Apr
7

So Kelley Puckett’s a Pretty Awesome Dude

Posted by Jonathan Bernhardt on Monday, April 7th, 2008 at 05:58:55 AM

Haha no seriously buy this comicBecause it really looks like he’s single-handedly saving Supergirl’s soul.

It might be impossible at this point to save the book itself; it’s been bleeding ever since Jeph Loeb left it in the lurch to pursue lucrative opportunities over at Marvel like that book about the Red Hulk what uses guns, or the two Ultimates ongoings that became one Ultimates ongoing that became one Ultimates twelve-issue maxi that became one Ultimates five-issue mini, the last issue of which just got delayed to August. Honestly, I wish him well with all that, because as long as he’s launching his own titles that don’t tie in or interfere with any major company throughlines, he’s really just screaming into the void. The Ultimate universe was fun and everything, but I can still enjoy Warren Ellis’s Ultimate Fantastic Four even though Loeb’s about to bring the event hammer down upon them, and it doesn’t look like Loeb has anywhere near the pull to get Brian Michael Bendis off of Ultimate Spider-Man. So, you know, rock out, dude.

Because that’s not what this is about! This is about Supergirl, and how awesome she and her solo title are right now. Forget Ian Churchill, forget one issue of Greg Rucka, and yes, sadly, even forget Joe Kelly, who didn’t do much of anything with the time he was given. Pick up Puckett’s first issue on the book — #23 — and don’t you dare even think about looking back.

Supergirl #23 marks the quiet return of a pretty unheralded guy to DC’s bullpen; for anyone who wasn’t paying close attention to late nineties/early aught Batman supporting character solo books, Puckett’s the guy responsible for taking the dubious character construction that was Cassandra Cain from the crossover No Man’s Land, and making her into Batgirl. He captained that ship for 37 issues, and was by far the best contributor to one of the books whose writer tally reads like a Who’s Who of the arthouse/independent/unknown guys who signed on to do DC work for hire at the time and who, for the most part, put out flawed work at best: besides Puckett, who was an assistant editor for the Batman office and also did some work on the horrific Armageddon 2001, the series saw actor/writer/general question mark Andersen Gabrych, and indie cartoonist Dylan Horrocks, while just across the way, the Robin book hosted Jon Lewis for awhile — a guy who, before and since his Robin work, has stuck almost entirely to alternative press work. Which is a shame, because he was by far the book’s best writer.

Puckett’s Batgirl defined itself with single and double issue story arcs; it worked most effectively in its monthly, somewhat disposable format, and was not designed or written for trade. Part of the reason for this might have had something to do with the Bat Editors, Chuck Dixon, Ed Brubaker, and Greg Rucka conspiring to launch crossovers what seemed like every other Wednesday; Puckett had to work around Batman: Officer Down, Joker: Last Laugh, and the Bruce Wayne: Murderer? and Bruce Wayne: Fugitive epic clusterfucks (of course, it didn’t end with Puckett; Andersen Gabrych had his hands full with the editorially-mandated War Games, Fresh Blood, and Destruction’s Daughter). Part of it, though, was just how Puckett worked — he seemed to be playing it all by ear, never making his stories too long, never getting into epics, as if he wasn’t sure how long the ride was going to last, but while he was onboard, he completely sold the concept of the mute ninja Batgirl, her role in Gotham, her reception by her new allies, including fellow teenagers Tim Drake (Robin) and Stephanie Brown (Spoiler), and her relationship with Batman. Puckett, more than any other writer, is why Adam Beechen has to write a miniseries rehabilitating the character; Puckett is why people care.

I’d say it’s too bad he’s not tackling that miniseries, but it’s an obvious housekeeping/fan appeasement assignment, and Puckett’s got a sweeter gig going on now, while it lasts. Supergirl, for its first five issues, was dumb, offensive, juvenile, and an overall embarrassment not only to its writer and artist, but its editors, readers, and most of all Jeph Loeb’s teenage daughter, who Loeb actually bragged was the inspiration for the character’s current incarnation. That Ian Churchill was compulsively drawing panty shots for a simple-minded rageaholic slut that Jeph Loeb glowingly compared to his own child was bad enough; that they managed to convince someone to publish it as an ongoing comic book which Loeb then, in his infinite ADD, bailed from after five delay-plagued issues is nothing short of a minor miracle from Hell. Supergirl now, though, is a touching piece of character building, wrapped in a non-conventional narrative structure, and backed by a bigger look at morality in a world full to the brim of gods.

Without too much spoiling: Supergirl promises to cure cancer. Problems ensue.

The question of “if we can do [comic book sci-fi achievement X], why can’t we fix [real world problem Y]” isn’t really a new one; Jim Starlin touched on it pretty well in The Death of Captain Marvel, where I think Mar-Vell succumbed to some evil, super-badass space cancer that for all thematic purposes was just regular cancer, except a Kree superhero could get it. Brian K. Vaughan did a similar bit in the more recent Dr. Strange: The Oath. The reason things like cancer and AIDS, and famine and drought and all the other things that you’d think Reed Richards or Silver Age Superman could just technoutopia away still exist in the superhero world is because part of the genre trope is that these stories happen in a world that’s almost the same as ours, except for the ladies and gentlemen in spandex running around. Once you start solving real world problems like that, you start a slow but steady move towards the realm of science fiction. Which isn’t a bad thing; I might like to see more of it. The rationales that preserving that status quo generate in the characters of the world itself — most of which are only tenuously logical, because they’re external impositions, instead of organic character growths — have started to bump up pretty strongly against the youthful idealism and naivete of the Supergirl character, and it’s going to be fun to see where Puckett takes his storyline. Also, Resurrection Man’s involved. It’s pretty cool.

The good news isn’t wholly unblemished, although it’s hardly Puckett’s fault; the artist that Puckett started off his run with, Drew Johnson, seemed either not to understand the first few scripts Puckett shot him, or was at a loss as to how to convey what he was being asked to show; Supergirl #23, “Tesseract,” has some particularly brutal visual sequences that slow the reading down considerably and are, on the whole, kind of muddled. Johnson’s been getting help ever since — Lee Ferguson on #24, #25, and #26; Rick Leonardi on #27, and Ray Randall on the most recent #28. The quality’s been varying; hopefully an art crew gets pinned down pretty soon, before the book gets the axe, and Puckett gets a few more quality issues out. Overall, however, Puckett’s work on the title has been beyond solid, and hopefully will continue to be for quite awhile.

Also, Supergirl #27 might be my favorite single issue from DC’s main line since Hitman #34. You know, that issue.

Posted in Blurbs · Read more by Jonathan Bernhardt

10 Responses

  1. Man, you hit the nail on the head. I haven’t been understanding the hate on the net but I was damn sure this has turned around and become awesome. And this review makes me even surer. Kinda like the same thing Flash is going through. Waid’s run wasn’t the best but Peyer’s one issue was enough to make me anticipate it highly. But the “babymen”(I love that term) are hating it to no end, just because they want to.

  2. What’s a babymen? Is this a reference to the typical comic fans? I don’t know how I feel about that.

    I read the first four issues of Supergirl on this run and while it seemed okay, I put it down and switch out to other books, but I will definitely try out this issue.

    We get swept up arguing about the big books that we spend more time snarking on them then talking about the good ones.

  3. I really liked many parts of the Puckett/Scott Batgirl, and it seemed to me that the book had the most potential when they really stuck to the idea of this batgirl as a sort of “batman’s id” kind of story. Where she could only speak and understand body language and body movement, a ur-athlete of sorts. It seemed when they tried to bring her in line with many of the other books, bringing her ability to talk (interestingly at first by taking away her preternatural ability to ‘read’ body language, but later restoring it), taking away her instinctive separateness from society, her marginalized status, it made the character from the enfant terrible of the bat-family, one that only batman can even somewhat understand, to generic asian martial arts girl.

  4. I love how I haven’t read anything from Puckett since his last Batgirl story until his Supergirl #23 and it feels like he hasn’t missed a beat in terms of writing ability. I wish DC would give Batgirl back to him.

  5. I haven’t read any Supergirl ever, and unless Jim Shooter starts writing Supergirl as well as LOSH, I doubt I’m going to (not to say there’s anything wrong with Supergirl, but some things I’m just not interested in. Supergirl, or anything Superman for that matter, is one of those things.)

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that first paragraph is *awesome*! I now want to read all about how this Pucket guy is singlehandedly saving Supergirl! And I will, tomorrow! Just not now, because now the only thing I care about is sleep!

  6. Wait, the premise is Supergirl tries to solve cancer? Now, *that* is something I can get interested in! I love it when writers look at a character and say, “OK, everything else has been done here, how about we try this out of left field idea?”

    And you’re right, “…[t]he question of “if we can do [comic book sci-fi achievement X], why can’t we fix [real world problem Y]” isn’t really a new one…[.]” Jim Shooter based Valiant around that concept and McDuffie did the same with my all-time favorite universe ever, Milestone. I’m in love with that kind of writing, so I’m going to try to check this Supergirl comic out!

  7. [...] were sales winners but seemingly poisoned the well (or re-poisoned it) for everyone who follows. Kelley Puckett has been on the book for a couple storylines now, accompanied by non-T&A artists like Drew [...]

  8. [...] the book won’t suck” promise. This is a pretty shitty thing to say about the work of everyone else who has worked on the book for the past few years, especially since Idelson himself has been editing the title since issue [...]

  9. [...] We here at Funnybook Babylon have been vocal fans of Kelley Puckett’s run on Supergirl. It was only nine issues, but it was new and different and daring and everything the book [...]

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