Friday, July 24, 2009


I've been buying Power Girl's series out of curiosity. I like Amanda Conner, after all, and I've generally liked the take on the character which has predominated since those first issues of JSA Classified. And in general, I've liked the book (for the two issues I've read, anyway). The second issue even serves to reintroduce the Ultra-Humanite into the DCU. He's popped up a few times here and there in stories like the Lightning Saga, but he hasn't been a major player since he died in the JSA: Stealing Thunder story arc. Unfortunately, Gray and Palmiotti seem to have forgotten that the Humanite has this history, and have decided to give him a new, contradictory, and cloyingly sympathetic origin.

Now, I think I've been pretty good in recent years about not being a continuity wanker. I do my best to not mind the little inconsistencies anymore. But I'm also a firm believer in letting characters and stories live up to their full awesomeness potential, and I think this particular retcon goes against that principle. The Ultra-Humanite is a superintelligent mad scientist and one-time Nazi with a penchant for transferring to new bodies whenever the old ones wear out. He's been, at different times, a decrepit old man, a hot actress, an albino gorilla, and Johnny Thunder. In terms of sheer awesome origins, he's only a few points shy of Marvel's Nazi scientist made of superintelligent mutant radioactive bees.

And in terms of story opportunities, this one's rich. Here's a long-time JSA villain who killed an early member of the JSA, who has once possessed a beautiful woman's body and is looking to possess another, and who is the counterpart of a villain who routinely battled Superman on Earth-2. Power Girl is a one-time JSA chairman, a beautiful woman, and the cousin of Earth-2's Superman. Somehow, though, none of this gets mentioned in the Power Girl issue. Instead, we see that Humanite grew up sickly in what appears to be the modern day (if only because his lab assistant, Satanna, has dreadlocks and a midriff shirt reading "C U Next Tuesday," which would look out of place in the early 1930s, and because another technician mentions PETA, which was founded in 1980) and experimented for a lifetime with brain transplantation so that he could escape the prison of his physical form. Eventually, he was forced by his impending death to transfer his brain into an albino gorilla, and so goes the status quo.

I can't quite decide what the biggest problem with this new origin is. It's problematic in that it reduces one of the DCU's oldest villains to yet another sympathetic, misguided genius (the Nazi gorilla mad scientist quota is becoming dangerously low). It's problematic in that it disregards much of the JSA's history--even their recent history, since "Stealing Thunder" happened only a few years back and set the current status of the Thunderbolt and Jakeem. It's problematic in that it turns a story that should be resonating with the relevant history between the two characters into a story that resonates only with the idea that people only see Power Girl for her body. It's problematic because the story they've told would have worked better if they'd replaced Ultra-Humanite with The Brain and Monsieur Mallah. It's problematic because, aside from perhaps the surgery and the robot assault, the story could work just as well if the villain were Jericho.

But I think the biggest problem is that this is a good creative team, working on a story with a lot of potential. I'm enjoying this story, but I think I'd be enjoying it a lot more if it used the potential it's squandered with an unnecessary and unnecessarily standard supervillain origin.


Fish said...

It's the Geoff Johns' Catch 22: Now everyone wants to retcon origins to suit their needs. The problem is that Geoff is masterful in lacing his retcons with all the history before him... and he weaves a single history to move forward. Sounds to me like Palmiotti is just wasting good backstory to suit the needs of his story.

And Jericho's just about dead in my book. He's the horse no one will let stay dead.

Not to be a mench, but how you comin' on our review? That bad? Too good? Just keep a brother updated.

CalvinPitt said...

It's strange they ignored all that, though I can't say it impaired my reading since I all I knew about U-H was that he was a human scientist who put his brain in a gorilla, and he was a bad guy (and I got that from his stint as a Time Stealer in Booster Gold, assuming this is the same U-H). Maybe they didn't want to get bogged down running through his past history, and decided on a streamlined origin?

As to the origin they went with, maybe it's meant to contrast with Power Girl as well. It might seem cool to have gorilla strength, but he transferred his brain there out of desperation, and he would really like to be closer to human again (probably because gorillas don't live as long as humans, and he's in this predicament 'cause he didn't want to die).

So the big, bad villain wasn't always that way, and really wants to be human again, which could play off Power Girl's feeling apart from others and her attempt to reestablish roots.

I don't know if that makes it any better than it would have been with all the other elements, but it's something I thought of.