Power Girl: A New Beginning

Review by Ed Sizemore

Let me begin the review with a caveat. For the past ten years, the majority of my comic book reading has been manga. I do enjoy some of the all-ages books by DC and Marvel. The only superhero books I’ve read are either Silver Age reprints or the ones I’m given on Free Comic Book Day. So some of the my complaints will likely be tropes of the genre that are known but have become ignored by regular superhero readers.

Power Girl: A New Beginning cover
Power Girl: A New Beginning
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Power Girl has relocated to New York City to begin her life over. She is reestablishing her secret identity, Karen Starr, and reopening her old company, Starrware Labs. The series is meant to be a balance between Power Girl’s superhero life and her personal life.

I’ll start off with some nitpicking. There are inconsistencies with how strong Power Girl is shown to be. She’s able to rip apart robots with her bare hands and stop a falling aircraft, but she gets knocked out by Ultra-Humanite. That doesn’t seem right. Surely, she should be able to shake off a punch by a gorilla. For comparison, the robot on the alien spaceship cold-cocks her, and she brushes it off with no problem. I know it’s convenient to the plot, but it came across as contrived.

I don’t like Power Girl’s costume. Why can’t she have pants? She does have sleeves after all. The “boob window” seems ridiculous, too. I keep thinking about the male costumes like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, etc. They are all fully covered except for their heads. The only male I can think of with exposed legs was Robin. It looked dumb on him, too. By the way, same goes for Terra’s costume. Given how modestly Power Girl dresses as Karen Starr, her superhero costume seems out of character. Pants, people, I’m just asking for some pants.

My other complaint is that there is too much exposition. Power Girl’s interior monologue at the beginning isn’t realistic. The problem is the writers are using it for both narration and for telling us what Power Girl is thinking. The way it’s set up, it fails at both. Better to go with the old cliche that we are reading Power Girl’s diary or audio journal.

These aren’t major flaws in the work. In fact, once you get past the Ultra-Humanite story, the narration problem and power inconsistencies actually disappear. It’s like they wrote this first story to get the regular superhero readers into the series before setting down and getting to the real storytelling. It’s just a shame you have to wade through three issues before the writers find their own voice and break away from some of the genre conventions.

The best parts of the book are all the moments that seem atypical for a superhero comic. In issue four, Power Girl doesn’t turn over the villian to the police. Instead, she realizes that here is a girl who let youthful passion override common sense and has the potential to do a lot of good, if her energies are properly redirected. It’s the first moment when I became interested in the series.

I enjoy watching the interaction between Terra and Power Girl. It’s fun seeing Power Girl serving as mentor. She offers practical advise, like always wearing your costume. She’s patient as Terra tries to create a secret identity. Terra is a wonderful character. The writers do a marvelous job of creating a naive character who isn’t stupid or foolish. Very few who try succeed, so it says something of Gray and Palmiotti’s skill at characterization. The few moments these two are given together just hanging out are a true delight.

In fact, I was much more interested in the non-superhero sections of the series. I preferred reading about Power Girl trying to find a place to live, hiring people for her company, her love of really gory horror films, etc. The writers crafted a fully realized world for Power Girl’s everyday life. The series has a nice light tone with a good sense of humor. Power Girl chastising a potential employee for focusing on her chest is a subtly done and genuinely funny. These everyday moments are the true heart of the series.

Amanda Conner’s art is fantastic. She’s able to draw attractive women without being salacious. Her female characters have realistic bodies. Power Girl is not only busty, but she also has a fuller figure that is typical of such women. Conner also does a great job of inserting visual jokes. There is one frame where a character is holding up snowglobes that line up nicely with Power Girl’s chest. Also, I love watching Power Girl’s cat steal a shrimp from her Chinese takeout. It’s nice to see an artist having fun with a comic, too.

The last half of Power Girl: A New Beginning made this book an enjoyable read. However, I didn’t like it enough to continue reading the series. If this were a series about a CEO trying to build a state-of-the-art technology company, I’d probably follow the comic. The superhero elements get in the way and turn me off the series. Gray and Palmiotti are gifted at characterization and making everyday life interesting. I think their talents are wasted writing superhero comics. I wish they were doing independent comics instead. That said, Power Girl: A New Beginning would be a good place for someone new to sample the superhero genre.


22 Responses to “Power Girl: A New Beginning”

  1. Caroline Says:

    Nice review, and I hope you’ll pop in and/or link to this when we have our discussion on Fantastic Fangirls in a couple weeks (plug plug).

    I think you zeroed in on the strengths of this book and the things a lot of people enjoyed about it (Karen & Terra’s friendship, Karen’s day-to-day life, etc). Just to play devil’s advocate for a sec (because I’m obnoxious like that, how is saying “I don’t like this because it has superheroes” any different from someone saying “I don’t like this because it doesn’t have superheroes”?

  2. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Caroline,

    I’m definitely going to follow the discussion at Fantastic Fangirls. I know all of you will offer insights into the book I missed.

    You’re right. Those statements are opposite sides of the same coin. The superhero sections seemed pretty cliched. Maybe if the superhero scenes felt as fresh and interesting as the everyday scenes then I wouldn’t have complained about it having superheroes in it.

  3. Caroline Says:

    No problem, I just wanted to unpack what you didn’t like about it a little more. One of the other people in our pre-book club discussion said the superhero plots were her least favorite part, too (and we’re all superhero fans).

    I thought it was interesting that you said you’d mostly read Silver Age reprints, because these plots felt Silver-Age-y to me. . .particularly the Ultra-Humanite stuff (though it got more graphic than an SA book would have, probably), with the way they are straight-up wacky and also over and done pretty shortly. I think that may actually have made me appreciate them more, because they’re different than the typical decompressed arc in a modern book (where half a fight can take an entire issue). But if you’re used to reading REAL Silver Age stories — or the mostly one-and-done format of the all ages books — I can see this feeling like a not-so-great fit with the more down-to-earth story that was going on in Karen’s life. If the story actually has the effect of making us feel like Karen (annoyed when her everyday life is interrupted by bad guys) then it’s not quite working.

  4. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Everything superhero I’ve read has been the done-in-one style story. So the fight scene was a bit long and dark for me. Plus, the Ultra-Humanite orgin story felt like an unneeded interruption. (Unless, the point to was to make a very gross bestiality joke.)

    I did enjoy the fact the Power Girl and Terra aren’t all agnsty about having superpowers and having to save the world.

    I should say I enjoy the concept of superheroes, but rarely the execution. Just a couple days ago I was discussing on Twitter what my verison of Superman would look like. I’m very old fashioned. I want superheroes to embody the best of human nature and be exemplars of human morality.

    I do commend Gray and Palmiotti for crafting a Power Girl that’s someone I could look up to.

  5. Caroline Says:

    Does Power Girl do that for you?

    Also, assuming that people want their protagonists to learn and grow, is it possible to tell stories about people whose baseline is “exemplar of human morality”? (This is another thing that comes up, in a roundabout way in our discussion; let’s just say there were differing opinions).

  6. Ed Sizemore Says:

    I think Power Girl in this book is an admirable person.

    Moral exemplar doesn’t mean omniscience. A great example is the Paul Dini/Alex Ross Superman book where he distributes enough food to feed everyone for a day. Then Superman learns that the problems of hunger are more than people not having access to food. It’s also corrupt officials hoarding food, it’s not have roads and equiment to deliver food, it’s governments refusing foreign aid, etc. That was a brilliant story. It was Superman will all his powers and moral integrity wanting to do a noble act and finding out how little he really understood the problem. I love how his feeling of powerless in the face of that reality motivates him. Those are the kind of stories I long for in the superhero genre.

  7. Johanna Says:

    I hated that Superman story, because it felt like they were writing an excuse for copping out. “See, this is why we don’t have superheroes do anything but fight, they can’t help anywhere else.” That’s bogus.

    Caroline, there are three ways to handle the problem you mention that I can see:
    1. Tell superhero stories featuring Potato Man but they’re really about other people who don’t have the pressure to be perfect. This is the tack the Superman writers have taken most often over the years, writing stories about Jimmy or Lois or Perry where Superman is more of a plot device than main character.
    2. Have the superhero learn something that doesn’t affect their morality. A creative way to outwit a villain with science facts, for example. Kind of old school.
    3. Why should we expect Potato Man to learn and grow? Maybe the story just reinforces the idea that superheroes shouldn’t kill, for example, instead of teaching him the lesson for the first time.

    I miss heroes that are heroic, instead of super-powered weapons. But don’t mind me, I’ll be fogeying over here in the corner.

    Oh, I enjoyed this Power Girl series a lot! Wait until Volume 2, when you see Vartox (the one based on Sean Connery in Zardoz) actually become a viable character.

  8. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Johanna, I read that story completely different. To me it was a reminder to Superman he can’t solve all the world’s problems on his own. He may be the most powerful being on Earth, but he is not all-mighty. It was great lesson of humility. Also, the humility served as a motivation to seek true justice. I thought it was a great oppurtunity to that the exploration of Superman to a deeper level.

    I think you can someone who is the exemplar of morality still be learning. Superman is committed to ideas of justice and equality. That doesn’t mean he understands how those concepts are worked out in the real world.

  9. Johanna Says:

    I agree with the message as you state it, Ed, but I’m suspicious that no one ever says “gee, that Superman’s been stopping criminals for decades but we still have thieves and prisons, so that means Superman can’t solve crime on his own” yet they do ONE story about a different kind of struggle for a superhero, and the answer is to shrug the shoulders, say “it’s too big for him”, and go back to slugging bad guys.

    Plus, to complicate the question of how one writes superheroes, there is nothing else comparable to them in terms of continuing fiction. Nothing else has had thousands of stories told about what are supposedly the same characters. That’s a big struggle for any writer, since so much has been done before.

  10. Caroline Says:

    I feel kind of hypocritical now, because I spend a lot of time complaining about books/shows/films where everything is about the protagonist, and now I’m being skeptical that you can tell good stories that aren’t about the protagonist. But I think there is a reason for that tendency — compelling stories are usually driven by the protagonist needing/wanting something and if there’s a rule that the protagonist has to be perfect, it’s hard to shape those kinds of stories. On the other hand, I certainly hate the endless-cycle-of-angst stories that the ‘flawed protagonist’ approach can lead to. Those are definitely driven, in part, by the factor Johanna mentions, of having to tell stories again and again with the same characters. (It can happen in TV too, but TV has *some kind* of endpoint and things generally get resolved by the end). Though I would also say that the kind of stories where a protagonist is constantly beaten down — and, say ends up swinging a dead cat in an alley — aren’t really character driven, either; they’re using some of the storytelling moves that might have been introduced in the name of character-development, but have gotten why they’re there, hence relentless grim-and-grittiness for its own sake.

    I think this may be why ‘young’ superhero stories are appealing to me. If you look at a book like the current Batgirl (or the Terra character in PG), you’ve got somebody who is growing and learning because they’re new. It’s primarily their experience and confidence, rather than their moral standing, that is challenged. Still, once the character has done the growing-up thing for a few decades and still needs to have new stories, you’ve got a new bind.

    This is what I was thinking about the other day when I said ‘superhero stories are hard.’ I end up being impressed that I can find so many good ones, considering!

  11. James Schee Says:

    Interesting review Ed. Power Girl is a character that has been through so many changes over the life of the character. I stil shake my head at things like the “diet soda” explanation they had for her mood swings at one point.

    I read the first issue of this some time ago ad really enjoyed it, so will have to try and pick up these collections at a later date.

    Interesting take on what you like about superheroes as well. I’ve been more drawn to the saving people’s live over the beating the bad guy type stories as well.

    Oddly that Superman story didn’t work for me though. When it got to the end, it seemed to me more like Superman let the bad guys win. Its sort of like that though when you try to put real world issues confront a person with his power level.

    He could solve so many problems if he was real, it’d honestly be a different world.

  12. Johanna Says:

    Caroline, don’t confuse “moral example” with “perfect”. I can admire someone’s behavior or thinking in one area without them facing no conflict whatsoever in their lives. Like you, though, I enjoy younger superheroes the best for these and other reasons.

  13. Ed Sizemore Says:

    James,

    Superman respects the authority of governments. He could go in there and round up all corrupt officials, but that destroys the social and polticial structure. Also, Superman has learned that people need to solve their own problems. He can’t have the world depend on him to make it right. I think that’s a great tension to explore with the character. When does a government become so corrupt or abusive that it is no longer a legitimate government. Who gets to say? Is Superman a free agent in this or does he have to wait for the approval of the UN?

  14. Caroline Says:

    Ahh, I get that. I’m certainly in favor of heroes being heroic and generally admirable.

  15. James Schee Says:

    I guess so Ed. To me Superman seeing people being threatened and not doing something about it bothered me I guess. I can understand that he doesn’t want to topple a government, though he actually did do that to an Iraq like country in one storyline. There were some ramafications from that though.

    Did you happen to get to read a Superman annual from years back where it showed a possible future where he became president? It was during the Armageddon 2001 crossover, and had some interesting political elements to it.

  16. Ed Sizemore Says:

    James, Sorry. I didn’t read that one.

  17. James Schee Says:

    Too bad, I don’t think I can say “go out and get it” as its not a classic or anything. Yet it was interesting to see Superman as a political figure. Going to peace conferences, having one on one meetings with third world despots and the like.

    The crossover itself was a mess, with DC having to change the reveal of the big bad before the end because people had guessed it. Yet some of the individual parts were intriguing.

  18. Argo Plummer Says:

    James and Ed,

    I just reread that annual with Superman as president. It was in my must read and decide pile as I am purging my collection of all things mediocre and below.

    I believe it was Action Comics Annual # 3 and it was an interesting concept with mediocre follow through so I chose to let it go, but it was still interesting. Almost a keeper, but not quite.

    I actuall have the Dini/Ross Superman but have never sat down to read it–I will be doing so soon in light of this current discussion–just as soon as I slog through a big pile of Spider-Man issues that have to be decided upon.

    Oh yeah, as for Power Girl–love the character, didn’t read past # 3 of the series, but as I have heard it only improves as the Palmiotti / Gray / Connor issues go on, it is always on my radar to pick up at a decent price.

  19. Ed Sizemore Says:

    James, Thanks for the info. Sorry, the book didn’t turn out that great. The idea has some merit. It’s a shame they didn’t execute it as well as they should have.

    Argo, Definitely recommend 4-6 of the series. You left when it was just getting good. I might pick up volume 2 if I see it in the $5 bins at Baltimore Comic Con.

    Certainly, in this Power Girl series they have room for all the discussion we’ve been having here about the role and purpose of superheroes. A more experienced supperhero mentoring a younger superhero is a great oppurtunity for that kind of dialogue. Also, with Terra being unfamiliar with American society, it’s a good way to poke fun at gender roles and just the silly things we as Americans do that we never question.

  20. Jenny Says:

    I have to say as woman who reads comics and as a dyed in the wool fan of superheroes, this is one of my favorites. I love Kara.

    I’m sure the reviewer is sincere, but to be honest, in parts, this reads like something a guy thinks a woman wants to hear. Especially the “no pants” thing.

    As a woman, I wear clothes for the sake of what’s fashionable, what’s comfortable, what’s practical and what’s sexy. I try to combine all of those in whatever outfit I wear but any woman will tell you that THAT is RARE! But women will also tell you that they’ll sacrifice comfort for what “looks good” on them. I love Wonder Woman’s swimsuit costume. I love Kara’s costume. Since both are basically invulnerable, why do they NEED pants? Superman doesn’t NEED pants, he just chooses to wear what he wears. Why would a superhero that’s invulnerable need clothes? So then it becomes about fashion, no? Kara’s costume is wonderfully colorful (love the red, white and blue and I REALLY love those boots!) sexy, fun and in your face.
    It’s a great update of the old one and I like that (that’s right, female comic book reader likes continuity, likes paying tribute to the old while keeping it fresh, alert the media!) I guess I’ll get branded as a self hating feminist for this, but I like the boob window! SUE ME!

    When my husband and I go bike riding, he wears jeans and a t-shirt, and I wear cut off jean shorts, a tank top and kneepads and elbow pads. I could wear jeans like he does and cover my legs, but I like how I look in cut off jean shorts because I have great legs! I want to show them off! So I wear the elbow and knee pads for protection. It’s silly to say Kara should have her legs covered. I hate that.

    Now, for the superheroes that AREN’T invulnerable, that’s a different story. But considering that when women DO wear costumes that cover their legs and arms, it’s often not “protective” covering. I prefer the female superheroes that aren’t invulnerable to wear a costume that makes sense but is still sexy and still fun. But this can be taken just too far.

    The Wasp isn’t invulnerable, but I dig her many costumes (except that hideous orange/brown outfit she had years ago,ugh!)But I always liked that white and blue one bare arm and one bare leg thing she use to wear. Is that practical? No, but who gives a shit? When I was a teenager I was NOT fashionable. I was tomboy city. One of the reasons I liked comics, and maybe this will seem shallow, was for the costumes, male and female (mostly female and mostly Janets because she changed them so often). Wanda isn’t invulnerable and her legs are covered but to be honest, I prefer the 90s Perez “Gypsy” outfit she wore the best. THAT wasn’t practical, but I still liked it.

    It annoys the hell out of me when a guy says that a woman should be covered up “Just like the Men”. At the same time, I hate to be hard on guys too much about this because so many women say different things about this stuff. What’s sexist, what isn’t sexist, etc.

    I’m sure there are women that hate Kara’s outfit and that’s their opinion and that’s that. I just wish guys (and girls) would drop this silly “his legs are covered and hers aren’t!!) conversation and focus instead on all of the female crotch shots, boobsocks and pert nipples. There’s bigger fish to fry when it comes to how women are portrayed in comics and guys should focus on that instead of a woman showing off her legs for christs sake.

  21. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Jenny,

    I’m very serious about the costume. I’m not a fan of Wonder Woman’s costume either. I would perfer Wonder Woman be in full Athenean battle dress. I can stomach her costume better because it looks like a bathing suit and doesn’t have sleeves or a cape. Power Girl’s sleeves and cape without pants makes the top half of her body look well covered while the bottom half looks nude. It looks off balance to me.

    Just so you know, I have the same complaint about female costumes in manga. A lot of female fighters wear very short skits and we get lots of panty shots in manga. My favorite manga for female costumes is St. Dragon Girl because the girls all were pants. It’s nice to see women fighting without knowing their preference in underwear.

    I appreciate your perspective. It’s a very thoughtful reminder of how complex the discussion of sexism and fashion is in our culture. There isn’t one nice pat answer. It would be nice if the writers for Power Girl stole your words and put them in Power Girl’s mouth. That would explain the costume choice much better.

  22. Jenny Says:

    I definitely agree about the short skirts and panty thing. I liked Supergirls hot pants better than her mini for example (even though many hated that outfit, i liked it)

    I like Wonder Womans golden battle armor, but it seems overkill unless she’s going into major battle. Since she’s invulnerable, she doesn’t really need it. It’s like putting Superman in armor and that seems far more silly to me than the swimsuit. I grew up watching Linda Carter and reading WW so I always thought her outfit was appropriate because it was given to her by the Amazons. It’s “her” costume. It wasn’t given to her by a guy. So the armor doesn’t seem any more or less appropriate to me than the swimsuit unless she “needs” it for battle or for some Amazon ceremony.

    As far as the balance thing with Power Girl it goes back to fashion and what Kara perceives as looking good on her. It’s like me wearing a black mini with sleeves. It’s not balanced, but I like wearing it because I like how it looks. Sometimes we have to look at these things with the left side of the brain and just go with the flow. Personally, I know I’d rather see Robin with bare legs than those yellow tights he use to wear!

    But I appreciate your response to my comment and I do agree with a lot of what you said in your review. Thanks!

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