Missed Opportunity: Nick Spencer Writing Supergirl

Supergirl #60 is certainly a tease.  At least it was for me because I have become a pretty big Nick Spencer supporter over the past few months.

 Early on though, I never paid him much attention, and I even kind of disliked Nick Spencer. He was this guy who hit the scene with all of these mini series from Image Comics, and most of them just gave off this vibe of “movie pitch.” At least to me. I saw a book with a Nick Spencer credit on it, and I immediately rolled my eyes. Who was this guy? He just popped up, playing in the medium I treasure the most, and in very little time he picked up a movie option for his Existence 2.0/3.0 series.  What the hell? Was this guy just in it to score Hollywood deals? I had to investigate. Sadly after a purchase of Shuddertown, my opinion did not brighten. The writing was fine looking back on it, but the artwork? I am sorry, but Adam Green did not help me love a Nick Spencer comic. More like it, he only strengthened my “Mr. Hollywood” idea. Green used a lot of photo reference, making Shuddertown a book staring Keanu Reeves, James Gandolfini and Giovanni Ribisi. Maybe that idea would be cool if done intentionally, but I was not feeling that intention. Shuddertown dropped low on my list, and Nick Spencer followed. Boom, shut the door – I was done with Nick Spencer.

Page from Shuddertown #3

But then came Morning Glories, and like the rest of the internet my ears perked up. It was a book that certainly hit hard because of its mystery appeal, but what I found most important was its voice. Right out of the blue, from a guy still relatively new, came this comic that sounded so bold. The first issue packed this excellent vibe of generational confrontation, and Spencer amped that through his style of storytelling. It was like this guy just showed up and said, “Hey, I love Grant Morrison and Bendis.” I mean, that’s how his comics read, but even still I am seeing some other angle to his work as it progresses. Like there is this bit of “Spencerism” emerging. I cannot describe it, but I just find it absolutely exciting to see a guy come into comics and with only one year under his belt already carry a strong authorial voice. He is not just another comics writer producing the standard; he is a comics writer who has things to write about. That is refreshing and important because I feel most comic book writers just come in to tell a story. Nick Spencer certainly tells stories, exciting ones, but the guy also lines his stuff with actual ideas. For one, there is that generational divide. The concept of the youth wanting to do things their way, to prove the adults wrong and show them how it is done, but find that task not so easily accomplished. I see that idea in Morning Glories, but also T.H.U.N.D.E.R.Agents. Technology and its hold on our daily lives? Look toward Infinite Vacation. Granted, it is early in his career and some of these books have only just begun, but I seriously already see these concepts as Spencer’s ground of interest. It is a nice touch, and it makes his books feel important but also interconnected.

Cover of Morning Glories #1 - 4th Printing

I cannot remember why I actually pre-ordered Morning Glories – as typed, I was done with Spencer – but I am so glad I did because that first issue went FAST.  Without my act of pre-ordering, Morning Glories probably would have been lost on me, and I think that would also be the case for Spencer’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R.Agents, Infinite Vacation and this issue of Supergirl.

Which would be a total shame because all those comics are great, even yes, this ONE issue of Supergirl.

What makes it great is what I highlighted above: the Spencer voice. When I think back on it, Supergirl has never been a character to hold my interest. I doubt I have ever picked up a book because she was in it, nor have I really read much of her. Why? To me it did not seem like the character had much to offer. For the time I have been reading comics, Supergirl has been through many changes and her book really has not held a definition. The Supergirl title has just been a part of the Superman line, offering nothing else really. Granted, I know the Sterling Gates run is held rather positively, but I have not read it and really I do not feel inclined to. From what I have heard, it kind of seems like another superhero book. I have read plenty of those. When Nick Spencer was added to the equation though, I was all ears. Again, he is a writer with a voice, and after hearing him talk about his plans for the book on Word Balloon and CBR, I was really excited because what he described seemed like an excellent approach to Supergirl. Plus, the Spencer interests I noted earlier…those would work well on an adolescent superhero.

Issue number sixty of Supergirl brings all of that excitement to life. You read it and it certainly is Metropolis and Kara Zor-El, but it is also very Nick Spencer. Those interests, those concepts Spencer seems to play with are all in that issue and they blend so well with the subject. Supergirl is that youth figure Spencer likes to focus on , but what makes her even more striking is the symbol she represents. The character, wearing the “S” shield and being a part of the Superman family, has something to live up to. That sense of pressure but also responsibility inherently makes her a figure of youth who has something to prove. I think Spencer really shows this well by pitting Kara against four fairly well-known Superman villains. Rather than providing the character with joke threats, Spencer puts her in front of guys capable of knocking Superman down. Kara puts up a fight though. She may not completely succeed, but she does get in a few good hits. Which is important because it shows that the character is trying to be influential or at least that she’s not a push over. Spencer makes Kara this character who wants to represent the “S” symbol well, and show that she is capable of doing the job well.

Panel from Supergirl #60

I also like the roll of technology in the issue, which is again another Spencer interest. Yeah, it’s very Social Network-y, but I think the main attraction of the Alex character is his use of technology as the villain. For one, Alex is a very cool, kind of “I know all”, quiet bad guy. For the most part, every time we see him he is just sitting at a dinner table, tapping on his cell phone, but when the character speaks Spencer shapes his dialogue in a very “Aaron Sorkin/Mark Zukerberg” way. Every line the character drops is spot on, and it always feels like the character is manipulating the situation, or that he is almost more aware of it than the other characters. It is affective, but more important than that is the tech aspect. I just really dig the idea of Supergirl against technology. Why? Supergirl is an adolescent, and it is the case nowadays for adolescents to be constantly bombarded by computers and the internet. Really, the same thing is happening to Supergirl in this issue; a villain is basically using his iPhone against her, to manipulate her. I think that is very much a social comment by Spencer, but it is also an interesting angle at which to explore the superhero genre. What if superheroes had to fight the internet? Or better yet, what if the internet was giving superheroes privacy issues? I just find that an exciting idea for a sense of evil in a superhero comic, especially when it is applied to a teenage character because then I feel it is even more relevant.

So there it is. My excitement and expectation was met, maybe surpassed. In that one issue, I felt Nick Spencer made Supergirl matter, and he brought along his bag of interests to throw around the character in able to explore them a bit more. More importantly, Supergirl #60 was a superhero book with a voice rather than just a collection of the usual story pages.

But wait? Nick Spencer did not write the next issue, number sixty-one. Oh yeah,  he left the book…

Or was it more like DC took him off? I mean, I do not really have any substantial evidence that DC actually took him off rather than him leaving on his own, but the vibe I get suggests to me that they did. For one, Spencer did offer two tweets the day the announcement of his leaving was made, and those tweets did not read like it was his decision.

@nickspencer Okay all, breaking some bad news today– I won’t be doing SUPERGIRL after all.

@nickspencer But hey, nobody cry for me! All kinds of cool stuff coming up in 2011, so stay tuned and all that.

(For the actual tweets, click the above links.)

The word choices of “after all” and “nobody cry for me” suggest to me that leaving Supergirl was not his decision. Plus, there were no other comments from Spencer about the situation. If he had decided to leave on his own, would you not think he may have come out and explained that? The entire situation just rang odd to me, especially when Spencer was just talking about his Supergirl run the day before on CBR. The guy sounded excited for this run.

Cover of Supergirl #61

But yeah, for some reason Nick Spencer only penned issue sixty, and I think that is very disappointing because issue sixty-one is a bit below the standard of awesome set in the previous issue. Honestly, I was not even going to bother with the first James Peaty issue, but for the sake of writing this post I wanted to at least give Peaty’s take a chance. I picked it up, went into it with a clear head, but still I kind of found the disappointment I expected. Granted, it is not bad. The issue has some enjoyable moments, Peaty does carry over some of the “Spencerisms” I mentioned earlier, but the voice and style of it all is just missing. The key example has to be the Alex character. As typed previously, Alex of issue sixty was a quiet, manipulative villain who carried a vibe that he was cooler and more sophisticated than the traditional comic book bad guy. James Peaty takes all of that away though and turns Alex into the traditional villain. His version of the character talks much more, and I half expect him to just off on the usual rant about “how he will stop Supergirl!”

To be fair though, there was one scene in Peaty’s issue I did enjoy and that was the Lois Lane/Supergirl scene. Spencer did setup Lois in his issue to have more of an active role. He brought out the journalistic side of her, reminding us of the “go get’em” attitude the character can have and using that to create an extra force of good in the story. Peaty does carry that over, and I felt he wrote it fairly well. He keeps the journalism aspect tied in through Lois discussing research with Supergirl but also having Lois show up in the book in a news helicopter. I really liked that bit. Like some superhero, Lois shows up out of the sky carrying this sense of mission. Like Supergirl, Lois also represents something. It may not be the Superman symbol, but it still is the media or more importantly the freedom of the press and the duty to inform the people. So, I have to give James Peaty a little credit. It was a nice scene.

The issue overall does not compare to Spencer’s though, and it is because Peaty’s issue lacks a voice. Again, it is not a bad comic book, but it does not stray far past the standard. When I look at the situation surrounding this title, I just shake my head and wonder “why?” If DC did remove Nick Spencer, what were they thinking? No offense toward James Peaty, but Spencer is a pretty hot up-and-comer in comics right now and his writing is certainly stronger than most. I mean, DC had him. They HAD him. How could they just loose him? Did they not want their Supergirl book written by someone who has that much attention on them right now? Or better yet, did they not want such a distinct voice writing one of their books?

It is just so odd to me, especially when one issue of Spencer’s run does exist. Just compare the Spencer issue to the James Peaty issue and feel that new found perspective you gain. The thought of what could have been is kind of  unsettling.

Oh well, I guess another general superhero book cannot hurt anything.

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