Supergirl: Wings by J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Jamie Tolagson (artist), Ken Lopez (letterer), Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh (colorist); Published by DC Comics, 2001
I’ve never had an interest in Supergirl. In fact, anything that is a derivative of Superman is a turn off. The original Superman was so ridiculously powerful and yet so ridiculously humbled by a green rock. This didn’t work for me. So why read expanded versions of those themes? Well, let’s be fair. Superman has changed. Science fiction and fantasy writing has often succeeded in creating characters that are not human, yet are equally or even more human (exhibiting the best/worst of human traits) in their actions, thoughts and feelings. Comics have trended this way over the decades and even Superman has become more Watson than the other worldly Sherlock.
But none of that was part of the calculus when selecting this comic. It really came down to two things. It was in the preowned dollar bin and it had a really cool cover. The cover let me know that this comic was about more and less. More depth. The angel with a closed form is breaking the fourth wall by staring at me, the reader, with literally burning hatred and disgust. And yet, she is a creature of light. Counter that with the darkness, the sin, that consumes the vulnerable woman in the background. The commanding devil is also looking our way and if you peer closely, you’ll see the woman in red is too, from the corners of her eyes. Surely this comic would provide more layers of thought on our existence and supernatural forces around us. But I also theorized it was about less. There couldn’t be a lot of punching, kicking, KAPOW!-ing around in this title. So I expected less of the action and snarky comments that became a hallmark of many superhero comics. At least in this stage of my life, that would be a good thing.
Now, this comic is weird. It’s part of the Elseworlds collection in which “heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places.” There actually is some action and quite a few DC regulars are sprinkled throughout, though not in their usual form. All of that with a deep subtext we are to take seriously, seems like a train wreck if not done with exceeding care and love for the work.
When I opened to the first page, I was immediately disappointed. There are nine constricting horizontal panels on this page which make for a lot of focus and perseverance to read and piece out what is going on. But I did and it was well worth it. After turning the page, I found a single piece of art that opens over the next two pages. The artwork following the cramped panels, makes for an incredible motion. A spring. You move your eyes down the first page, building tension, finding yourself at the very bottom of the page, only to turn the page and explode upwards into a starry sky of wonder.
But that’s only the first three pages. What about the rest? Well, this book is deserving of multiple reads and I’ve only done two, so far. Two was enough to realize the parts I felt were unnecessary on first reading were found to be critical on the second. Whether that’s my own deficiency or the consequence of layered art is unimportant. What is important is that Supergirl: Wings is worthy of diligence. I would enjoy this comic with or without the DC branding. And that says a lot. This is not just a DC Comics fan pleaser. It’s a good story with many sometimes subtle, sometimes overt tributes to the DC pantheon.