OK, so not so very long ago I wrote up a rather glowing review (take that, people who say I'm always negative) of the Justin Gray/Jimmy Palmiotti/Amanda Conner run of Power Girl, calling it a refreshing change of pace from DC's usual output and lamenting that Judd Winick was coming on board to, it is assumed, sink the book to the bottom of the ocean and lower.
Well, I have the second and final collection in my hands right now (Had it for awhile actually, but December seems to be my "clearing out the backlog" month) and while did like it, honesty forces me to admit it's probably best that Palmiotti and Conner went out on a high note as the energy, humour, and imagination that drove the first six issues really starts to flag a bit and while this trade has some good bits, on the whole it's a good deal weaker than the first.
That's not to say it's a total loss--when they're on they're on and even when the story's weak, Conner's art--which is always lively and expressive and the absolute antithesis of the stiff, posed photo-referenced art style that really really needs to hurry up and die a death, already--is superb.
So with the preamble out of the way, let's get right to the heart of this thing. We resume the run with issue 7, wherein Power Girl encounters the person who should be the MODOK of the DC Universe, Vartox. Vartox, for those of you who don't know is Sean Connery from the movie Zardoz. With superpowers. I would love to be able to explain why Zardoz is so ripe for parody, but really, the movie is so damned insane it defies all attempts to describe is, so I'll hand off to the fine folks at The Agony Booth and let them run the ball into the end zone.
What you need to know for the purposes of this fandango is that Vartox's planet is the victim of a contraceptive bomb, and as such, he flies to Earth (in a big head not entirely dissimilar from the one from Zardoz) and tries to enlist Power Girl to help him repopulate the planet. Naturally, he does this in the most jack-assed way possible, and Gray and Palmiotti, aware of the inherent ickiness of a plot like this, thankfully play it as Power Girl completely dismissing Vatrox as a cretin in the vein of Zapp Brannigan who has to be handled as he stupidity tends to leave things like replicating, carnivorous, aliens without thinking things through. Meanwhile, in Subplot Theatre, a badger rants to the Ultra-Humanite's retconned former partner Satanna for a whole page in a scene that was pretty much worth the price of the book right there.
Sure enough, the battle with Satanna is the focus of next issue, with a brief stopover in Subplot Theatre as we resolve the whole "someone knows Power Girl's secret identity and is blackmailing her" subplot from a few issues back. Ultimately, Terra ends up saving Power Girl's bacon, but All Is Not As It Seems, and as the plot twist is actually pretty well realised and leads to a good bit, I won't spoil it here.
Instead, let's talk about Satanna. While I applaud the intent of the creators to come up with an arch-nemesis or at least start laying the track for Power Girl having a rogue's gallery of her own . . .Satanna doesn't quite close the deal. I don't know whether it's her rather generic "evil bitch" persona or her Hank Pym Doctorate (Seriously, doctors in comic universes have a serious case of what the military called "mission creep." They start out as biochemists and now they're building robots and shit. Do doctorates actually work that way?) But generally she's not that engaging in the sense you need an arch villain to be--there's no real personal link, and this is before Power Girl heat visions off her arm and she grafts a tiger's arm in its place and bangs Dr. Sivana for reasons again that don't really track all that well. One imagines the distinction would be made more plain in later issues, but of course . . .that ain't happening.
Once the denouement from the last battle is over with, it's off to briskly tie up some subplots. Power Girl's cat finally gets a name (no, it ain't "Streaky") we tie up the blackmail plot and check in with the space girls from an earlier arc, and Vartox shows up for a few pages (which doesn't work all that well, as we've had the one joke with Vartox already and we needed a bit of breathing room before we went back to that well and . . .well, it reads like exactly what it is--those last few frantic moments before the last bell of the day when you're trying to get everything in, and while it makes the book suffer a bit for them, I understand it's an unavoidable consequence of plans changed in mid-stream.
While I gave the first book a high recommendation, I'd have to give this one a slightly more guarded one, as the missteps are a little more apparent and bothersome, and in light of that, I suggest picking it up only if you liked the first one and more of that appeals to you. That said, warts and all, it was a great book, and it's a shame the team didn't last on it.
But then I suppose we'll always have the trades, yes?