dragon exam and H’El’s first appearance (left), while a likely time-saving panel – dialogue coming through a skylight – amuses. Colourist Dave McCaig adds vibrancy to the illustrations with his bold pallete.
Supergirl #14 works as both a crossover chapter and a stepping stone towards Supergirl’s settling down on Earth, and the formation of a Superman Family – in a single issue she’s become closer to both Superman and Superboy, seeing one as human and the other as an ally. They’re baby steps, but Kara’s moving forward.