I think I’ve finally figured out why I just can’t seem to quit Supurbia ... and it’s not (just) because Grace Randolph is holding my loved ones in an undisclosed location. No, the reason I find myself so drawn to this book is because it reminds me of one of my first comic loves: the late-eighties, Giffen/Dematteis-era Justice League (International).
That series, born as it was in a bygone age of experimentation, was the first mainstream title of my tender youth to explore the more quiet, interpersonal relationships between superheroes. I may not have appreciated it until I was a bit older, but that particular JLI run forced me to look closer at the mesh between the plated armor of our technicolored champions, in a way that allowed me to see the characters in a more human light. Supurbia, for me, accomplishes a very similar feat - maybe with a few less jokes, but with as much emphasis in showing the frailty of gods alongside the strength of Man, and debating the merits of both.
Take, for example, the angle that acts as Supurbia #7’s curtain-jerker. After a lengthy mission, the pseudo-magical trickster Aso finally saves her Meta Legion colleague Batu from torture by her own tribe. In so doing, they discover the true origins behind the amazonian tribeswomen of the Daughters of the Bright Moon, and it has a lot to do with the infant girl Aso found in their magical forest last issue. After returning home, both women come clean about the mission to their husbands, and discuss what it means for their respective families. Now, herein is where we see that 21st Century spin on the JLI rubric.
I found what Randolph did here, in exploring the gender roles within both relationships’ dynamics, to be very intriguing; however, it was especially interesting to read the interactions between Batu and her husband, Jeremy. Ornery and horny, Batu cuts Jer-Bear off mid-sentence to instigate some post-near-death, bath-time nookie. However, she suddenly becomes appalled, if not frightened, when he (a normal man) turns the tables on her (a super-powered warrior princess) with a strident “frontal lunge,” ostensibly getting into the sexy, sexy times.
Everything, we are told after this awkward exchange, has changed - but is this as a result of the confidence with which Jeremy has manned-up in recent issues (could this be some kind of new “masculist” movement?), or is it the character-redefining fall that Batu has herself faced, thanks to the ordeal she has just undergone in warring against her own sisters? Maybe neither, maybe both; we’re not entirely sure, but this situation’s inclusion in the story further undermines a very focused and specific situational comic book trope about the power of sexuality and the sexuality of power. It’s still early days in this development, and I don’t want to overreach any more, but it will be interesting to see where Randolph takes this storyline.
Of course, there are other things going on in this book, like the recently love-spurned Agent Twilight’s taser gun-assisted interrogation of a high-tech weapons-selling thug. In a pretty hilarious panel, said thug even gets a little lippy with a well-placed “your mom” joke. Ah your mom jokes, they never go out of style ... unlike you mom’s clothes. ZING!
In other developments, the Galactic Protection Systems Expo is still in full-swing, and while Marine Omega schmoozes amidst the Interplanet Janets, his wife Eve and family friend Ruth (the shapeshifting and increasingly conniving widow of his namesake, the original Marine Omega), have their own little run-in, much to the emotional devastation of one, and the sick delight of the other.
This is another great storyline build. As well as (and indeed despite) the goings-on with Batu and her husband, this series is great for putting women in such strong positions of power, while at the same time not coming across as a device to sell books. This interplay (as well as its fallout) just feels natural - not so much a contrived-for-the-sake-of-contrivance matriarchy, as an almost organic evolution of the (now literal) nuclear family.
The issue ends with Aso and her husband, Cosmic Champion (again in an interesting quasi-juxtaposition of roles) discussing Aso’s maternal duties and the shirking she is doing thereof, when suddenly, the magic (and secretly pretty evil) stone given to their daughter Zari, activates out of nowhere, sweeping her away from her bickering folks and into ... well, a heck of a lot of trouble.
To quickly (and hopefully not dismissively) speak of the art, Dauterman and Cassata continue to do a great job. There is an endearing quality to the book’s sort of rubbery visual direction and structural adherence to the comics of old, like the JLI books I’ve been mentioning, making it feel at once modern, classic and very easy to approach.
In case it isn’t yet apparent, I really am enjoying Supurbia. Its dealings with such hot-button issues as homosexuality (in everyday life and combat) and gender roles are approached in-depth and respectfully, but also without being too saccharin, as is the case elsewhere in more well-known books. At the same time, it leaves enough space to be what it is: a superhero story ... at least in the margins.
Writer: Grace Randolph
Artist: Russell Dauterman
Colorist: Gabriel Cassata
Publisher: Boom Studios
Release Date: 5/8/13