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.