Essential Stories: Power Girl – Power Trip

Originally published at InfiniteComix.com

When it comes to convoluted backstories, two DC heroines are the pinnacle of complexity. One is the former Wonder Girl and one-time Wonder Woman: Donna Troy. Her headscratching history can baffle even the most well-read comic aficionados. Not far behind her is Karen Starr, known more commonly as Power Girl. Originally Kara Zor-L, she was the Supergirl equivalent on the pre-Crisis Earth Two. When the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths wiped out the multiverse, her origin was retconned to make her of Atlantean heritage, which stuck until it was revealed that she wasn’t actually Atlantean. As she headlined the acclaimed JSA and Justice Society of America titles by James Robinson, Geoff Johns, and David Goyer, her origins wallowed in obscurity until the events of Infinite Crisis restored her former origin. Eventually, comic talents Geoff Johns, Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray would combine for a definitive take on the character.

Synopsis:

The first four chapters of Power Trip, taken from JSA Classified #1-4, begins with Power Girl recounting her history, how she thought she was of Kryptonian heritage and the disappointment and loneliness felt that that turned out to not be the case. After she is attacked by a metahuman in the middle of Manhattan, she fights back, only it’s revealed that she has not been fighting anyone – the metahuman was all in her head and she has caused a significant amount of property damage in vain.

As Karen reflects on her actions, members of the Legion of Superheroes show up and tell her that her real name is Andromeda, and she is actually from their time in the future. She is about to go with them, when a plane starts to fall from the sky. She tries to save it, but the Legionnaires keep holding her back, telling her that she needs to return to the future. Superman eventually arrives to save the plane. Later, he tells her that there were no Legionnaires around and that passengers on the plane saw her flying erratically. It is revealed that Psycho-Pirate is playing with Power Girl’s grasp of reality.

As she meets up with Huntress, Karen sees a the Crime Syndicate, who tells her that she is a member of their team. Emotionally exhausted, Karen collapses and is captured by Psycho-Pirate, who reveals her true origins. She is Kryptonian, but not of this world. Instead, she came from a different world in the Multiverse. She is, in essence, an anomaly. After experiencing more psychic attacks, she breaks free from Psycho Pirate’s grasp and returns to JSA Headquarters. There, Power Girl finds acceptance of who she is from not only her teammates, but from herself too.

The narrative shifts to Power Girl’s ongoing series, and sees her take on the Ultra-Humanite. The ape-shaped villain has grown tired of his simian form, and is looking to upgrade. It turns out his primary target is Power Girl, and holds Manhattan hostage as a means to that end. Ultimately, Power Girl emerges victorious, sending the Ultra-Humanite to a mental institution, though she must work to rebuild the respect her employees once held for her.

Other conflicts arise, such as a group of interstellar party girls who arrive on Earth and unwittingly cause destruction and mayhem. Rather than round them up and lock them away, Karen manages to find a place for them to be functioning members of society… in a way. But the real trouble comes in the form of an intergalactic beefcake named Vartox, who seeks out Power Girl in an attempt to repopulate his race of people. Though he is persistent, Karen refuses his many dimwitted advances and antiquated flirtations. Eventually, the two come to an amicable solutions – particularly once it’s revealed that his species reproductive act is far less erotic than Power Girl expected.

The concluding chapter sees the return of the Ultra-Humanite, full of rage and a vindictive spirit which he directs towards Power Girl. Caught in the middle is Karen’s friend, Tara, who is ultimately corrupted by the Ultra-Humanite. Karen now must take on not only a hyper-intelligent and telekinetic being, but one who can bend the geology of the planet to her will.

Review:

First things first: this is a lot of fun. Amanda Conner’s art – which is the connective tissue throughout the volume – is full of energy. Each page is not comprised of 2-dimensional comic panels, but a living, breathing ecosystem which the characters are inhabiting. Though readers are naturally drawn to the foreground, time and energy should be spent pouring over the many Easter-eggs and details Conner includes in the backgrounds, including a plethora of sight gags.

Conner’s interpretation of Power Girl is worth discussing. “Pee Gee” has been a lightning rod for discussion thanks to her controversial costume design. However, while many publishers would shy away from broaching that topic, Palmiotti, Gray, and Conner attack it head-on. Their approach is much better than Geoff Johns’ attempt to give the “boob window” meaning in the JSA segment, which is laughable in its stupidity. Instead, the book’s core creative team hit on Karen’s brash and confident persona. She is completely comfortable in her own skin – her costume being an extension of that self-esteem. The gawking and drooling from men (and theoccasional woman) do not phase her in the slightest, which only boosts the believability that someone can pull of that look.

Despite one misstep, Geoff Johns’ work in this collection’s opening narrative cannot be dismissed. Given the unenviable task of cleaning up Power Girl’s history, Johns utilitzes the rebirth of the Multiverse [in Infinite Crisis] and incorporates it with Power Girl’s various origins since Crisis on Infinite Earths [in the 1980s]. While it is remains somewhat messy, and many of the visual Easter eggs may be lost on new readers, Johns manages to give Power Girl an origin that is relatively streamlined and logical.

None of the foes Power Girl takes on make their case as a legitimate threat. Even the climax fails to drum up a twinge of anxiety, as the book’s generally fun tone lessens the impact of any antagonist’s actions. That is largely because Palmiotti, Gray, and Conner are not as concerned with Karen’s ability to throw down as they are her ability to interact with society at large. Granted, there is plenty of big action, but it is her personal relationships and the challenges of everyday life that make this book worth picking up. Few mainstream superhero titles attempt to tell slice-of-life stories, but that is where Power Girl: Power Trip excels.

Other Observations:

  • At one point, Power Girl seeks out Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) as a friend, but she doesn’t know exactly why. This is because on Earth Two, Power Girl and Huntress (Helena Wayne) were best friends.
  • Psycho Pirate’s knowledge of the pre-Crisis DC Universe was a dangling threat at the end of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, where he was an accomplice to the Anti-Monitor. At the end of that story, he would be locked away in an insane asylum.
  • Power Girl’s friend, Terra, is the second heroine to bear that mantle. The original Terra was a member of the New Teen Titans, and betrayed her teammates during the famous story “The Judas Contract.”
  • There have been numerous attempts to change Power Girl’s costume. From the late 1970s through the 1980s, as well as during a stint on the Birds of Prey in the late 1990s, Power Girl’s costume did not feature the infamous “boob window.” Most recently, her initial costume during DC’s “New 52” relaunch lacked it’s infamous look. But eventually, she always reverts back to her original look.
  • The Atlantean origin given to her post-Crisis was due Earth Two being wiped from existence. Though the other Earth Two characters could be explained as the first wave of heroes in the DC Universe, her origin as Superman’s cousin from an alternate reality could not be reconciled with the single universe status quo.
  • Palmiotti and Conner would return to writing Power Girl in the fall of 2014 in an arc of Harley Quinn. The arc’s popularity spawned a miniseries Harley Quinn & Power Girl.
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This entry was published on August 22, 2015 at 1:00 pm. It’s filed under Essential Stories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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